Thursday, February 28, 2008

Reserve Henri-Marc Syrah, Vin de Pays d'Oc, 2004

My wine merchant's notes described this as "flavorful, racy, full, long, fine" and an "enormous value" at $4.49. Such wine bargains don't last long, so I signed up for half a case without tasting it.

When I got the wine home, I went to the internet, out of curiosity, to look for information about Reserve Henri-Marc Syrah. What I found was a nasty note by someone identified as "jstrutt" who gave the wine a rating of 68.0/100. Wow, maybe I didn't get such a bargain after all, I thought. So last night, I opened a bottle of Reserve Henri-Marc Syrah to see for myself.

"jstrutt" believes he has a wine that is over the hill because the label recommends drinking it within three years, and it's already four years since the wine was bottled. But the good deep color I see when I pour tells me this wine is not dying just yet. There's no amber or even the brick red that you might expect around the edges of the glass from a wine that is approaching maturity. 2004 was a cool vintage in the Languedoc, and cool weather generally produces wines with acid levels that promote good aging.

"jstrutt" finds the wine "extremely vinegary" but that's not what I smell and taste. The aromas are what I expect from a unoaked Syrah wine from the South of France: black fruits, herbs and a hint of black pepper and tobacco. The wine has ripe fruit flavors up front with a good acid lift in the middle and a long, spicy finish. No vinegar here. According to "jstrutt" the flavors are "very fake tasting," and here's where I disagree the most. Reserve Henri-Marc Syrah has the smells and flavors that Syrah should have when it is presented without the lavish quantities of new oak that many wine drinkers have come to expect. It's not a great wine but a pretty good one and a great value at $4.49. Unfortunately for readers, I'm sure all the of the eight cases offered for sale in January at Village Corner in Ann Arbor have been snapped up.

The lesson, I guess, is that a good wine merchant can be trusted. And tasting notes you'll find on the internet are not all of equal value.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Georges Duboeuf Macon Villages Chardonnay, 20005

In good white wine vintages, the Duboeuf Flower Label Macon Villages is nearly always a good choice for value and quality. In the tradition of Macon, it's an unpretentious, unoaked version of Chardonnay for every day drinking.

The 2005 displays strong fruit--ripe but with good balancing acidity. The aroma is low key but opens up nicely with scents of flowers, white peaches, citrus and spice. The spice is an elusive quality of Chardonnay that I like. This wine is medium to light bodied and pleasantly soft on the palate. Like some more expensive white Burgundies, it offers a hint of almonds and hazelnuts on the finish.

My favorite Macons are those of Domaine Deux Roches (particularly the Macon Davaye and the generic Collovray and Terrier), but they have escalated in price recently. At $9 to $11, this widely available Duboeuf offering works well.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Domaine de L'Espigouette Plan de Dieu Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2004

In the early 1980s, Bernard Latour was just returning from winemaking school and telling his father (who had learned his craft traditionally) not to leave his Cotes du Rhone wines so long in old barrels, a practice that was destroying their freshness and making them age prematurely. The wines of Domaine de L'Espigouette improved dramatically since that time, as they have throughout the region, and Bernard is now a professor of viticulture at the local winemaking school.

Plan de Dieu is a new named appellation for CDR Villages, and this is the first vintage for the Plan de Dieu label. I presume that it replaces Latour's regular CDR Villages, that has long been one of my favorites. The L'Espigouette Vieilles Vignes mentioned by Dave (see comments under Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel) is Bernard Latour's regular Cotes du Rhone, produced from older vines (45 years versus 35) but with a slightly higher yield. The VV sees only stainless steel and cement vats while the Villages is aged briefly in wood vats.

My first bottle of the Plan de Dieu last summer was a bit disappointing, but it has now blossomed into a wine worthy of its special bottling. It's a medium deep ruby; as always, Latour's CDR Villages is darker in color and flavor profile than the VV. Licorice/cassis is dominant along with some peppery black fruit. It has a medium full body with a velvety feel and good fruit concentration. Lots of mineral savor on the finish.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pietra Santa "Sacred Stone" Old World Style Red

I've been intrigued by the label of this wine for some time--partly because of the surrealistic drawing of the slender, phallic-like sacred stone with a winery perched precariously on top but primarily because of the term "old world style red." When I saw it offered by the glass at the Common Grill in Chelsea, Michigan, I was eager to try it and was not disappointed.

