Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Monte Degli Angeli Piemonte Pinot Noir, 2013

The label tells me this is Pinot Noir, but the smells and flavors say Piemonte. Dark cherries, rose petals and smoke--has many of the qualities of a good Nebbiolo or Barbera wine. The longer it sits in the glass and is exposed to air, the better it gets. Again, Piemonte. Lots of black pepper and grip on the finish. This is what I expect from a top Cotes du Rhone. And at $10.99, it's $5.00 cheaper than the less impressive Cotes du Rhone below. I like this wine.

Domaine de Creve Coeur Cotes du Rhone, 2011

As a long-time fan of Cotes du Rhone, I find this wine to be very good but not quite up to the highest standards of the appellation. I get the smells of black pepper and spice that I expect, but they are somewhat subdued compared to wines of the Plan de Dieu such as Vieux Chene and l'Espigouette. Maybe that's the appellation, and I'm not as familiar with wines from the Sablet/Seguret area where Creve Coeur is located. Or it could  be because of an unusually high percentage of Grenache in the blend. After an extended period of aeration in the glass, the wine shows some deep black raspberry scents, typical of Grenache. While the aromas offer potential, I find the flavors to be just a bit facile for my taste, without the grip that I expect. Maybe it needs some time.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1985

Same grape, same year as the Langi Shiraz below. And an equally fantastic wine.

The color is almost identical to the Langi Shiraz, but the bouquet is much more forthcoming and dramatic. Black fruits, cassis, olives and juniper berries. Again, the fruit is so lively and fresh that it is hard to believe these wines are 29 years old. The 1985 Delas Hermitage (from Christmas day) is a beautiful wine but smells and tastes at least 10 to 15 years older. The Thalabert is definitely more acidic than the Langi Shiraz, and that trait is probably a factor in determining preferences at the table.

I am a long-time fan of Domaine Thalabert--bought at least a case every year from 1979 through 1990. (The quality started falling off in the mid-1990s, though, and the wine is no longer on my shopping list.) At one time, I believed Robert Parker's views that this wine, like others from Crozes-Hermitage, were for drinking at six to eight years of age. Fortunately, I bought enough to be able to experience the transformation from good to very good to excellent...and beyond.

Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz, 1985

This wine was made by Trevor Mast but before he owned the vineyard, when he was consulting for the Frattin brothers. Trevor brought this Shiraz to Chicago to show distributors and try to attract interest in the Shiraz vineyards he considered special. He then spent several days with us in Kalamazoo and left a few bottles of the 1985 for us to enjoy. For all of us at the table tonight, this fantastic bottle served as a fitting tribute to a gifted winemaker who left us all too early.

I've tasted many older Langi Shiraz wines--notably the 1989, 1992 and 1997--but this has to rank at or near the top of the list. The color is deep and dark with minimal browning. Looks, smells and tastes like a much younger wine. The smell and taste of freshly ground black pepper is there--a trademark of Langi Shiraz. It's subtle, of course, part of the overall elegance and class. Black fruits, Syrah spice--not thick but strong and persistent. Trevor apparently liked it enough that he bought the vineyard. And wine lovers are all better off because he did.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Chateau du Puch Monbazillac, 1990

Monbazillac is a neighbor of Sauternes. And because it comes from a lower rent district, there are those who claim that it should be drunk much sooner. Don't believe it. At 24 years, this wine is just coming of age.

Medium to deep gold. More of the botrytis honey that I smelled in the Anjou Blanc. Sweeter here, of course. Also some apricots and pie spices. More Semillon than Sauvignon--full bodied and rich but with a slight grassy tang. Apricot fruit on the finish. Fresh and lively.

Pierre Bise Anjou Blanc, 2001

This middle-aged Chenin Blanc from the Loire did not embarrass itself as a companion to the 1978 Trimbach Riesling (see below). These are both wines that reward close attention.

Medium deep gold. The smells capture the heavenly side of Chenin Blanc--honey, flowers, white fruit. There is clearly some botrytis here that adds depth and complexity. Same on the palate but with a soft, satiny edge. For a simple Anjou Blanc, this wine is incredible. It is really better than some of Pierre Bise's Savennieres. Unique qualities that stay with you for a long time.

I bought several cases of this (less than $50 a case) for my daughter's wedding, and it served that purpose well--fresh, lively and far superior to any cheap oak-chip-tinged Chardonnay on the market at the time. I still have one more bottle but will be in no hurry to drink it.

Trimbach, Alsace Riesling, 1978

This is not the 1978 Trimbach Close Ste. Hune Riesling, which is now selling for upwards of $650 a bottle--if you can find it. Nor is it the Trimbach Frederic Emile, another highly acclaimed Riesling. This is the regular Alsace Riesling, which the estate recommends drinking within the first five years. I am probably the only person in the world who has kept this wine for so long, but I swear that it was not a mistake.

I remember buying a case of this Riesling from Pop's in New York City and having it shipped to Michigan for a grand total of about $40. I had more than my share of enjoyment when the wine was young and vibrant. But as often happens with me, the last bottle gets saved and then ignored and forgotten. When my son-in-law got interested  in Riesling, I thought "ah ha!" And I was right. He and my son enjoyed it as much as I did.

When first poured, the wine is bright medium gold but within 10 minutes of being exposed to air it turns to an equally bright but deep old gold. That is really the only sign of maturity, though, for this 36-year-old white wine. The bouquet is somewhat understated for a wine that has been in the bottle for this long, but it is quite attractive: apricots, honey, almonds and a hint of flowers. On the palate, there is all that and more. Alsace Riesling at its best--lively acidity with a decidedly dry finish.

I wouldn't pay $650 for it, but the quality of this low-end Trimbach Riesling tells me that the Clos Ste Hune is  by no means over-priced. It is clearly one of top wines in the world. What's even better is that the current vintage of this simple Alsace Riesling from Trimbach is available in shops for $15 to $20 a  bottle. Trimbach has been making wines since 1626, and I would not expect any major change in quality or style in the next hundred years or so. As the Reverse Wine Snob puts it, Trimbach Riesling, at under $20 a bottle, is a "bulk buy."

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Graham's Vintage Port, 1980

This Vintage Port from 1980 provided a nice conclusion to our Christmas dinner. Graham's 1980 has received good reviews from experts and from casual drinkers. I was a bit disappointed on the first night, suspecting that the bottle might be slightly corked. But on the second night, it was showing its best qualities. Blackberry fruit, elegant and smooth with a nice alcoholic kick at the end. A good accompaniment to Christmas pudding. I'm looking forward to drinking more of this 1980 in the future.

Chateau Fortia Chateauneuf du Pape, 1998

This Chateauneuf du Pape was one of the standouts at a big Rhone tasting put on by the Ann Arbor Wine Club about 15 years ago. There were many Chateauneufs on the table--Pegau, Bois de Boursan, Domaine du Hautes des Terres Blanches--but this Foria was attracting the most attention. At that time, it was big, dark and powerful; tonight, it is much lighter in color and body...but a far superior wine.

For a 1998, I must admit that it is showing its age. More secondary than primary fruit smells and flavors. High toned. Red cherries, kirsch, spice and herbs. Herbs, in fact, probably dominate. I like the 1998 vintage in the Southern Rhone but have to admit that most Chateauneufs from this vintage are at least as advanced as those from 1988, 1989 and 1990. How will they age from here? Given the chamelion-like development of wines from this appellation, I don't think you can say. On Cellar Tracker, one taster said he had written this wine off several years ago but now sees it suddenly getting better. That's not generally the way wines go, but Chateauneuf du Pape is a blend of several varietals, each with its own aging window. If the Grenache fades into the background, the Syrah and Mourvedre may take over and fill the holes. And the combination of aging Grenache and youthful Mourvedre can be quite exciting.

Delas Hermitage Marquise de la Tourette, 1985

This was not a particularly expensive Hermitage back in the day. It never garnered the scores and the accolades given to Chave Hermitage or Jaboulet's Hermitage la Chapelle, but I suspect it would do very well against those wines right now.

The color has turned to  a mature brick red, and there is nothing dramatic or powerful in the smells and flavors. Raspberries, currants, cassis--all very elegant and well stated. Silky smooth on the palate. More savory than sweet. Actually, it could easily be mistaken for a fine old red Burgundy. Definitely mature but not at risk of falling apart. A perfect accompaniment to the roast lamb Christmas dinner.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Trimbach Alsace Pinot Blanc, 2011

Trimbach ranks at the very top of my Alsace hierarchy. I have fond memories of the Chicago Wine Society auction/tasting back in the early 90s when Jean Trimbach showed up to chat with buyers and pass around full glasses of his Clos St. Hune Riesling. This reasonably priced Pinot Blanc is not Clos St. Hune, but it still shows the Trimbach class.

Medium deep gold. Pears, flowers, apples. Big and dry with a spicy bite on the finish. There is some Pinot Auxerrois in the blend, which probably accounts for the nutty, spicy smells and flavors. A very refreshing wine that has substantial flavor interest. For about $15 at Bacchus in Kalamazoo, I will go back for more.

Rosa dell'Olmo Barbera d'Asti, 2011

This wine makes a wonderful first impression--dark cherries, licorice, flowers. Very much in the big and beautiful Piedmont mode. But after a few sips, I detect an unpleasant (for me) herbal element on the finish. This wine is cheap enough ($5.99 at Trader Joe's) and it makes a good every day red. But I suspect that herbal note will become more rather than less apparent with the passing of time.

Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Coonawarra Shiraz, 2004

My experience with Wynn's wines goes back several decades, and I'm still a buyer any time I see the familiar label. The Michael Shiraz and the John Riddich Cabernet now command a price that is out of my budget, but I am always happy with the quality and price of the regular bottlings.

At 10 years of age, this Shiraz seems to be at its peak and showing no signs of decline. Deep scents of blackberries,  mocha, chocolate and a hint of peppercorn. Aussie fullness on the palate with highlights of black raspberries and chocolate. My preference is for Northern Rhone Syrah, but there is nothing not to like about this style. Well balanced and long on the finish.

Buehler Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1987

Buehler Vineyards has a prime Napa location near St. Helena at the foot, but its wines are always reasonably priced. I paid $11 plus for this Cabernet in the late 1980s, and the current vintage sells for about $20. Maybe because of the low price, the high quality often gets overlooked.

Considering the wine's age, I didn't open it ahead of time to let it breathe. And that was probably a mistake; this wine is not old in any way. At first, the bouquet is not as forthcoming as I expected, but it opens slowly over the next half hour. The flavors are fresh and lively from the beginning, and they too expand considerably. Red fruits and a hint of black currants. Definitely a Napa Cab rather than a Bordeaux in style. It is not at all heavy, alcoholic or fat as many New World Cabernets are. The structure keeps it lively and leaves a long, lovely finish.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Castillo de Monseran Carinena Garnacha, 2009

I buy a few of these every year and drink them rather promptly. This 2009 was hidden under other bottles in the cellar--a fortunate mishap. It's still fresh and lively but has taken on additional nuances. Deep ruby. Fresh scents and flavors of sweet cherries--definitely Spanish rather than Southern Rhone Grenache in style. A distinctive texture--somewhat rustic--that probably comes from leaving the wine on its spent yeast cells for awhile. This is a practice that is more common with white than red wines but works well with Monseran and with St. Hallett's Gamekeeper's Red. Fruity but not at all simple.

