Saturday, May 31, 2008

Schoenheitz Alsace Pinot Gris Holder, 2005

Among nearly 400 wines at the Kalamazoo Food & Wine Fest (I didn't taste them all but made a valiant effort), this Alsace Pinot Gris stood out. It seemed lighter in body than most Pinot Gris wines but with the tensile strength of a fine wire. I didn't take notes but can still remember the scents and flavors of wild flowers, honey, white peaches--powerful and rich but finely focused. It's not easy to concentrate at a Food & Wine Fest, but this wine (and the Riesling from Schoenheitz beside it on the table) took a firm grip on my palate.

Even though I've been drinking Alsace wines for many years and have visited the region, I had never encountered this estate. I learned that the vineyards have been in the Schoenheitz family since the 17th century but were pretty much destroyed during World War II and have been gradually restored since the 1970s by Henri Schoenheitz, Sr. I will be on the lookout for these wines in the future.

Among my other favorites at the tasting: Campbell Rutherglen Muscat (a fabulous dessert wine), D'Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz, and Elderton Command Shiraz. The latter was outrageously good--as well it should be, given its regular price of nearly $100. It was a treat to get to try it, but it's not a wine I would consider buying. Those are all Australian wines. I also enjoyed a number of Spanish, Argentinan, French and New Zealand wines that I'm likely to buy and report on in the months to come.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Domaine du Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2003

I loved the last bottle of this wine [January 11, 2008], thought it was an excellent example of a Southern Rhone from the overly warm 2003 vintage. This bottle was not so impressive.

The wine has good color, even some bluish tints, but the nose is sweeter and simpler than I remember from January. Ripe cherries and Cheracol but only a hint of black pepper and spices that serve as a backbone for this wine in other vintages. High alcohol is not the problem; it's only 13.5% and the wine is not hot on the palate. It's just a bit overly ripe, without the balancing acidity to provide interest.

Font-Sane is still my favorite Ventoux, though, and I'm planning to buy half a case of the 2005--a vintage more to my liking.

Reynolds Vineyards South Australia Chardonnay, 2006

This is a nicely made Chardonnay, with fruit coming mainly from the Nanya Vineyard along the Murray River, about 150 miles northeast of Adelaide. For maximum freshness, grapes were picked at night, crushed and pressed, then chilled to "cold settle" overnight. Complexity and richness were gained through partial malolactic fermentation and aging in French oak. The cuvee also includes 10 percent Chenin Blanc.

We served it as a picnic wine following a community flower planting in the park across from our home, and it was very pleasant. And it's full flavored enough to be a serviceable dinner wine.

A medium deep color with oaky brown butter notes but also a full range of Chardonnay smells and flavors--lime, grapefruit, green apples. Seems richer than last bottle [April 18, 2008] but no less lively. Full range of flavors with good acidity and a limey finish. For $8.99, it's an excellent value.

Reynolds also makes a Reserve Chardonnay from fruit near the winery in the Orange area of central New South Wales. From reports I have read, it is a special wine.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Leftovers--Good and Bad

Occasionally at our house (not very often) wine gets left over and sits on the shelf for several days. And even though I use the VacuVin to pump out as much air as possible, the wine is bound to deteriorate. Some believe this is the test of a wine's staying power--the less ageworthy the wine, the faster it will start to show the effects of oxidation after being opened. I don't accept this theory completely, but to the extent that it's true, I'd say that the Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino has good aging potential.

Last night, five nights after it was opened, the Martin Ray Angeline Pinot Noir from Sonoma County (see below) was close enough to being vinegar that the remains were poured mercifully down the sink. By contrast, the Salice Salentino, opened seven nights ago, was a pleasant surprise. While clearly showing some oxidation, the aromas and flavors still had a strong fruit presence. In fact, the oxidation softened the fruit and added some intriguing nuances that kept me coming back for more. While this wine is drinking beautifully right now, I think that it will continue to grow for several more years. If you don't find Agricole Vallone's 2000 Salice Salentino on closeout for $4.79, as I did, it is well worth the regular price of $12.99.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Edna Valley Vineyards Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard Chardonnay, 2005

This bottle of Edna Valley Chardonnay was showing even better than the last [March 17, 2008]. It's at a nice stage of maturity, and there's no reason to wait any longer to drink up whatever you have on hand.

