Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pont du Rhone Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This is a simple Cotes du Rhone from the negotiant duPeloux, but I see it as a good introduction to the 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone. It's medium to deep crimson with the bluish/purple blush of youth. Side by side with the McWilliams Shiraz, the Grenache friendliness of this wine stands out. Red raspberries and cream, violets, spices and a hint of black pepper. Also fresh, yeasty scents--like a raspberry tart fresh out of the oven. Lots of flavor interest. This straightforward negotiant wine ($5.99 at Trader Joe's) gives me a better view of the 2007 vintage than the oak-influenced Domaine Lafond Roc Epine I had a few weeks ago at Journeyman Bistro in Fennville.

Pont du Rhone is not a wine I plan to buy in quantity; there are many better Cotes du Rhone for drinking over the next three to five years--Sainte Anne, Grand Prieur, L'Espigouette, Veux Chene, Janasse, Segries. At the price though, it's a good wine to drink while it's still brimfull of the zesty, yeasty qualities of young Grenache.

Friday, August 29, 2008

McWilliams Hanwood Estate South Eastern Australian Shiraz, 2005

This has become my favorite under-$10 Australian Shiraz for daily drinking, more consistently enjoyable, in my view, than the Jacobs Creek Shiraz which has won gold medals from Tasters' Guild over the past two years. If you have an under-$10 selection to recommend, I would be happy to hear about it.

This wine has a good measure of new oak but it's backed by sturdy Shiraz fruit. It's deep and bluish with ripe smells and flavors of dark cherries and mulberries. Compared to the Barbera Piemonte, it's considerably thicker and more tannic. Quite a contrast in style, and I can predict that if you like one of these two wines, you probably won't care for the other. But they're both charming and food-friendly. This wine is probably at its best right now, at three years of age. The fruit is still strong and beginning to take charge from the wood tannins.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ottone I Barbera Piemonte, 2005

Piedmont is the source of some of the greatest red wines in the world: Barolos and Barbarescos. But as Italian wine expert Burton Anderson points out, of all the wines of Piedmont, "nearly half the red is Barbera, much of which is for everyday, some of which is remarkable."

The label notes that the wine is named after Otto I, the first Holy Roman Emperor. And the Barbera wine grapes in this area of northern Italy were probably there long before Otto.

The Ottone I Barbera Piemonte is a medium light ruby red, several shades lighter than the Guigal Cotes du Rhone. There's a slightly spritzy note to the aromas, but the fruit flavors are fresh and inviting: red cherries, licorice and flowers, straightforward and intense. There's a bit of spritz on the palate as well, but the overall impression is positive. It's a useful wine--a good companion for black bean soup but would be equally good with whitefish, pork or chicken.

After tasting the excellent Villa Giada Barbera d'Asti (May 10, 2008), I wanted to learn more about Barbera. This wine lacks the complex spicy notes of the La Loggia Barbera d'Alba I reported on earlier (August 14, 2008). Both are good values for every day drinking, and I'm ready to make another go at the Villa Giada.

Monday, August 25, 2008

E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone, 2003

In a message board discussion a few months ago, those of us who know and love Cotes du Rhone wines came to a general consensus that, in most vintages, the best CDRs for aging are probably those of Etienne Guigal. Guigal's vineyards are in Cote Rotie, the northern Rhone, so for Cotes du Rhone (as for Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape), he is a negotiant, buying grapes from someone who has a surplus. That's generally not a good approach; most growers are going to keep their best grapes for themselves.

Guigal's record with Cotes du Rhone speaks for itself, however, and goes back many years. The 1981, 1983 and 1985 Guigal Cotes du Rhone stand out in my memory. When I had a chance to pick up the 1983 for about $30/case in 1990 (when by all rights it should have been dead), I had no hesitation. And it was drinking so beautifully that I went back for case No. 2 and enjoyed every drop.

The 2003 vintage is a controversial one; the warmer than usual weather created many wines that were over-ripe. While they showed beautifully young, they may or may not have the acidity needed for aging. Guigal's wine is one of the few I have had confidence keeping, mainly because of his track record and reports I have heard from those I trust.

It's a medium deep crimson, very dark for a Cotes du Rhone. The nose is powerful with more Syrah than Grenache traits. This smells and tastes more like a Crozes Hermitage than a Cotes du Rhone--black fruits, shoe polish and only a hint of garrigue. It's ripe but not raisined, and it has a nice black cherry finish. It's also very different from the bottle I had a few months ago and, for me, not as enjoyable.