I would not necessarily recognize the style as "old world" except that it is noticeably free of new oak traits that are present in most "new world" wines. And, like most Southern Rhones, the wine gains its charm from skillful blending--in this case, Grenache, Syrah, Carignane and Zinfandel. The lone new world grape, Zinfandel, comes across fairly strongly in the plummy, blackberry aromas and flavors. The palate feel is rich, luxuriant and inviting rather than soft, and there is a long, fruit-oriented finish. Paired with an incredibly flavorful dish of grilled North Atlantic salmon with a mustard/olive sauce, wild rice and sauteed root vegetables, the wine just kept getting better throughout the meal, blending perfectly and complementing the flavors of the meal.

I've seen this wine for less than $10 a bottle at Sawall's Health Food Store (of all places) in Kalamazoo, MI. Since it's a wine that should drink well for four or five years, I think it's a good buy.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel, 2001

On the label of this 2001 Rocks and Gravel, Steve Edmunds writes: "Our blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah has always been inspired by the lovely, sunny red wines of the South of France, and these days it may be hard to distinguish from the real thing." I agree. This lovely wine is very much like a Southern Rhone, and not just a Cotes du Rhone but a Gigondas or Chateauneuf du Pape.

This wine clearly has a good bit of Mourvedre in the blend. It's a deep, dense dark ruby color and has spicy Mourvedre-inspired nose and flavors--raspberries, violets, deep earthy tones. It has complete ripeness with an ample body and structure and carries 14.4 percent alcohol nicely. As in a Domaine du Cayron Gigondas, it's simply a part of the beautiful, powerful earthiness. The flavors are deep, serious and concentrated with firm tannins and a ripe, spicy finish.

Go to the Edmunds St. John web site, and you will find a definition of artisan wine that echoes my own. In Edmunds' words: "It is our goal to produce wines of the highest level of quality, integrity, and authenticity, the hallmarks of which are balance, nuance, and elegance, wines that express their origins in place and time, wines through which 'the earth speaks' in a clear and strong voice. " For this vintage of Rocks and Gravel, Edmunds mentions the important contribution of grapes from the Rozet Vineyard in Paso Robles. The grapes are hand picked, destemmed and fermented in open top fermenters with native yeasts. Like many traditional Southern Rhone wines, it is matured in old French puncheons with an average age of 18-22 years.

For $18 to $20 a bottle, it is a wine worth a special search. 2005 is the current vintage.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2005

Even compared to the very good 2006 Grand Prieur reported on below, this 2005 is very impressive. It has many of the same qualities--black fruit, licorice, herbs, black peppercorns--all coming together very nicely. In fact, I think I prefer the 2005 at this stage.

This reminds me very much of a Vacqueyras. And it should because all of Bertin Gras' vineyards are in Vacqueyras. He chooses to bottle some of his production as Cotes du Rhone to allow him higher yields than the Vacqueyras appellation allows. Considering the concentration and quality of this wine, however, the yields are clearly lower than one would expect for a $7 to $8 wine.

Grand Prieur also makes a Vacqueyras which I have not tasted. It is relatively inexpensive for a Vacqueyras ($12.99), and I have read good reports from wine staff at Village Corner in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2006

This is my second go at this wine. The first bottle was so luscious that I look longingly at the remaining 11 bottles each time I go to the cellar. Were I to become wealthy, one of my biggest regrets, I think, would be that I might tend to overlook wines like this one while chasing more expensive labels. Life is too short to drink only expensive wine.

The color is still deep and dark, more purple than crimson at this stage. The black licorice, mineral element that was so apparent in the nose of the earlier bottle has given way to some pretty floral, black fruit aromas. Ripe Syrah and Provencal herbs. The licorice has shifted more to the palate impression. Ripe fruit and minerals with a silky smooth texture and a remarkable after taste. A hint of black pepper and concentrated Syrah fruit is also beginning to appear on the finish. No disappointments, although the wine has evolved, as it always does, even from month to month. I have one bottle left of the 2004 (and half a case of the 2005), but generally I do not keep this wine that long. It's just too tempting.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Savennieres Clos du Papillon, Domaine des Baumard, 1985

Jacqueline Friedrich, in her book Wine and Food Guide to the Loire, writes of Savennieres as "the most cerebral wine in the world. When fully mature, it is breathtaking." And of all Savennieres, she ranks Clos du Papillon as the best. Michael Broadbent, in a 2004 article in Decanter includes the 1996 Clos du Papillon (along with 1961 Latour and 1947 Cheval Blanc) as one of the "100 wines to try before you die."

