Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reserve Grand Veneur CDR Revisited

On the second night, the hard tannins in the 2005 Reserve Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone (reported on below) had mostly integrated with the deep-running fruit. It's a very nice wine with concentrated dark cherry flavors. Yet I still prefer the 2005 Grand Prieur--for its price, immediacy and breadth of fruit flavors and aromas.

Other 2005s from the Southern Rhone that I like include: Domaine Sainte Anne (lovely forward blueberry fruit but with stuffing to carry it for years); Domaine de la Janasse (similar to the Sainte Anne in many ways but more reserved at this stage); Domaine du Vieux Chene (either the Cuvee du Cappucines or the Haie au Grives); Paul Jaboulet's Parallele 45; and La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux.

I haven't bought any 2005 Chateauneufs or Gigondas, but I'm assuming that they will be very good.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

MezzaCorona Pinot Grigio delle Dolomiti, 2005

Purchased about a year ago, this is still a very good Pinot Grigio. It has mellow fruit flavors with herbal highlights--mint, basil and bergamot. It's still reasonably fresh and lively and is a good match for farfalle with spinach and lemon. But compared to what it was a year ago, it's lacking the sharply focused flavors and smells that made it special.

The 2006 should be on the shelves and offering pleasure similar to what the 2005 was giving a year ago. If you get a good buy on the 2005, it's still a decent wine for most occasions. But I would go for the younger wine.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reserve Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone, 2005

This is a Cotes du Rhone produced by Alain Jaume's Chateauneuf du Pape estate that has received praise from influential critics such as Robert Parker and Steve Tanzer. It is ordinarily more expensive than other Cotes du Rhones, but when I saw it for $10 at Binny's in Chicago, I picked up a bottle to try.

The color is a very deep ruby, almost purplish. The first sniff reveals some hard tannins and then a burst of concentrated raspberry fruit with black peppercorns. The smells and flavors are what you'd expect from a good Cotes du Rhone in a good vintage. The cepage is 70 percent Grenache, 20 percent Syrah, and the berry/pepper qualities are all present. But there are more hard tannins on the mid-palate than I would expect. Those tannins, plus the purplish tones, indicate to me that the wine has seen some new oak and/or other New World winemaking techniques. Alain Jaume's Reserve Grand Veneur is a well made wine, and it apparently comes from fairly old vines north of Orange in Vaucluse. But, at least at this stage of development, I prefer the fruit complexity, depth and hedonistic charm of the Domaine du Grand Prieur [April 24 and February 20, 2008]. The wood tannins hide some of the full range of smells and flavors I expect from a good Southern Rhone. And even the color keeps me from seeing what is going on with the development of the fruit.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Chateau Bonnet Blanc Entre Deux Mers, 2006

With spring and summer on the way, I make sure I have plenty of Sauvignon Blanc on hand. Although I prefer Sancerre and other Sauvignon wines from the Loire, white Bordeaux wines offer a different slant on the grape that is right for some meals. (They are also usually less expensive.) Semillon, usually included in the Bordeaux blend, has a green quality but with broader tones. Compared to Sauvignon Blanc, it is more like fresh mown grass than green pepper or tart gooseberries. And Semillon is fuller bodied, more like Chardonnay in texture and mouth feel.

Some of the best Bordeaux Blancs come from the region known as Entre Deux Mers. Literally, it means "between two seas" but in reality the area is between two rivers--the Dordogne and the Garonne. (Since these rivers are influenced by the Atlantic tides, some think of them as inland seas.) It's a beautiful area for travel, but the vineyards there do not have the reputation to command high prices. Bonnet Blanc, one of the best of its class, can usually be found for about $10 a bottle. The 2006 is particularly good.