I was away the second night and what was left in the bottle on the third night was a bit disjointed and hot on the finish. The alcohol level is only 13.5%, but I suspect that the balance is a bit fragile. It's probably going through an awkward stage, but I'm going to drink up the few bottles I have left.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Edna Valley Vineyards Edna Valley San Luis Obispo Paragon Vineyards Chardonnay, 2005

I reviewed this wine twice previously (March 17 and May 27) and pegged it at the peak of its maturity. With this bottle, I'm inclined to think that it's beginning its slide down the other side. If you have some in your cellar, it's time to drink up.

The color is a very deep gold. The nose is dominated by lime, white peaches and French oak. There are some pineapple/tropical fruit flavors on the palate along with lime and a very tight acidity. It's an enjoyable wine, but there's a hard edge creeping into the finish that tells me it's not for keeping.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lirac Chateau de Segries, 1998

This is another example of a 1998 Cotes du Rhone Villages wine strutting its stuff after 10 years in the bottle. Chateau de Segries' Lirac has been very drinkable from the very beginning, but the tannic edge has now faded to reveal deeper pleasures.

The color is a deep ruby/crimson, and I detect no amber tones. The traditional old vine Grenache/Syrah bouquet is apparent from the first sniff. Black raspberries and dark-toned minerals, savory and satisfying. On the palate, the wine is savory and laid back with lots of subtle complexities. It doesn't dance on the tongue but rather steps gracefully across it, leaving a long, silky finish. This wine is not currently on my yearly buy list, but it soon will be.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rully Mollepierre Mathieu de Brully, 2004

This wine provides a perfect example of why I prefer French to New World Chardonnays. Rully is a lesser appellation in Burgundy, only slightly above Macon and nowhere near the prestige level of a Puligny Montrachet or Mersault. Yet for me, wines from Rully and Montagny offer the depth and complexity that I expect and want from a Chardonnay.

The Rully Mollepierre 2004 was a bit of a disappointment just a few months ago. I thought it was prematurely advanced and a little tired. Last night the ugly duckling had developed into a beautiful swan. The color is a medium gold, as before, but the nose shows significantly more depth and development--citrus and green apple, yes, but also nuts and grains, plump and lovely. All of those qualities are confirmed on the palate--nothing showy but an elegant, graceful presence that blends nicely with the flavors of broiled rainbow trout with lemon, capers and olive oil. Unlike most white wines, this one becomes better as it warms, with all of the subtle flavor elements becoming more defined.

No offense intended against New World Chardonnays nor those who love them, but this, for me, is what Chardonnay is all about.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cline Contra Costa County Ancient Vines Mourvedre, 2006

I usually feel a bit uneasy when I read "ancient vines" on the label. As someone once said: "In California, they just can't plant those ancient vines quickly enough." That kind of cynicism is a bit harsh for this wine. While these "ancient vines" probably would not be considered even middle aged in France or Italy, they clearly are capable of producing some good juice.

About 25% of this wine is aged in new American oak, but the winemaker has done his job well because it's barely noticeable and certainly takes a back seat to the distinctive deep fruit/mineral smells and flavors. Dark plums, blueberries, violets and Mourvedre spice. Has a luxurious mouth feel and a lovely range of flavors and textures. Slightly tough, as young Mourvedre wines tend to be, and with hints of the pleasures to come with 8 to 10 years of aging.

This wine reminds me of the many inexpensive Spanish Mourvedre wines (Yecla Carro, Yecla Castano, Jumilla Casa Castillo, Luzon Verde) now on the market. Even at a price ($15 to $18) two to three times higher than these wines, it is still well worth buying.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

La Loggia Barbera d'Alba, 2006

For $5.99 at Trader Joe's, this wine is a decent value. The nose alone is worth the price--elegant spicy notes of violets, cherries, wild berries and leather. It smells like a mature wine, and the medium ruby/garnet color is also suggestive of an older wine. On the palate, the dominant impression is dryness--an almost dusty dryness that seems to squeeze out the fruit. The leather and spice are there but less of the cherries and berries. I suspect this wine has been pre-aged to bring it forward for early drinking. I found it quite enjoyable with linguine marinara and may buy more...but not for cellaring.

I don't have a lot of experience with Barbera, but I know that Barbera d'Alba wines can be excellent...and expensive. I reported on an excellent Barbera d'Asti from Villa Giada earlier this year [May 10, 2008], and this La Loggia offers nowhere near the same level of intensity. It's also less striking than the Epicuro wines (Salice Salentino and Aglianico) beside it on the shelves at Trader Joe's for the same price.

