Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Frenzy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2008

After the Domaine Daulny Sancerre, this is my second favorite Sauvignon Blanc at the moment.

The color is a medium gold with green highlights. I still feel a frenzy of action in my nostrils and on my tongue. Some jalapeno pepper is now emerging along with mint, passion fruit and lime. There is more ripeness on the palate than the aromas suggest; flavors dance on the tongue, shifting and changing like the views on a kaleidoscope.

I like what the Italian winemakers have done with this Sauvignon Blanc. And I like the price: $9.99 at D&W Markets in Michigan. But, as a serious dinner wine, it doesn't even come close to matching the Domaine Daulny Sancerre.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Domaine Daulny Sancerre, 2005

I usually prefer Domaine Daulny's Clos de Chaudenay Sancerre, but this regular bottling is perfect tonight as a match for a Thai noodle dish seasoned with basil, cilantro and lime. The wine is beautfully mature with bright aromas and flavors of lime, melon, mint, minerals and sea salt. This is what Sauvignon Blanc is all about.

Cellier des Chartreux Chevalier d'Anthelme Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This Cotes du Rhone was recommended to me by Rod Johnson, now head of the wine department at Plum Market in Ann Arbor. For more than 20 years when he was on the staff at Village Corner, Rod reliably steered me toward Rhone wines that pleased my palate, and this time was no exception. Neither he nor I had heard of this label, but I found online that Cellier des Chartreux is a large wine store, operating sort of like a cooperative, between Chateauneuf du Pape and Avignon. I visited a similar outlet near Beaume de Venise a couple of years ago.

As I expected, this is a traditionally made Cotes du Rhone. It's a deep crimson color, and it smells as a Cotes du Rhone should--black and red berries with ample garrigue--very forward. The wine has good body, strength and just the right degree of ripeness and warmth (13.5%). Long spicy finish. There is a pleasing tang to the fruit flavors that reminds me of the Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, one of my favorites of the 2007 vintage. I suspect there is a good bit of Syrah and maybe some Cinsault in the blend.

For $7.99 a bottle, my only regret is that I didn't buy more.

Woodbury Alexander Valley Old Vines Vintage Port, 1979

Port or Vinho do Porto is fortified wine in the Portuguese style, of course, and true Port has always been priced reasonably enough that I am rarely tempted to buy look-alikes from California, Michigan, South Africa or Australia. This wine I bought more than 25 years ago because it had been marked down from $9.95 to $1.99. At that time--and even 10 years ago--it had a greenish, weedy quality to the aromas and flavors so powerful that it was disagreeable to drink. That may have been the reason it was marked down so drastically. After 30 years, the green quality is still there but it has faded into the background, and the result is a lush dessert wine.

It's a medium light brownish ruby, about the color of tawny Port. I still smell some greens, similar to what might be expected from a New World Merlot or Carmenere--not at all unattractive. Also burnt sugar, toffee, caramel, walnuts. This is more like a tawny Port or an Australian Muscat than a vintage Port, but it is very nice.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Chateau des Coulinats Sainte Croix du Mont, 1983

Sainte Croix du Mont is a neighbor of Sauternes and Barsac. And since this area typically gets less botrytis (the noble rot) in its vineyards than its more well known neighbors, these wines are less well known and less expensive. I think I paid less than $40 for 24 half bottles of this old favorite.

The color has turned from deep old gold to a light pinkish color, as is often the case with older dessert wines. The nose though is as beautiful as ever--botrytis honey, dried apricots and figs. The wine is rich and oily on the palate with grassy Semillon flavors along with honey, apricots and marzipan. Good complexity. Hide the price tag and this could easily pass for a big-ticket Sauternes.

I haven't noticed any Sainte Croix du Mont wines in my area in recent years, but wines from Loupiac are similar in style and quality. Chateau La Rocque Loupiac can be found for about $15/half bottle or less--a good price. When young, these wines usually display scents of almonds, coconut and pastry along with dried apricots and a hint of honey. As the wine ages, the honey may become more prominent, and the almonds more like marzipan.

Clos Mont Olivet Chateauneuf du Pape, 1988

This wine and the Napa Cellars Cabernet below were good companions on the Christmas dinner table--both wines mature and stately but with clearly focused flavors to accompany the roast lamb dinner.

