Monday, April 29, 2013

Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone, 2010

For one reason or another, I rarely give this Cotes du Rhone the attention it deserves. It can usually be found on one of the lower shelves of the shop, and it's always one of the least expensive. Yet it has never disappointed me, and this 2010 is particularly good.

Deep, saturated crimson. And aromas and flavors to match: blackberries, black pepper and spice. Beautifully aggressive but it's all fruit driven. Not nearly as ripe as the 2007, and that's a plus as far as I'm concerned. A more complete wine and probably a good representative of the excellent 2010 vintage. At $8.99, why not buy and drink more? It may be too late to get more of the 2010, but the 2011, I'm sure, also has lots to offer.

Nine Stones Hilltops Shiraz, 2006

I've enjoyed the Barossa and McLaren Vale bottlings from Nine Stones, a winery owned by Australian wine writer Len Evans. They are very good and typical of Barossa and McLaren Vale Shiraz. This is my first try of the Hilltops cuvee, from vineyards in the hills near Canberra in southern New South Wales. And I may never go back to the other two. This is cool climate Shiraz, the way I like it.

Deep ruby red with some purple tones; looks New World but smells and tastes more like an Old World wine. Black fruits, cassis and black pepper. Very well presented. Light on oak tannins but lots of grip and substance from the peels. Not at all sweet, alcoholic or thick. A well balanced wine with aromas and flavors that keep coming from all directions.

Domaine Daulny Sancerre, 2007

Sauvignon Blanc, even relatively expensive Sancerre, wines are generally best when consumed young. That said, I always hold back a few bottles of my favorite Sancerre, Domaine Daulny, for a few years because I like the nuances that develop. Yes, crisp gooseberry/cat pee quality that is an important part of Sauvignon Blanc is gone, but Domaine Daulny's vines produce something underneath that is worth waiting for--still finely  tuned but complex fruit and mineral flavors that seem to be at their best when the wine warms to room temperature.

This 2007 is a deep gold color now, and I wouldn't want to wait any longer. Still plenty of gooseberry with fresh mint and musk melon. Tamed just a bit from its younger days but with plenty to offer.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chateau d'Angles La Clape Languedoc Classique, 2007

After spending eight years as the winemaker at Chateau Lafitte Rothschild, Eric Fabre chased a dream by buying his own vineyards on the Mediterranean coast. The romantic attraction of the landscape was undoubtedly part of the attraction but, on the chateau's web site, he cites the "potential of the soil, the climate and the grape varieties favoured locally." He clearly has serious intentions about the Languedoc wine that he will be producing there.

Languedoc reds use the same grapes used in the Southern Rhone. For this wine, it's 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre, and the wine definitely has more structure than the typical Grenache-heavy Cotes du Rhone. Deep, fairly dark ruby. Mostly black fruit tones with purple flowers. Has gamey smells that remind me a bit of a young Bois du Boursan (Chateauneuf du Pape) but without the elegance, of course. Tannins are a bit rough  at this stage, but the label advises drinking within the first years. I don't find anything promising enough to reward keeping.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Chateau Pierre Bise Haute de la Garde Anjou Blanc, 1996

I bought one or two cases of this Loire Chenin Blanc every year between 1996 and 2001, and it was one of the wines I bought for my daughter's wedding. We loved it, and, at $4-$8 a bottle, it was one of the least expensive wines on the market. Labeled as a simple Anjou Blanc, it is made by one of the top Savennieres producers, who now recognizes this vineyard (Haute de la Garde) as special and deserving of higher pricing.

The wine was perfectly enjoyable in its youth, but I put a few bottles of the 1996 and 1997 away just to see how long they would go. The last time I visited it was 2005 or 2006, and it had gained incredible complexity by that time. This bottle is past its prime, but you never know how long a wine will last until you try.

The color is now a copper color, almost like a blush wine,  but that's the most mature facet of this wine. The vineyard is special because of a high level of botrytis, and that honeyed character has taken over the wine. Now almost like a good Sauternes but without the residual sugar. Very smooth and rich. There is a lot to like in this wine, although the twinkling complexity that was there in 2005 has vanished. I still have one bottle of the 2007 which I will try soon.

Villa Giada Suri Barbera d'Asti, 2010

I served this wine alongside the Bearboat Pinot Noir (below), and they were a good match. Although Barbera has plenty of tannins, they are accessible and barely noticeable. And, with this wine, the aromas and flavors just keep coming at you from different angles.