Monday, August 11, 2008

R Wines Strong Arms South Australia Shiraz, 2006

If you're looking for a simple wine that's pleasurable to gulp (as some have described the Los Dos Spanish wine below), then I think this wine is a better choice. Strong Arms Shiraz was awared 91 points by the Wine Advocate, but for my taste, it's a bit ripe, alcoholic and one dimensional. I love fruit-oriented wines, but this one comes short on definition and flavor interest--probably because the grapes were picked too late. With pizza, I found it okay but, at $10, not the "remarkable value" cited by the Wine Advocate review.

Almira Los Dos Campo de Borja, 2006

I've seen some user notes on this wine labeling it "good but simple." I say the only thing "simple" about this wine is its price. The wine sells for about $8 a bottle; I paid $8 for a glass in a restaurant and thought it was a bargain.

Flavors and aromas are what you would expect from a Spanish Grenach/Syrah blend (80%/20%)--cherries, berries, spice and pepper. In addition, it has haunting old vines character and surprising depth and concentration for a wine of this price level. It is clearly traditionally made with none of the bells and whistles of modern, international winemaking. Traditional fermentation without carbonic maceration and aging in stainless steel. I say this is a wine to take seriously.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Chateauneuf du Pape Les Clefs d'Or, 1989

From a half bottle, this Chateauneuf is fully mature and lovely. The color is deep and dark, but there are garnet amber tones of maturity. The bouquet and flavors are classic mature Chateauneuf: dried red berries with hints of black pepper and spices, concentrated as in fruit cake. Very rich but not heavy and no hard edges. It's not as good as the 1989 Lucien Barrot but made in the same mode. 13.5% alcohol is probably understating it, but there are no disagreeable high-alcohol traits as in most 2003 Southern Rhones. Mature but not fading.

Christian Moueix Merlot, 2005

If anyone knows Merlot, that person should be Christian Moueix. He is the owner of the renowned (and costly) Chateau Petrus, a 100 percent Merlot wine from Pomerol. This wine doesn't qualify as a second label for Petrus or even for Moueix's other estate, Trotanoy. It is a generic AC Bordeaux Merlot that sells for about $10 a bottle.

While I'm not a fan of Merlot, this wine gives me plenty of pleasure. There is none of the green pepper element that I find in many inexpensive New World Merlots. No candied cherries either. Just plain old Merlot fruit--earthy smells and flavors with overtones of dark cherries and a dry, tea-like finish. This is not a Merlot for cocktail sippers; it is a wine that goes well with a carefully prepared meal featuring beef, veal, pork or lamb.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Edna Valley Vineyard Edna Valley San Luis Obisop Paragon Chardonnay, 2003

Chardonnay is capable of aging well for 10, 15, 20 years or more. I've had 15-year-old white Burgundies even from lesser appellations such as Saint Aubin and Montagny that were beautiful. In 2005, I had a 1987 Tyrrell's Vat 47 Hunter Valley Chardonnay that was very well preserved. I have had Edna Valley Vineyards Chardonnays in the past that have aged well for six to eight years. Not this one; it has all the qualities of a nine-year-old "premox" Chablis: overly deep color; stale, oxidized aromas; and a somewhat bitter taste. Some of the Edna Valley mineral qualities can still be detected if you search for them. But there's not much pleasure left in this wine.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Cotes du Rhone Domaine Lafond Roc Epine, 2007

I had this at Journeyman Cafe in Fennville, MI, and the waiter told me it was a 2007, which I found hard to believe. Are red 2007 Cotes du Rhone wines ready for bottling?

The wine is certainly fresh enough, and it was very pleasant with an entree of Creswell Farms pork (belly and loin), eggplant puree, kale and snow peas with maple syrup/Bourbon glaze. The wine is a dark color with bluish tints. The nose is very ripe and pleasant with hints of black fruits but little of the varietal character (pepper, spice, garrigue) I expect from a Southern Rhone. It's also ripe and supple on the palate--a good restaurant wine with no sharp edges...but again very little varietal character of either Grenache or Syrah. Maybe this is because of the wine's youth or maybe it's because the estate has moved to an international style.

The vineyards, located halfway between Lirac and Tavel in the cooler Gard region of the Southern Rhone, were planted in 1880, and the estate says they are the oldest vineyards in the world. Yet there's not much old viney character to this wine. Is that because it's still young? Or because the style has been modernized?'s an enjoyable wine for $6.50 a glass at a small-town restaurant that is quickly gaining recognition throughout the Midwest.