The nose is particularly striking--rich, toasty tones of ripe pears in browned butter. Very buttery and rich but with fresh fruit--apples, pears, white peaches--showing nicely on the finish. This wine is the perfect match for any shrimp dish but it also worked well with oven-grilled rainbow trout with lemon and capers.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Martin Ray Angeline Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 2004

If you bought two bottles of Martin Ray Angeline Pinot Noir from the same vintage, you would expect them to be the same wine, right? Wrong. The very good Martin Ray Angeline I reported on earlier (March 18, 2008) was from Mendocino County. This very disappointing wine from a nearly identical bottle is from Sonoma County. I feel misled.

This Sonoma County Pinot is far more advanced than the Mendocino County one; in fact, I would say this it's over the hill at age four. It's a light to medium ruby with a simple nose of herbs and raspberry. It's hard to get excited about this bouquet, and the flavors are even more austere and uninteresting. The wine is flat with no energy or lift and I find the herbal-tinged flavors offputting. It was difficult for me to finish the glass, let alone the bottle. Martin Ray: please give us better clues about where your grapes are coming from!

Friday, May 23, 2008

L. Mawby Leelanau Peninsula Blanc de Blanc Sparkling wine

If you ever visit the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan, plan a stop at Larry Mawby's, located on a quiet country road just south of Sutton's Bay. Larry thinks of wine making as an artistic rather than a business venture. He built the winery himself and his sense of humor pervades the place, even when he's not present himself, through the witty sayings tacked on the wall. At one time, Larry made a dry Vignoles that was my favorite Michigan wine, but he now focuses almost solely on producing high quality sparkling wines. This Blanc de Blanc that we had tonight with appetizers is one of the most impressive I've had.

It's very light in color and forms a fluffy mousse when poured. Bubbles are small and persistent. Wonderful fresh smells waft from the glass--Granny Smith apples in a warm, buttery dough. It's fresh and crisp but also rich with ripe fruit and butter flavors and smells. Just the right amount of sweetness for an appetizer. As Larry Mawby sums up in his label poem:
"She's light, she's lively,
blonde and bubbly.
She's not french
but her kiss
makes your tongue dance."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Vereto Rosso Riserva, 2000

This is my second bottle of a wine I found on the closeout shelves for $4.79 at Hardings Market. I've already stocked up and this tasting confirmed that it was a good decision.

Deep ruby; good color. The nose is sweet and pretty, almost candied but with some bracing dark tones. The wine also borders on volatility, but it's intentional, part of the wine-making style; the wine is clearly not falling apart. Red cherries, roses, tarry minerals melting together in complex combinations. On the palate, it's smooth and ripe with no tannins but a pleasantly bitter taste of dark grape skins and ripe fruit. Long and pleasant finish.

The 2000 vintage, I've learned, was a good one in the Salice Salentino area. And early reviews ranked this wine ahead of the better known Salice Salentino of Taurino. At eight years of age, it is drinking quite well, and I think it will continue to blossom for several more years.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone, 1998

When the 1998 vintage arrived, it was touted as one of the best Southern Rhone vintages of the past two decades. My plan was to drink as much as I could of early drinking wines and lay away some of my favorites for aging. The first part of the plan worked well: I worked through several cases of Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, Font Sane Cotes du Ventoux, Pesquier Vin de Pays and Clos Saint Jean Les Calades. I kept the L'Espigouette Cotes du Rhone Villages a bit longer, but the wine was clearly showing its age when I drank the last bottle in 2006.

As I begin to dip into the wines I considered able to go 10 years and longer, I have a bit of trepidation because I've read mixed reports regarding 1998 Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas. Tasting this wine for the second time erased some of my fears. Although only a simple Cotes du Rhone, Domaine Sainte Anne has a solid track record for aging 10 years and longer, and this wine is doing quite well.

The color is a deep, brilliant crimson. The nose is classic Sainte Anne and beautiful: powerful scents of garrigue (Provencal herbs) and deep, deep fruit. Ripe blueberries in a warm pie crust, vanilla cream and a floral/herbal uplift. The aroma/flavor profile is very similar to the 2004 and 2005 Sainte Anne CDRs, just a bit deeper. The fruit is very strong and there is a creamy mouth feel without thickness.

