Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Coteaux du Layon, Chateau de la Roulerie 2003

Looking for a good dessert wine for less than $15? This one worked quite nicely at a recent Christmas party.

Coteaux du Layon wines from the Loire Valley are always fairly inexpensive and I have several in my cellar from the late 1960s and early 1970s that are still drinking beautifully. Because of the warm summer of 2003 in France, this wine is lower in acidity than most vintages and particularly good for drinking right now. From the first sniff, the wine is plump and luscious with scents of peaches, ripe pears, citrus peel, honey and a smokey, tobacco undertone that probably comes from botrytis (15% in this wine). It's very ripe but with no alcoholic heat (only 13%). Clings to the tongue while the flavors climb out to tease every surface. Delicious wine. The sweetness at the end is balanced by some citrus peel acidity. At $13/bottle, I wish I had bought more.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

CDR Villages Rasteau, Domaine Beau Mistral 1990

Two of my favorite Cotes du Rhone Villages are Cairanne and Rasteau. Although these two areas are within a few kilometers of each other, the wines are very different. While Cairanne wines are generally spicy and peppery, Rasteaus have a dark, dense component to the aroma and flavor that probably comes from minerals in the soil. I usually prefer Cairanne, but this bottle suggested to me that I may be drinking my Rasteau wines too early. This one at least has aged beautifully.

The color is still dense and dark and so is the bouquet--blackstrap molasses more than licorice. But also dark cherries and black raspberries. Deep and intense. It dances on the tongue with ripe, ripe flavors from front to back. This is the last bottle of a case I bought 15 years ago; alas, it's by far the best.

Most Cotes du Rhone Villages wines are probably consumed before they are eight years old; this one is nearing 18 and at its peak.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Yecla Monastrell, Castano 2005

Spain is an excellent place to look for artisan wines these days. There are many inexpensive little gems on the market, and I am doing my best to taste as many of them as possible.

Monastrell is the grape known as Mourvedre in France. Chateau Beaucastel is one Chateauneuf du Pape that has a substantial amount of Mourvedre in its blend, and this wine reminds me a bit of a young Beaucastel: deep and bluish, almost opaque with concentrated fruit and peel aromas. Lots of dark substance but also delicate floral/fruit notes--boysenberries, dark cherries and violets. The skin tannins create the feeling of a big wine--firm at the front and in the middle but again with a finish that speaks of finesse and delicacy. Lots of concentrated fruit. Very much like a Southern Rhone.

I paid $6.49 for this wine (a young Beaucastel will set you back $50 plus) and plan to go back for more. For some reason, Spanish wines seem to make it to many health food stores as well as wine shops. Don't hesitate to try them.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Cotes du Rhone Lou Peyrau, Domaine la Monardiere 2001

Many of the best Cotes du Rhone wines from the 2001 vintage were a bit subdued when young and have benefited from a few years of cellaring. And this was certainly one of the best Cotes du Rhones in 2001. I haven't seen this cuvee recently, however, among the offerings of Domaine la Monardiere, a very fine family-owned estate in Vacqueyras. Martine and Christian Vache have worked the property since 1987. They use no weed killer or chemical fertilizer--only organic compost.

The color is very deep and dark, almost purplish--probably indicating a high proportion of Syrah and Mourvedre. The bouquet has some meaty Syrah elements that blend in to prettier scents of red raspberry, dark cherry and violets. Very substantial for a Cotes du Rhone and still backward for a six-year-old wine. Grenache strawberry scents and flavors emerge as the wine warms in the glass. Fully ripe but firm and concentrated. This is serious wine. Lilting berry notes on finish. Just a hint of spicy, violet-tinged mourvedre. Still young with potential to grow. Wish I could find the 2005 Lou Peyrau!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Saint Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly, Olivier Leflaive 1995

This is not a cheap, every day drink but, for what it delivers, it is relatively inexpensive and definitely an artisan wine.

A winemaker in Burgundy, pointing out the lay of his vineyards in relation to the hillside and their exposure to sun, told me that Saint Aubin is one of the best values in the area. It offers many of the same qualities as its pricier neighbor Puligny Montrachet; but because it is not as well known, it does not command as high a premium.

I encountered this particular wine at a large Frederick Wildman tasting about 10 years ago. It was my favorite wine of the tasting and, at $12 a bottle, I could afford to buy a case. I held it for about three years, then started sampling the wine, a bottle or two a year. Tonight's bottle was the best so far and fortunately I have three or four left in the cellar.

