Saturday, April 29, 2017

Erich Sattler Burgenland Zweigelt, 2014

This is my first experience with Zweigelt, and I will certainly come back for more. It's a very intriguing wine for drinking with or without food. We ordered a bottle while relaxing at the bar of the Conrad Hotel in Chicago.

Deep and dark. Purplish. Not at all what I expected from a cool climate red. Smells of fresh berries, plums and flowers. Dense and dark. Smooth on the palate, lots of pleasing acid and a peppercorn finish. No food but still very refreshing over 30 to 40 minutes.

Zweigelt is a cross of St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch, two traditional Austrian varieties. "According to the producer, "the grapes for this wine go through a one to two week fermentation and maceration process and are pressed carefully. The wine matures on the less for six months and is bottle after minimal fermentation."

Monday, April 24, 2017

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2004

This wine is almost too pretty. But I like pretty. It's 70% Grenache (30% Syrah) but seems almost like 100% Grenache. Ripe, fruity, floral...and irresistible.

Crimson color, deep and bright. Grenache strawberries and raspberries with Spring flowers and a touch of spice. Smells pretty and tastes pretty. If you like your Syrah wines with a bit of a bite, you probably won't like this. There are no noticeable tannins, and I don't remember any from earlier tastings. But there undoubtedly were--and are--substantial tannins to allow it to age so nicely. And it's not ready to give up any time soon. Ripe flavors glide effortlessly down the palate. Very pretty.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Costa di Bussia Tenuta Arnulfo Barbera d'Alba, 2010

In the Piedmont area of Italy, Barbera is the go-to wine when the pasta course comes to the table. Pasta is our main course tonight, and this Costa di Bussia is a perfect match.

Medium deep garnet. Has been aged in barriques but the influence in terms of aromas and flavors is minimal. Beautiful smells of dark cherry plus herbs, spices and grilled tomatoes that blends perfectly with the pasta sauce. Deep and dark but typically Barbera. Not as bright as the Trifula we had last night (see below) but deeper and richer. Dry and peppery on the finish. Has more tannin than your typical Barbera d'Alba. This is probably my favorite medium-priced Barbera, and this 2010 is showing well tonight. I try to buy at least a few bottles every vintage.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Trifula Piemonte Rosso, 2014

This wine is a real find: a blend of 80% Barbera and 20% Nebbiolo for $12.95. With a screw top and a cartoon photo of a dog on the label, Trifulo Rosso is not designed to impress your dinner guests...unless they are knowledgeable and appreciative of well made wines from good vineyards. According to the cartoon on the back label, Trifula is a truffle dog who stumbled upon the largest truffle ever found--one that sold for a million dollars and made the dog famous enough to have a wine made after him. The story, according to the label is "to be continued..." The wine, Trifulo, is also to be continued--purchased in quantity and enjoyed frequently.

Bright garnet with amber Nebbiolo tones around the rim. Very aromatic: dark cherries, mulberries, flowers and the dark tones of Nebbiolo. Beautiful. Much the same on the palate. Coats and teases the tongue with ripe fruit flavors. The tannins are not obtrusive and there is plenty of Piedmont acid to bring you back for taste after taste. No need to age this wine; it is so enjoyable right now that I could drink it every night.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Clos du Mont Olivet Chateauneuf du Pape, 1988

You could argue that this wine is overly mature. In fact, my wife argued that, and I brought up a bottle of Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz (2003) for her Easter dinner. So much more pleasure for me! For my taste, this is old Chateauneuf du Pape at its best.

The color is very light, almost copper colored but still bright and clear. The nose is a bit muted at first and definitely has a note of oxidation. Grenache oxidizes relatively early, but that can actually be a plus for well constructed blends of Chateauneuf du Pape. The sweet crinkly Grenache is supported by the firm structure of Syrah and Mourvedre. Within a few minutes, this note of oxidation blends in beautifully with all the other facets of mature Chateauneuf du Pape--tobacco, sea salt, dried fruit, herbs and minerals. Flavors are even better. Very savory, very smooth, very complex. A hint of sour butter that is unique and very attractive.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Les Vignerons d'Enclave Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas Cuvee Prestige. 2013

For $5.99 at Trader Joe's, this Cotes du Rhone Villages is one of the best values in Southern Rhone wines. It's produced by a cooperative, Les Vignerons d'Enclave at Tulette, and some buyers might be turned away by the back label description of "candied fruit aromas and flavors." In fact, I find very little that I would call "candied" in this wine, particularly in the 2013 vintage.