It's a youthful medium light straw color with glints of green. From the first sniff, I get intense scents and flavors of fresh flowers, white peaches, figs, melon and citrus fruits. It's fresh and crisp but also has a luxurious feel. Blends nicely with the fresh basil and tomato of a Margarita pizza.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2005

About two months after my last bottle (February 20, 2008), the 2005 Grand Prieur is still singing. It still has the fresh blueberries and cream nose but with deeper garrigue (Provencal herbs) and black peppercorn traits emerging. Even the color seems to be deepening a bit. Peppery, spicy and vigorous, it's very Grenache and very enjoyable. As I mentioned earlier, this is as close to a Vacqueyras as anything you'll find for $8.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Buying "Use By..." Dated Wine

Two of the wines I've reported on recently--the Salice Salentino from Agricole Vallone and the Railway Shiraz by Hamilton Vineyards--were bargains bought on closeout from Harding's Market, a nearby supermarket that does NOT specialize in wine. Both were from the 2000 vintage--eight year old wines that were perceived to be nearing their "use by" date. There are reasons, of course, to be cautious about such wines.

I thought the wines were worth a try because:

1) I had not seen these bottles in the store previously. Even Chateau Latour on close-out may be no bargain if it's lingered on the shelves, subject to temperature fluctuations, for several years.

2) I checked the bottles and saw no signs of heat damage, such as low fills or corrosion or stickiness on the capsule.

3) I recognized the producers and wines that are generally considered ageworthy.

4) I tasted the wines before buying in quantity.

Most of the wines put on closeout at this supermarket are not worth a second look. And I once tried a promising Pinot Grigio that was oxidized. (I got my money back on this one.) But I have found a number of bargains, including some Annie's Lane Clare Valley Shiraz and Cabernet a few years ago. In each case, I've seen the same wine being sold at deep discount elsewhere as well at this supermarket. The store apparently received them from a distributor who was over-stocked and looking for a quick way to unload the wine. Although the "use by" date was a factor, it was one that in this case worked in my favor.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Vereto Rosso Riserva, 2000

This wine comes from Apulia, the stiletto bootheel along the Adriatic coast in the south of Italy. Within Apulia, Salice Salentino is a plateau fairly well known for good, ageworthy wines; in the past, I've had some enjoyable Salice Salentinos from Taurino. This is the first time I've had a wine from Agricole Vallone, but I recognize it as a reputable producer. As the label notes, the grapes are mainly Negro Amaro with a small amount of Malvasia Nera.

The color is a brilliant deep ruby with little or no browning. The nose is very aromatic with a spicy intensity--red and black cherries, cinnamon and licorice. Like many traditionally made Italian wines, it has a slight leathery volatility, but I find this quite pleasant. This wine is clearly mature and ready to roar, but I don't see it fading any time soon. The palate delivers what the nose promises with good fruit concentration on the mid-palate. Silky smooth with racy acidity and ripe fruit flavors that linger long. I love it; can't wait to match it with a big bowl of spicy penne arrabbiata.

Agricole Vallone's Rosso Riserva ordinarily sells for $12.99, a price I would consider quite reasonable for the quality. I found this bottle on the closeout shelves at Hardings Markets for $4.79. Having tasted it, I'm heading back to pick up more.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Reynolds Vineyards South Australia Chardonnay, 2006

Something must be wrong here. I reported earlier that Reynolds Vineyards, which was selling good value Australian wines in Michigan three or four years ago, had been taken over by Cumulus Vineyards' Climbing label. A few days later, I see a 2006 Reynolds Vineyard Chardonnay in the shop (D&W FreshMarkets). Price is the same as three or four years ago: $7.99 and less than the $11.99 you'll pay for the Climbing label. I don't know what's going on here with corporate naming, etc., but again this wine is a decent value.