The deep gold color suggests maturity; the brilliant hue tells me it still has plenty of life. The bouquet is elegant rather than showy. Nuances come out gradually as the wine airs and warms: white peaches, stone fruits, lemon butter and a hint of walnut husks. On the tongue, it's very ripe but with enough acid lift to keep you coming back for more. Good fruit concentration. Silky smooth. Classy. Lingers at the back of the palate like a multi-colored satin pillow. Lovely.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Chateauneuf du Pape, Bois de Boursan 1994

I paid less than $10 for this bottle; to replace it with the current vintage I would have to pay more than $40. It's good for winemakers in Chateauneuf du Pape that Americans have discovered their wine; it's bad for me to find that many of my favorite artisan wines are now priced too high to enjoy on a regular basis.

I've met the winemaker at Bois du Boursan, Jean-Paul Versino, and know the care he puts into producing his wine. He uses traditional methods with whole bunch fermentation, wild yeasts, basket pressing to minimize the extraction and aging in huge old foudres (barrels). He bows to modern practices slightly in his more expensive Cuvee de Felix. With aging in new oak barriques, it has a more international character and less of the warm spiciness I love so much in the traditional version.

I've tasted many vintages (1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1994) of Bois de Boursan and have found it to be incredibly consistent from year to year.

The 1994 is at a good stage of maturity. Warm spicy aromas with rich, complex flavors of red berries, pepper, spice, iodine. Dances on the tongue. As always, it's an elegant wine that never competes aggressively with the dish on your table but complements it beautifully. Mature and charming.

McLaren Vale, D'Arry's Original, D'Arenburg Grenache Shiraz 1994

This is my favorite Australian version of Chateauneuf du Pape--a blend of mostly Syrah and Grenache. It's darker in color than the Bois du Boursan, probably indicating more Syrah in the blend. And the Syrah is more dominant on the nose and palate as well. In fact, it probably has more in common with the Guigal Cotes du Rhone below than with the Bois du Boursan above. Minty-like aromas along with lavender and black raspberries. Ripe and concentrated flavors with a long finish. Multi-faceted. At 13 years of age, this wine seems at a good stage of maturity for drinking. The winemaker is confident about this wine's ageworthiness, listing 2015 as prime drinking time. (I don't know about that, but it's very good right now.)

I would expect bottles from the current vintage on the market today to be as ageworthy. The wine is made in a traditional way--raised in large old barrels rather than new oak.

Muscat de Rivesaltes, Vignerons de Cases de Pene

For fruit-based dessert or just for sipping after a meal, it's hard to beat the fresh scents and flavors of Muscat. A bottle of Muscat de Beaume de Venise from the Southern Rhone will cost you $20 or more, but I got nearly as much pleasure from this bottle of Muscat de Rivesaltes, from a less well known rural area of France. This was available for about $15 from World Market.

It's very, very peachy--so fresh you can almost smell the fuzz. Scents and flavors of pears, honey dew melon, fresh citrus fruits. Very full-flavored and sweet but also very fresh and racy with a pleasant bitter hint on the finish. By the second night, this wine is singing. So as fresh as it is, it will benefit from a few months of cellaring.

Beaujolais Nouveau, George DuBoeuf 2007

Light and bright, brimming with macerated fruit. Strawberries and banana. Fruity, yeasty flavors. A fruit basket of fresh flavors to enjoy right now.

Bourgogne Pinot Noir La Foret, Drouhin 2005

2005 was an excellent vintage for red Burgundy--warm enough to produce complete ripeness but with plenty of substance for aging. A simple Bourgogne Rouge, this wine is beautiful for drinking right now--nearly as lush and fruit-filled as the Beaujolais Nouveau above. Over the coming months, it should fill out and add depth and complexity.

It's a medium light garnet in color. Gushy red berry fruit on nose that carries over to the palate. Light in body but very rich in flavor. Red raspberries, strawberries and a slightly bitter hint that's more like pomegranate on the finish.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Santenay (Gravieres), Pierre Bouree Fils, 1982

Okay, a 1982 red Burgundy is hardly an every day wine. But Santenay is not a prestige appellation, and at $9.69, this wine was relatively inexpensive, even in 1983 dollars. When I bought the wine, I expected to cellar it...but not for 25 years. Some wines that get overlooked in the cellar can be disappointing; this one was not.

The color was light--a definite garnet/amber. The wine was clearly aged in large, old barrels rather than new oak barriques. This is reflected not only in the color but in some charred, old wood notes on the nose. Otherwise the bouquet has clean floral, herbal, fruit tones, high-toned and lovely. The palate though is where this wine really struts its stuff. It's ripe--sweet actually but in the best way--and it glides like silk across the palate, leaving the tongue begging for more. An excellent representative of a mature, traditionally styled wine. Great with filet mignon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cotes du Rhone, E Guigal 2003

2003 had a very warm growing season throughout most of Europe, and this is one of the few wines from that year that I have found consistently enjoyable. It seems to be drinking at or near its peak right now.