Yes, it is ripe and has smells and flavors of Grenache red berry. But, like other good Southern Rhones, the ripe fruit is supported and framed by black pepper, spice and tobacco. Tannins are pleasingly rustic, and there is good balance of fruit, acid and tannins. I should buy more of this wine.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Chateau de la Font du Loup Tasting at Russo's in Grand Rapids

Anne-Charlotte Melia-Bachas, owner and winemaker at Chateau de la Font du Loup in Chateauneuf du Pape, brought her wines for a tasting at Russo's International Market in Grand Rapids. I liked the wines and appreciated the opportunity to talk with the winemaker.

In his Chateauneuf du Pape book, Harry Karis describes Font du Loup as "semi-modern," but I am not sure I agree. Ms. Melia-Bachas stressed that she does not like what new oak does to Southern Rhone wines and uses none. Following tradition, the Grenache is aged in old oak foudres; in more semi-modern tradition, she uses twice-used barriques for Syrah and twice-used demi-muids for Mourvedre. Neither of these seem to affect the traditional aromas and flavors of her wine.

The white Chateauneuf is impressively robust-a wine for rich, buttery dishes. If you like it fruity, as it is now, she says, drink it in the first five years after the vintage. Between ages 5 and 12, she says, it becomes "a troublesome adolescent." After 12 years, it begins to blossom. That was new information for me. I have been decidedly disappointed by white Chateauneufs that I thought were over the hill when, in fact, they were probably just undergoing an awkward stage. I have long known, of course, that red Chateauneuf goes through this kind of development.

Font du Loup's white Cotes du Rhone is fresh and vibrant. The red Cotes du Rhone (50% Grenache and 50% Syrah) could pass for a CDR Villages or even a young Chateauneuf. It comes from vines just outside the CdP appellation. Cherries, black fruits, lots of spice.

My favorite of the three red Chateauneufs was the Cuvee Hercule--a special blend (55% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 15% Syrah) that included the best lots of each variety. Lovely wine right now; I'd love to taste it in a decade or two. It was named in honor the late father of wine importer Chip Delsener who collaborated with Melia-Bachas in designing this cuvee.

The Font du Loup Puy Rolland Chateauneuf is bound to be a special wine. It is 100% Grenache from vines that are over 100 years old. For a wine with this kind of delicacy, though, I can't find much with such a small taste. To judge it fairly, I would need to sit down at a meal with at least half a bottle.

The regular Chateauneuf is about 2/3 Grenache plus Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault, vinified separately. It has all the qualities I look for in a young Chateauneuf, bold but not over-extracted.





Friday, March 31, 2017

Domaine Chante Perdrix Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

This wine was dancing many years ago. That's why Robert Parker gave it 94 points and rated it as one of the best wines from a very fine vintage. I didn't taste it at that time, but I have tasted it many times over the past 10 to 15 years. It has been dancing every time, and it is still dancing tonight.

The light color and delicate body would lead you to believe that this wine is on its path down. But I thought the same thing 15 years ago. When first opened, I found little noteworthy in either the smells or flavors. After 30 to 45 minutes, the dance starts. The bouquet is pure Chateauneuf with dried fruits and flowers backed by an amazing collection of exotic spices. Incredibly deep and complex. The same goes for the flavors. Ripe, ripe Grenache berry. Very red fruit, but the glory of this wine is in the nuances. They just keep coming at you in waves.

Chante Perdrix is a very traditional Chateauneuf and still reasonable in price. 1989 is one of the estate's best vintages.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

M. Marengo Barolo, 2012

It's my birthday (#78), good reason to splurge on a special wine. This 2012 M. Marengo Barolo is $70 on the winelist at Rustica in Kalamazoo, but those who arrive in the first hour or last hour get a 50% discount on wine or beer. So we had an excellent wine, drinking well even in its youth. And at the $35 price it is hardly a splurge.

The color is a medium to light garnet, what you would expect from a traditionally made Barolo. In fact, Mario Marengo uses some barriques for aging but only for 15 to 20% of the wine and the small barrels are seasoned by a few years of previous use. The aromas are amazing: red fruits, flowers and spice. More strawberries and red raspberries than dark cherries and not as much of the black licorice/tar element as you find in some Barolos. Very complex. The more you sniff, the more you get. Incredibly rewarding on the nose. Much of the same on the palate. That "very dry" feeling that comes across on the finish tells me that this wine has plenty of tannin and acid for long-term cellaring. But there is much to like right now.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tenuta Rocca Barbera d'Alba Roca Neira, 2006

This is a suave, internationally style Barbera. It is smooth and lush but with strong fruit and oak tannins.