Castillo de Monseran is an excellent value, selling for as little as $6.99 at World Market. And the importer often offers rebates of as much as $12 for the purchase of six bottles. It's a wine to buy in quantity and drink leisurely over three or four years.

Gilbert Picq Chablis, 2005

This is what Chablis is all about. It reeks of flint, salt, minerals and citric fruit. You can almost taste the ancient sea that once covered this limestone soil. The mature smells are beautiful, and there is even more to like in the flavors. Grabs the tongue and wraps its flavors around and around. Give me more.

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2001

This wine has definitely reached full maturity and drinking nicely right now. There is considerable crusty sediment on one side of the bottle, the bouquet is well formed and the flavors are complex and haunting. The spicy fragrance reminds me of mature Mourvedre more than the Grenache and Syrah that make up this Cotes du Rhone. It's a smell that I love. Red berries on the mid-palate. Burnished texture. And a ripe, spicyt red fruit finish. This is not an ordinary Cotes du Rhone.

Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir, 2008

Louis Latour goes outside the Burgundy area for Valmoissine's Pinot grapes, and the price, as a result, is relatively low for a Pinot Noir of this quality.

Deep ruby. Vibrant fruit--cherries, spice, vanilla. More fruit and less earth than I remember from previous vintages. The 2007 was also fruity so maybe the winemaker is taking a slightly different approach. Bright red fruit at a good stage for drinking. Just enough tannin to give it backbone. Probably not for cellaring.

Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux, 2011

I like Ventoux wines, in part because they offer dramatic fruit smells and flavors for less than $10 a bottle. I don't buy much Pesquie because it typically sells for more than $10 and differs from other Ventoux wines (like Altitude 500 and La Vieille Ferme) in style more than in quality. Nevertheless, I have never been disappointed by Pesquie Terrasses.

Dark, bluish purple. Really fragrant--black and red berries, pepper, blue plums and garrigue. Same on the palate with a good peppercorn flavor on the mid-palate. Fills the mouth, and the 14.5% alcohol provides body and texture more than heat. Very pleasantly dry on the finish. I really love the impression this wine leaves on the finish.

Chateau Grand Traverse Old Mission Peninsula Pinot Grigio, 2013

Old Mission Peninsula--that little finger of land that juts out into Lake Michigan north of  Traverse City--is a special place for growing Riesling. As this bottle demonstrates, Old Mission is also a good source of Pinot Gris grapes. Chateau Grand Traverse's Pinot Grigio follows the Italian model, I guess, but there are still some hints of the fuller bodied, richer flavored Alsace approach.

 Very bright yellow. Strong scents of ripe pear and honeydew melon. Same on the tongue. Medium bodied, as you might expect from a Pinot Gris; acidity and freshness of a Northern Italian Pinot Grigio. What I like most is the pear-like finish that hangs on and tempts you back for more.

This is usually available for about $10 to $12 and a good value.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ca' Rome' Romano Marengo Barbaresco, 1999

This 1999 Barbaresco was a worthy companion to the 1970 Barolo (see below) that preceded it. Nebbiolo, in my opinion, is one of the best wine grapes for aging, developing a range of subtle and constantly changing smells and flavors.I'm sure this Barbaresco will probably continue to age well, but it is too good to resist right now.

The color is deep and dark, albeit with some orange tones around the rim, as is typical of Piedmont Nebbiolo and definitely not a sign of advanced age. Less power and more subtlety--but that is one of the differences between Barolo and Barbaresco at any age. Same range of smells and flavors: dark cherry, roses and hints of dark minerals. As you drink this wine, you are struck by its dryness; yet, there is a powerful streak of sweetness that seems to weave its way right back along your tongue, pressing gently but persistently into your taste buds. Sweetness and dryness dancing across your palate and leaving a finish that goes on and on. Oh yes.

Pio Cesare Barolo, 1970

This well aged Barolo was by far the highlight of my weekend. It ranks as my Wine of the Year and among the top five of my 30-year wine-drinking career. Originally purchased for $4.99 (marked down from
$11.79), I considered it a cellar treasure from the day I bought it and stashed it away, along with a companion bottle, for all too many years--probably because I treasured it too much. But I have no regrets that I waited so long to pop the cork. ("Carefully ease the cork from the bottle" would be more accurate terminology.)

The back label states that this Barolo was aged in large oak casks for nine years! Now that is traditional winemaking at its best or worst, depending on your point of view. I can hear modern winemakers exclaiming: "Why that will dry out all the fruit!" But, tasted 35 years after bottling, the fruit is incredibly powerful, even fresh. This is a remarkable wine.

The color has faded to almost nothing--a murky reddish brown that, again, raises all sorts of red flags. But one sniff tells you that there is nothing faded about this wine. Lovely autumnal scents of dried currants, dried roses and dried licorice (if there is such a thing). These ethereal scents just keep coming at you, shifting and changing. The first taste is somewhat sharp but after about an hour of aeration, it is smooth as old silk. And the flavors are as complex as the bouquet. This is why I cellar wines.

Cimicky Trumps Barossa Valley Shiraz, 2004

Among several very good wines consumed with family over the Thanksgiving weekend, this wine tends to get forgotten. Paired with the Bopparder Hamm Auslese, it came off as heavy handed--not only in terms of weight (14.5% alcohol vs. 10.0) but delineation of flavors. Most of the Barossa Valley is relatively warm, and this is a warm climate Shiraz that is true to tradition and very enjoyable.

Plush blackberry and currant smells and flavors. At first, I get chocolate and coffee tones; as the wine airs, there is a pleasant herbal note. Full bodied and full flavored. Just what it should be.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Weingut Adolf Weingart Bopparder Hamm Ohlenberg Riesling Auslese, 1991

I don't drink many German wines, and I realize that I'm missing a lot. Generally, though, my family and friends--like most Americans--simply don't understand or appreciate the quality of German wines or of Riesling. "Too sweet," is the usual comment, and some of that prejudice comes merely from seeing the slender German-style bottle. Yes, there is some residual sugar in most German wines, but it's there to counter the acidity and provide balance that is so sadly missing from many plodding, overoaked New World Chardonnays and Cabernets.

Now in the bottle 20-plus years, this Mittelrhein Riesling is showing beautifully. Everyone at the table agreed that the sweetness was a perfect match for the spicy pulled pork fajitas. Medium deep gold color, still bright. Beautifully delineated stone fruit smells and flavors with just a touch of Riesling petrol. I paid $16 for this wine back in the mid-90s; a New World Chardonnay with this much character would sell for two or three times as much.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

SeaGlass Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, 2008

Dick Scheer and his citizen tasting panel at Village Corner in Ann Arbor like this New World Pinot for its Old World earthiness. And I agree: it does have the earthy smells and flavors of a good Bourgogne Rouge.

Beautiful Pinot ruby color. Cherry smells and flavors with ginger spiciness in the background. Burnished and Burgundian. On the tongue, it's very sleek and ripe from front to back but with enough acidity to keep it lively. I find it hard to put the glass down.

The SeaGlass Pinot that is on the shelves right now is the 2013. This is the 2010 so it's had time to gather up some goodness. Seems at a perfect stage for drinking right now, but who knows? It could get even better. At $8 to $12, it's a tremendous bargain.

Ici la-Bas Les Reveles Elke Vineyard Anderson Valley Mendocino Pinot Noir, 1997

When this wine was made, the Anderson Valley did not have the Pinot prestige that it has today, but winemaker Jim Clendenen (of Au Bon Climat) knows how to ferret out high quality Pinot Noir grapes. Mary Elke's vineyards near Donnelly Creek have some of the best.

The color is medium light and has turned only slightly. Smells are gorgeous--strawberry and rhubarb boiling over on the pie tin. And the flavors are even better. Sleek body with red berry fruit that is so ripe but also so tart and racy. Amazing freshness on the finish for a 17-year-old wine.

The Elke vines were somewhat young in 1997; they must be coming into their own by now. And the winery reports that the 2013 vintage was exceptional, even for the lower-priced Boonville Barter. I was a buyer but have stashed them away and am not going to think about them for the next 5 to 10 years. If they are better than this 1997 (and I expect them to be), OH WOW!

Chateau d'Angludet Margaux, 1983

The cork on this wine was not in great shape, and there was even some high neck ullage. But my worries quickly faded when I sniffed the wine. It has a beautiful Margaux-like perfume of  sweet cherries, tea, herbs that carry over nicely into the flavors. It's very ripe and very smooth on the palate with just a bit of a herbal/tea edge. After 31 years in the bottle, this 1983 d'Angludet is holding quite well--although the cork and ullage on the remaining bottle in my cellar looks even worse. I'll have to open it soon.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Louis Latour Pernand Vergelesses, 1998

The 1998 vintage was not particularly good for white Burgundy, and this Pernand Vergelesses is past its peak drinking years. But it's still better, for my taste, than 90 percent of Chardonnays on the market.

A deep gold color, fully mature. Apples, citrus, grains, hazelnuts. Slight stale note that fades after 15 minutes or so. Mellow smells and flavors, an apple orchard in the Fall. Past its prime, but still has Grand Vin intensity and grip.

Rosa dell Olmo Barbera d'Asti, 2011

Selling for $5.49 at Trader Joe's, this has to be the top Barbera value on the market. I could gladly put this on my table every night.

Deep, dark ruby. Dark cherries, flowers, licorice--immediately appealing and it just keeps getting better. Has seen enough new oak to develop a silky texture, but not so much to cover up the lovely Barbera smells and flavors. Plush and ripe; medium to full bodied. A slight green note but the finish is still very ripe and long.

Domaine Rabasse-Charavin (Corinne Couturier) Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne, 2004

I like Cairanne wines on the young side; Rasteau and Vacqueyras, with some extra age. The dark-toned mineral elements of Rasteau and Vacqueyras need some time to mellow out, in my opinion, whereas the red cherry/berry tones of Cairanne are more attractive to me than the leathery smells and tastes that develop once the fruit has started to fade. Corinne Couturier at Rabasse Charavin produces one of the top two or three Cairanne wines, and this 2004 still has a lot of pleasure to give...even though I liked it better a couple of years ago.

Deep ruby with some browning at edges. Lifted fragrance of flowers, dark cherries and herbs. Same on the palate with leathery notes and pepper on the finish. A bit past its peak, for my taste, but has good grip and typical Southern Rhone flavors.

Much higher on the Corinne Couturier list--and one of my favorite wines--is the Cairanne Cuvee Estevenas, from some of the oldest vines in the appellation.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Domaine du Val des Rois Valreas Signature, 2007

Tasted alongside the Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone (below), this Valreas eventually reveals itself as the superior wine. It is, however, a CDR Villages and cost about twice as much as the Sainte-Anne.

Deep, bright crimson. Shy at first. Blueberries, dark cherries, lavender, spice. Now it's blossoming. An understated beauty. Clean, fresh, youthful fruit. Wild berries and a hint of black pepper on the finish. A very fine Valreas.

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2001

Although labeled as a Cotes du Rhone, this wine has the qualities of a Cotes du Rhone Villages--and a very fine Villages at that.