The respect shown to Domaine Baumard's Savennieres is nothing new; yet throughout the 1980s I was able to buy this wine for $5 to $8 a bottle at Village Corner in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was one reason I made Village Corner my place for buying wine: it was the only wine store I knew that was selling this and other inexpensive artisan gems. I remember one of the wine staff shrugging his shoulders. "People simply don't know what this wine is." He was joining me in stocking his cellar. Today, the price is beginning to catch up with the reputation, and Clos du Papillon is selling for $20 to $35, depending on the area of the country.

In December, 2006, I had a bottle of the 1981 Clos du Papillon, which was showing a little bit of age but more than enough brilliance to make up for anything it might have lost. This 1985 showed only the brilliance and a clear indication that it is capable of carrying on for at least another decade or two. The color is a beautiful, brilliant deep gold, and the Chenin Blanc scents are not shy. I smell honey, beeswax, flowers and quince. It has a botrytis-like pungency. My wife picks up a smell of fresh mown hay and a hint of the petrol that you get from a fine German Riesling. On the palate, it's as rich and pungent as it smells. As Jacqueline Friedrich puts it, this wine is "all about majesty" as it "spreads across the palate like rich cream," clinging and lingering. Two hours (and a chocolate dessert) later, I can still taste Clos du Papillon. So rich and honeyed but with a lemon zest focus. This is a wine that bowls you over with beauty and power.

Jean Baumard, who in 1955 restored a family domaine started in 1632, was the winemaker for this 1985 Clos du Papillon. His son, Florent, took over in the early 1990s, but from everything I have read, there has been no change in philosophy, style or quality. Jean Baumard always stated that he made wines for early drinking, and this wine 20 years ago was a zesty alternative to New World Chardonnay. Today, it is a gem of a wine. If you can find Baumard's Clos du Papillon for $20 bottle, my recommendation is to buy it. Drink some young to see what it's all about, but, by all means, put at least a few bottles away to see what aged Savennieres is all about.

Baumard, incidentally, has a less expensive St. Yves Savennieres that is also very good and ageworthy.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Domaine Daulny Sancerre Clos de Chaudenay, 2004

This is a special wine, albeit low key, for a Valentine's Day dinner of crab cakes, farfalle with shrimp and pesto and roasted asparagus. Lovely wine, lovely meal.

The intensity of Loire Sauvignon Blanc was apparent from the first sniff--floral, mineral, lemon meringue, gooseberry, white peach. I love Sancerre and always enjoy Etienne Daulny's regular bottling. But the Clos de Chaudenay is special for its rich, complex palate presence. Creamy fruit in the middle with racy fingers of Sauvignon Blanc reaching out to the edges of the tongue. The finish is long and satisfying. Especially for a special occasion, it's hard to quit drinking this wine until the bottle is empty. Mmmmmmmmmm.

Etienne Daulny has many parcels of old, low yielding vines among his 37 acres, but Clos de Chaudenay is the only one he singles out for a special bottling. The name translates literally as "hot spot" but in this area that means that the southwest facing slope gets plenty of sun. Vines average 40 years and the yield is three tons an acre (compared to 3.4 tons/acre overall for Domaine Daulny). Many of the special qualities of this wine come from the handling. While aging is mostly in stainless steel (as in the regular bottling), a small percentage goes for a period into large old oak barrels--well seasoned so that they no longer impart oaky smells or flavors but add texture, body and complexity.

Clos de Chaudenay costs only a dollar more than the regular bottling ($18.99 versus $17.99 at Village Corner in Ann Arbor, MI). Both are excellent and generally less expensive than most Sancerres on the market.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chateau Graville Lacoste Graves Blanc, 2002

White Graves has always had a small but important place in my cellar. Sauvignon Blanc from this gravelly region of Bordeaux has a personality that sets it apart from wines of the Loire, California, New Zealand or Australia. White Graves wines are brisk yet full bodied and, from the right estates, have the ability to age beautifully. At $10 to $12 a bottle (the price may have escalated from that over the past two years), Graville Lacoste is an excellent example. I buy as many bottles as I can afford, drink some young and put the rest away for five years or so.

Chateau Graville Lacoste, Chateau Ducasse and Chateau Romieu-Lacoste are wines in three separate appellations of Bordeaux, all made by Herve Dubourdieu, a sixth generation wine producer. All are good wines at a decent price, made with care from low yielding old vines.