Very dark, purplish. The wine has been aged in new oak barriques. Rich black fruit smells and flavors. Dark cherry, chocolate, coffee. The oak is apparent, but the tannins are well integrated. Beautiful ripe Barbera flavors dominate on the back end of the palate.

The producer writes that this wine will age for at least 10 to 12 years in a cool cellar, and I agree. At 11 years of age, it is drinking well now and should get better for at least a few more years.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Brusset Les Haut de Montmirail Gigondas, 1990

Daniel Brusset was one of the first Gigondas winemakers to produce a wine using new oak barrels, indicating so with the words "eleve en futs de chene neufs." The wine got high praise from Robert Parker, but I was dubious when I tasted it against 20 or 30 other Gigondas wines at the tasting room in Gigondas in the spring of 1992. It won't age as well as traditional Gigondas, I predicted.

I still strongly favor traditional, non-oaked versions of Gigondas, but tasting this wine, now 27 years past its vintage date, I must admit that I was wrong about the aging. This wine is very good. And it tastes like a good Gigondas should.

The color is still fairly deep, and there is a heavy crust on one side of the bottle, which suggests to me that there is at least some Syrah in the blend. I like the bouquet--Burgundian aromatics with Gigondas dried cherries, tobacco and animal scents. If you were tasting it blind, the flavors would be a dead give-away that this is a Gigondas. Gigondas is only a few kilometers away from Chateauneuf du Pape on the south and Vacqueyras and Beaumes de Venise on the north, and the grapes used are the same for all of these Southern Rhone appellations, but there is something distinctive about the taste of Gigondas that I can't quite put my finger (or tongue?) on. There is power, for sure, even though the alcohol level is only 13%. And there are fruit and mineral traits that I love. Finally, I don't detect any of the new oak traits that I tasted in 1992. This is clearly produced from high quality grapes in a good vintage, and it has aged well.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2004

This wine is just begging to be drunk...right now. That does not mean it will not continue to develop (Sainte-Anne's 2001 Villages is also drinking well right now), but if you like good wine, there is no reason to wait.

Beautiful ruby color. The bouquet is very floral but also plenty of ripe red fruit. The strawberry Grenache on the palate is irresistible. Luscious fruit flavors that get better with every sip. Multidimensional but all of the dimensions come back to rich, ripe red berries. Probably not as complex as the 2001 Villages at this point but more seductive. It matches up well with hanger steak but would also do well with just about anything.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Kuentz-Bas Gewurztraminer Tradition, Alsace, 1983

I like an occasional bottle of Gewurztraminer but rarely can find anyone to enjoy a bottle with me. That's the main reason this wine has lingered in the cellar for these 30-some years. While it hasn't made the transformation from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan, it is every bit as good as it was in the mid-1980s when I bought it for less than $5 a bottle.

Deep gold but not a whole lot deeper than it was in its youth. Still bright and lively. The classic Gewurztraminer smells are powerful. Gewurz means spicy, but, as Jancis Robinson has pointed out, it would be hard to find a spice on your shelf that resembles the aroma of Gewurztraminer. Roses and barber shop are better terms. On the palate, too, it's full bodied and powerful. Nothing shy about this wine, and there is no reason to apologize for lack of subtlety. There is plenty to like in this wine.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Domaine Creve Coeur Cotes du Rhone, 2011

Based on everything I read, this Cotes du Rhone is 100% Grenache. Smelling and tasting it, I would swear that it has a fairly high percentage of Syrah.

Deep and dark. Smells tannic and a bit backward. Mostly black fruits--blueberries, blackberries, plums. On the palate, though, reasonably deep fruit flavors come forth. Again, plums and berries. Very little of the red berry, spice and pepper that I expect from 100% Grenache, but, nevertheless, an enjoyable wine. I would buy more.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Deux Roches Macon Villages Tradition, 2014

This Macon, along with all of the wines of Collovray et Terrier, were big favorites of mine during the early 1990s. I was delighted to see this Macon on the shelves once again. It comes from one of the oldest vineyard areas in Burgundy, very near to Saint Veran and Pouilly Fuisse.

Brilliant and deep yellow with hints of green. This wine has seen no new oak, although it has spent some time on its lees, but the aromas and flavors have at least as much complexity as oaked wines from Burgundy or the New World. Inviting smells of white peach and apricot. Same on the palate but with bright acidity. A very inviting wine. Goes beautifully with whitefish or with fish stew. Wish I could find some of the Saint Veran.

Murgo Etna Rosso, 2014

This is the wine that attracted me to the Italian Table flight at Vino Volo (see below). For the past several years, I have been enjoying occasional bottles of the 2008 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso--a very good wine that is maturing nicely. This 2014 Murgo doesn't have the same appeal to me, perhaps because it needs more time in the bottle.

