Monday, September 29, 2008

Joseph Mellot Chinon les Morinieres, 2004

When I last had Chinon les Morinieres (January 7, 2008), it was gushing with flamboyant fruit. With a few months' aging, these red fruit aromas and flavors have mellowed out and developed secondary characteristics more typical of Loire Cabernet Franc--dusty earth, briar and herbs. But there's still plent of lush fruit--dark cherries and red raspberries. It has the freshness to go with seafood, pork or chicken plus the fruit depth and complexity to stand up to beef or lamb.

It's still fairly widely available and a good value for $12 to $14.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

LaTour de By Cru Bourgeois du Medoc, 1982

This half bottle of Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux was purchased for $3.99 nearly 25 years ago. And it's still drinking beautifully.

The color is similar to that of the Langi Cabernet--deep and dark with minimal browning. And the nose also has many of the same qualities--cherries and currants, deep and concentrated but showing a racy edge. There are dried as well as fresh fruits in the bouquet and flavors of this wine. The mid-palate is notably ripe and lovely, superior to that of the younger Langi Cab. The wine glides along the tongue, leaving ripe flavors and a silky impression all the way. If all Cabernet wines were this good and this inexpensive, I would drink them more frequently.

LaTour de By is one of a number of inexpensive Cru Bourgeous favorites of famous wine critics such as Michael Broadbent, and I can understand why. The vineyards are planted to 70 percent Cabernet, 25 percent Merlot and 5 percent Cabernet Franc. The lower price is made possible by a heavy dependence on old oak, with about 20 percent of barrels replaced each year. Reviews of recent vintages of LaTour de By on other wine blogs have not been as positive. That might be because the quality at this estate has declined...or because the wine needs more time to show its best. Contemporary wine drinkers have become accustomed to the sweet vanilla-tinged smells and flavors of new oak and less likely than traditionalists to put inexpensive wines in the cellar for extended aging.

Mount Langi Ghiran Victoria Langi Cabernet Sauvignon, 1991

Insiders have long known that Mount Langi Ghiran's vineyards, nestled between two dramatic mountain peaks in the Southern Grampians, produce some of Australia's very best examples of Shiraz. It's a unique cool climate with a long growing season favorable to producing Syrah wines with complete ripeness and beautifully subtle nuances similar to those of the best Hermitage and Cote Rotie wines of the Northern Rhone.

This was not the Langi Shiraz but rather Mount Langi Ghiran's Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It too has a very good reputation, and I opened it for my wife's birthday. Donna is a lover of Australian Cabernet and a close friend since childhood of the winemaker Trevor Mast and his wife, Sandra. The wine was in fact one that Trevor had given us on a visit to the vineyard in the early 1990s.

Trevor noted on the label that, beginning with this vintage, the wine was held in French oak barriques for two years rather one year as in previous vintages to allow "full integration of the oak and wine tannins to soften the wine." Australians, like Americans, tend to drink their wines young, and, with softer tannins, this wine was undoubtedly a hit on restaurant wine lists 15 years ago. Unlike many New World Cabernets that have had similar handling, this wine has nevertheless aged very nicely.

It's a medium deep ruby with some amber creeping in at the edges and a decent amount of sediment. The bouquet is well developed with cherry, currant, cassis, dark fruit and a pleasant raciness. (There is also a slight musty quality that comes and goes but does not detract from the wine's charms. The wine is definitely not corked.) The palate impression is smooth with no hard edges. Flavors are well focused and developed. There's more acid than you'd expect from an Australian red, but that is Trevor's wine making style. It's an Australian Cabernet for those with European tastes, and it's very good.

That said, I'm looking forward to opening the next bottle of Langi Shiraz--probably during the next holiday season.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone, 2007

I already have more favorite Cotes du Rhone wines than I can keep up with, but this one attracted my attention by a price tag that harkened back to the days when the dollar was strong against the Euro--$7.99. And it was good enough to send me back to D&W FreshMarkets for a few more bottles.

Les Trois Couronnes comes from vineyards near Tulette, about 15 kilometers from Valreas and about the same distance from Vaison la Romaine in the Southern Rhone. The color is deep, dark and bluish--enough to make you think it might be oak-influenced. The smells and flavors tell me otherwise, however. It has a robust, peppery Grenache nose with all the qualities you'd expect from a Cotes du Rhone Villages, such as Cairanne. Red and black fruit, spice and more pepper--this time the type of pepper you expect from Syrah. The wine is 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, but at this stage, the Syrah is more than holding its own.