The color is a medium to light crimson, bright and not a bit faded. Cherries dominate the nose plus the ripe red berries you expect from Grenache. There is also Provencal spice, saddle leather and a hint of tobacco leaf. All so beautifully delineated. On the palate, it's silky smooth, an elegant mouthful of wine, much like a fine Burgundy. It's pretty rather than powerful, although on the second night the power and warmth of Grenache (90 to 92%) become more apparent. A very fine example of Chateaneuf du Pape--mature but by no means on the down slide.

Napa Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1979

I've had many fine Napa Cabernets from the mid- to late-1970s, but this is perhaps my favorite. Although many California Cabs of this era were huge and powerful, this wine has always stood out for its elegance. And at 30 years of age, it is still shining brightly.

The color is a light ruby--light but bright with no browning and very little amber. The nose is typical Napa Cab--currants, cassis, cherries nicely focused. And it sits lightly on the tongue with a slight spicy note on the mid-palate. Reminds me of a St. Julien. This wine has never aspired to be a show wine and today it is just as self assured in its elegance. It's lighter in color and body than it was the last time I had it (perhaps a decade or more ago), but it's every bit as enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

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

Edna Valley Chardonnay is now widely available for under $10 a bottle, and it's a good value for those who like a barrel fermented style of Chardonnay. Edna Valley is a good appellation for Chardonnay, but the dominant character of this wine comes from barrel fermentation and aging in 90 percent new French oak. The vintage on the market right now is the 2008, but the 2005 is still drinking well, nearing the end of its maturity curve.

The color is medium deep gold, and the wine is generally showing more maturity than it did last April. Aromas and flavors offer up brown butter and apples and still a hint of lime and white peaches. Barrel fermentation has given the wine a creamy texture that fills the mouth.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chateau de la Roulerie Coteaux du Layon Le Cerisier, 2003

Some of the best values in dessert wines come from the Coteaux du Layon appellation of the Loire Valley. While Loire dessert wines made from the Chenin Blanc age very well, this one is showing very well in its youth.

The color is a medium deep gold. The grapes clearly had a good dose of botrytis, the "noble rot" that contributes to the greatness of Sauternes. I smell honey, melon and citrus--fairly developed for a six-year-old wine. There is lively acidity again in the mouth along with honey and just the right level of sweetness. It's a perfect match for key lime pie, although the pie is clearly sweeter than the wine. Citric tang on the finish.

I can't remember when or where I bought this wine, but the price tag says $16.99 for a full 750 ml bottle--an excellent value.

Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2006

This old favorite is showing much better tonight than it did last August. Cellar temperature (and room temperature) is much cooler in December, of course, and I think the flavors and aromas show their best at around 65 to 70 degrees.

The color is a deep crimson; the wine has lost the bluish tints it had a year or so ago. Garrigue--the smell of Provencal herbs and countryside--dominates the aromas at this stage of development along with spicy red and black fruits. All the aromas are blending together nicely, almost to the point that you could call it a bouquet. All those same elements are confirmed in the flavors, and the wine goes down very smoothly. Good ripeness front to back with the 14% alcohol providing body rather than warmth on the palate.

Huber Hugo Gruner Veltliner, 2006

I discovered this Gruner Veltliner on the wine list at Chinn Chinn Asian Fusion restaurant and found that it was a good match for the spicy curry beef dish. So it was a safe choice from the cellar when we ordered takeout from Chinn Chinn.

Even though this Gruner is now a couple of years old, it is a bright medium gold with fresh lively smells of freshly sliced lime, flowers and minerals. Flavors are even snappier--spicy citrus fruit dances on the tongue from front to back. I'm becoming a fan of Austrian Gruner Veltliner, and this is an excellent example.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux, 2007

If you need large quantities of a red wine for holiday entertaining, this is an excellent choice. I have seen prices as low as $5.99 a bottle or $10.99 a magnum, and, in some cases, the distributor is offering a mail-in rebate. More important, it's an excellent wine that goes well with almost any food.

It's a medium crimson, bright and clear. The Perrin brothers of Chateau Beaucastel know how to make a wine that's expressive of its Southern Rhone origins and traditions. Smells and flavors are bursting with red berries, but this is by no means a simple wine. I smell garrigue, more berries and then some black pepper. It's reasonably full bodied and glides down the throat like silk. No hard edges, but no soft ones either. Ripe but not over-ripe. Perfectly proportioned and priced. La Vieille Ferme can be relied on to prduce an enjoyable wine year after year, but the 2007 is special. Every time I open a bottle, I wonder why I don't drink it more often.