The Reynolds (or Climbing) Vineyards are in the Orange area of central New South Wales. It's a relatively new and unknown area for winegrowing but the elevation is high and winemakers are excited about results so far. From the Reynolds label, unfortunately, only the Cabernet Sauvignon actually derives from the Orange appellation. The Chardonnay and Shiraz grapes come mostly from vineyards in the Riverland area, north of Adelaide--good vineyards but not quite as cool as those in central New South Wales. The qualities of this wine can probably be attributed to skillful winemaking and very good rather than superior grapes. It's a medium light straw. The nose is pretty but not showy--lime, grapefruit and green apple. It's fresh, crisp and nicely stated. Pleasant as an aperitif and works well with fish and roasted vegetables.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Changing Tastes in Food and Wine

There was a time when my diet was strongly oriented toward meat--steak, roast beef, hamburgers, pork chops and an occasional lamb chop. Actually, that was about 30 years ago, and I'm probably much healthier today for replacing that diet with a pattern that might be called Mediterranean--pasta, fish, vegetables, fruit, olive oil, nuts, garlic, beans and whole grains. If I were on death row and asked to choose my "last meal," I think it would be rigatoni with a spicy tomato sauce.

When I was in my carnivore phase, my wine buying focused on huge Cabernets and buttery Chardonnays. But when I drink those wines with what I'm eating today, I usually find they overwhelm the food.

European wines generally tend to be more subtle in their approach--more acid, less sweetness, less oak. While they may not be as enjoyable as their New World counterparts when tasted on their own, they go better with the garlic, olive oil and tomato-laced flavors of Mediterranean dishes. Grenache and Mourvedre-based wines--whether from the South of France or the North of Spain are ideal. And those are the wines I could gladly drink every night.

As for my "last meal wine" that's a tough call, but there's no question that it would be a Southern Rhone.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Barossa Valley Shiraz Hamilton's Railway Vineyard, 2000

Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you what wines you like to drink. Or should like to drink. Clearly the pleasure a wine gives depends a lot on the food it is paired with. When I first tried this wine (January 11, 2008), I was unimpressed; the mid-palate tannins were a bit hard and unfriendly. Last night, I had it with peppered beef tenderloin, and it stood out. This wine is clearly a carnivore.

The color is still deep, dark, nearly opaque. In the tradition of Barossa Shiraz, it has big, bold fruit and oak, but this time, the smells and flavors of the oak and fruit are happily married. It has a thick mouth feel, but the flavors are dancing now on the mid-palate--plums, ripe berries and pepper. Nice ripe finish.

Ordinarily a $12 to $15 wine, this Shiraz was sold for $5.79 on closeout by Harding's Markets, presumably because of concerns that an eight-year-0ld wine might be over the hill. Perish the thought. It's drinking well tonight in part because it's matched with the right food but also because it's just now beginning to open up.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Rully Mollepierre Matthieu de Brully, 2004

The Cote d'Or is a narrow 30-mile stretch of hillside vineyards producing some of the finest and most expensive Chardonnay wines in the world. The price and reputation of a particular wine depends more than anything else on the location of the vineyard in relation to the hillside and the sun (east slopes of limestone soil are favored). The French, over several centuries of growing grapes and enjoying wine, have determined that certain sites are precious. And they are right.

Rully is the first village south of the Cote d'Or, in an area known as the Cote Chalonnaise. The hillsides there are less regular in their formation, the vineyard sites less desirable and the wines correspondingly less expensive. When I sample Rully wines at tastings, I am nearly always impressed by the full body and rich, complex flavors and scents--hazelnuts, white flowers, peaches, grain. These wines, in my opinion, are tremendous values; yet I don't buy many since the best examples, such as Rully les Pucelles and Rully les Gresigny, still cost $20 to $25, and that is a bit out of my price range. When I saw this Rully offered for $12.99 at Village Corner in Ann Arbor, I jumped at the opportunity.