Graville Lacoste is actually 70 to 80 percent Semillon with 15 to 20 percent Sauvignon Blanc and smaller quantities of Muscadelle. The vines, located close to Sauternes, average 55 years and are harvested in several passes through the vineyard to assure the proper level of ripeness. The wine is fermented in stainless steel--no new oak--but stirred on its lees frequently for greater body and richness.

My notes from June 13, 2007: "Deep, mature gold but bright and lovely./Rich scents of dried apricots and figs. Smells sweet but has tart acidity and freshness on the palate. Fresh peaches. The Semillon is dominant at this stage but without the grassiness that's common in Australian Semillons. Rich and lush, good for drinking now."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas Cuvee Prestige, 2005

Buying wine at Trader Joe's is similar to what it was like buying wine in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With no Wine Advocate, no Wine Spectator and no points as a guide, you have to be cautious as you try and taste inexpensive wines. But there are still some good values.

Like many of the low-priced European wines at Trader Joe's, this Valreas comes from a grower's cooperative, Les Vignerons de L'Enclave des Papes. These coops are dependent on the surplus grapes they get from growers in the area so there's no assurance that the wine will be the same year after year, as is the case with estate-bottled wine. At the same time, I have found that they are usually better than wine from the biggest negociants such as B&G. Generally speaking, I would expect cooperative wines to be better in top vintages, and this Valreas Cuvee Prestige was certainly very good in 2001 and 2004. 2005 is an equally good vintage for Southern Rhones, maybe even a little better than 2004, according to some sources. But this wine, while pretty good, is still not measuring up to what I tasted from the 2001 and 2004 bottlings.

The color is a medium to light crimson. It smells ripe--raspberries, candied cherries and only a slight hint of pepper and herbs. It's also very ripe on the palate--almost too ripe for my taste and without the depth of the previous bottlings. I have two or three more bottles but plan to wait a few months before trying it again so see if it puts on some more weight. For $5.99 a bottle, though, it's certainly a pleasant drink and much better than anything you could get from a California jug wine.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Louis Latour Auxey Duresses, 1995

Auxey Duresses is sometimes called the poor man's Mersault or Mersault's younger brother. Auxey Duresses is located right next to Mersault in the Cotes de Beaune, and the wines have similar flavor profiles and aging characteristics. Louis Latour's web site lists 1994 and 1995 as the most mature Auxey for current drinking.

The 1995 is a medium deep gold, and it has distinct scents of lime and hazelnuts, similar to those you might get from a good Mersault. It has freshness and the elegance of white Burgundy and is somewhat rich but lacks the creamy texture and the complexity that I remember from more expensive Mersault wines.

Not all wine shops--even large stores such as Sam's in Chicago--offer the full range of Louis Latour wines, and that's a shame. Wines from not-so-prominent appellations such as Auxey Duresses, Pernand-Vergelesses (poor man's Corton), Saint Aubin (poor man's Puligny Montrachet) and Saint Romain are moderately priced ($15 to $20) but offer good quality and a way of appreciating the versatility and range of Chardonnay wines from the Burgundy region of France.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

How Long To Age Southern Rhones?

One reason I like Southern Rhone wines is that aging is not really an issue. Most of these Grenache-based wines taste good right out of the gate, and the changes they go through after that are mainly a matter of taste rather than quality. On the other hand, because of low yields, old vines and good winemaking, you can usually hang on to even an inexpensive (but well chosen) Cotes du Rhone or Vin de Pays for eight to ten years without worrying that it will become undrinkable. You really can't say that for inexpensive New World Cabernet or Shiraz.

I reported on a 19-year-old Gigondas below, but there is a great deal of variation in Gigondas wines even from the same vintage. Santa Duc Gigondas impressed me as a wine somewhat similar to Goubert in youth; yet I drank most of my bottles a decade ago and even then some were beginning to show their age. Cayron, on the other hand, is a wine for keeping. I'm still enjoying bottles from 1980 and 1981; the 1986 tastes just right; and the excellent 1988 is still a bit aggressive for my tastes. Font-Sane, from my experience, is somewhat between Cayron and Santa Duc but tastes best to me after a decade or so of aging.

I rarely drink Chateauneuf du Pape before it's 10 years old, but that's because it's still a bit one-dimensional before that time, not because it's hard or tannic, as is the case with a good Bordeaux or Napa Cabernet. And vintage is crucial: 1993s need drinking now while most 1988s still have some time to go.