Vincent Girardin Emotion de Terroirs Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay, 2005

Grapes for this wine come from Mersault and Puligny Montrachet, prime properties for white Burgundy. And the quality shows in this lower end wine from Vincent Girardin. At four years of age, it's just now showing its best.

The color is a medium deep gold, and the nose has a beautiful maturity. It's plenty oaky, but the oak is very fine, blending nicely with the mineral and fruit elements. In a blind tasting, this would never be mistaken for a New World Chardonnay. Flavors have a fresh, lemony acidity balanced by a lush, silky texture and a slightly tangy finish that lingers for several seconds. This is my style of Chardonnay.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chateau Mazeris Canon Fronsac, 1982

The price tag on this bottle reads "$6.99." That's less than 26 cents for every year of productive life this wine has given.

The color is a medium light ruby with some amber at the rim (although not as much as you might expect from a wine of this age). Aromas are very Merlot: red cherries, aromatic herbs such as bay leaf and basil and some pretty floral tones. I find none of the green vegetal smells that turn me away from most of the cheap Merlots that dominate the market. On the palate, the wine is smooth, cool and elegant--again red cherries, a hint of black tea but no green pepper or veggies. Flavors are intense and not at all tired. This is not a great wine that will blow anyone away but an excellent expression of Merlot (70%), Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in a claret mode that was more common in the early 1980s than it is today.

Domaine des Pasquiers Cotes du Rhone, 2007

Domaine des Pasquiers is to be distinguished from Domaine du Pesquier, but you won't go wrong with either label. Both are traditionally run estates in the same general area of the Southern Rhone.

With cellars located in Sablet, the Pasquiers estate covers 90 hectares in Gigondas, the Plan de Dieu, Sablet and other areas of the Cotes du Rhone. The third generation of their family to farm the vineyards, brothers Jean Claude and Philippe Lambert took over from their father in 1999 and have been bottling under the Pasquiers label since 2002. (Previously the wine was sold to negotiants.) With the exception of the CDR Villages Plan de Dieu l'Envol (which is aged partly in new oak barriques), all of the Pasquiers wines are made traditionally and aged in cement tanks.

The 2007 Pasquiers Cotes du Rhone is a very deep, saturated crimson, and the aromas are equally deep and powerful--skin tannins galore. Flavors and smells are dominated by red berries, cherries, herbs and purple flowers. The wine is a big mouthful, much like a young Gigondas. It's impressive, but for my taste still a bit too tannic and alcoholic (14%) to really enjoy. I would like to come back to this and other 2007 Pasquiers offerings in a year or two.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Domaine Diochon Moulin-a-Vent, 2000

Of the 10 Beaujolais Crus, Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent are the two most ageworthy. Selected and imported by Kermit Lynch, Domaine Diochon's Moulin-a-Vent is a wine I would buy more frequently if it were available in my marketing area. It's produced from old Gamay vines planted on granite slopes and made by Bertrand Diochon using traditional methods, with aging in large barrels that allow the fruit to speak without oak accents.

The color is lighter than the Jean Descombes Morgon described below, and it's somewhat murky. That may be because the wine has not had fining or filtration. The nose, though, is beautiful. As with the Morgon, smells are in the cherry/kirsch mode but fully developed into a bouquet, understated and complex. On the palate, the wine is pure silk with texture and flavors that unfold gracefully into a long finish. At nine years of age, this wine is a thing of beauty. Wine critic Steve Tanzer, in reporting on the current 2008 vintage of Domaine Diochon, said he drank the 1989 recently "and it was gorgeous."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2008

In the village of Morgon in Beaujolais, Jean Descombes was well loved, a man who never missed an occasion to party with friends. And the wine he produced was said to reflect his extraverted personality. Jean died in 1993, and his daughter Nicole has taken over the estate. For my taste, the wine's style and personality has changed very little, if at all.

Although I had tried the wine earlier, I put Jean Descombes Morgon on my yearly buy list starting with the 1991 vintage. The wine is always a winner--full bodied, fruity and powerful--when first released, but it also ages well over 10 years and longer, developing complexity and finesse similar to that of a Burgundian Pinot Noir. I now have in my cellar small quantities of Jean Descombes Morgon from most vintages going back to 1995, and the 1995 is still drinking well.