As with other Sainte Anne wines, this was aged in concrete vats so the vanilla quality is NOT oak-influenced; the tannins all come from the peels and stems. Sainte Anne includes stems in the fermentation only in vintages when they are ripe and in good condition. Although the wine has big, ripe fruit smells and tastes that wine drinkers have come to expect from high-alcohol wines, the alcohol content in this CDR is a very modest 12 percent.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

It's the Kimeridgian Soil

When I was enjoying the brisk, mineral-laden Gilbert Picq Chablis, I couldn't help being reminded of Sancerre. But I dismissed the thought as stupid. This was Chardonnay, after all; Sancerre is Sauvignon Blanc.

The kimeridgian limestone soil that defines the best Chablis, however, is also present in the Loire Valley and specifically in Sancerre. According to Loire expert Jacqueline Friedrich, writing in The Wines of France: The Essential Guide for Savvy Shoppers: "Chablis is in Burgundy, but its terroir is the same as that of the Sancerrois. When I taste really good, terroir-driven Chablis I can't help thinking of the very best Sancerres. The grapes--chardonnay and sauvignon blanc--truly take the back seat here."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Chablis Gilbert Picq et ses Fils, 2000

I've written before [January 29, 2008] about the traditional wines made by the Picq family (Gilbert's two sons and his daughter are now in charge) in the small village of Chichee in the Chablis region of France. The Chardonnays from this estate are traditional. No new oak is used; the wines are vatted in stainless steel. When the elder Picq experimented with small oak barrels some years ago, he decided that the oak obscured the flinty, earthiness that make his wines and those of Chablis unique.

This regular Chablis is a deep mature gold. The bouquet and flavors confirm that it is probably at its peak right now. Flint, lime, tart gooseberries, rosemary and bitter almonds. Good acid structure and grip with a salty, mineral tang. This is for Chablis lovers only--no butter, no toast, no tropical fruit. There are many (probably the majority) of wine drinkers who prefer their Chardonnays fat and sassy. But my motto is ABC: Always Buy Chablis.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2006

Tasting this wine alongside the Clos Saint Jean Vin de Pays was a revelation. They were showing nearly the same Grenache-Syrah flavor/aroma profile--one mature and the other in the blush of youth. Like the older wine, the Grand Prieur is very aromatic with intense, focused smells of red berries and garrigue. It also has a strong licorice component to both the nose and the palate that the Clos Saint Jean does not have, and I find this very attractive. It's round, ripe and very pretty at this stage, but I know it will deepen out over the next few months with more peppery complexity, as the 2005 has.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Clos Saint Jean Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Les Calades, 2001

This may be the best vintage I've had of this under-$10 Vin de Pays from Clos Saint Jean. The wine comes from old vines very close to the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation, and it often comes close in quality to the estate's Chateauneuf--or at least it was prior to the changes made starting with the 2003 vintage. (As I noted in another post, Clos Saint Jean hired Philippe Cambie as a consultant in 2003.)

This 2001 is medium deep crimson but has lightened considerably over the past year or so. It was very good in its youth but is even better today with well defined notes of ripe red raspberries and garrigue. Very aromatic and has elegant, well focused flavors that you would expect from a fine Grenache-based wine. Not a powerhouse but very close to Chateauneuf du Pape quality. The price tag says $8.99 but I got most of my bottles on sale for $6.99.

Monday, May 12, 2008

D'Arenberg McLaren Vale The Old Vines Shiraz, 1995

In D'Arenberg's wide array of unusually named cuvees, this wine is now known as The Foot Bolt Shiraz. It comes from very old, gnarly vines, some more than 100 years old, in McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide. They are tree-like vines similar to those you see in Gigondas and Vacqueyras, and, according to the label, they produce low yields of small Shiraz (Syrah) grapes that are very concentrated in color and flavor.