Medium deep ruby. The fruit has faded just enough to marry with the secondary characteristics--berries, plums, spice, dried flowers and herbs. There are some wild berry notes on the palate but they blend in nicely with the secondary traits of leather, lavender and earth. When this wine was young, it was predominantly Grenache. Now the Grenache and Syrah have married nicely--both red and black fruits. At a calm, even-tempered stage of maturity.

Picton Bay South Island (New Zealand) Pinot Noir, 2013

After drinking the Monte Degli Angeli, I had to try my other Pinot Noir bargain from a recent Ann Arbor trip. There are many good wine bargains at Trader Joe's, but this New Zealand Pinot for $7.99 belongs right at the top of the list.

This is a bit darker than Piemonte Pinot (below). Beautiful spicy nose--strawberries, cherries, ginger and licorice--all the things I like. In the mouth, there is more of the same. Ripe fruit framed by spice and pepper. Fine texture; flavors reverberate. A terrific value and a very good wine for drinking right now. On the second night, this wine becomes a bit more herbaceous, though still good. I prefer the Monte Degli Angeli.

Monte Degli Angeli Piemonte Pinot Noir, 2011

When you think of the Piedmont region of Italy, you think of Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera. But a Pinot Noir? I saw this bottle while browsing in Plum Market in Ann Arbor, and the wine manager, Rod Johnson, a long-time friend from Village Corner, assured me it was well worth trying.

And Pinot in Piedmont makes sense. The cool climate, with morning fog, is similar to that of Burgundy and other good Pinot growing areas such as the Anderson Valley of California. And while Barolo is often considered a "big" wine, that is more because of its tannins, big flavors and ability to age. Nebbiolo actually has many similarities to good Pinot Noir: with its haunting fragrance, lively acids and complex flavor profile.

As for Monte Degli Angeli, it is a medium light Pinot color, bright and lively. I note the spicy cherry/cranberry tones of North Coast California Pinots. It's definitely not sweet, and it's definitely in the very early stages of its evolution. On the second night, it really starts to sing. Now the sweetness emerges, but there is nothing simple about it. Has a lot more grip and strength than most Pinot Noirs. And I just keep coming back to sniff and sip. Irresistible.

For $10.56? This is serious wine; I'm heading back to buy more.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Khalkhal-Pamies Plaisir de Lys Minervois, 2011

Now this is a wine that matches up well with the pizza. The wine makes the pizza taste better; the pizza makes the wine taste better. That doesn't mean this is less of a wine than the Marsannay; in many ways, it is superior. But it has the bold aromas and flavors needed to stand up to the tomato/onion/artichoke pizza.

The color is deep, dark and purplish. It's a blend of Carignan (50%) plus Grenache and Syrah made traditionally without new oak contact. The aromas at this stage are very primary--blue plums and spice, youthful and bold. I taste lots of crunchy black pepper along with the dark fruits. A country wine with dramatic flavors. Also a lot of depth. I like it. A Jon Rimmerman (Garagiste.com) selection that sells for about $16 a bottle.

The Right Wine with the Right Food

It should go without saying: the best wine is the one that is most suited to the meal that you're having. I opened the Louis Latour Marsannay to go with the Henrietta Hills rainbow trout, and it was a great match. What was left in the bottle we had the next night with pizza, and it was only ordinary.

We have vegetable oriented dishes most nights of the week, and I choose the wine based on the type of vegetables that are in the dish.When we are having roast lamb (mostly for special occasions), I hunger for a Chateauneuf du Pape or Gigondas. Cairanne is a good match for roast pork.

If you have a fine wine that you're anxious to try, wait until you have a meal that will highlight the subtle flavors of the wine or at least provide a neutral backdrop. Otherwise, you're wasting your money, and you will never really appreciate the wine.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Louis Latour Marsannay, 2006

Marsannay is the northernmost appellation of Burgundy, bordering on the suburbs of Dijon. Although it may be close in terms of distance to the greatest Pinot Noir appellations, it is not close at all in terms of reputation or price. Louis Latour's Marsannay usually sells for about $20, and when you can find it discounted for $16 or so, it is a very good value.

Very light in color, but that's not necessarily a bad sign for a Pinot. The aromas and flavors move toward strawberry on the spectrum. Delicate and ripe. Well worth exploring every nook and cranny. Lacey fruit flavors, a beautiful match for the delicate flavors and texture of rainbow trout. Compared to Anderson Valley and Russian River Pinots that I have been exploring recently, this wine is less complex, without the cranberry/red cherry tones, but has similar lively acidity. I like it and will come back for more.

Gran Passione Salice Salentino Riserva, 2010

There are several wines with the deep brown Gran Passione label now on the market. I tried the Rosso (which has some Merlot in the blend) previously and liked it very much; this Salice Salentino I like even more. Made with 100% Negroamaro grapes from Puglia, in the bootheel of Italy, it's a bold, dramatic wine that goes well with full flavored foods.

Deep, dark ruby color. Dark cherries, spice, licorice and flowers. Has plenty of power. Warm, black and peppery on the palate. Ripe red and blue plums. Full bodied and powerful, like an Italian Gigondas but with a rich, velvety texture. Everything about this wine is dark but also high toned with good acid and bright flavors on the finish. Very good--Salice Salentino, where have you been all my life?

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2005

This 2005 appears to be maturing faster than most vintages of Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone, but it's certainly drinking beautifully right now.

The color has turned a bit, and the bouquet is lovely--violets, spice and ripe red berries. I could sit and sniff for hours. In the mouth, there is more of the same; it's bursting with red berries, ripe but not overdone. Laid back and lovely. Lots of sediment at the bottom but not at all bitter. Seems more mature right now than the 2001 or even 1999 or 1998.

1749 Pierre Chainier Sauvignon Blanc, 2013

This is one of several Sauvignon Blancs made by respected Loire producers now on the market for under $10 a bottle. They don't really measure up to Sancerre, but then it's hard to find Sancerre for under $20.

Medium light color. Very pretty--mint, grapefruit, leaning toward passion fruit. Sweet and lively Sauvignon Blanc fruit on the tongue. Lots of appeal, especially for $8.

Macon-Lugny Les Charmes Chardonnay, 2010

Les Charmes is the name of an old and respected vineyard in the Macon area of Burgundy. It is also an appropriate name for this charming Chardonnay. The current vintage (still available for $10.99 at World Market) is 2013; this bottle is three years further along in its development and, for my taste, that development is positive.

Medium deep yellow. Spiced apple smells. Apple and nutmeg. Not really Granny Smith apples but fuller and deeper like Red Delicious. Unadorned Chardonnay scents--what Macon is all about. Both the aroma and flavors get deeper and deeper, better and better. Not a vibrant wine as it was a couple of years ago, but a charming accompaniment to a vegetable centered meal. I'll go back and get some of the 2013 vintage.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Domaine de la Tourade Vacqueyras, 2008

Whether because of the vintage or the producer, this Vacqueyras is more elegant and less rustic than most of its peers. It's really at a good stage for drinking right now.

Good honest Southern Rhone color, medium deep, no hints of barriques or new oak. A prominent but not overbearing peppery streak defines this wine. Peppercorn, spice and blueberries with a hint of bulb flowers. Vacqueyras dark mineral tones. Same on the palate; a peppery dance with well defined Grenache/Syrah fruit.

As Sortes Val do Bibei Valdeorras Godello, 2007

My last bottle of this (reported here on August 21, 2013) was badly oxidized. I blamed it on the winemaking but can see now that the oxidized bottle had probably been exposed to too much heat during storage or transit. If you're looking for information about this 2007 Godello from Rafael Palacias, please ignore that note and read this one.

The color is a deep lemon yellow, not overly gold as the previous bottle was. The wine has had some new oak treatment, but most of the oak has now been integrated nicely into the wine, as with a fine white Burgundy. I smell lime, nutmeg and flowers plus a mineral tone that apparently comes from the limestone soil. Not exactly the flintiness of traditional Chablis but similar. The salty smell of an ocean breeze? The wine is ripe upfront and then dances sprightly down the tongue, leaving a lovely multifaceted finish. More limestone minerality. I can still taste the sea breeze freshness at least half an hour later. This is a special wine.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Soleil Blanc, 2008

This six-year-old French hybrid white from the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan is not showing any signs of aging. In fact, I believe it still has some positive development ahead of it.

Beautiful bright yellow. I smell flowers, melon--fresh and lively. Medium bodied with clean,bright flavors and a surprising amount of tannin for a white wine. Some subtle power here. Reminds me a bit of a young Chenin Blanc wine from the Loire Valley of France.

Bernie Rink, a former university librarian who established Boskydel in the early 1980s, says that "all wines are better with aging." This Soleil Blanc is a good example.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rosa dell'Olmo Barbera d'Asti, 2011

I loved the 2010 vintage of this wine, labeled as Rocca dell'Olmo. And this is a worthy successor.

Medium dark, maybe a tad lighter in color and body than the 2010. Flowers, dark cherries and some dark earthy tones that are typical of both Barbera and Nebbiolo wines from the Piedmont area of Italy. Not much tannin but plenty of acidity to keep it lively. Medium long, pleasing finish but not nearly as good as its sibling, Rocca dell'Olmo.

I bought this wine for $5.49 from Trader Joe's in Dayton, OH. Although it's a bit more rustic than several $10 to $12 Barberas on the market (Veglio, Franco Serra, Michele Chiarlo, Marchesi di Barolo, Cost di Bussia), it's also half the price.

El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa Old Vines Garnacha, 2010

On the first night, I found this wine to be a bit alcoholic and unbalanced. On the second night, though, it was smooth and friendly. Darker than I would expect from old vine Grenache; has probably had some new oak or small barrel treatment. Cherry/berry compote with subtle tones. Smells ripe and lovely. Flavors are also rich and ripe but with a nice balancing acidity. The texture is particularly lush.

I've now had six bottles of this wine and am still a bit confused. Some were good; others, somewhat funky. I suspect it is still developing and needs some time.

What a Difference the Glass Makes

I have a cabinet full of wine glasses--a special glass for Syrah/Grenache wines, one for Bordeaux/Cabernet, another for Pinot Noir/Nebbiolo. I think the shape of a glass makes a difference to the smell and taste of the wine. But I can't swear by it. I have tried Riedel, Schott-Sweisel and other brands. Again, I think these wine geeik brands are better than glasses off the shelf of a department store. But I can't swear by it. So when my daughter and son-in-law gave me Zalto denk'art glasses for a gift, I was skeptical. They are smaller than my other wine glasses and have a different shape with curves "tilted to the angles...which are in accordance with the tilt angles of the earth." And they are billed as "Universal," meaning they will work with any type of wine.  Again, I was skeptical. But I was anxious to try them out. Within a short time, everyone at the Christmas dinner table had tried Zalto versus a number of other brands, styles and shapes. And we all agreed: the wine was markedly better from the Zalto Universal glass.

Last week, the difference was confirmed to me yet again. On Monday, we had the 2009 Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone in a Syrah/Grenache glass and decided it was only ordinary, not as special as the 2007 vintage of the same wine we had 12 to 15 times over the course of the previous three years. On Tuesday night, we drank the same CDR from a Zalto Universal glass...and WOW. What a difference a day...and a different wine glass...make. The peppery/spicy elements of the wine were more subtle and the flavors more sharply defined. Good wine.