The colors are deep and saturated. Black fruit flavors--plums and backberries. Big and rich with a nice bittersweet finish. For me, though, this wine lacks the elegance and class that the Tenuta delle Terre has offered from the beginning.

Piancornello Campo Della Macchia Tuscany, 2013

This is a blend of Sangiovese, Colorino and Syrah. The color is a rather rusty red, lighter than I expect from a Tuscan blend of these grapes. And the smells and flavors also leave an impression of a more mature wine. Tobacco, ripe cherry and dried fruit.

Castelfeder Lagrein Rieder Sudtirol-Alto Adige, 2014

Lagrein is another "new" Italian wine for me. Actually, it is a very old wine grape that is no longer very widely marketed, at least in my area. I liked Castelfeder's Lagrein and, at the right price (under $15), will come back for more.

Alto Adige is in northeastern Italy, in the Alps. From this area, I am inclined to look for white wines such as Pinot Grigio, but this red wine is much sturdier than I expected. In my flight of three (including wines from Tuscany and Etna), it is by far the darkest in color. The smells are beautiful--small red berries, violets and spice. And it's full bodied enough to stand up to a spicy chili

Wine Tasting on the Fly: Vino Volo

A four-hour layover at the Denver airport: how about a leisurely lunch and wine tasting? That was my experience earlier this week. Roaming the aisle looking for good food, I happened upon a Vino Volo outlet offering not only attractive food but a good choice of wine flights (three-ounce glasses of three different wines). I ordered a bowl of beef/bison/pork chili accompanied by the Italian Table flight of red wines: Castelfeder Lagrein, Piancornello Sangiovese blend and Murgo Etna Rosso.

Dan and Jake answered all of my questions about the wine and food in great detail. It was a great experience.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Domaine de Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape, 1990

I bought a dozen half bottles of this 1990 Domaine de Marcoux when it was first released. The bottles I had in the early to mid-2000s were among the best Chateauneufs I have ever tasted--just bursting with energy and intensity as well as very deep fruit. With hindsight, I should have finished off all of the bottles within the next few months, but it's easy to assume that a great wine will only get better. This bottle tonight no longer qualifies as great but it is very good.

The color has lightened, and there is a substantial crust of sediment on one side of the bottle, which has been undisturbed for at least a decade. Smells and flavors are what I expect from an older Chateauneuf du Pape--dried and fresh cherries, savory spice and sea salt. Strong presence on the palate. There is nothing wrong with this wine except for my memory of the greatness it offered a decade ago.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2001

This wine gets prettier and more floral every time I drink it. It has reached a beautiful stage of maturity,  but I'm not sure it has reached its peak.

The color is deep and bright; some sediment is forming along the sides and bottom of the bottle, but not too much. Red raspberries and spices along with flowers. Even better on the palate. The wine is still fruit-oriented but with another dimension. Very enjoyable with an every day meal but elegant enough to accompany a special meal.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Domaine Terlato and Chapoutier Victorian Shiraz-Viognier, 2006

Michel Chapoutier is from an old wine-making family in the Rhone Valley of France. Anthony Terlato is a Napa Valley winemaker. Together, they are producing wines from some very good vineyards in Central Victoria, Australia. This wine is 95% Shiraz with just a touch of Viognier (a white wine grape) for aromatic complexity. It is a combination used by many Northern Rhone winemakers to produce Cote Rotie.

I don't smell or taste the Viognier in this wine, and that is how it should be. It adds yet another layer of pleasure to both the nose and palate. Black raspberries and peppercorn. Ripe and inviting but multidimensional. Rich, velvety mouth feel but not at all thick or heavy. Lots of ripe black fruits--plum and berry--on the palate. The only thing that concerns me about this wine is the color. The rusty, brickish tone is to be expected from a wine of this age, but the color lacks the brightness and saturation that I usually note in a wine of this quality. It's drinking beautifully right now so my inclination (primarily because of the color) is to drink the remaining bottles relatively soon.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Pierre Amadieu Vacqueyras le Grangeliere, 2007

I have had several excellent Gigondas wines from Pierre Amadieu. This Vacqueyras is at least as good. If you have been to the Rhone, you know that Vacqueyras and Gigondas are only a few kilometers apart. Yet the wines are very different--perhaps in part because of differences in the blend of grapes used by most Gigondas producers. Mostly, though, the difference is in soil, vineyards and micro-climate.