The 2008, opened Saturday night, is right in line with past vintages: medium deep ruby with aromas of dark cherries, ripe and powerful. Compared to past vintages such as 2005, I find less red raspberry and more black cherry notes, and the fruit is clearly riper. On the palate, the wine has youthful power and some tannins to lose, but it's ripe enough to enjoy right now. Tasted alongside the 2009 Beaujolais, it's in the same mode but with considerable more depth and concentration.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, 2009

Beaujolais Nouveau is officially released--and rushed to its thirsty public--at 12:01 a.m. on the third Thursday of each November. I didn't make it to a Nouveau party this year, and only this weekend did I get around to drinking my first sample of the vintage--touted as the best of the last 50 years. These "vintage of the century" calls seem to be ever more frequent these days; I recall similar claims being made for 2000, 2003 and 2005.

The 2009 is an impressively purplish color, and the intense raspberry aromas waft up even as the wine is being poured. The fruit is fresh and lively, lush but not overly ripe. It's a wine that works well as an appetizer or even with a serious meal such as beef bourguignonne.

It's fashionable in some wine circles to dismiss Beaujolais wines, and that may be partly because of the marketing efforts connected with Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais is part of the Burgundy region of France, but red wines there derive from the Gamay rather than the Pinot Noir grape. Because Gamay is thin-skinned, it produces wines that are relatively low in fruit tannins and easy to drink young. Nouveau, comprising about one third of the harvest every year, is made by the carbonic maceration method, with whole grape fermentation to preserve the fresh fruit qualities. According to the traditional rule of thumb, Nouveau is to be consumed over the first six weeks of its life, although some 2009 Nouveaus will continue to offer pleasure into the first few months of 2010. Any Nouveau still on the shelves by next Spring should be deeply discounted (my son bought the 2008 at a closeout price of two bottles for $5). That same rule of early drinking does not apply to other wines from the Beaujolais region. The next step up, Beaujolais Villages, ages well over two or three years, and the Beaujolais Cru, particularly Moulin a Vent and Morgon, much longer--developing complexity and depth approaching that of a fine Pinot Noir Burgundy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Evodia Calatayud Old Vines Grenache, 2007

This wine certainly meets most of my criteria for an artisan wine. It's produced from vineyards up to 100 years old grown on slate soil in a mountainous region of northeast Spain. The estate was scouted out by a colleague of U.S. importer Eric Solomon who is herself a native of the region and knows the growers. The wine is 100 percent Garnacha (Grenache), and it retails for about $10 a bottle. The other side of the coin is that the beautiful blue label and capsule, with stylish design and typography, are obvious products of a marketing-savvy American importer. I was anxious to see what was in the bottle, but I saved it for an occasion when my son, who shares my enthusiasm for traditional Spanish wines, could enjoy it with me.

The color is very dark, almost opaque, leading me to believe the wine has had at least some exposure to new oak or small barriques. The intense aromas also seem somewhat oak-influenced although they also offer typical old vine Grenache notes of blueberries, raspberries, and Kirsch. There is a haunting spiciness in the complex flavors and a hint of pepper on the concentrated finish. There is also a bit of alcoholic warmth (14.5%) and some thick, dark, raisined qualities on the palate that strike me as a bit overdone. My son agrees: yes, it may have rustic origins, but the wine has a decided modernist bent. That's not all bad; I like the wine, but not as wholeheartedly as some of the critics who have called it an outrageous value at $10. In fact, I prefer the more complex and less flamboyant Vina Alarba Calatayud Old Vine Grenache that is nearly always available for $6 to $8 at Cost Plus World Market.

Is Frenzy an Artisan Wine?

A reader, presumably from New Zealand, recently challenged me about my inclusion of the Frenzy Sauvignon Blanc on a blog with the title "Artisan Wine on a Budget." Frenzy is a "virtual winery," a "marketing concept," he pointed out. Matt apparently read only my second report on Frenzy; in the first, I mentioned clearly that the wine is produced by Tenuto Campo di Sasso from Tuscany in Italy from grapes grown in the Marlborough wine-growing region of New Zealand. What I like about this wine is the straightforward presentation of exciting Sauvignon Blanc fruit without distracting wine-making manipulation...and at a price less than $10 a bottle.