As for Cotes du Rhone Villages, I've had the greatest pleasure from aged Rasteau--even 12 to 15 years of age or older for wines such as Beau Mistral, Soumades and Queyrades. Aging seems to tame some of the aggressive black licorice/mineral elements in a way that's pleasing to me. Many Vacqueyras wines--such as Couroulou, Amourier and Montvac--also do well with eight to twelves years of aging. My favorite Vacqueyras at the moment, Monardiere's Calades, on the other hand, seems to decline rather quickly after five to six years in the bottle. From Cairanne, Brusset may be the best known estate (because of frequent mention by Robert Parker), and I have found that it needs to be consumed three to five years after the vintage date. Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin is a better wine, in my opinion, and ages better--although ten to twelve years is probably the best you can expect in a good vintage.

Aging with most Southern Rhones is mostly a matter of what you like. I found even Cotes du Rhones from the 2001 vintage were a little hard for the first year or two; those from 2003, however, were better in the blush of youth.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Domaine les Goubert Gigondas, 1988

Nearing its 20th birthday, this is about as perfect a Gigondas as anyone could expect--mature and drinking beautifully with no signs of old age. It is a deep, dark color with good brilliance. (For some reason, Gigondas wines are nearly always darker in color than Chateauneufs of the same vintage). It has the perfect combination of Gigondas beauty and power. There are whiffs of sweet spring flowers on the nose along with black and red berries, meat and Provencal herbs. Also some vanilla, although this is an unoaked cuvee. The wine has a big, muscular body but it's also supple, gliding smoothly across the palate and leaving lingering flavors and textures--all ripe and lovely with no hard edges. This is a perfect match for New York strip steak, but it would also be good with grilled Venison.

Now run by Jean-Pierre and Mireille Cartier, Domaine les Goubert is another Southern Rhone estate with a long family history. The 23 hectares of old, gnarled vines have belonged to the Goubert family since 1636, with Augusta Goubert passing the property to her son, Jean-Pierre Cartier. Goubert was the first estate in the region to produce a wine raised in new oak--the Cuvee Florence, named after their daughter. That was the wine I was expecting to buy when I went to the communal tasting room in the Medieval village of Gigondas on a visit to the Southern Rhone in the early 1990s. Robert Parker had given praise and high rankings to the Cuvee Florence (as well as Brusset's oak-aged Gigondas, Les Hauts des Montmirail), and I went to the tasting room with high expectations. When I expressed my interest in these oak-aged wines, French locals there urged me to try the traditional bottlings, which were at least 50 percent cheaper. And, after careful tasting and comparison, I decided they were right. In their youth, the oak-aged Gigondas wines have the stately demeanor of a New World Cabernet, but they lack the power and finesse of a good traditional Gigondas. And my experience is that the international-styled wines do not age as well. My bottles of Les Hauts des Montmirail from 1988 and 1989 tasted a bit oxidized several years ago, while this wine is still youthful.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lindeman's Bin 65 Chardonnay, 2005

One of the world's top-selling wines, Lindeman's Bin 65 Chardonnay, which cost me $4.99 at World Market, is not an artisan wine. But it once was. And, in line with an admirable Australian winemaking tradition, you can pretty much count on the same aromas and flavors year after year--even back to the days when Bin 65 was probably sourced from a small single vineyard. It's light colored and fragrant with fresh peaches, melon, ripe pears and a hint of nutmeg. A nice little wine for sipping on the deck in spring or summer.

The bin numbering tradition at Lindeman's goes back several decades. Top wines typically have four-digit bin numbers (e.g., Bin 3520); two digit bins (such as Bin 65 Chardonnay) are lower level wines for every day drinking. Like Penfold's, Lindeman's is now a huge operation, but both of these wineries have made an effort to retain the traditional style and personality of their wines. That is something Australian wine drinkers have come to expect.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs, 1998

The Alary brothers, Frederic (40) and Francois (39), have 35 hectares of vineyards that have been in their family for 10 generations, dating back to 1692. As they state on their web site: "How could the two of them not adore their art with a 300 year heritage behind them?"

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin is located in the northeast corner of Cairanne, only 200 meters from the Rasteau hills; yet the wine is distinctly Cairanne without the black licorice/mineral element that is typical of Rasteau. For red wines, the vineyards are planted with 60 percent Grenache, 30 percent Mourvedre and 10 percent Syrah. Five hectares of vines are 95 plus years of age, and 80 percent of the vineyards face east. This is a very special domaine, and I have been buying two cuvees--Cuvee Prestige and Reserve des Seigneurs--since the 1991 vintage.