Having had three bottles of the 2004 Rully Mollepierre, I have to admit that it is NOT the best example of Rully but rather on a quality level similar to that of a good Macon Villages. While not a screaming bargain, it is worth the price I paid. Rully wines generally age well for five years or more, but this 2004 Mollepierre is clearly at the top end of its aging cycle. It's a medium deep gold--definitely mature. The green apple scents have ripened and mellowed. I also smell ripe pears, flowers, nuts and a hint of lemon. The character of unoaked (or lightly oaked) Chardonnay fruit comes through clearly on the palate but with less complexity than the previous bottle (November 13, 2007). With pork chops and fried apples/onions, it's a very nice wine. But one of these days, I'll splurge on a Rully les Pucelles or Rully les Gresigny.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cotes du Rhone E. Guigal, 2003

After drinking what restaurant wine lists put in front of me for more than a week, it's great to be back home and making my own choices. I really don't understand why so many restaurants load their wine lists with New World offerings while ignoring perennial values like this Guigal Cotes du Rhone.

It's a good deep color, and the nose indicates that it's at or near it's peak for drinking. Classic Cotes du Rhone, it's bursting at the seams right now with ripe blueberries, Provencal herbs and spring flowers. I've had a bias against the 2003 Rhone wines, many of which are over-ripe, but this one certainly does not fall into that category. No heat, no menthol, no raisins and just the right amount of balancing acidity. As you'll note, it's changed since I last tried it (November 19, 2007) but is no less enjoyable.

I've been drinking Guigal CDRs since the early 1980s, and this (along with the 1983) has to rank as one of my favorites.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Chalone Monterey County Pinot Noir, 2006

Chalone has a long-standing reputation for Pinot Noir, and its estate grown bottling runs about $40 a bottle. At $13 to $14, this Monterey County Pinot is one of California's best values. Like the HobNob Pinot Noir below, it is definitely New World in its approach--ripe and ready--but with a lot more complexity and depth than any I've had recently. Dark cherries, cloves, flowers and a hint of anise on the finish. Very ripe but with clearly defined flavors.

I had this in a restaurant, and my only complaint was that it was too ripe and soft to stand up to a spicy clam/marinara pasta dish. A good Chianti or Southern Rhone would have been better.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Folie a Deux Menage a Trois California Red, 2006

I nearly always prefer a red wine with salmon, but usually Pinot Noir or a Grenache blend. This inexpensive choice also worked well with a beautifully prepared dish of Northwest Pacific Salmon with lentils and cauliflour in a subtle butter/herb sauce.

Because of the name, I was assuming Menage a Trois would be a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Actually, the Cab Franc was replaced by Zinfandel with boisterous berry fruit that dominated the aromas and flavors but blended well with subtle Cabernet blackcurrant and Merlot cherry. There was a hint of vanilla but no hard tannins or other obvious oak-influenced traits. Fruity but in a laid back sort of way, it was a good match for the salmon and seemed to take on depth as the meal progressed.

At the upscale L'Auberge de Sedona in Arizona, I paid $9 for a glass of Menage a Trois and felt it was no embarrassment. For an extra dollar, I can buy a whole bottle at D&W FreshMarket. An even better value, undoubtedly, is Folie a Deux's Napa Valley Cabernet for $17.99.

HobNob Vin de Pays d'Oc Pinot Noir, 2006

This was billed as a red Burgundy on the wine list, but the smell, the taste and the price said otherwise. The wine was fruity, however, with smells and flavors to be expected from Pinot Noir, and it was a good accompaniment to smoked salmon pasta.

Smells and flavors included flowers, pomegranate, dark cherries and earth. The style was more New World than Old, but with mercifully few new oak traits. At less than $10 retail, this would be a serviceable Pinot Noir. It reminds me a bit of Pinot Evil, another French Vin de Pays which gives an honest, straightforward taste of Pinot Noir for about $5. For a few dollars more, I prefer the added depth of Louis Latour's Pinot Noir Valmoissine.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rex Hill Oregon Pinot Gris, 2006

This wine is more like an Alsace Pinot Gris than an Italian Pinot Grigio. It is big, full-bodied and delicious--a white wine for red wine lovers. It has a classic Pinot Gris nose of minerals, hard butterscotch candy and ripe pears. Deep and serious. On the palate, it's full bodied and viscous. Full range of flavors on mid-palate and finish. Ripe enough to drink on its own; would also be very good with garlic shrimp or a similar dish.