Deep, dark ruby. Ripe blueberries, dark Vacqueyras minerals and pepper. Full bodied. Ripe but not overly ripe as some 2007 Rhones are. Minerals and pepper take over on the palate. This wine has probably spent some time in new oak barriques, but, for my taste,  it still retains the traditional personality of Vacqueyras. Very good now but will probably get better over the next couple of years.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Chateau Mazeris Canon-Fronsac, 1982

The last report of Chateau Mazeris I made was in December, 2009. For whatever reason, I believe I enjoyed the wine tonight more than I did then--even though the earlier review was mostly favorable.

The color is light and brickish; that's to be expected for a 35-year-old red wine. It's mostly Merlot that continues to age well. Cherries and black tea with some aromatic herbs. The tea is maybe more prominent than it was eight years ago but otherwise not much change. A strong core of ripe fruit on the finish that is worth dwelling on. What is remarkable about this wine is its balance, even after all these years. 12% alcohol, old oak, traditional winemaking...$6.99 a bottle. The winemaker knew he didn't have to do anything showy to sell his Claret.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Val de Sil Valdeorras Godello, 2008

From 2012, when I opened my first bottle until tonight, this wine has changed about as much as any white wine I have tasted. It had bright lemon acidity in its youth, and I compared it to a good Sancerre or Premier Cru Chablis. Over five years, it has maintained its intensity while broadening and gaining incredible complexity.

Now a deep gold color. The bouquet jumps out at me as soon as I pull the cork. Very powerful. Mostly flowers but also some minerals, nutmeg and lemon zest. On the palate, it has a huge presence for a white wine. Coats the tongue with a range of flavors. Now I know what Godello is all about.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2002

I am a big fan of Jean Descombes Morgon and consider it an excellent value at $10 to $12 a bottle. It also ages very well for a cru Beaujolais.

The color has faded a lot since my last bottle of the 2002 a couple of years ago. From a deep ruby to a rusty brick red. The bouquet, though, is still fruit-oriented and lovely. Cherries, pomegranates, violets. Has gained delicacy with age but still has full fruit flavors with medium ripeness.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Chateau d'Epire Savennieres, 1982

The red tag on the bottle tells me that I paid all of $5.25 for this wine. And I bought and drank plenty of it--because of the price and because of the quality. I remember its rich, vibrant fruit when it was young--better than any California Chardonnay could deliver for a comparable price.

The only place I knew that sold Savennieres was Village Corner in Ann Arbor, and the sale booklet produced by Dick Scheer and his staff every other month provided ample information about the appellation, the wine and the producer. What I learned from reading the booklet and drinking the wine is all that more meaningful tonight as I enjoy yet another bottle of a 37-year-old white wine that is seemingly immortal.

The color is incredible for a wine of this age--deep gold but not overly so and still bright and lively. The bouquet has the complexity that you would expect but, again, clean and beautifully focused. Does not seem at all old. White peaches soaked in anise. A touch of honey. The flavors are even better. Sea salt and minerals. A pleasing touch of sweetness that goes right down the middle of the tongue and leaves a long after taste. Silken texture. Still good acidity but no hard edges.

I had a disappointing bottle of this in 2008 and had almost written it off. Glad I gave it another try. This should make it into my top 10 list for 2017.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Phillips Hill Toulouse Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2006

The label sums up what Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is all about: "difficult as it is to grow Pinot when you have to fight the climate or the soil, here it grows as if it were a nursery for angels." The pure fruit qualities of the grape just seem to develop effortlessly in this cool, foggy valley near the Pacific Coast. It's my favorite source for Pinot Noir wines, ranking even higher than Oregon or the Burgundy region of france.

We tasted at Toulouse Winery near Philo several years ago and were impressed by the fruit quality. This may be even better than the Toulouse Estate Pinot, which is very good indeed.

Beautiful ruby with slight bricking. Scents of red raspberries, cherries, mint and green tea. Lacy Pinot texture and bright fruit flavors. Long and ripe. Gets better with every sip.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Parducci Mendocino County Pinot Noir, 2013

When I saw this Pinot on the wine list (Cafe4 in Knoxville, TN), I knew it was good because I have several bottles in my own cellar. I paid $4.79 for my bottles, but I had no hesitation paying $7 a glass for the glass tonight. It is worth that...and maybe more.

Deep ruby, Cherries, red berries and spice. Has the depth of fruit of Mendocino Pinot Noir, Medium full on palate. Firm fruit on finish. The $4.79 price was a special; wish I could find more at that price. This is a very good North Coast Pinot.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Moillard Cotes du Rhone Les Violettes, 2013

If it hadn't been for the name, I might have missed the violets in this Cotes du Rhone. It's definitely internationaly-styled with very little of the peppery, spicy rusticity that I love in a Southern Rhone. If I were drinking it blind, I might think it were a New World blend of some sort. Nevertheless, it is very attractive--smooth, medium bodied and moderately ripe. As it airs over the course of the meal, I detect more of the ripe Grenache berry. Nice wine but cheap at half the price. For $16 to $18, I can find much better options.