Medium ruby. Roses, cherries--almost like a Nebbiolo but racier. Tannins come from the peels and pits, and they are ripe and lovely. Aromas and flavors are tightly packed in this wine, and it's a delight to have them emerge one by one on the nose and palate. Every time I drink this Barbera, I am impressed and ask myself why I don't buy more. Regular price is only $12 to $15, and it's worth an extra search.

Bearboat Russian River Pinot Noir, 2008

My preferences in wine have changed a lot over the past 30 years--from big, tannic Napa Valley Cabernets such as Keenan and Conn Creek to Grenache-based Southern Rhones. My tastes have evolved and prices for Napa Cabs have grown faster than my income. A big part of it, though, has to do with changes in my diet. A big, oaky Napa Cab is a great companion for a grilled NY strip or T-bone, but our meals today are more oriented toward vegetables, highly flavored, aromatic and spicy. For this type of diet, Mediterranean wines are perfect. Other wines that match up are Pinot Noir and Barbera--medium to light bodied but very flavorful.

This Bearboat Pinot from the Russian River Valley is a good example. Medium to light ruby. Red cherry, cranberries, flowers and spices--tightly constructed. Nuances of cloves and cinnamon. It goes well with cheesy appetizers but is even better with a main course of pork loin braised in milk. Opens up over the course of the evening.

The $14.99 price I have seen over the past six months at my local grocery store is probably intended to introduce the wine and build a market. It's worth that and more.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Yorkville Cellars Rennie Vineyard Hi Rollr Red, 2010

On the dramatic stretch of Highway 128 as it cuts through the Anderson Valley on the way to the giant Redwoods and then the angry Pacific Ocean, Yorkville Cellars is one of the first wineries you pass. On our trip there last year, we saw sheep grazing between the vines in front of the winery and couldn't resist going in for a tasting.

Yorkville Cellars offers a different experience from the rest of the Anderson Valley; you'll find no Pinots and no Alsace varieties on the tasting list. And, in fact, the vineyards do not qualify as Anderson Valley, lying instead in the Yorkville Highlands appellation of Mendocino County. Yorkville is several degrees warmer than the upper Anderson Valley but still significantly cooler than the Alexander Valley farther south. Perhaps because of the climate but probably also due to the tastes of the owner and winemaker, Yorkville makes mostly Bordeaux wines--more finely textured and less flamboyant, though, than the Cabernets and Merlots that come out of Napa. Hi Rollr Red, made for early and more casual drinking, is a blend of 44% Malbec, 35% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. It's not my favorite Yorkville wine (I prefer the Cab Franc and the Petit Verdot), but it's very good and less expensive than those wines.

The color is a vibrant ruby, medium deep. Smells and flavors are intense and lively. Dark cherries, cranberries, spices and a hint of flowers. Has a lot of Cab Franc traits but they are toned down a bit by the more accessible Malbec and Merlot. I don't get any of the green vegetable qualities that I sometimes get (and dislike) from New World Merlot. A special twinkling charm that probably comes from the Petit Verdot. It's really hard to put down the glass, and that's what a good "Tuesday night" wine is all about. But I wouldn't be embarrassed to serve it over the weekend, either.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Domaine Sainte Anne, Cotes du Rhone, 2004

This 2004 Domaine Sainte Anne is less ripe than the 1998, 1999 and 2000 from the estate that I've been drinking. And I like that quality.

Deep ruby. Smells of plums, dark cherries, spice and earth rather than the usual blueberries and cream. Plenty of garrigue too. Firm, dry--even a little tart--on the palate. Reminds me of the 2004 Rabasse Charavin Cairanne--high praise. I like the 2004 Southern Rhone vintage; it's a welcome change from the ripe and riper vintages that have been coming at us year after year--1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007 and so on.. Ripeness is fine...but not as a steady diet.

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Soleil Blanc, 2008

This Soleil Blanc from the Leelanau Peninsula diverges pleasantly from the usual routine of Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio. The color has deepened considerably, and I think the wine has reached a plateau of maturity. Floral, spicy scents. Very intriguing. Medium bodied, not as full as Boskydel's very fine Vignoles but with similar acidity and verve. Reminds me a bit of a good Muscadet.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cave St. Verny Cotes d'Auvergne Le Pinot Noir, 2007

I love Pinot Noir but have never been a Burghound (my apologies to Allan Meadows, author of the authoritative newsletter that covers Burgundian wines). Compared to wines of similar quality from the Rhone, Loire, Alsace or even Bordeaux, red and white Burgundy wines have always been at least 50 percent more expensive. Whereas there are always many excellent Rhones on the market for $10 or less, that price point will generally not buy even a "decent" red Burgundy. That's why I nearly passed up this wine, labeled only "Le Pinot Noir" and priced at $8.99.