The color is medium deep with some slight amber tones creeping in at the edges. The nose is very open with intense aromas of black pepper, red fruit, mint and lavender. Good ripe fruit on the palate with no hint of the alcoholic heat that mars some wines from '03. Strawberry tart flavors, almost caramelized, that coat the tongue from front to back and linger for several seconds. Whether you go for Old or New World wines, you should be able to enjoy the Guigal Cotes du Rhone right now.

Although the Guigal 2004 has hit the market, you should still be able to find the 2003 on a few wine store shelves for around $12.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cotes du Rhone, Domaine du Grand Prieur 2005

Domaine du Grand Prieur is what artisan wine is all about. The cobble-covered plateau from which it comes was first planted to vines by William the First in the 10th century. The vineyards, now owned by Bertin Gras, have been worked by his family since 1880.

I've been buying at least a case or two of Grand Prieur each year since 1994. The price has risen from $4.39 to about $8 today, but I have never felt the least bit cheated. It's my house wine, and when I serve it to guests, they nearly always comment about how good it is. When my daughter was married, this was naturally one of the wines I served.

The 2005 is the best of any Grand Prieur I've tasted, and that's saying something. It's a medium deep color with good brilliance. Like many 2005s, it's very ripe--blueberries and full cream--but has a good backbone of black pepper and garrigue (Provencal herbs). On the palate there's lots of depth and body. Long finish. Beautiful wine.

I don't know how widely this wine is distributed. In Michigan, I buy it from D&W markets or from Village Corner in Ann Arbor. The 2005 may be sold out by now, but the 2006 should be arriving soon.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cotes du Rhone Blanc, Domaine Sainte-Anne 2005

When I think of Cotes du Rhone, I think red. But whites from this area have become fresher and better in recent years, and this is always one of the best CDR whites.

Domaine Sainte-Anne is located in Gard, which is cooler than other areas of the Southern Rhone, and the domaine has relatively old vineyards that produce beautiful wines for early drinking or for keeping. I've had Domaine Sainte-Anne's 100 percent Viognier CDR Blanc. At $15/bottle it's a great bargain and one of the best Viogniers produced anywhere outside of Condrieu in the Northern Rhone. This wine, which sells for about $10, tastes to me like it has a good percentage of Viognier.

TN: Very light yellow with good brilliance. The aroma is fresh and lovely with peaches, wild flowers, ripe pears. Subtle in its approach. The flavors are similar. Bright and fresh with enough acid to carry the flavors all the way through. Like Viognier and Muscat, it smells sweet but has a delicacy and dryness on the palate that blends well with buttercup squash soup.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Nerello del Bastardo Marchesi di Montecristo, 1999

This is a little treasure I found at Trader Joe's for $5.99. It's really a baby Barolo, mainly Nebbiolo with probably a little Sangiovese. The label claims that it's declassified Barolo and Barbaresco, and after tasting it several times, I believe it.

It's a medium deep color, turning a little brown but still with good brilliance. Bouquet forming nicely--roses, black licorice, cassis--everything you expect from a Barolo. Lots of depth and brilliance. On the palate, autumnal fruit elements are just beginning to appear. Very big but also mellow and charming. The fruit flavors are the same as the bouquet; they are very concentrated and at a good stage of maturity.

The vintage now being sold at Trader Joe's is the 2002. It is also very good and might be preferred by those who are not into mature wines. I also have several bottles of the 2000, and it may be the best vintage of the three. I think all three will continue to mature to at least age 12.

Inexpensive Nebbiolo is very hard to find these days, and this is a very good example.

Rully les Mollepierre, Matheiu de Brully, 2004

Deep gold, very mature for a 2004. Some initial fresh scents of ripe pears but also earthy, developed aroma of hazelnuts and grains. Very much a Chalonnaise Chardonnay, probably unoaked and a very good value at about $14. Good substantial mouthfeel and grip. I like this wine now but will drink up what I have over the next six months. Compared to the Macon Pierreclos, it lacks a bit of freshness.

Macon Villages Pierreclos Jean Claude Thevenet, 2005

This is a beautiful wine for drinking now or over the next year or two. Very light with a brilliant hue. Fresh scents of pears, green apples and lime. Good depth and concentration with a racy acid lift on the mid-palate. Good fruit on finish.

On the second night, this wine was even better--dancing on the tongue. For about $11 a bottle, it is a great value. I'm planning to buy more.