The same qualities carry over to the palate, and there's good fruit concentration. I find a bit more tartness and tannic firmness than I would expect from a Cotes du Rhone, but it's not at all unpleasant and the flavors seem to grow as the wine airs and warms in the glass. As a Cotes du Rhone lover, I approve. And Donna, who prefers Australian Shiraz, is equally enthusiastic.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chateau d'Epire Savennieres, 1982

This wine doesn't owe me anything. I paid $52.50/case for it 25 years ago and have enjoyed it numerous times at every stage of its development. It was a full-bodied, fruit-oriented Chardonnay alternative when it was young and has maintained its fruit orientation while adding honeyed nuances over the past two decades. A 26-year-old white table wine is always an oddity, but dry Chenin Blanc from the Savennieres appellation of the Loire Valley has a reputation for producing ageworthy wines. I had a 1982 Domaine Baumard Clos du Papillon Savennieres last December that was fantastic.

My last bottle of Chateau d'Epire several years ago gave every indication of immortality, but alas this bottle is disappointing. The color is a deep gold, and it deepens further with aeration. The nose still has honey/melon notes but they are muted compared to previous bottles. The honey carries over to the palate with a rich mouthfeel, but there is also a bitter streak, almost salty on the sides of the tongue. The wine is not dead nor oxidized, and it still offers some pleasure. It may be merely a bad bottle, but I suspect that I have pushed my luck with this 26-year-old Chenin Blanc.

Famega Vinho Verde, 2006

This was a leftover from the Summer of 2007. It was fresh and lively a year ago, with just a bit of fizz to refresh the palate, but it's not a winter wine, and I just hadn't gotten around to it yet this summer. Wow, what a pleasant surprise! The fizziness that the wine had a year ago had become a definite sparkle, forming a slight mousse with each pour. Fresh apples with lime juice and tonic water--perfect for a warm evening or a vegetable-oriented meal.

Famega is only $7.49 a bottle, and I've never met anyone who doesn't like its unabashed charm. It's 9% alcohol so you don't have to worry about coming back for glass after glass.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Red Square Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir, 2004

This wine bills itself as "for the people," and I approve. The people deserve to drink good Pinot Noir and eat cake as well as baguettes.

This is real Pinot: medium to light garnet, with a wonderfully pungent nose, aromatic almost to the point of volatility. Very intense red and dark cherry fruit with unmistakeable Pinot Noir savor. Powerful but in a very delicate way--iron fist in a velvet glove. This reminds me of one of my favorite Pinots--the Louis Latour Pinot Noir Domaine de Valmoissine (February 3, 2008). It's hard to resist, and we didn't.

I bought my bottle of Red Square at Cost Plus World Market for $13.99. Valmoissine is regularly priced at $15.99 but is often on sale for $12.99.

Salmon Creek California Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005

This wine reminds me a bit of the affordable California Cabernets that were available in the early 1980s--wines from Pedroncelli, Inglenook, Fetzer, Sebastiani and Almaden. Inexpensive wines today don't taste much like Cabernet, and the expensive ones are outside my budget.

The 2005 Salmon Creek Cabernet is a good dark ruby color, and it smells like Cabernet--currants and berries, just the right blend of black fruits with a pleasant hint of green. Both the color and the nose are noticeably free of the showy, overly oaky attributes that most inexpensive wines get through oak chips and manipulative winemaking. The palate gives what the nose promises--good varietal character, slightly sweet but with some tart acidity to give it balance. The finish is enjoyable and several notches above what you'd expect from a $5 wine.

I paid $5 for a glass of Salmon Creek Cabernet with lunch at Win Schuler's in Marshall, MI and was surprised to find it at my D&W market for only $5.25 a bottle. I've learned since that Bronco Wine Co. (makers of inexpensive wines including Charles Shaw or Two Buck Chuck) markets Salmon Creek almost solely through restaurants. I was pleased to find a $5 glass of Cabernet on a restaurant wine list and even more pleased by the quality that was in the glass. Some consumers, however, would be upset to discover that they could buy a whole bottle of the wine retail for the same price. So the Salmon Creek label is not marketed very aggressively retail, and I had to snoop around in back corners to find it at D&W. I was told that it was brought in on the recommendation of customers, so if your grocery store does not sell Salmon Creek, you might want to tell the staff about it.