My first impression of this wine is that it needs more time. There are some amber tones to the deep, dark color, but the bouquet takes nearly an hour to really open up. When it does, there is much to give: ripe red and black berries, black plums, cassis. Deep and brooding. Flavors are also a bit shy in coming forth, but there's good ripeness and lots of interest on the mid-palate and finish. This is a good wine now, and I suspect that it will continue to develop complexity for at least five to seven more years.

My interest in wine started in 1976-77 when my wife and I spent a year near her family in the Melbourne area. This D'Arenberg Old Vines Shiraz seems to me typical of the Australian wines I enjoyed during that period--old vines, old barrels, dense colors and big flavors. Australian wines have changed quite a bit since that time, but I'm still partial to the old style, of which this wine is a good example.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Villa Giada Suri Barbera d'Asti, 2005

This wine convinced me that I should buy more Barbera. The color is deep and dark, and the aromas are intense--black cherries, flowers, spices. You can easily smell them at arm's length. In the mouth, Villa Giada's Suri Barbera is full bodied and very smooth with ripe fruit flavors from front to back. It's a wine that demands that you slow down and enjoy the nuances--red berries, underbrush, herbs and spices--that keep changing as the wine airs and warms. It also teases you back for sip after sip. Although there are no noticeable tannins, I think this wine has what it takes to develop for many years.

Winemaker Andrea Faccio uses a traditional maceration and fermentation followed by full malolactic fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats. The wine is then aged for several months in large barrels before bottling. It's a blend of traditional and modern, with the input of a visiting oenologist. It's my style of wine, but I suspect that tasters who like oak-influenced New World wines would also find it interesting and enjoyable. It has body, substance, complexity and flavor interest.

I bought my bottle for $10.99 from Village Corner in Ann Arbor. I have also seen it on the shelves of Sawall Health Foods in Kalamazoo for about the same price.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Jean Descombes Morgon Georges Duboeuf, 1996

I had the 1995 Jean Descombes Morgon in January and wrote about it here (January 24) as comparable to a fine red Burgundy. Last night, I drank the 1996 Descombes and found it even more enjoyable.

The color indicated to me that it is considerably more mature than the 1995. It's a light garnet with a lot of amber tones. A crust of sediment on the side of the bottle indicates that it has shed a lot of its tannins. Very Pinot-like in its bouquet. Ripe cherries, flowers--sweet and lovely. There is a fine-boned strength and beauty in this wine. Very delicate but also powerful. Dances lightly on the tongue and leaves a sweetness in the aftertaste that refuses to go away. Whooooeeee. Unlike the 1995, which may have some miles to go, this wine is crying to be drunk.

The 2005 Descombes is still lingering on the shelves ($13.99 at D&W FreshMarkets). I haven't tried it since January of 2007 but I would expect it to still be showing its fruit-driven charms (black raspberries and cherries). The 2005 is hard to resist at this stage, but I'm still saving a few bottles to drink at age 10 to 12. And the 2006 is due on the shelves shortly.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Domaine Daulny Sancerre, 2005

My last bottle of a Domaine Daulny Sancerre was February 14 with a shrimp dish. That was Etienne Daulny's beautiful 2004 Clos Chaudenay. For shrimp with pesto linguine last night I opened another Domaine Daulny Sancerre, this time the 2005 regular bottling. And it was Valentine's Day all over again--a lovely marriage of smells, flavors and textures.

The 2005 Daulny is fresh and lively--a medium light gold/green with tightly focused aromas and flavors of citrus, gooseberry, flowers and steely minerals. It's got the crisp greenish tone that blends perfectly with pesto. That's sauvignon blanc, and this version is as good as any I've had from New Zealand or elsewhere. What it has in addition are broad, deep flavors and textures that pick up the shrimp, walnuts, olive oil and parmesan. The last glass--after I've given up on the shrimp/pesto linguine--is the best. At this point, the wine has a softer, riper texture and seems to grow with each sip, adding nuances I hadn't noticed before. When I had the Clos Chaudenay last February, I decided that it was worth a few extra bucks over the regular bottling. Now I'm convinced that the regular bottling has its own charm. It all depends on your meal and your mood.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs, 2000

As I mentioned below, I served this wine alongside the 1995 Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape. While the Chateauneuf was showing very well, this seven-year-old Cotes du Rhone Villages was not overshadowed at all. In fact, those at the table split evenly as to which the wine they preferred.