On Wednesday and Thursday nights, we had the 2001 Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone, and the experience was the same. In a Syrah/Grenache glass, the wine showed a lovely stage of maturity--bulb flowers, dark cherries and rich velvety texture. In a Zalto Universal glass the following night, the wine was lifted to another level. Again, the flavors were sharper and more defined. I kept thinking about Chateauneuf du Pape as I sipped this 13-year-old CDR I bought for $8.99 many years ago.

I love these glasses because they make my good wines taste even better. Unfortunately, I have found that they also make bad wine taste even worse. The other unfortunate thing is the cost: about $60 a glass. They are hand  blown and very finely wrought. I don't want to risk breaking one by using it every night; yet I find myself coming back to them again and again, and they seem relatively tough. I haven't broken one yet.

Believe me, I am not trying to sell a product. But if someone happens to give you a Zalto denk'art Universal glass for a present...use it and enjoy.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Beso de Vino Carinena, 2011 (85% Syrah, 15% Grenache)

Proclaiming your Tanzer score (International Wine Cellar) on the neck label is not subtle. But the wine is. And that's probably why Steve Tanzer awarded it 90 points and called it an outrageous value for $8 to $10 a bottle. Probably unoaked, 13.5% alcohol.

Medium ruby. Syrah black fruits dominate over the red berry Grenache at this point. More fruit depth and subtlety than expected for an $8 wine. Plush mouth feel, but flavors are also subtle. I like it better than the Altitude 500 (below) even though I am a lover of Ventoux wines. I don't think Beso de Vino is a wine to age, but count me in on the 90 point rating.

Veglio Barbera d'Alba, 2012

There seem to be an increasing number of $10 to $12 Barberas on the market right now. This is a good example, ready to drink and give pleasure whether you open it tonight or five years from now.

This is not Barolo or Barbaresco, but it has many of the same haunting qualities: dark cherries, roses, dark tones of licorice. I love it. Licorice in front, cherries on the finish. Pleases and teases the palate from front to back. Not very tannic but good acidity for aging...or for current drinking.

Other Barberas in this price range that I have enjoyed include Franco Serra, Michele Chiarlo, Cost di Bussia and Marchesi di Barolo.

Mount Langi Ghiran Mast Rare Reserve Block Victorian Shiraz, 2002

The late Trevor Mast and his wife, Sandra, were no longer the owners of Mount Langi Ghiran when this wine was produced. But Trevor was apparently still involved in the winemaking process, and this beautiful Shiraz has Trevor Mast written all over it--excellent fruit with just enough handling to let the vineyard do its thing.

Deep, dark red violet. Still young but at a good stage for drinking. Lovely nose of red and black cherries, coffee and a hint of black pepper. Pinot-like in its elegance and intensity. Very smooth on the palate. Some of the Syrah herbal element that is more often found in Rhone wines from France. Sweet fruit  but with brisk acidity that keeps it in its place. Slightly chewy tannins, but open and friendly. Sings on the finish.

This Shiraz was imported and sold in the United States several years ago by Jon Rimmerman of Garagiste.com. I bought my bottles for a good price at auction. Wish I had bought more.

Gaetano d'Aquino Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, 2013

Whenever I visit a Trader Joe's store, I always pick up a bottle or two of this Pinot Grigio. At $3.99, it's one of the least expensive wines in the store--or any other wine outlet. When I open the bottle, I always wonder why I didn't buy a dozen. It is a truly enjoyable Pinot Grigio, particularly in the 2013 vintage.

Very light color. I smell pears, grapefruit, minerals, herbs--fresh and lively. It dances lightly on the tongue but leaves behind substantial flavor interest. Good balance of fruit and acid. And, as always, a pleasantly bitter finish. A wine for enjoying on the deck, with appetizers or with a serious dinner. (Do I dare to open a $3.99 wine?)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Altitude 500 Ventoux, 2011

This is a co-op wine from the Vignerons of Mount Ventoux. I have enjoyed past vintages--2005, 2006, 2007--but this is my first try of the 2011, a pretty good year in the Southern Rhone.

Medium ruby. Spice, red and black fruits, very much in the Ventoux style--fruity but bold. Initially, the aromas do not seem as peppery as past vintages but that changes as the wine airs. Very smooth. Fruit leather flavors. Now some traditional pepper and warmth. A bit high in alcohol (15%) for a Ventoux, but that seems to make the wine all the more attractive, at least at this stage of its development.

Joseph Mellot Destinea, 2012

Joseph Mellot makes very fine Sancerre, but this is his lower priced Sauvignon Blanc, apparently from lesser appellations but still delicious and classy.

Medium yellow. Mellow Sauvignon smells--mint, melon and flowers. Citric acidity but, again, mellow rather than shrill. Very refreshing, makes the tongue tingle. The flavors are surprisingly deep for a wine at this price level. I would be very happy to find this wine on a restaurant wine list.

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2001

This 2001 is approaching a lovely stage of maturity. Although only a Cotes du Rhone, it is showing better right now than most of the higher priced Sainte-Anne CDR Villages in my cellar.

Medium deep ruby, some sediment forming on the side of the bottle. Mature smells of red and black fruits, flowers and wild herbs--all nicely integrated as in a mature Chateauneuf or Gigondas. Flavors are more savory than sweet. Age has taken away the glossy sheen that this wine had in its youth. Red berries and spice--very complex flavors. The spice is more what I expect from Mourvedre, even though I believe this Cotes du Rhone is produced from Grenache, Syrah and a small amount of Cinsault. Cool and relatively low in alcohol (13%). Even better on the 2nd and 3rd nights.

Sabrego Valdeorras Godello, 2010

This bottle took a little longer to open up than I expected, but that's a good sign. It's not just getting older; it's also getting better. From northern Spain, a white wine varietal that was neglected for far too long but is now getting some notice.

Medium deep yellow. Not as fragrant as I remember. Minerals, flowers, white peaches. Reticent at first, then gets fuller and fuller. Full range of creamy flavors and a long finish. Godello is good; wish there were more on the market.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Chateau Grand Traverse Old Mission Peninsula Pinot Grigio, 2012

The more Michigan wines I drink, the more impressed I become by the wines from Old Mission Peninsula, that sliver of land that juts out from Traverse City into Lake Michigan. Vineyards on old Mission produce excellent Rieslings but also very good Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.

Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are two names for the same grape, of course, and I would have labeled this one Pinot Gris because of its fuller body. It does, however, have some of the herbal element that characterizes some northern Italian Pinot Grigios. Medium light yellow. Green pears, herbs, flowers. Smells rich, and it is. Plush mouth feel, but also fine mineral and fruit acidity. Easy to drink now, and it should get better after a few years in the bottle.

M Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes du Rhone, 2009

I'm becoming very particular about the Cotes du Rhones I buy. So many are now made in what I would call an international style, designed to appeal to a broad range of wine consumers. Some have  been produced with use of new oak or barriques; many are overly fruity or alcoholic and lack the spicy, peppery qualities that I love about Cotes du Rhone wines. This Belleruche CDR from Chapoutier meets my expectations. It's 60 percent Grenache, 40 percent Syrah.

Deep, dark ruby./ Plums, blueberries, lavender and a dash of black pepper. Smells tannic, and it's initially somewhat tannic on the palate. Plums and berries, enough acid to maintain balance and fruit presence despite the tannins. Over the course of the meal, the tannins tend to fade, and the wine becomes more and more appealing.

Cameron Hughes Lot 324 Atlas Peak Napa Valley Chardonnay, 2010

This wine has a beautiful bright gold appearance and captivating scents of Spring flowers, white peaches and limey French oak. The aromas are delicate and appealing. On the palate, though, the wine loses some of its prettiness. Lemon-tinged fruit. Firm on mid-palate but nothing that brings me back for more. For my taste, the wine would benefit from more acidity. It may be that the oak is taking over from the fruit at this stage of the wine's maturity.

Atlas Peak is a special appellation in Napa Valley that generally draws a much higher price than the $12 I paid at World Market. Cameron Hughes apparently purchased some juice or ready made wine that either didn't meet the producer's expectations or did not sell as expected.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Domaine de la Tourade Cotes du Rhone, 2011

Wine is all about the moment--the moment you choose to pop the cork. After more than 30 years of popping corks and drinking wine, I can't say that I pick the right moment less than half the time. Sometimes I pop the cork prematurely; too often, I wait too long. With this Tourade Cotes du Rhone, I can say confidently that I picked right moment.

Aromas are very forward and friendly but also powerful, as you might expect from a young Gigondas. Southern Rhone scents of ripe berries spiked with black peppercorns, spice and lavender. Very plush mouth feel--a bit firm in the middle but still forward and friendly without seeming simple. Plums, red and  blue berries and peppery spice. Just the right amount of ripeness and enough acidity to keep me coming back for more. Tourade is best known for its Gigondas, and I have had many pleasant sips of the 2008 Vacqueyras from this estate. This Cotes du Rhone has a different personality but is no less intriguing. Traditionally made Cotes du Rhone at its best.

Cave Saint Verny Cotes d'Auvergne Le Chardonnay, 2012

If you're looking for an alternative to the buttery, oaky New World Chardonnay, this wine is a good choice. A companion piece to Le Pinot Noir from Cave Saint Verny, this is a racy, unoaked wine that is inexpensive ($8 to $10) and a perfect match for pan fried whitefish.

Lemon is the dominant aroma and flavor, but I also find flowers, white peaches and green apples. Very bright and lively. I even get a hint of butter, but it is lemon butter. It's not a great wine but a good one that you're likely to come back to several times if you like bright, high acid Chardonnay, as I do.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Marchesi di Montecristo Nerello del Bastardo Vino da Tavola Rosso, 2002

The label is similar to that of the Nerelo (one "l") del Bastardo wine now available at Trader Joe's, but the wine is somewhat different. The label suggests that this is declassified Barolo or Barbaresco blended with a "mystery" wine--all for $6.99. Despite the pretentious Marchesi di Montecristo moniker, the wine is excellent--one of the best values I have had from Trader Joe's.

Good color, some garnet at the rim. Fragrant Nebbiolo scents of cherries and fresh flowers. Barolo-like dark tones on the palate. More like Barolo than Barbaresco. Good fruit/acid balance; dances on the tongue. Lovely warm berry flavors on the finish--like blueberry/raspberry pie fresh out of the oven. Fully mature and holding up well 12 years after the vintage. The 1999 was equally good the last time I tried it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nine Stones McLaren Vale Shiraz, 2005

Wine writer Len Evans is one of the producers of Nine Stones wines so you can expect a greater focus on appellation than is usual for Australian wines. I prefer the Nine Stones McLaren Vale over the Nine Stones Barossa. In most vintages, though, the Hilltops cuvee, from vineyards in New South Wales, may be the best of the lot.

Very deep and dark with bluish tints. Young and ripe with plenty of oak. Scents of blackberry and boysenberry; very fragrant. Palate is particularly rich and full on the mid-palate; berries, coffee and mocha chocolate. A very enjoyable wine, although eventually the oak-influenced traits become a bit over bearing. Maybe a few more years in the bottle would do it good?

Les Trois Couronnes Gigondas, 2007

In the Southern Rhone hierarchy, Gigondas ranks second, right behind Chateauneuf du Pape; as a result, $20 is usually considered a low price. I paid $11.99 for Les Trois Couronnes, primarily because it is a cooperative wine, a sibling of the low-priced Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone. This is my third try of the Gigondas, and I remain convinced that it is worthy of its appellation.