I had this as a wine by the glass at the excellent Lazy Goat Restaurant in Greenville, SC.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

La Guita Manzanilla Sherry (bottled 2016)

I have to admit my ignorance about sherry, but I know that Fino and Manzanilla are usually best when freshly bottled. As a result, many of these wines are past their prime by the they reach our shores. I had some good examples in Spain last summer, and this La Guita is another.

Very light color. I get an immediate whiff of oxidation, but that is part of the plan with Sherry. It quickly fades into the background behind fresh scents of sea brine, green olives and yeast. The flavors are also fresh and blend beautifully with tapas from Curate, an excellent Spanish restaurant in Asheville, NC. Patatas brava, skewered lamb, Catalan spinach and Catalan sausage. I really felt like I was back in Barcelona or Seville. Good sherry, great food.

Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf du Pape, 2013

Most of the Chateauneufs in my cellar were purchased a decade or more ago when even the best bottles from the best vintages were available for less than $20 a bottle. Chateauneuf du Pape wines age very well over two or three decades, but they are also very good when tasted young, as this 2013 Vieux Lazaret demonstrates.

The color is not particularly dark but has bright, clear crimson tones. At least this bottling of Vieux Lazaret is aged in large, old oak foudres. From the first sniff, the origin of this wine is indisputable; it has all the hallmarks of a fine traditional Chateauneuf. Bright red fruits, pressed flowers, spices and pepper. Mellow in the mouth with compact fruit and old vine intensity. Long finish. 14% alcohol is apparent but in a positive way and in line with CdP tradition. The wine is well proportioned and well balanced. A delight now with a promise of more to come.

Even though Vieux Lazaret sells for about $40 a bottle, I was able to get a three-ounce pour for only $10 at a unique place--Battery Square Book Exchange and Champagne Bar in Asheville, NC. Yes, I could spend an afternoon just browsing the reading matter in this fantastic new and used book store. And I can also order and drink 25 to 50 wines and champagnes by the glass, including some high-end wines available in one-ounce, three-ounce, five ounce or 10-ounce pours. This is my type of place; next time I'm ordering the 2010 Ceretto Barbaresco. We saw little groups everywhere: four women who call themselves WWW, Women Who Wine; two men getting together for coffee and a roll; a group upstairs discussing 19th century history; young college couples exploring the stacks. It's a place to be alone or together exploring books and wine.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Louis Latour Montagny 1er Cru Le Grande Roche, 2011

This Louis Latour Chardonnay was quite ordinary when I first popped the cork, but it became increasingly impressive as it aired and warmed throughout the meal. I paid $16 for this a year ago at Village Corner in Ann Arbor and consider it an excellent value.

Deep gold color. Looks perfect for current drinking. As the bouquet begins to open, I smell flowers, lemon creme and vanilla. Enough depth to keep me coming back for sniff after sniff. Pretty much the same on the palate. Apples, lemons and muscat. Nice acidity with a pleasing touch of sweetness on the finish. Right on the money for current drinking.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Domaine la Remejeanne Cotes du Rhone Les Arbousiers, 2011

Domaine la Remejeanne produces several very good Cotes du Rhones made in a traditional way. This is the one with a high percentage of Syrah (70% vs 30% Grenache).

As to be expected with the Syrah-rich cepage, the color is a deep, dark ruby. And the aromas and flavors lean more toward black fruits and tones--blackberry, cassis, lavender and a hint of mint. Takes some time to open, but it's drinking nicely. My only complaint: the alcohol level is a bit high (15%) and there is not enough balancing acidity to keep it lively. It's a big wine, though, and New World wine drinkers will probably prefer it to Remejeanne's Grenache-rich CDR.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Cave Vincole Kientzheim Kayserberg Tokay d'Alsace, 1983

I drank many bottles of this Alsace Pinot Gris 30-some years ago. At the time, it was cheaper than jug wine and many, many times better. I bought in quantity and enjoyed. But two bottles of this Tokay d'Alsace (the name used at the time for Alsace Pinot Gris) and two bottles of the Gewurztraminer got pushed to the side to gather dust in the cellar. It's past time to open these bottles and see what they have left.