The Reserve des Seigneurs is the cuvee for earlier drinking, although neither is for long aging. Grapes are harvested and sorted by hand, de-stemmed, matured nine months in vats and bottled without filtration or fining. The color is deep with some amber at the edges. It's very ripe and forward, with spicy Mourvedre out in front. The red berry Grenache characters are more in the background at this point. The texture is silky smooth.

As the Alary brothers state on their website: "We want wines to drink, not to taste." Until the 1998 vintage, Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin wines were less than $10 a bottle, and I drank them often. Since that time, prices have risen fairly rapidly. At $20 to $25 a bottle, I will drink them less frequently but with no less pleasure.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir des Coteaux du Verdon, Louis Latour, 2005

This is a companion piece for the Louis Latour Ardeche Chardonnays I reported on earlier--an authentic taste of Pinot Noir with a Burgundian flair from vines outside of Burgundy. At $12.99 or less a bottle (at D&W Fresh Markets in southwest Michigan), it is my pick for the best value in Pinot Noir.

The 2005 is a very light (but also very bright) crimson color, and the delicacy carries over to the aroma and flavors. This wine never knocks you over but, if you pay attention, it will give you a taste of true elegance. The scents are classic Pinot Noir--dark cherries, pomegranates, fresh flowers. The flavors are just ripe enough to glide across the palate, coating it with pleasure. There's really no reason to age this wine, although, according to Louis Latour's web site, the 1997 is still drinking nicely.

As the Latour folks point out, the wine is made in a "vin vermeil" style that was popular at the end of the 18th century: "elegance and finesse packed with fruit, and a vivid 'vermeil' or bright red color." Grapes come from the site of an ancient monastery and university at Valmoissine--high ground with a cool climate but sunny and protected from spring frosts. Grapes are hand picked, fermented in stainless steel, then matured in old oak casks from the Latour cooperage to allow the flavors and aromas to develop naturally. As with the Ardeche Chardonnays, there is good use of oak to highlight rather than overwhelm the fruit. This is my style of wine. At the price, it's an excellent choice for every day drinking, but I would not hesitate to serve it for nearly any occasion.

Morgon Cru du Beaujolais Grande Cuvee Georges Duboeuf, 2000

What a comedown this wine is from the Jean Descombes Morgons from both 1995 and 2005 (see posting of January 26)! The 2000 vintage was a very good one in Beaujolais so I bought a bottle of this when I saw it on closeout and kept it for a few years to see how it would develop. It's not age that is the problem. The wine is not oxidized and has good, lively fruit but, compared to the excellent Morgons crafted by Jean and Nicole Descombes year after year, this wine is one-dimensional and over-ripe.

The color is much darker than the Descombes wines, leading me to believe it may have seen some new oak. It's still fresh and lively with scents and flavors of cherries, apricots and bananas. Yes, it's the apricots and bananas that bring this wine down--over-ripe to the point of tasting bitter. There are also some smoky, burnt issues that eventually make it hard for me to keep swallowing. Fortunately, I only bought one bottle.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Traditional versus Modern

Traditional winemakers who learn from their parents and grandparents are prone to errors in the vineyard or in the cellar that a trained oenologist would never make. They may also know secrets that cannot be learned in school. In the Southern Rhone, a trend has emerged that has blended the traditional and the modern in important ways. Laurence Feraud of Domaine Pegau in Chateauneuf du Pape, Bernard Latour of L'Espigouette in Cotes du Rhone and Veronique Peysson at Font-Sane in Gigondas are just three examples that come to mind of the newest generation of winemakers who have been trained as winemakers and returned home to bring new insights to a long-established family business. The result is the best of both the traditional and the modern way of doing things. The wines from these estates over the past two decades have been beautiful.

Another move that has been taken by many estates in this region is the introduction of new oak barrels. To appeal more to international tastes, some importers have encouraged this move. And high ratings given to the oak-aged cuvees by wine writers such as Robert Parker and Steve Tanzer have reinforced this direction as a way to sell more wine, particularly in the United States. Some estates have carefully separated the oak-aged from the traditional bottling, and, at places like Gigondas, locals make it quite clear that they prefer the "traditional" over the "American" version. So do I.

Wine drinkers should realize that the use of new oak is a style and by no means the only technique for producing good or ageworthy wine. Laurence Feraud and Bernard Latour know how to avoid stinky, off qualities in their wine by correcting for H2S or eliminating brett from their cellars. Any winemaker using new oak can cover up, rather than correct, those mistakes over the short term. But the mistakes will re-emerge after a few years of aging, while the positive traits of the traditional wine will be lost in translation.