The color is deep and dark. Very peppery on the nose: pepper, spice, black fruits. Has the bold presence that is expected of a Gigondas. On the palate, it's chewy and tannic. With aeration, the black pepper becomes increasingly apparent on the palate, along with black fruits, lavender and spice. Tingles and lingers on the finish. Just the right amount of fruit and acid for the 14.5% alcohol. This would never be mistaken for Cayron (the very best Gigondas, in  my opinion), but it's a good Gigondas for the money.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2005

When this wine first hit the shelves, it was gloriously fruity, a summer pudding of ripe berries. Seven or eight years later, fruit is still the dominant feature--strawberries and kirsch. It's still a nice wine but much less intense and bright. Some would write this off as a wine past its prime. Based on my experience with past vintages, I am confident there are greater pleasures to come. The 1995, 1998 and 2002 Jean Descombes I have had in the past year have developed subtle charms and tertiary complexities that may or may not be in store for this 2005. With several bottles left, I'm willing to take the chance.

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2000

All of the Sainte-Anne wines, even the straight Cotes du Rhone, meet the standards for Cotes du Rhone Villages. And they all are capable of 10-plus years of aging. Compared to the Cotes du Rhone, the CDR Villages comes from older vines with lower yields. The blend is very similar--about 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah.

At 14 years of age, this CDR Villages is surprisingly youthful. Medium deep ruby, bright and clear. Ripe berry smells and flavors with aromatic herbs and spices. Smooth and somewhat full on the mid-palate. Good balance of fruit and acidity and a pleasing after taste.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Domaine de Font-Sane Gigondas, 1998

A few years ago, this wine was so tight and stingy that it was difficult to drink. I thought it had lost all of its fruit. But what it needed was patience. Now, it is drinking beautifully, and it will probably stay at that plateau for at least a year or two.

Deep ruby, some browning. Dark cherries, berries and herbs. Gigondas power and grace. Peppery elements are emerging that I did not notice on the previous bottle a year or so ago. Keeps getting better with aeration. Ripe finish. 14.5% alcohol but carries it well; neither hot nor unbalanced.

Domaine Rabasse Charavin Cuvee d'Estevenas Corinne Couturier Cairanne, 1999

The last bottle of this I had was in January, 2013, and no other wine I had that year matched it or even came close.  For 2014, once again, this is unquestionably my Wine of the Year. It's the top Cairanne cuvee from Corinne Couturier of Rabasse Charavin, and 80% is Grenache from well placed 100-year-old vines plus 20% Syrah from younger but still low-yielding vines. The pedigree is clear from the first sniff to the last glorious after taste. This is a great wine.

It has definitely matured over the past year and a half, but I wouldn't say the changes are either good nor bad. It's just a different wine. The color has good saturation for a wine this age, and the bouquet wafts gracefully from the bottle and glass. Grenache berries, concentrated and compact, flowers and herbs. Everything you should expect from a top Southern Rhone and then some. Silky on the palate; true class. The crinkly flavors of mature Grenache from very old vines. And a long, beautiful finish. Special wine.

Unfortunately, this wine (and any others from Rabasse Charavin) are very difficult to find anywhere in this country.  I got my bottles at a WineBid auction a few years ago. Other bidders apparently felt that a 12-year-old Cotes du Rhone Villages was likely to be over the hill.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel, 2006

Old Hill has some of the oldest vines in North America, and, despite the Zinfandel name, this wine is a field blend that includes Grenache, Alicante Bouche, Mourvedre, Syrah, Carignane and some grapes that are yet to be identified. My kind of wine.

Inky black. There is plenty of oak here, and the oak traits come out in the smells and flavors as well. It's not forbidding nor overdone, though. Pretty floral and berry scents. It has opened up quite a bit since I first tried it last November. Same openness on the palate. Drinking well right now. Beautiful ripe berry Zin. Lots of depth and strength. The alcohol is very high--15.3%--but the fruit is prominent enough to handle it.

Old Hill vineyard carries some prestige, but I got this wine at a bargain price as well, presumably because of the mistaken perception that Zinfandel, especially high alcohol Zin, does not age well.

Greenwood Ridge Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 1999

The more I try Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs, the more enamored I become--especially those with a little bottle age. I bought this at auction for a fraction of its retail price, presumably because other buyers were not sure a California Pinot would keep this long. I took a chance and am glad I did.

Medium light ruby, with some shading to brown along the edges. On the first pour, I suspected it might be just a bit over the hill. But no. Initially, the smells were very pretty and very much in line with other Pinots from Anderson Valley I have tried: cherries, cranberries, spice and earth. Not too ripe. Over time, the bouquet just keeps getting better and more complex. On the palate, there is more of the same. Pleasing tartness of wild berries. Spice without sweetness. Just keeps getting better. Clinging finish. Fifteen years is not too much to expect from a Greenwood Ridge Pinot Noir. Wish I had more.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2004

Jean-Luc Colombo: this is how Cotes du Rhone should taste.

Deep ruby, bright and lively. Crushed berries and mint. This Villages is more complex and complete than Sainte-Anne's Cotes du Rhone from the same vintage, but it is styled the same--very fruity but with serious mid-palate concentration and intensity. Berries, berries, berries. Very pretty. Ripe finish that will only get better.

Louis Latour Puligny Montrachet, 1992

From a 375 ml bottle, I should have opened this four or five years ago. But there is still plenty to like.

Deep old gold. Stale smells but also cherries and red fruits. Deep, concentrated fruit. Even better on palate--dried cherries, long and concentrated. Oxidized, yes but doesn't have the hard edges that many oxidized whites develop.

Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Cotes du Rhone, 2010

Everything about this wine looked perfect. 2010 is a very good Cotes du Rhone vintage; Jean-Luc Colombo is a respected producer of Cornas from the Northern Rhone; the blend was approximately equal parts of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre; and the price was right--$8.99 with the chance to bring that down 20% on a six-pack wine sale day at D&W Market. I was ready to jump for 6 or even 12 bottles, but I wanted to taste it first. And I'm glad I did.

The color is deep and dark. Plenty of Syrah and Mourvedre. Good cherry-tinged fruit that is reasonably accessible but seems muted for a Cotes du Rhone. Where is the spice? Where the black pepper? Seems like an international style wine. Generic red, probably some new oak or small barrels. Good wine if you like that type of thing, but it's not for me.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Cameron Hughes Lot 324 Atlas Peak (Napa Valley) Chardonnay, 2010

Cameron Hughes is a California-based negotiant who buys wine from producers who would rather sell their wine to a negotiant than have the public know that their high-priced wine has not been sold. There is no way of knowing who produced this Chardonnay, but there are no $10 to $12 producers on Atlas Peak. One smell and one taste will tell you that Lot 324 (purchased at World Market for $10.99) is high class stuff.

Medium deep yellow. Lime, apple, flowers--intense but with a classy  sense of proportion. Strong fruit shows through the oaky qualities. Creamy on the mid-palate and finish. Long and lovely.

Londer Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2008

Tasted alongside the Yorkville red below, this Anderson Valley Pinot shows a remarkably different profile. Although the acid structure is similar, the Pinot mouthfeel is plush and lovely with no hard edges.

As I've mentioned before, Londer's 2008 was tainted by the smoke of forest fires that swept the region during the growing season. Unsatisfied with the quality, Londer sold this wine off at deep discount. I bought a case for about $50, and this is my next to last bottle. I have noted the smoke quality (sort of like smoked salmon) becoming increasingly dominant as the wine ages, but this bottle seemed like a throwback to the early bottles and was very nice. Maybe there is simply bottle variation.

Deep ruby. The smoke certainly didn't affect the color. In this bottle, it serves as a nice complement to the wild berry acidity. Plush and warm. No hard edges. This is really a very fine Pinot with one unfortunate flaw.

Londer has since gone out of business. The retired ophthalmologist and his wife have decided they would rather spend time with their grandkids than learn a completely new (and extremely complex) occupation. All of their wines--even those from non-smokey years--are probably floating around in the market at fairly good discounts. I've been looking.

Yorkville Cellars Rennie Vineyard Hi-Rollr Red, 2010

Located at the Southern end of the Anderson Valley, Yorkville Cellars is entitled to the Yorkville Highlands rather than Anderson Valley appellation. And unlike other wineries in the Valley, who now lean heavily toward Pinot reds and Alsatian whites, Yorkville uses only Bordeaux varietal grapes. This Hi-Rollr Red, intended for every day drinking, is comprised of 44% Malbec, 35% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot.

It is a delightful dinner wine, bright and fresh. Malbec dark cherry, Merlot red cherry and the red raspberry structure of a Loire Cab Franc. Not to mention the floral lilt of Petit Verdot. Earth, herbs and berries. Fills the mouth with racy flavors. This is really not very Claret like at all but very enjoyable.,

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Boroli Nebbiolo d'Alba, 2004

Tasted alongside the 1993 Musso Barbaresco Pora, this wine showed another face of Nebbiolo. The color is several shades darker, although there are some orange tones around the edges. The bouquet is much slower to open. Dark and bold, more like Barolo than Barbaresco. Dark cherries, licorice, roses. Has that clinging concentration on the palate that leads many tasters to note that the wine is "very dry." British critics often talk about "fruit drying up on the palate," but I believe that this dryness is not because of any weakness in the fruit but rather because of strong tannins combined with the high acidity of Piedmont Nebbiolo. On the second night, the fruit concentration became even more apparent. Wish I had another bottle or two.

Musso Barbaresco Pora, 1993

1993 was not a good vintage in the Piedmont area of  Italy, and 21 years may be a bit much to expect from a Barbaresco, even from a top vineyard and a good producer. But it was available for $15 at auction, and I thought it was worth the chance.

The color is a very murky amber with lots of free floating sediment. I suspect the wine has not had perfect storage. The smells and flavors of mature Nebbiolo are intense and clearly defined, though. Cherries, dried flowers. Good acidity and concentration on the palate and a long finish. Not a great wine, but the experience is worth at least $15.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Casa Castillo Jumilla Monastrell, 2012

The Jumilla area of Spain is apparently a good place for producing Monastrell wines. My policy is to try every one I see on the shelves, and I've yet to be disappointed. When this one appeared at D&W Market in Kalamazoo, I didn't have to hesitate because I had already tried a glass several years ago at a restaurant in Santa Fe. It is priced at $11.99, a step above some other excellent Spanish Monastrells (like Tarima and Castana) but still outrageously inexpensive for the quality of wine in the glass.

Deep purplish. Still young and a bit tannic on the mid-palate, but the lovely violet-tinged Mourvedre is hard to hide and very likeable. Ripe blueberries, spice, flowers. Velvety mouthfeel.

Buena Vista Carneros Pinot Noir, 2007

On my first sip of this Carneros Pinot Noir, I noted a somewhat tart cranberry/cherry quality. It reminded me of other North Coast Pinots, and I liked it. But I wondered how others at the table might react.

No worries: the wine was friendly enough to please those who were not paying close attention and to entrance those who were. As the meal progressed, the wine became more expansive. And when the delicious pork was gone, the wine was ready to take over and lead the show. Those slightly tart cranberry/cherry flavors became slightly sweet cranberry/cherry with tones of spice and flowers.. Not too sweet. Not too spicy. Just right.