There are, of course, numerous small "artisan" or "boutique" wineries in California, Australia and New Zealand selling their wines for $20, $30, $40 or more a bottle. Some, I'm sure, are worth the price, but I don't intend to spend my hard-earned money finding out. My quest is to find wines that are inexpensive enough to drink on an every day basis and good enough to appeal to a wine lover's sense of aesthetics. For me, that means wine that faithfullly represents the grape's varietal character and the micro-climate and soil of its origin.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Domaine du Vieux Chene Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Cuvee Friande, 2007

This wine is 80% Grenache/20% Syrah--the same blend as the Les Trois Couronnes below. And it has similar dark fruit qualities--blackberries, blueberries and dark cherries--almost caramelized in their ripeness and very compacted. I also find understated cassis and garrigue qualities.

I expect more strawberry/red raspberry qualities from Grenache than I find in either of these 2007 Southern Rhones. The difference is apparently due to the ripeness of the 2007 vintage that has been highly touted by Robert Parker and others. The 2003 vintage was too ripe for me, but 2007 has less menthol and raisins and more compact black fruits and spices. So far I have not found any over-ripeness in the 2007 Rhones. But I still prefer the more pure and focused ripeness level of the 1998 vintage.

As for Cuvee Friande, I liked it much better when I first tasted it early last summer. Now it's a bit raisined and one-dimensional. It may turn the corner with aging, but I doubt it.

Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone, 2007

The Les Trois Couronnes label first appeared in my area earlier this year, offering Cotes du Rhone, Vacqueyras and Gigondas wines at low-end prices. Of the three, I like the Gigondas best, but for about $20 a bottle, I more inclined to buy wines such as Font-Sane, Tourelles or Tourade. The Cotes du Rhone at $6 to $8 is one of the best values on the market but may get overlooked because of its price and old-fashioned label. The wine is worth trying.

The color is deep and saturated, and the aromas are oriented toward black fruits and spices--blackberries, blueberries, plums and cassis. Very ripe and very spicy, more like Cinsault or Carignane than Grenache. The label says it is 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. I can taste the Syrah fruit, but the Grenache is spicier and darker than I expect. That may be a trait of the 2007 vintage. The wine has improved quite a bit since I first tasted it last Spring; it's riper and more accessible. A slight bit of black pepper emerges after 30 minutes of airing, but intense dark fruits flavors and smells dominate.

Toasted Head Russian River Chardonnay, 2005

I don't care for this wine; the fruit has been manipulated too much by barrel fermentation and aging in toasted new oak barrels. But others in my family like it very much, and I am intrigued by a spicy note that is exaggerated but otherwise very appealing. It's like ripe pears and apples poached in nutmeg, cinnamon and butter. This pie filling sweetness is framed by a doughy, yeasty quality like that of Champagne, and the wine is rich and full-bodied in the mouth with a pleasantly bitter finish. While it's not my type of Chardonnay, I can see that it has merit and it has aged nicely.

The label attributes the spicy quality to the Russian River climate--cool, foggy mornings and sunny afternoons. I remember a similar spiciness from previous vintages of Belvedere Russian River Chardonnay. But I also remember it from J.J. Vincent's Saint Veran Domaine des Morats. Both of these wines I like very much. Does it come from the micro-climate and soil? a specific clone of Chardonnay? or the interaction of the fruit with French oak barrels?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Best's Great Western (Victoria) Bin 0 Shiraz, 1994

Best's Bin 0 Shiraz was a $15 wine when I purchased this bottle in the mid-1990s. Produced from some of Australia's oldest and best Shiraz vines, I still consider it, at $60A, an undervalued treasure. I wish I had bought more in the 1990s.

The color is majestically deep and dark, and the bouquet is also very deep and Hermitage-like--black fruits, cassis, flowers and a cedary, spicy French oak note. I would guess that the wine has been aged in about 30 percent new oak plus some seasoned oak. Whatever it is, it is just the right amount to frame rather than hide the beautiful varietal characteristics of the fruit. On the palate, it simply gorgeous--ripe fruit upfront, followed by a plump mid-palate and a deeply concentrated finish. Very expansive--makes you feel like you have the whole bottle in your glass, and you can savor it forever. Although fully mature, it's a very young 15 years. This ranks right up there with the 1974 Dessilani Gattinara as one of my favorite wines of the year. Again: I wish I had bought more.