After 30-plus years in the bottle, the cork is difficult to extract but does eventually come out (in two pieces, rather than one). When first poured, the color is surprisingly light but, when exposed to air, it quickly turns to deep gold and then a tawny color. If you go by color alone, you're probably not going to like this wine. The Pinot Gris scents, though, are remarkably preserved: dried and fresh pears, apples, butter and a touch of brown sugar. The wine is dry on the palate, although rich in flavor and texture. Remarkably clean for a 34-year-old white wine. Long, enjoyable finish. Looking forward to the next bottle.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Chateau Carteau Cotes Daugay Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 1982

I bought a lot of 1982 Bordeaux. Robert Parker was exclaiming about the greatness of the vintage, and the wines were incredibly inexpensive, even for that period. The price tag on this bottle, now 35 years old, reads $7.99. As other wines reach maturity, it's easy to push these older Bordeaux aside; and, regardless of their advancing age, I have never really been disappointed by even the most modest of labels.

Brick red but still vibrant. The only thing old about this wine is its cork, which was difficult to extract. The bouquet is intense and clean: mint, cedar, cherries and red spices. Same on the palate. Clear as a bell. Both sweet and savory qualities. Relatively big for a wine that is clearly Merlot heavy. Oh, if New World Merlot smelled and tasted like this, I would be a buyer.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Luca Ferraris Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato, 2011

If you have never tried Ruche, join the crowd; I have been drinking wine for nearly 40 years, and this is my first bottle of Ruche, wine made from an old, relatively rare grape grown near d'Asti in the Piedmont appellation of Italy. It's easy to compare this wine to Nebbiolo because it has a similarly enchanting aromatic profile. But it is definitely unique. As Kyle Phillips of the Italian Wine Review put it: "If you like this kind of wine you will like it very much. If not, you won't and though this is an obvious comment, unless you are absolutely certain you don't I would give it a try." With this bottle, my first try at Ruche, I am delighted that I gave it a try.

It is believed that the grape was brought to the Piedmont many years ago, probably from the Burgundy area of France. And the color is relatively light, similar to that of Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. The nose is incredibly beautiful--like walking into a floral shop and being bombarded with diverse smells from all directions. Also spice, red currants and pomegranate. Intense but also subtle, if that is possible. New scents seem to be appearing with each sniff.  Much more delicate in texture and body than Barolo or Barbaresco. There is plenty of tannin here but it is hiding behind the fruit and acid structure. Berries on the mid-palate but almost tart on the finish. Citrus? or cranberries. There are some drinkers who may not appreciate the finish, but I love it. Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato is now on my buy list.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Penfolds Koonunga Hill South Australia Shiraz Cabernet, 2008

If you are trying to get a handle on the difference between Australian Shiraz and French Syrah, "generosity" is a key word. Australian Shiraz is often generous (sometimes to a fault) while Northern Rhone Syrah wines, like the one produced by Cave de Tain (below), have more structure (sometimes too much). When Australian winemakers blend Shiraz and Cabernet, as in this wine, they count on Shiraz to provide the generous mid-palate while Cabernet Sauvignon provides the structure. The result can be an enjoyable wine either for casual drinking or to accompany meals.

Very dark and deep. Blue plums, berries, dark chocolate. Has the classic Shiraz/Cab smells and flavors. Hard to isolate either grape, but they complement each other nicely. At eight years of age, this wine has developed a pleasing level of mature complexity, but I would feel comfortable holding it for another year or two.

Koonunga Hill is a Penfolds classic, first produced in 1976. It was inexpensive then and still is, selling for about $8 to $10 at World Market. I prefer the Shiraz/Cabernet rather than the Cabernet/Shiraz because it has the qualities I remember from that initial vintage, but both are good. If you can't afford Penfolds Bin 389 (I saw a price tag of $70/bottle recently), this is the poor man's choice. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hecht & Bannier Languedoc Rouge, 2014

Even from the Languedoc, good old-fashioned Southern French wines like this one are increasingly hard to come by. For only $28 a bottle on the wine list of the excellent Meadowlark restaurant near Dayton, OH, it is an unbelievable bargain.

Smells like some of my favorite Southern Rhones from the 1990s: red fruits, pepper, spice and loads of garrigue. The French country side is blooming. Just as good on the palate: zingy, peppery fruit that gets better with every sip. Matches up well with an excellent dish of hanger steak on a bed of arugula with roasted potatoes and broccoli. The dish sounds more straightforward than it really is. And so does the wine. Imported by Frederick Wildman, H&B Languedoc Rouge is a wine to seek out and buy in quantity.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cave de Tain Premiere Note Collines des Rhodaniennes Syrah, 2015

Syrah from the Northern Rhone and the 2015 vintage at a decent price ($15.95)--I had to give it a try.