Boskydel Leelanau (Michigan) Vignoles, 2009

Bernie Rink, a former librarian, was one of the first winegrowers on the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan, and his Boskydel dry Vignoles is one of my long-time favorites from the area. It is unpretentious and not a wine designed to make the casual drinkers at the table say, "Wow! What is this?" It's rather a wine to sip and appreciate for its nuances and the way it makes the meal even better. We had it tonight with spinach pie and Greek potatoes, and it was a perfect match.

Medium gold. Lemon and pineapple. Plays nicely off the lemon and herbs in the Greek potatoes. Robust mouth feel without any oak intricacies to distract attention away from the fruit of the vine. Boskydel has been winegrowing since the early 1980s, and the Vignoles vines must have some age on them by now. I think there are more nuances to come for this wine over the next several years.

Boskydel wines are not aggressively marketed or distributed. The best way to taste and buy them is to visit the tasting room near Lake Leelanau. If you want a single bottle, it will cost you $8 to $9. But for around $70, you can pack a whole case in your trunk. This is what wine tasting and buying was all about several decades ago, and you can still have the experience at Boskydel.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Domaine du Chante Perdrix Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

I've had this wine many times, and it's one of my all-time favorite Chateauneufs. What better wine to treat myself on Father's Day?

The color is a light brick red with lots of amber. You could easily dismiss this wine as over-the-hill just from the appearance,  but I know better. This has happened before. The bouquet is also slow to open. But after 30 minutes the haunting scents start to unfold. Wild berries, dried and fresh. Nothing pretentious or showy; just pure beauty. On the palate is where it sings--wild berries and spices from grandma's kitchen in the Southern Rhone. Very savory but also lovely ripeness. It's possible this wine is rolling down the other side of the hill; if so, there is still plenty of pleasure.

Louis Latour Savigny les Beaune Blanc, 1996

The last bottle of this wine that I opened was on March 10, 2008 (look up the note if you're interested). I was worried that I might have waited too long. And maybe I did. Six years ago, the wine was incredibly good; tonight, for lack of a better adjective, it is damn good. If it's lost a tiny bit of its past charm, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it because I've been drinking good wine every day since.

The color is a beautiful deep gold, brilliant and clear. The oak was integrated nicely into the citrus-oriented fruit smells. If the wine has lost anything since 2008, it would be freshness; but there is certainly nothing stale or flat about it. The flavors are rich and concentrated but with good acidity and an aftertaste that seems to last forever. The finish of this wine is enough to bring me back for sip after sip. Unfortunately, it's my last bottle.

Most Savigny les Beaune wines are red, of course. Whites make up only about 3.5 percent of total production. According to the Louis Latour web site: "We find the best terroirs of Savigny-les-Beaune ten minute drive to the north of Beaune, in the extreme west of the appellation in the village of Bouilland. It was on this site that the Chardonnay grapes are harvested.This is not a surprise if some growers compare these vineyards and the composition of their soils to those of the famous and near Corton-Charlemagne."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine Thalabert, 1988

Like so many other vintages of Jaboulet's Domaine Thalabert, this wine continues to change with every bottle I open. And the change always seems for the better. Thalabert is one of the best and most ageworthy wines in my cellar.

Deep ruby color. Mature amber tones and a great deal of sediment. The cork is difficult to extract, but the wine is lovely. High toned Northern Rhone bouquet: Provencal olives, cassis, black fruits and leather. The flavors are similar. Good fruit on the mid-palate--dark berries and blue plums with olives and spice. Somewhat lean. More herbaceous than most Thalaberts, but this only adds to the complexity. Very long and lively finish. My last bottle of this was probably five years ago and seemed at its peak. This bottle is at least as good.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone, 2009

Year after year, two of the best budget wines on the market are from the Perrin brothers--this Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone (about $9 to $11) and La Vieille Ferme Ventoux (about $6 to $8). They are perfect expressions of traditional Southern Rhone vitality at traditional Southern Rhone prices.

At five years of age, the 2009 Perrin Reserve is a good medium ruby color. Smells of dark cherry, earth and black pepper. On the first night, I thought the earthy smells might indicate a touch of brett, but, on the second night, it was more clearly a dark licorice/cassis/mineral scent that is often found in Syrah wines from the vicinity of Vinsobres. (And the Syrah grapes for this wine are indeed sourced from Vinsobres vineyards). Full; rich fruit flavors on the palate. Delightfully accessible but by no means simple. Every bottle of this I open always prompts the question: why don't I buy and drink more of this wine?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2001

This is the first time I have detected secondary characteristics in a Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone. They are, for my taste, a very positive development.

The color has matured a bit, and there is sediment on one side of the bottle. Gone is the overt tonic fruitiness that is the hallmark of Domaine Sainte Anne and, in its place, a more complex bouquet of flowers and spices. On the palate, there are deep cherry tones, and the finish is long and complex. More savory than sweet at this stage of development, and I like that.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Domaine Loew Tokay Pinot Gris Cormier, 2004

This Alsace Pinot Gris is sweeter and fuller than most of us expect from a dry white table wine. But it has excellent acidity and shines with Alsace smells and flavors. It's too sweet for my wife, so she is drinking an Italian Pinot Grigio (MezzaCorona) while I enjoy this mature beauty. Same grape, totally different experiences.

The color is a deep gold compared to the Pinot Grigio. The wine is not overly mature, at least for my taste, but it has a fully developed bouquet. Spice, honey, apples. On the palate, it's full bodied with a very appealing fruit sweetness. Tingly, crystallized finish. I had this with whitefish Grenoble, and it was a bit rich for the dish; it would be better with a good soft Brie cheese.

I would prefer this wine (and most Alsace wines) to be a bit drier, but I have nothing against a bit of fruit sweetness when the wine is this good.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Olivares Altos de la Hoya Santa Ana Vineyard Jumilla Monastrell, 2008

Like many of the $10 and under Spanish wines on the market today, Altos de la Hoya represents a blend of the old and the new. The gnarled old tree-like vines produce exceptional fruit that is fermented in stainless steel tanks with wild yeasts. Yet the wine is aged for six months in French oak, a combination of large and small barrels. Although only a few of these barrels are new, they do impart some character to the wine that could be called "modern" or "international."

I have found Jumilla to be a good source for Monastrell wines, and Altos de la Hoya is one of the most impressive examples I have come across. I held these bottles back a couple of years to see how they would age, but I didn't learn much. The wine still comes across as young rather than mature Monastrell.

Deep, dark ruby. Rather powerful aromas of candied cherries, flowers and spices. It's not the spiciness I love in Mourvedre wines from Southern France, however. Ripe and rich on the palate with distinctive flavors of dark more than red fruits. A bit warm (14% alcohol) and a bit ripe for my taste, but still very enjoyable.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Copain Tous Ensemble Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2011

I was delighted to find an $8 glass of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir on the list at Every Day People Cafe in Douglas, MI. By the bottle, this wine is $32 at Every Day People--only $3 more than I have seen it on retail shelves. And, most importantly, the wine met all of my expectations for Anderson Valley Pinot.

Medium to light ruby; even some hints of amber at the edges but that's a good sign that the wine has not been over-manipulated. The aromas are immediately identifiable as Anderson Valley or, at least, North Coast--wild berries, flowers, herbs. So are the flavors--the tartness of cranberry vs the sweetness of red raspberry. As the wine airs, the up-front sweetness becomes ever more apparent and attractive, but there is still the cranberry acidity at the back end that makes you realize this is not just a pretty face. The finish really becomes expansive.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wine Critics vs Wine Bloggers

In retrieving information about the Clos de Coulaine Savennieres (below), I noted that Chris Kissack, the English Wine Doctor (www.thewinedoctor.com) now charges admission to his house of tasting notes. An English physician, Kissack apparently spends a good part of his time vising French domaines in Bordeaux and the Loire and has an impressive collection of tasting notes going back many years. He has an excellent palate, and his site is clearly worth the price of admission...and more.

Other critics who charge for their websites include Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator, Jancis Robinson and John Livingstone-Learmonth (who has published several books on Rhone wines). As the latter has pointed out, there is not much money to be made from writing wine books; online subscribers help pay the bills. As much as I admire and respect their expertise, I have not subscribed to the sites of any of these critics. Two or three decades ago, I would be avidly following all of them, but at this stage of my wine life I have barely enough time to explore my own discoveries--both those on the store shelves and those in my cellar.

I am not a critic but a blogger. I don't judge the quality of the wines I describe; what I offer is simply my personal experiences with them, my nightly wine diary. I don't pretend to have a special palate, and I don't see anything to be gained from reading the notes of those who do. When I seek information about wine, I go to others like myself--bloggers or contributors to the Cellar Tracker community. Some notes are better than others, but so be it. I can usually read between the lines to find out if a wine is drinking well, over the hill or needs more time.

Papin-Chevalier Clos de Coulaine Savennieres, 2000

Chris Kissack, the Wine doctor (thewinedoctor.com), who tastes a wide range of Loire wines every year, likes this wine, and I do too. It's not a wine, though, that I would serve to guests who have only moderate interest in wine. And it does not have the obvious greatness of some of the Baumard and Chateau d'Epire Savennieres from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Those older Chenin Blancs were undoubtedly given copious amounts of sulfur dioxide as a preservative because they are still light and bright in color after all those years.

The 2000 Clos de Coulaine, made by Claude Papin of Chateau Pierre-Bise, is a medium to deep gold in color with good brilliance. The bouquet is subtle but deep, taking awhile to unfold. Flowers, straw and a touch of honey. The flavors are also nicely focused, nothing over-done. Very dry texture on mid-palate and a long finish of honey and minerals. I have a stock of Clos de Coulaine from 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999. This 2000, I think, is the best of the bunch.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Marchesi di Barolo Barbera del Monferrato Maraia Barbera, 2011

Oh wow! This is a beautiful wine for almost any occasion. The name "Maraia" means "little rascal," and the label states that it's appropriate to describe the wine's "freshness, personality, and charm." Yes, it has all three of those qualities...and a lot more.

Deep, dark ruby with bluish tones. Part of the wine has been aged for a year in 225-liter French oak barrels; the rest, in traditional large barrels. I can smell the lovely aromas, even at arm's length, the moment the cork pops out of the bottle. And the smells just keep getting  better. Dark cherries, violets along with some dark licorice, black pepper tones. More of the same on the palate. Ripe wild berries. Rich mouth feel but perfectly balanced. It's hard to stop drinking this wine.

Monferrato is a hilly area east of Turin. Wines from this area are typically inexpensive, fresh and meant to drink fairly young, five to seven years after the vintage date. This 2011 Monferrato Barbera was included on the Wine Spectator's list of the Top 100 wines of 2012. And with good reason.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Domaine de la Bastide Cotes du Rhone Villages Visan, 2009

This wine offers a slightly different take on the Southern Rhone profile. The color is deeper and darker; I suspect some small new oak barrels have been used for aging some of the wine. As the label correctly suggests, I smell blackberries, dark cherries and brandy. Not as spicy nor as peppery as most Southern Rhones but intriguing. On the palate, there are some hints of plums and red berries and a warm, slightly alcoholic, slightly tannic feel. I suspect this wine still has some room to grow over the next three to five years.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Seaglass Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, 2010

Outside of Trader Joe's (see below), this wine from Seaglass is what you can expect from a $10 Pinot Noir--not really enough to keep me happy. It has some of the qualities I've found in other Pinots from Santa Barbara County--sweeter fruit along with baking spices such as cinnamon and cloves. This is a style that appeals to many wine drinkers, but I prefer the more intense wild berry fruit and peppery spice of the Pinots from farther north--Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast or Russian River Valley.