Paul Jaboulet Cornas, 1980

Thanksgiving dinner this year came a day late and featured roast lamb rather than turkey. We were also honoring my daughter's 29th birthday, so it was a good occasion to pull out this 1980 Syrah from Paul Jaboulet. 1980 was not a good vintage in the Rhone, and Jaboulet's 1980 Hermitage la Chappelle has been in serious decline (for my taste, anyway) for more than a decade. This Cornas, considered a lesser wine in the Jaboulet portfolio, however, is still going strong. At least at that time, the Jaboulet family had contracts with some of the best growers in Cornas. And the sunny micro-climate there apparently added some oomph to the wine, albeit without the finesse or either Hermitage or Crozes-Hermitage.

The color is still medium deep, although it has lightened a lot over the years. Otherwise, the changes are remarkably minor. It has always had a piercingly acidic nose--green olives, red and black cherries and cassis. There is also a slightly weedy element that doesn't bother me. On the palate, the wine is smooth and carries its acidity well because it also has a firm base of fruit tannins. The dominant dark cherry/green olive trait is one I find very attractive in northern Rhones. There is also a savory, salty note on the finish. For a mature Cornas--or any 29-year-old wine of any appellation--it's very well preserved.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pierre Bouree Gevrey-Chambertin Clos de la Justice, 1982

A mature red Burgundy for Thanksgiving dinner? Well, yes. Donna and I were on our own (the family arrive tomorrow for the offiical feast), so we decided to treat ourselves with Beef Bourguignonne a la Julia Child. Wow! The meal was magnifique, and the wine was good enough.

This Gevrey-Chambertin was one of those "just in case" wines, a single bottle that never seemed right for any occasion until now. While the wine may have been better a few years ago (the cork certainly would have been easier to remove), it was still a decent representation of its appellation and producer. Pierre Bouree is a large negotiant firm with headquarters near Gevrey-Chambertin. In the 1980s, Bouree was known for producing good, but not great, wines, made in a traditional style--no de-stemming and no new oak. Clos de la Justice was its best wine, and I paid $13.50 for the 1982--30 percent more than the Hermitage la Chappelle of that vintage.

The color is deep garnet with significant amber at the edges. The bouquet is fully formed with notes of black cherries, earth and old barrels. It's a rustic wine, sturdy and full-framed. In the mouth, the wine is full bodied and glycerined with a rich, satisfying finish. Although some old barrel notes have crept in, the fruit has not faded. This is not what you'd call an elegant Burgundy but it's fairly deep and complex, worth some serious sipping and contemplation after the meal is finished. And a good enough match for the Boeuf Bourguignonne.

There was no wine to match and no words to describe the chocolate pecan pie we had for dessert.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Just in Case: Veuve Clicquot NV Brut

When I opened my email this morning, I came across a wine buyer's alert that I thought was worth passing along: Veuve Clicquot NV Brut for $35.99 today and tomorrow only (November 24 and 25) at World Market. This is a wine that ordinarily retails for $45 to $50 or more (although I do note prices similar to the World Market price at this time in other areas of the country).

Let me say that I have no commercial ties to World Market nor to any retailer, wholesaler, distributor or importer of wine. I am merely your ultimate wine consumer who cannot pass up a good deal and has a cellar full of wine to show for it. I am fighting the impulse to rush out and buy a couple of bottles myself, not because I have a need for it this holiday season but just in case a Champagne lover might some day come knocking on my door asking for dinner and a glass of high-quality Champagne. Or in case someone in my family asks for advice about a special bottle to give a friend for an anniversary or wedding present. My cellar is full of "just-in-case" bottles. Isn't that what a wine cellar is all about?

As you think about bubblies for the holidays, there is no requirement that you focus on Champagne (sparkling wine grown and produced by the traditional method in the Champagne region of France), although it is the "real thing" and I know nothing that comes close to it in quality or pleasure. The big houses, of course, are Roederer, Veuve Clicquot, Krug, Bollinger, etc., and they command a premium price based on a long-standing reputation. I usually prefer grower Champagnes such as Jacquesson, Barnaut, Coutier Ambonnay and Pierre Moncuit. These are, in my opinion, a bit higher in quality and a bit lower in price, but still usually retail for $40 or more.

The next level down--at $15 to $30 a bottle--include California selections such as Domaine Chandon, Schramsberg, Piper-Sonoma and Roederer Estate. At that price level, I would add Larry Mawby's Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs from the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan. And I have read positive reviews of Gruet Brut from New Mexico.