Again, I am not a Burghound and have not tasted my way through some of the best Burgundy has to offer. But I am quite happy drinking this little $8.99 Pinot from the Cotes d'Auvergne (a backwoods area near the Loire Valley.) The color is a medium light, typical of Pinot Noir, and there are no smells reminiscent of new oak or oak chips. Pure fruit here from what is clearly a cool climate. Cranberries, spice and pepper. More black pepper than I expect from Pinot Noir, but it's very pleasant. Gives the wine backbone and plays nicely against food (Tuscan vegetable stew at the moment). At this price, I can drink this Pinot frequently. And I intend to do just that.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Domaine du Vieux Chene Cuvee de la Haie aux Grives Cotes du Rhone, 2007

Domaine du Vieux Chene has always been one of my favorite wines. With prime property and old  vineyards on the road between Gigondas and Orange, Beatrice and Jean Claude Bouche are committed to organic vineyards and traditional winemaking. And their wines are always very distinctive and flavorful.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when Cotes du Rhones sold for $5 to $7 a bottle, Cuvee de la Haie aux Grives was on my yearly shopping list. Now that CDR prices have gone up a bit, I tend more to buy the less expensive Vin de Pays offerings from Vieux Chene and have reported on them frequently. They are so good that I am rarely tempted to dig into my pocket a little deeper for the more expensive Cotes du Rhones. I paid  $12.99 for this bottle. And, yes, it is at least 50% better than the excellent $8 Vin de Pays I've been buying.

Deep violet ruby. Smells and tastes tannic but it opens nicely and is at its best on the third night. This is a serious wine that will continue to age well. Black fruits, dark spices and flowers with a dash of black licorice.  On the second and third nights, I can find more of the black pepper that I love in Southern Rhones. Haie aux Grives, I believe, has more Syrah in the blend than its sibling, Cuvee des Capucines. Both are very good. And sometimes, it pays to dig a little deeper in the pocket and drink wine that is even better.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Manzanita Creek Chalk Hill Chardonnay Foothill Vineyards, 2010

This Chalk Hill Chardonnay was opened nearly a week ago and the remaining portion has been sitting, re-corked, in the refrigerator. Tonight, for curiosity, I tried it side-by-side with the excellent Gilbert Picq Vaucopin (see below) and was impressed. It's not nearly as good as the Premier Cru Chablis, of course, and it's a very different wine. But it has a similar steely minerality and has held up remarkably well over the past week. It is one of the few New World Chardonnays I would feel comfortable cellaring.

Medium straw. Nothing stale or oxidized about this wine; still going strong. Flowers, lime and minerals. Earlier, I had suspected a heavy dose of new French oak contributed to the limey quality. Now, I feel it is the nature of the grape raised on the white, ashy soils of Chalk Hill. Fresh, well defined flavors.

World Market has been selling this wine for $9.99, and I am very happy to be buying it at that price.

Gilbert Picq Premier Cru Chablis Vaucopin, 1998

I had high hopes for the 1996 and 1997 Gilbert Picq wines I bought. Aged in stainless steel to preserve the traditional qualities of Chablis, they were excellent in their youth and showed the potential to go several decades. Alas, most of them started developing overly deep colors and oxidized smells and flavors at about age 10. They fit the pattern of "premox" or prematurely oxidized white Burgundies from the late 1990s. Based on that experience, I have been reluctant to visit the handful of Gilbert Picq Chablis from 1998 and 1999 that are still in my cellar. And that apparently was a fortunate delay because this 15-year-old Premier Cru has developed precisely what I expected from the 1996 and 1997 wines.

Medium deep gold--several shades lighter than the 1996 and 1997 wines at age 10. From the first sniff, I know we have something special. Very flinty, as good Chablis should be, but clean as a whistle. Limey smells and flavors, as in limestone soil, but also the citrus fruit. Also some green apples and flowers. The beauty of this wine, though, is not in the number of different smells and flavors but the quality of the grapes and the perfect balance and proportion of the wine. Whether you are a student of Chablis or are drinking it for the first time, this is a wine that keeps you coming back for more. It has aged beautifully over 15 years and has many more years to go.