On  the first night, we had the Seaglass Pinot with a tomato based dish that was somewhat acidic; the match was not good. On the second night, we had a very spicy, salty pizza from Erbelli's, and the match was perfect--the hot spices of the pizza countering the sweet fruitiness and actually producing some pleasant savory qualities in the wine.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Trader Joe's Reserve Russian River Pinot Noir Lot 85, 2012

This Trader Joe's bottling of Russian River Pinot Noir reminds me of other Pinots I have tasted from Russian River, Sonoma Coast or Anderson Valley. I like the profile, relatively high in acidity with concentrated cherry/cranberry smells and flavors.

Medium to light garnet. Very pomegranate. Also red cherries and cranberries. Licorice and dark spices. Good acidity but also ripe fruit, nicely framed. Tannins are present but pleasant to deal with. Long finish.

Another Trader Joe's value: $9.99. I suspect it won't hang around on the shelves too long.

Rocca del Olmo Barbera, 2011

In many ways, this Barbera is even more impressive than its sibling, the  Barbaresco described  below. It's a darker ruby color with no amber tones; it's fuller bodied and richer in flavor. It is a very good Barbera, but, as to be expected, it lacks the complexity and class of the  Barbaresco.

Dark cherries,blueberries, cassis. Smooth on the palate. Fruity but not simple. Long finish. For $6.99 at Trader Joe's, this is another excellent value. I bought half a case; will probably regret not getting more.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Rocca del Olmo Barbaresco, 2010

There is no Trader Joe's store in my area so I buy their wines infrequently. When I do get to a TJ store, I usually focus on the Italian wines because I rarely find a disappointing bottle even at unbelievably low prices.

Barbaresco for $10??? At that price, you don't expect much, but this wine really delivers. Medium deep ruby with amber brick tones. With Nebbiolo wines that is not necessarily a sign of over maturity. And this wine has not even approached the peak of the hill. With Barolo, you usually think of tar and roses; this Barbaresco has plenty of roses but no tar. What's most impressive is the sleek body and silky texture. Elegant indeed. Layers and layers of dark cherry flavors and an incredibly long finish that dances on the palate.

Barbaresco is ordinarily a long aging wine. I'm not sure about this one, but there is no reason to wait. It's beautiful right now and is likely to stay that way for the next three to five years. There aren't many $10 wines that will deliver this much depth and complexity.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2009

The Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone from 2007 was special; it was my favorite CDR from that heralded vintage. The 2009 is not so exciting, at least at this stage of its development.

Medium deep ruby. Smells and tastes of ripe fruit--blueberries with nuances. Very pretty and pure but not very intense. Friendly,  laid back composure compared to 2007 and very little of the pepperiness that usually comes with both Grenache and Syrah from the Southern Rhone. This wine is a 70/30 Syrah-dominated blend, I  believe, but its personality is closer to that of Grenache. Ready to drink, for sure.

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

My last two bottles of this wine, in May and December of 2012, were rapturously good. This bottle, the last of a half dozen, has faded a bit from that level but is still enjoyable. Not to worry: I learned from the experience and will drink my bottles of 2007 Val des Rois within the next 18 months.

Brick red. Smells and flavors are laid back, not intense. Good Grenache doesn't die; it just fades away. Berries, spice and only a hint of pepper. Mostly red fruits; savory more than sweet. Very smooth on the palate. Some subtle notes of dried berries and flowers and a decent finish.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, 2003

Unlike the Terra Barossa Shiraz (below), which seemed to get sweeter and soupier with even short-term aging, this Bin 128 Shiraz from Penfolds has gained depth and complexity with bottle age.

Medium deep color, amber at the rim. The bouquet and flavors also show that it has definitely reached the drink now stage. Flowers, spice, red and black fruits. Oak has integrated nicely.  Even better on the palate. Savory as well as sweet. Some lead pencil hints that I usually associate with Cabernet. Has that friendly up-front Coonawarra personality that is difficult to miss...or dislike. Full flavors on mid-palate and ripe finish that lingers. Gets better through the meal. For my taste, this wine is at a perfect stage of maturity, but if you have some bottles in the cellar, I wouldn't wait too long.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thorn-Clarke Terra Barossa Winemaker's Selection Shiraz, 2009

When I had this wine at a tasting last year, it seemed a little tannic to me so I put this bottle away for a few months. I think that was a mistake. Although this is now a pleasant fruity Shiraz, it lacks structure now that the tannin has faded a bit.

Deep bluish. Beautiful scents and flavors of red raspberries and blue plums. Very ripe, very forward. Plush on the palate. Too plush, actually, and a bit plodding. Not enough  acid to make it lively and enticing. This is the kind of wine that gives Australia a bad name.

Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches Chateauneuf du Pape, 1994

Easter dinner with roast lamb: what better occasion for a mature Chateauneuf du Pape?

The brownish amber color suggests that this 1994 might be overly mature, but one sip dismisses that idea. This is a beautiful wine. Cherries, strawberries, lots of Grenache ripeness. Now some spices and herbs. Good bouquet, but it's on the palate that this wine really shines. Savory sea salt counters the wild berry ripeness. Layers and layers of flavor with perfect balance. This wine is really shining. No hard edges or off flavors.

Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches is not very widely marketed in the United States, and all of the bottles I bought in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor during the mid- to late-1990s were very well priced. Yet the vineyards are well situated, just to the west of Domaine Pegau, and this bottle certainly shows its class. It is head and shoulders above the very good 1993 Pegau Cuvee Reservee I had three weeks ago for my birthday.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Domaine de la Tourade Vacqueyras, 2008

I have come to really appreciate off vintages. 1) My favorite wines from these vintages are nearly always available, usually at a lower price than usual. 2) They are more likely to be closed out early by merchants at even deeper discounts. And 3) the cooler weather in these vintages can sometimes result in wines with greater fruit definition, particularly if you open a bottle on the early rather than the late side. All of these advantages hold true for this Domaine de la Tourade Vacqueyras, an excellent wine that usually sells for about $20 that I picked up for $8.10 on closeout.

The color is a bit lighter than usual for Vacqueyras, and the wine is a bit smaller framed. The relatively cool 2008 vintage, though, has given it great fruit definition with none of the flabbiness that I found in a few wines from riper years such as 2007 and 2003. Initial aromas and flavors are of black pepper, then Vacqueyras dark minerals and licorice. Has everything I expect from Vacqueyras and Tourade but very finely tuned as well. Now I get lively bursts of dark cherries, red plums and spice. All nicely framed with a long after taste. I'm going to enjoy this wine frequently over the  next six months or so.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Domaine Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape, 1990

Like the Elke Pinot (below), this wine too seemed disappointing at first. A slight musty smell made me think it might be corked, but there were too many other good things going on for that and it gradually faded away.

Marcoux produced very good Chateauneufs in 1990, and, in that vintage, the regular bottling that came to the United States was almost as good as the old vines cuvee. I've had this wine several times in the past, and I rank it among the very best Chateauneufs I have tasted. It's been several years since I last tried it, though, and, from a 375 ml bottle, I was worried that it might be starting to show its age. If so, there is still plenty of power, concentration...and pleasure to last for many years.

Large crust of sediment on one side of the bottle; it has been well stored with minimal movement. The color is still deep and dark for 24-year-old Chateauneuf du Pape. Dried and fresh cherries, thyme, rosemary. Old vine concentration and personality. 1990 is a superior vintage, of course, and that's why this wine has more strength and substance than the 1993 Pegau

Elke Donnelly Creek Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 1998

For a repeat birthday #75 dinner a week later with our son, I had a chance to try a couple of wines that didn't quite make the cut the first time. These two wines may have been even better than the 1993 Pegau and the 2010 Perbacco.

Even though there was no sign of leaking or ullage, the cork crumbled pretty badly on this 1998 Anderson Valley Pinot. While taking a few small pours to get rid of the cork remnants, I thought it was going to be a disappointing bottle. The color was light and the aromas and flavors were shy. A half hour later, with a full glass pour, the wine was beginning to show beautifully and it continued to improve over the next 40 minutes or so.

Very bright ruby. Dark cherries, flowers on the nose. Same on the palate with cranberry, dark spice and fruit tannins. This is my type of Pinot--savory rather than sweet spices. Very concentrated, and the acidity makes it dance on the finish. No signs of fading; this wine will go on for at least another year or two.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Le Clos du Caillou Vieilles Vignes Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Unique, 1998

When I first saw this wine on the shelf at Sam's (now Binny's) in Chicago, it was priced as a Cotes du Rhone--about $10 a bottle. I tried a bottle first, then quickly went back for more. Apparently, other consumers did the same because the price quickly escalated, and current vintages of this old vine CDR sell for $25 and up. The vineyards lie just outside the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation and have virtually the same soil and micro-climate. North Berkeley Imports sees that the best lots are delivered to them, produced traditionally and without fining or filtering. Even at $25, it is a good value, and this bottle demonstrates that it ages at least as well as most Chateauneufs.

The color is a medium deep crimson. Very traditional Southern  Rhone smells and flavors--dark cherries, thyme, black pepper and, initially, some barnyard. I don't think this is brett; it is much more pleasant and soon becomes integrated with the fruit. It is rather part of the warm, spicy flavor profile of old vine Mourvedre and Carignan. Strong, persistent flavors; savory rather than sweet. This could easily be mistaken for a Bois du Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape--a high compliment indeed.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Domaine du Pegau Cuvee Reservee Chateauneuf du Pape, 1993

Now fully mature, Domaine du Pegau's 1993 Cuvee Reservee is no longer the "powerful, full bodied,...dense, tannic" wine it was when tasted by Robert Parker in June of 1996. A description of the wine today might include terms such as "mellow," "smooth" and "restrained." As with any Pegau, though, the range of aromas and flavors is remarkable.

When poured in small amounts, the wine is actually rather light in color--not at all what I expect from Pegau. The bouquet has some old-vine funkiness along with fresh and  dried fruits and flowers. The nose relatively restrained, however, compared to the array of flavors that dance across the palate. Very lively and intense for a mature wine. And, as to be expected, very long and satisfying.

As Pegau fans know, the Cuvee Reservee ages famously. If you still have bottles of the 1993, I would suggest drinking  rather than keeping. But you'll enjoy every minute.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco, 2010

After giving me a sip to make sure the wine was not corked, the waiter at Rustica in Kalamazoo decanted this wine through an aerator. The next (aerated) taste was significantly better. This wine is definitely young, and I would not hesitate cellaring it for a decade or more. But it is drinking beautifully right now.

Perbacco is my favorite Nebbiolo and, although a bit pricey at about $21 to $25 a bottle, one of the best wine values on the market today. Made from excess grapes from Vietti's Castiglione Vineyard, it is basically a baby Barolo. If it were to carry the Barolo designation that it deserves, it would cost at least twice as much.

At Rustica, Perbacco is an even bigger bargain since the restaurant offers bottled wine at 50 percent off when ordered before 6:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. So this bottle, one of many vinous treats to help celebrate my 75th birthday, cost only $21, a few dollar less than retail.