When serving a large group, though, I never hesitate popping a Spanish Cava--Cristalino Brut, Segura Viudas or Freixenet. For less than $10 a bottle, these are authentic Methode Champenoise wines (fermented and aged in the bottle rather than a huge tank) that give plenty of pleasure. If you tasted them side-by-side with Veuve Clicquot or Roederer Brut, you would understand the difference in price. But at a New Year's Eve party or Thanksgiving dinner, who cares?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Matthieu de Brully Bourgogne Pinot Noir, 2005

The 2005 vintage was special for red Burgundy so I stashed away a few bottles and am only now beginning to open a few to see how they are developing. This was a $12 to $14 wine from Village Corner in Ann Arbor.

Medium to light garnet. I get sweet, youthful yeasty scents upfront similar to the aromas of some 2005 Cotes du Rhones, but mostly Pinot Noir earth and cherries. The wine is light to medium bodied and the cherry-oriented flavors are understated, as they should be for a Bourgogne Pinot. From the excellent 2005 vintage, there is plenty of ripe fruit here but some of it is still hiding under tart acidity. No hurry to drink.

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2002

Jean Descombes Morgon is one of my favorite wines, and I know that it ages well for at least 10 to 15 years. This 2002 either represents a weak vintage of Descombes Morgon or is in an awkward stage at the moment.

It's a medium garnet color, and there is quite a bit of tannin floating at the bottom of the bottle. Both the aromas and flavors are a bit muted but offer up pretty notes of cherries and red berries. There is ripe gamay fruit on the finish, and it's a pleasant dinner wine...albeit without the full throated fruit charm of a young Jean Descombes or the complexity of a mature bottle.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fernand Engel Muscat d'Alsace Cuvee Engel, 2005

Alsace Muscat is an extremely aromatic wine with musky peachy scents that are almost too pretty to be taken seriously. Like Viognier, it smells sweet even when the wine is dry or off dry. That makes it a good choice for casual sipping or spicy Indian dishes.

From the beginning, this Cuvee Engel has also offered up barber shop notes similar to Gewurztraminer, and these seem accentuated as the wine ages. Sweet white peaches but also orange blossom, spice and lychee nuts. Sweeter than I remember but with a pleasantly bitter finish, again more like Gewurz than Muscat. This wine is very nice sipping after the meal but didn't go as well as I'd hoped with spicy Indian food.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Domaine de Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2005

Among the winemakers of Gigondas (mostly male), Veronique Peysson-Cunty has a reputation for adding a feminine touch to the appellation's often burly and rustic wines. Mme Peysson-Cunty's Cotes du Ventoux, by contrast, comes across as particularly big, bold and fruity.

One of my favorite every day wines, the Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux is traditionally made: the grapes are hand picked, never de-stemmed and never see new oak. A relatively short fermentation (8 to 15 days) is done in closed cement vats at very cool temperatures to preserve the freshness of the fruit. The result is a wine that is exceptionally fruity and aromatic with fine, sweet tannins. My impression on tasting a young vintage of this wine is that it's going to last and improve for decades, but I think it's wise to follow Peysson-Cunty's advice on the label: "keep 2-3 years." Although I've never tried extended aging (as I have with the similarly styled Sainte Anne wines), I've found that the wines tend to lose some of their vibrant charm after four to five years in the bottle. That's no problem; these wines are beautiful to drink at every opportunity.

A bottle of the 2006 I had last month was a bit closed, but this 2005 is begging to be enjoyed right now. It's a very deep crimson, typical of fine Grenache. The aromatics are cool and fragrant--red berries, garrigue, flowers--and the flavors are ripe and inviting but with a firm tannic core. This is a wine for drinking with serious meals--lamb or salmon, take your pick. The '07 is on the market now and undoubtedly drinking even better than this lovely '05. The price: under $10 at Village Corner or Plum Market in Ann Arbor.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Search Engine

If you haven't noticed before on this site, there is a search function at the upper left. This is for a search of the site. If you want to read what I said about a wine previously, just type in the name of the wine.

I've now added a more comprehensive search in the bar at the bottom. If you want to read what others say about a wine being reviewed or if you'd like more information about a term, an appellation or a producer, Google will do the research for you. Just type in the name or the term, and you'll get search results within a few seconds.