The $5 to $8 Cabernets I bought in the early 1980s were usually from Napa, Sonoma or Mendocino County fruit, and most of them aged quite well. Salmon Creek carries only the "California" appellation, meaning the fruit probably comes mostly from high-production vineyards on the Central Coast. This Cab doesn't taste "juggy," although it's not a wine I'd want to cellar. It tastes "classy" in part because it avoids the high-oak, high-alcohol excesses of most of its low-end competitors.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Vereto Rosso Riserva, 2000

After pouring the DOA Spanish Garnacha down the drain, I had the courage to reach for a wine four years older and even more deeply discounted--this Salice Salentino from Agricole Vallone. Originally priced at $11.99, the wine was marked down to $4.79 at Harding's Markets, presumably because someone figured that an inexpensive eight-year-old Italian wine belongs in the throw-away bin. Not true.

The color is deep and dark, and the wine is bursting with vibrant aromas of black and red cherries and a hint of roses--spicy and intense. It's a full-bodied wine, ripe at entry with flavors of dark cherries, earth and licorice on the mid-palate. The finish is more than decent, and the ripe, bold fruit serves as a good foil for a lasagna made with hot, spicy sausage. I stocked up on this wine and plan to enjoy it frequently. If a bottle or two is still around five years from now, I feel certain it will still be offering a lot of enjoyment.

(See previous notes on this wine from April 22 and May 21).

Villaroya de la Sierra Calatayud Garnacha, 2004

This wine, a mere four years of age, is dead. It may have been heat damaged; it may have been simply poorly made, but the muddy color and the vinegary, sherrified nose leave no doubt. A few tastes and down the drain it goes. The wine cost only $8--marked down from $10 at World Market--but I think a consumer has every right to expect a 2004 red wine to be alive and well. This wine was DOA.

I doubt that I missed much. Aside from the vinegar, I found the wine to be overly ripe and raisined with a thick body from 14 percent alcohol.

Louis Latour Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc, 1998

Pernand Vergelesses is one of my favorite good value white Burgundy appellations--a dramatic wine with substantial complexity and flavor interest.

I thoroughly enjoyed Louis Latour's 1995 and 1996 P-Vs a few years ago, and feel sure they're still drinking beautifully. Wish I still had some. This 1998 unfortunately has a bitter note, like the inside of a peach seed, that comes forward in the aroma and detracts from my enjoyment. And that same bitter note shows up on the finish as well. Otherwise, it has decent Chardonnay and oak qualities--apple, citrus, peach in a robust frame. And, unlike cheap white wines, it smells and tastes better warm than it does cold. I'll wait a year or so before trying the next bottle, although I don't have high hopes of a turn-around. I suspect it's simply an off year for Pernand-Vergelesses from Louis Latour.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs

At 10 years of age, this Cotes du Rhone Villages is near or at its peak. The color is deep and dark with only slight browning around the edges. Unlike this domaine's Cairanne Prestige, the Reserve des Seigneurs contains some Syrah, and it seems more dominant in the nose at this stage. Ripe blue and black berries, spice, garrigue, and a hint of shoe polish--very aromatic, almost to the point of volatility. On the palate, ripe blueberry fruit is dominant at the front; then warm Grenache charm takes over on the mid-palate and continues through the long finish. Complexity, power and sweet berry charm. Good right now and should carry on for a year or so.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Contadino Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, 2006

Like most Pinot Grigios delle Venezie (from the area around Venice), this wine has brisk smells and flavors featuring freshly cut herbs al la Mezza Coronoa. It also has some broader elements--apples, peaches and wax--similar to those of an Alsace Pinot Gris. This wine is not as enjoyable as Mezza Corona but considering the $3.99 price tag at Trader Joe's, it's well worth buying.

Also available for the same price at some Trader Joe's stores is a slightly sparkling version--Contadino Pinot Grigio Frizzante. I haven't tried it but have read positive reports from other wine blogs.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Vacqueyras Les Calades Domaine la Monardiere, 2003

"This wine will make you think of a basket of ripe red fruit ripened in the sun," wrote SDG Selections, the group that makes Domaine la Monardiere and other fine French wines available to U.S. importers. I couldn't say it better myself. Les Calades is the least expensive of three Vacqueyras wines produced by Christian and Martine Vache. Price is the main reason I buy it, but I'm never disappointed in what I get for that price. I know that if I ever tried the other, more expensive, bottlings, I would be hopelessly hooked.