The color was much deeper and darker than the Clos Saint Jean, and the nose was more what you'd expect from a very good Southern Rhone--black raspberry, pepper and garrigue. While less aromatic than the older wine, it had considerable depth and interest. On the palate it was full and satiny with ripe red and black fruits. A very satisfying wine in every respect.

As for price, this wine actually cost a dollar more ($13.99) than the Clos Saint Jean, but I paid only $8 or $9 for the 1995 Reserve des Seigneurs and slightly more for the 1998. The current vintage is still a good value at about $20.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape, 1995

The price tag on this wine says $12.99--an incredibly low price for a Chateauneuf du Pape even 10 years ago. One major reason for this low price was pretty obvious: Robert Parker, rightfully considered the authoritative voice for Chateauneuf du Pape, had written that the wines from this estate were old fashioned and rustic. Heeding Robert Parker's warnings, I tasted carefully before I bought the 1989 Clos Saint Jean for an equally low price. I loved it. Same with the 1990. Same with the 1995. And the 1998 was by far the best of the bunch.

With the 2003 vintage, all of that changed. Clos Saint Jean produced three Chateauneufs that year, and all earned 94 to 96 points from Parker. Prices soared, and some posters on message boards now talk about Clos Saint Jean as one of the best of its appellation.

It's easy to attribute this wine's soaring status (and price) to Parker points, but it's not that simple. Beginning with the 2003 vintage, Clos Saint Jean brought in the noted Philippe Cambie to assist with the winemaking, and his advice was crucial in bringing this estate to what Parker might call "superstar" status.

I don't have the money ($50 to $60 a bottle) to see what I think of Philippe Cambie's efforts. But I do stand by my appreciation for the older vintages, while acknowledging that the 1989 and 1990 were better at 10 than at 15 years of age.

This is one of my last bottles of the 1995. Considering all that has transpired with Clos Saint Jean, I tasted a bit more critically, perhaps, than I have in the past. From the first sniff, this wine has a bouquet that is incredibly deep and captivating. Yet deep underneath the Grenache berry fruit is a green stemminess that is a bit distracting. If I were looking for flaws, I would say there are plenty. But there is still an electricity about this wine--and fruit concentration--that makes it special.

I deliberately matched this wine against another very good Southern Rhone--the 2000 Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs of Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin. If I were grading them on points, I would give higher points to the Cairanne on nearly every category. Yet if I had to point to the wine I would most like to have in my glass, I would choose this Clos Saint Jean.

I'm looking forward to trying the 1998 soon.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Domaine le Couroulu Vacqueyras, 1998

This is definitely an old-fashioned Vacqueyras. I bought a lot of Couroulu in the mid-1980s and I still come back to it when it's available in good vintages. The style and approach have not changed over this 20-year period.

When I first tasted this 1998 eight years ago, I thought it was a bit harder than usual, but I liked the potential. At 10 years of age, my patience has paid off. It's still a very deep plummy red. Very aromatic with powerful scents of anise, sea salt, flowers, Provencal herbs and black cherries. Many Vaucluse wines have a black licorice/mineral component; with a traditional Vacqueyras like Couroulu, I'd describe it as anise rather than licorice because it's more high-pitched and more aromatic. Full range of flavors as well with a pleasant, peppery warmth that dances on the tongue. Very deep and somewhat funky; it's definitely not for those who lean toward New World wines. (My wife, in fact, would prefer an Aussie Shiraz.) But it's real Vacqueyras, and I love it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

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

Another look at this wine confirms that it's everything I expect in an every day Syrah. It smells like Syrah--mulberries, currants, plums and crushed peppercorns. (The peppery element of Syrah differs from that of Grenache, which is like pepper cooked into stewed berries. Syrah's pepper is blacker and straight from the pepper grinder.) Again, I find no sign of oxidation or off odors. And it tastes like Syrah--now new oak, no hard tannins, no jamminess. Not a lot of complexity, but a nice full feeling on the palate with a ripe finish.

This bottle was better than the last (a fluke, I think, rather than a sign of development). For $4 plus a bottle, it's better than any every day New World Shiraz or Old World Syrah I've come across recently.