Deep ruby some purplish tints. Aromas were very Nouveau when the cork was popped, but the wine took on weight and seriousness within 10 to 15 minutes. Boysenberries, violets, spice and black pepper. Intense flavors. Crozes-like. The wine is easy enough to drink now, but I would like to see how it develops over the next year or two.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel California Red Wine, 2001

Steve Edmunds, one of my favorite New World winemakers, says that Rocks and Gravel--a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah--"has always been inspired by the lovely, sunny red wines grown in the South of France, and these days it may be hard to distinguish from the real thing." By the "real thing," I am assuming that Edmunds is referring to Chateauneuf du Pape, and this wine is truly very close, in some ways, even more appealing than a fine Chateauneuf du Pape.

It has all the peppery, spicy, sea salt goodness of a middle-aged Chateauneuf. This Rocks and Gravel, though, is now 15 years old, and showing younger than the two Chateauneufs from 2000 I had last week (2000 Mas Boislauzon and 2000 Pierre Usseglio). Younger, more vibrant fruit but still plenty of the secondary characteristics to be expected from a CdP. More Mourvedre than Syrah in the blend, I suspect. Violets, lavender, a pleasing touch of Mourvedre barnyard. Reminds me of Bois du Boursan or Vieux Telegraphe. But the strong cherry/berry fruitiness reminds me even more of Domaine Sainte-Anne Saint Gervais. Actually, no comparisons are needed; this is Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel--a well made wine sourced from well selected vineyards in Paso Robles, Mendocino and El Dorado.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Graham's 20-year Tawny Port

This was a wine opened for Christmas plum pudding, but I still have some to savor. Taylor's 20-year Tawny was my wine of the year for 2016, and Graham's 20-year Tawny is certainly not far behind. 20-Year Tawny is just so much better than 10-Year Tawny. It is more expensive, of course, but well worth it.

Smells and flavors that have built up over 20 years and more in the barrel. Can't quit sniffing. But don't want to miss the flavors. Very complex--fruit, nut, wood, spirity alcohol all in harmony. Walnuts, caramel, toffee and dried fruits. Jam packed with flavor. There are few desserts that can match this wine.


Babich Hawkes Bay (New Zealand) Chardonnay, 2015

I bought this Chardonnay regularly in the late 1990s. It was one of my best introductions to really fine unoaked Chardonnay. There is so much aroma and flavor in this wine that it's hard to imagine why a winemaker would want to sacrifice that by adding the all too familiar traits of new oak.

Good bright color. The label mentions mango and peach, and it's hard for me to get past the mango. Mango, melon, papaya--all of those complex smells and flavors of tropical fruit. Very finely focused. Creamy on the palate with a long, pleasant finish. My ideal (or close to it) in unoaked Chardonnay.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Veglio Michelino Barbera d'Alba, 2012

Even though it has been in the bottle for a few years now, this Barbera d'Alba looks, smells and tastes like a young wine. And that's perfectly all right, even for this aged necrophile. Of course, maturity adds much to a wine, but the exuberant fresh fruit of this wine is just what I need to accompany vegetarian chili on a cold January evening.

Beautiful rich crimson robe. Has the dark tones that I love in wines from the Piedmont--dark cherry, dark licorice, blue flowers. Ripe but also intense--coats the tongue but also dances on it.

I bought Veglio's Barbera d'Alba for about $10 at Sawall's Health Foods in Kalamazoo. I have had more expensive Barberas that delivered much less pleasure. I'll be looking for more--from this vintage and more recent ones.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2000

All of the Sainte-Anne wines age fabulously, even the simple Cotes du Rhones. And this Saint Gervais, with 60 to 70% Mourvedre, is particularly ageworthy. It is my favorite wine from one of my favorite estates.

The 2000 Sainte-Anne Saint Gervais is showing better than it was five years ago but is still a young wine. Medium deep with minimal bricking. I smell black fruits, violets and other aromatic blue flowers. Mourvedre spiciness. Has the ripe berry fruit of the lower level Sainte-Annes plus the depth and power of Mourvedre. Rich but not thick on the palate with a medium long finish. Reminds me of a good Gigondas.

In addition to the Mourvedre (60-70%), Saint Gervais is made from Syrah (15-20%) and Grenache (15-20%)--all from vines planted in the early to mid-1960s. The Mourvedre, according to Rhone expert John Livingstone-Learmouth (DrinkRhone.com), is "aged 50% new-4 year 228-litre oak casks, 50% vat 10-12 months, unfined, unfiltered." Grenache and Syrah are destemmed and raised in vat for 10 to 12 months.