Rex Hill is better known for its Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, but this Pinot Gris, at $13.99, is a good value.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Trumpeter Mendoza Malbec, 2006

My first thought on tasting this Malbec from Argentina was that it was a bit sweet for a red table wine. I soon found, however, that it was a perfect match for our spicy dishes (grilled salmon with mango/cilantro sauce and chicken/green chiles stew) at Flo's Cafe and Bar on West Chicago Avenue in Chicago. The wine was riper and fruitier than any Malbec I've had but it provided a perfect background for the hot, spicy flavors. Ripe, ripe blackberries, raspberries, cherries and currants with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg--wow! Like fresh berries, ripened and warm in the sun; like a fruit cobbler fresh from the oven. The heat opens up the concentrated smells and flavors of the berries and creates a whole new dimension of rich flavors.

A bottle of this Malbec was only $18 on the wine list. And it undoubtedly can be found for less than $8 retail. I plan to buy more.

As for Flo: a truly remarkable place to eat. We usually go there for breakfast or brunch--Southwest-oriented frittatas and egg dishes. But the dinner entrees showed a truly gifted touch. For two dinners, a bottle of wine, a shared dessert, tax and tip: less than $70.

Mittnacht-Klack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Gewurztraminer, 1993

There are roses planted at the end of each vineyard row of this Grand Cru vineyard situated just outside the walls of the fairy-tale Medieval village of Riquewihr in Alsace. We stayed once in a bed and breakfast right beside this vineyard so I have good memories of the place as well as the wine.

From a half bottle, this 1993 Grand Cru Gewurz is fully mature. It's a deep gold color, deeper and more mature even than the 1983 Willm Pinot Gris (March 29). It's classic Gewurz--roses, exotic spices, honey and lychee nut. It's like a dessert wine in its rich, unctuous mouth feel. Would work well with dessert, but was also a match for black bean chili, of all things (well, not the perfect match, but that was the way things worked out). Flavors are powerful but focused and well defined. Definitely grand cru quality.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

McWilliams Hanwood Estate Southeastern Australian Shiraz, 2005

This is another widely available Australian Shiraz that has won Tasters' Guild gold medals at the $8 to $12 price level. The Southeastern Australia appellation indicates that the grapes come from a high production area that provides most of the material for Australian wines in this price bracket.

This 2005 is a deep, dark ruby with a typically big Shiraz nose--plummy, spicy with some American oak-influenced vanilla and dill. There are some slightly rough tannins on the mid-palate along with plummy fruit and then dark berry flavors on the finish. On the second night, the rough tannins are mostly gone, indicating that the wine might benefit from some aeration. I've been told of a device that fits on the neck of a bottle and aerates as it pours. I think such a device would be ideal for wines of this type.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Domaine la Monardiere Vacqueyras Les Calades, 2003

Christian and Martine Vache call this a Vacqueyras for early drinking, but that means it shows well right away and not that it's incapable of aging. I had my last bottle of the 2000 Les Calades last Fall, and it was drinking very nicely. It's 80 percent Grenache from vines planted in 1948 in vineyards located near a quarry.

Compared to the Camille Cayran (March 29), which comes from a similar blend grown only about 20 miles away, its appearance and its personality is much deeper and darker--some bluish black notes to go with the crimson and scents of black licorice, blueberries, black raspberries and dark cherries. (That's Vacqueyras as opposed to Cairanne.) Also flowers and Provencal herbs and spices. There's more tannin on the tongue; it's firm in the middle but finishes with ripe, open blueberry fruit. The tannins seem to fade away when the wine warms in the glass. Very enjoyable at this stage without any of the over-ripeness found in some 2003 Southern Rhones.