One thing I love about Nebbiolo wines from the Piedmont region of Italy is their versatility. The high tannins are accompanied by an equally high level of acidity--allowing both power and finesse. Perbacco is a perfect match for my hanger steak with wine reduction sauce; and it also goes well with the fish soup ordered by my wife.

The color is a bright, deep ruby red with saturation all the way to the rim. The trademark Nebbiolo aromas of dark cherries, anise seed and flowers are tantalizingly slow to unfold but always there. The same is true of the flavors. Beautiful acid/tannin/fruit balance. Drinks like a Pinot but with Barolo potential. Still young. Very long finish that will become even longer and more complex as the wine matures with bottle age.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Domaine Grand-Romane Gigondas Cuvee Boisee, 1990

The last time I tried this wine, in 2012, I posted some negative comments. It must have been an off bottle; this one is beautiful.

Good deep color, looks younger than its 24 years. The bouquet is surprisingly reticent but opens slowly with smells of fresh berries and anise seed. Lush on the palate with mellow, ripe fruit. Smells and tastes sweet but in a good way. Seems much younger than the Coudoulet de Beaucastel from the same vintage. It's not as complex as the Coudoulet, but it's by no means a simple wine. Gets better with each glass on the first night but becomes overly alcoholic and Porty on the second night.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone, 1990

I bought this bottle at the estate in 1992 and dragged it with me on the rest of our trip, along with a couple of Chateaneufs du Pape--1989 Domaine Pegau and 1989 Les Clefs d'Or. They were my favorites of wines I tasted in the Rhone. It was early Spring so I didn't have to worry too much about extremes of temperature but generally wines don't respond as well as humans to the rigors of long-distance travel.

More than 20 years later, however, the wine is none the worse for the stresses to which I exposed it. The color is light crimson and a bit burnished and faded with amber at the edges. The bouquet, though, is powerful even as the cork is pulled. Powerful scents of Mourvedre and Grenache. Now some Syrah. Spicy berries, barnyard and garrigue. This wine is very Beaucastel in its personality...and better than many I've tasted. The vineyards, in fact, border on those of Beaucastel and are just outside the boundaries of Chateauneuf du Pape. The cepage is the same.

Now 24 years old, this Cotes du Rhone is fully mature but all the better for it. It's not perfect on the palate. But who cares? It's rich and concentrated with flavors that just keep coming at you with an array of different nuances. Spicy, animal, haunting. This is a pre-birthday wine, and I'm already feeling the pleasures and rewards of maturity.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay, 2011

This Chardonnay is 100 percent unoaked and all the better for it. Bright fruit smells and flavors explode from the glass. Spiced apples and flowers with a touch of citrus. This may have had some extended lees contact to produce the creamy mouthfeel but the fruit is ever present with good acidity and balance. Lovely finish that keeps you coming back for more. For less than $15, this wine is a perfect accompaniment for Tuscan vegetable stew and would match up well with serious fish or seafood entrees.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Franco Serra Barbera d'Alba, 2010

In the Piedmont area of Italy, Barbera is generally considered a rank below the Nebbiolo wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Yet it's difficult to find a good Barbera d'Alba or Barbera d'Asti in this country less than $20. At $10+ a bottle, this wine from Franco Serra is a notable example.

Beautiful deep ruby. Elegant nose of dark cherries, licorice and flowers--a profile similar to that of Nebbiolo but with considerably less tannic power. Not much tannin but plenty of acid to keep it lively and interesting. Wonderful array of flavors and a persistent, grippy finish. A real gem worth seeking out.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Best's Great Western: Old Vines in the Grampians

Some of the best Australian Shiraz wines, in my opinion, come from the old vines and historic cellar at Best's Great Western, located in the Grampian mountains halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide. On my previous visit to Best's in the early 1980s, the late Trevor Mast was our gracious host. The estate's first hired winemaker, Trevor Mast worked with Viv Thomson at Best's before buying his own property at Mount Langi Ghiran, and the two men continued to learn from each other until Trevor's untimely death from early onset Alzheimer's disease.

Viv's son, Ben Thompson, is now the fifth generation custodian of the winery and vineyards that date to 1867. In a wonderful little booklet that Ben prepared and gives to cellar door visitors, he writes: "I know that we are farmers, but we are also wine growers, representing rich stories of the land and the people who call the Great Western region their home." He points out that this region is highly favorable to Shiraz because of the climate and soil: warm days, cool nights and a terroir that produces "Shiraz wines with lots of spice and complex aromatics." Finally, of course, there are Best's gnarled 147-year-old vines and a historic cellar that reminds me of those I saw at Chateauneuf du Pape: large old foudres and hogsheads of various sizes, labeled by hand and carefully tended. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the cellar, and I recommend it.

The flagship Bin 0 Shiraz was not on the tasting list, but our energetic, knowledgeable hostess, Joyce, pulled out a bottle from under the counter and gave us a taste anyway. It was smooth, elegant, yet powerful and intense, reflecting the low yielding old vineyards from which it is produced. It is most definitely a "wine of place." I had the 1994 Bin 0 last September and posted notes on this blog.

I was also impressed by the less expensive Bin 1 Shiraz, which won the Jimmy Watson trophy two years ago and has a wonderful peppery, spicy personality. It's made from a combination of fruit from Best's and other area growers. There is also a Thomson Family Vineyard Shiraz that is made in very small quantities. At the tasting, I also enjoyed the traditionally made Riesling, matured in foudres.

It's not all history at Best's, of course. The winery has evolved since the 1980s with fresh ideas, new oak, up-to-date technology and recent plantings including a 1992 block planted on white gravel. Wine made in 2010 from this Hill Block, according to Ben Thomson's booklet, "displayed more overt, pungent aromas of pepper and sweet, fragrant tannins combined with medium-bodied fruit to create a complex Old World style, similar to Syrah from France's Rhone region."

I've never been able to locate a U.S. distributor of Best's wines, and that is a shame. These wines represent the very best traditions of Australian winemaking coupled with qualities that would please the most stubborn Europhile.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

McLaren Vale: d'Arenberg, Geoff Merrill

A little further up the road from Langhorne Creek, near the southern suburbs of Adelaide, lies the McLaren Vale wine region. The climate is warmer than in Langhorne Creek or Coonawarra but cooler than most areas of Barossa. Americans are familiar with McLaren Vale wines through the d'Arenberg wines, widely available in my marketing areas.

We tasted at d'Arenberg, now a big commercial operation that produces a mind boggling variety of wines, all with special proprietary names such as the Feral Fox Pinot Noir and the Lucky Lizard Chardonnay. D'Arry's Original has long been a favorite of mine, sort of an Australian Chateauneuf du Pape. It's a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre matured mostly in large barrels that no longer impart oaky smells or flavors. It's not a big, highly extracted wine but a small one with big flavors that just keep getting better with bottle age--even up to 30 years and longer according to the winery. It was better, in my opinion, than the higher priced GSM, The Ironstone Pressings. I have also purchased The Footbolt Shiraz, a $15 bottle that is a decent mid-term ager. In this case, I preferred the more pricey The Laughing Magpie, which has a small amount of Viognier in the blend. Among the whites, I liked The Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne, which I can buy at my local supermarket for $18. Any Viognier wine is bound to be aromatic, but this one has good acid and intensity as well.

My favorite wines from McLaren Vale were those of Geoff Merrill, who established a reputation years ago with his basket-pressed wines at Chateau Reynella. The scales on the Geoff Merrill label represent "the perfect balance," and all of the wines I tasted at the Geoff Merrill winery had just that, leaving a trail of lovely flavors from the tip of the tongue all the way down the esophagus. I still have a few bottles of Merrill's basket pressed Reynella wines; wish I could have access to wines from his own label. They are distributed in the United States by Vindagra USA of Boca Raton, Florida, but I have never seen them in Michigan or Chicago.

Langhorne Creek: Australia's Best Kept Secret

Just a few miles up the road from Coonawarra, heading north toward Adelaide, lies Langhorne Creek, a pleasant little town and an underappreciated wine region, even among Australians. You can taste freely at the tasting rooms of Langhorne Creek without battling the busloads and carloads of tourists.

If you have ever tried Wolf Blass wines, though, you have undoubtedly sampled Langhorne Creek. Wolf had high regard for the wines of this region, even when it was smaller and more under-rated than it is today. And his winemaker for many years, John Glaetzer, was even more enamored of Langhorne fruit (although true to the Australian tradition, it was often blended with grapes from other regions). John's Blend was started as a wine Glaetzer set aside for himself from the best Langhorne Creek lots. Since 1974, it has been sold commercially, and it was the best wines I tasted in Langhorne Creek--well worth a try if you can find it. It's distributed in Canada but not the United States.

John Glaetzer is the winemaker who coined the term, "no wood, no good." And Wolf Blass wines have always reflected that philosophy. Whereas Penfolds uses new oak barriques to extract more tannin, Glaetzer used it to soften the wine and make it more approachable--a style that has become quite popular among lovers of New World wines. It's definitely not my style, but I can respect it and appreciate the well made bottles of John's blend.

More to my liking are wines from the Metala Vineyard, one of the oldest in Australia, dating to the late 1800s. We visited these old, gnarled vines on the outskirts of Langhorne. And, on other ocassions, tasted two bottles of the 1992 Stonyfell Metala Vineyard Shiraz Cabernet. While the varietal fruit traits of both grapes had faded, this wine showed incredible secondary traits and old vine intensity. For my own pleasure, this is a wine I would choose over the John's Blend, the top Wolf Blass reds or even the Grange.

Coonawarra: Red Soil on Limestone

Coonawarra is probably the most well known red wine appellation in Australia. The secret, according to Australians, is the Terra Rossa--the layer of red soil that lies over a limestone base. Regions outside of this narrow strip cannot claim to be Coonawarra even though they lie along the limestone coast of South Australia. I suspect that the micro-climate also plays a role, and one winemaker told me that the average temperature of Coonawarra is about two degrees cooler than nearby areas.

My favorite wine tasted on our visit to Coonawarra was the 2011 Bowen Estate Shiraz. The late Trevor Mast often spoke highly of the wines of  "Dougie Bowen's wines." Doug is still living but has turned over vineyard and winery duties to his daughter, Emma. In what was recognized as a difficult vintage, Emma produced a beautiful Shiraz. Peppery, spicy and energetic; made me want to come back for more.

Redman is another old-line Coonawarra facility with duties recently being turned over to younger members of the family. The wine is made using open fermenters, concrete tanks and seasoned oak barrels--a traditional approach that I like. The wines I tasted, though, were not as immediately enjoyable as those at Bowen's. My favorite, the 2008 Cabernet, was fat and ripe but a bit alcoholic and one dimensional at this stage. Away from the winery, I enjoyed a 1984 Redman's Cabernet from a Jereboam (the equivalent of 12 bottles) that my brother-in-law purchased on release. Lush and ripe but with lower alcohol than the 2008 tasted at the winery. A wine that has aged very gracefully.

Probably best known to Americans are wines from Wynn's Coonawarra Estate. These wines are still highly regarded (as mentioned by Emma Bowen) and showed well at our tasting. I used to buy Wynn's wines for under $10 a bottle in Michigan, but the price has increased considerably even at the Cellar Door.