It's a dark, dusty maroon color, a la Vacqueyras. The sun-ripened quality comes right at you from the first sniff. Ripe, almost raisined, red berries and cherries supported by lusty black licorice, Kirsch and Vacqueyras minerals. Actually, the palate is even stronger than the nose in these forward fruit qualities. It cries out for a rich tomato/mushroom sauce. Typical of 2003 Rhones, this Vacqueyras is ripe to a fault but this manifests itself as a lush, raisined quality rather than alcoholic heat. Chateau Rayas fans would love it! With its funky black licorice tones, it's 100 percent Vacqueyras and lovely in spite of the 2003 vintage. No hard edges and a long finish. I haven't been so happy since my last bottle of Les Calades.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Nick Goldschmidt Boulder Bank Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2007

Nick Goldschmidt is a New Zealand winemaker who has also worked in California, Australia and Chile. He was chief winemaker at Simi during most of the 1990s and is now involved as a consultant for a number of wineries in California, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. He apparently takes some extra pride in a pair of site specific wines from New Zealand, this Boulder Bank Sauvignon Blanc and a companion Boulder Bank Pinot Noir. The Sauvignon comes from a single low-yielding vineyard near the Opawa River, an area subject to afternoon breezes and cool night-time temperatures. The results in the glass are impressive.

The color is very light yellow and the scents are as fresh as an afternoon breeze near the sea. Finely focused aromas and flavors of passion fruit, green pepper, mint and melon. Cool and fresh on the palate, just what I want from a Sauvignon Blanc. The passion fruit/green pepper combination is unique in my experience and blends beautifully with the basil and tomato in a Margarita pizza.

I liked the Joel Gott California Sauvignon Blanc below, but this one is even better--more mineral complexity and more fruit definition. I found this bottle for less than $10 at Cost Plus World Market.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Reynolds Vineyards South Australia Chardonnay, 2006

The pleasing qualities of this wine come more from the oak treatment than the fruit. It's fresh and lively on the nose and the palate with some Chardonnay apple and lemon zest. More dominant, however, are the French oak traits of grapefruit and toast. It's pretty typical of one style of Aussie Chardonnay, and at $8.99 it's a very good value.

The former Reynolds' Chardonnay vineyards in the high-altitude Orange district of New South Wales apparently are now bottled under the Climbing label. If you can find them, they are undoubtedly worth a few extra dollars for the special qualities of Orange Chardonnay.

Sweet or Tart with Hot, Spicy Foods?

At Sprout Artisan Bistro in downtown Kalamazoo only a few wines (and a larger number of beers) are offered to accompany the spicy Asian-oriented food. I chose a 2006 St. Christopher Rheinhessen Riesling for my South Indian vegetarian curry; Donna, a 2007 Joel Gott California Sauvignon Blanc for the "family" curry, featuring sweet peppers, Asian greens, lentils and beef. And we were pleased with our choices.

The off-dry Rheinhessen Riesling, in my view, was perfect as a foil to the Asian spices, and it blended well with the flavors of the carrots, sweet potatoes and red skins. It was reasonably plump on the palate but with a zesty fruit presence that kept me coming back for more.

The Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc was a bit tart when tasted against the carrots and potatoes of my dish but worked well with the broader flavors of the lentils and beef. Sourced from vineyards in Monterey County, the Russian River Valley, Lake County and warmer regions of Napa, it touched all the bases for Sauvignon--green peppers, peaches, melons and citrus. It's more like a New Zealand Sauvignon than one from France's Loire Valley, but at around $10 to $12 retail, it's a wine I will look for in the shops.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris Cormier Etienne Loew, 2004

This bottle of Alsace Pinot Gris was quite a bit deeper in color than I remember the last bottle (July 14, 2008). It's definitely reached full maturity and with a lot of classic Pinot Gris qualities--honey, white peaches, almonds, more honey. It also seems sweeter than the last bottle, but I think that's because of the honeyed quality (botrytis?) rather than any residual sugar. The wine is rich and full on the palate but well balanced.

The deeper color, which seems to have come on overnight, concerns me a bit in a four-year-old Alsace wine. (I have Alsace wines from 1983 that look less mature.) But I like the wine and may have to enjoy it a bit more frequently than I had planned.