Frenzy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2008

This is one of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs at the moment simply because it is so full of life. It comes from the excellent 2008 vintage in New Zealand, and the color is still light and bright. Even so, the wine has evolved substantially even since last summer. Grapefruit is now the primary aroma. True to NZ Sauvignon Blanc, I also smell some bell peppers, both red and green. There is a nice passion fruit element and now some lime and freshly picked basil. But mainly I get cool and crisp grapefruit smells and flavors, sharply focused fruit balanced by a tart acidity. Makes the mouth tingle with pleasure. I find it a perfect match for Margarhita pizza (basil, sliced tomatoes, garlic and cheese), but it would also drink well on its own.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blason de Bourgogne Pinot Noir, 2007

A red Burgundy for $7.99? The price tempted me to pluck this one off the shelf at Trader Joe's. The appearance when I first poured the wine told me I had made a mistake--even at that price--but I eventually changed my mind. This is an authentic Pinot Noir from the hallowed slopes around Beaune--light but enjoyable.

The color is so light that it's difficult to think of it as a red wine. And it's downright watery looking out at the rim. The initial smells are also a bit tart and wimpy, but with a few minutes in the glass the aromas open up nicely--cherries, earth and delicate Pinot Noir qualities. It's very slender but with just the right amount of ripeness on the finish. This is not a great wine but a pleasant sipping experience and definitely worth my $7.99.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Domaine Tourade Cotes du Rhone, 2007

Just as the Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone is a Syrah-dominated cuvee (80% Syrah/20% Grenache), this Domaine Tourade offering is Grenache-dominated (80% Grenache/20% Syrah). And there is a big difference.

The color is an intense, deep crimson typical of Grenache, and the aromas are also very Grenache--strawberries, red raspberries, garrigue, and peppercorn. Very flamboyant. I find a slight but distinct difference between Syrah and Grenache peppercorn, the former being more like freshly ground black pepper and the latter more like a whole green peppercorn from the bottle. The wine is very powerful and complex, like a Gigondas. There are even some Gigondas-like purple flowers in the mix. Power and beauty. The wine is smooth on the palate, but there is a tad too much alcohol (14.5% vs 13.5% for the Delas) for my taste. The bite is menthol rather than red pepper, and it will probably fade with mid-term aging. But, even though I usually go for Grenache-based wines, I still prefer the Delas Saint Esprit.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2007

Of all the highly publicized 2007 Cotes du Rhones, this is one that truly lives up to the hype. It's deep and dark, the color of Syrah more than Grenache but with no sign of new oak treatment. Again on the nose, it's very Syrah but with the openness and charm that you expect from a Grenache-based wine. I believe the blend is 75/25. Very open black and red fruits with peppercorns; ripe but with great structure. It coats the tongue and the roof of the mouth and leaves a strong impression of ripe plums and black peppercorn on the finish. With or without food, this wine will keep you coming back for glass after glass.

I bought the Delas Cotes du Rhone last Spring when D&W FreshMarkets was offering it for a case price under $100. It's still available there and at Village Corner in Ann Arbor. And I recently noticed a World Market ad offering the wine for $9.99/bottle. If you don't have any yet, I suggest you give it a try.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva Vereto, 2000

My last two bottles of this wine were showing a bit of excess volatility (maybe a sign of age or heat damage?), but this bottle is just right, drinking as beautifully as the bottles I had in 2008 and earlier. It's a deep ruby with some bricking at the rim. If there is any volatility on the nose, it is exactly what you expect from a good Italian red, and it accentuates the powerful bouquet of cherries, black licorice and rose petals. There is excellent acidity for a wine grown so far to the South; it's medium bodied with a modest 13% alcohol level. Fruit tannins from the peels provide a gutsy mid-palate and a lasting finish. This wine is singing right now, and so am I because I have another five bottles in the cellar.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I paid $4.79 for this wine on closeout from Hardings Markets. In the future, I would gladly pay the regular price of $12.99 for a Salice Salentino of this quality.

Vintellect South Eastern Australia Red Blend, 2007

This is an innovative blend designed for easy and early drinking: 30% Shiraz, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Grenache and 20% Mataro (Mourvedre). The color is dark, but there is no indication from the color or smell that the wine has had very much, if any, new oak treatment. The aromas blend nicely--Shiraz black fruit and spice, Cabernet blackcurrants, Grenache strawberries and nice hints of purple flowers from the Mourvedre. It's sweet and smooth on the palate--red cherries and berries. It's bold enough to be taken serious (almost) but has no hard edges. And it should go well with almost any food you put on the table.

This is an Australian version of a Cotes du Rhone, but for about the same price it doesn't tempt me away from the real thing. While enjoyable, it has less substance and depth.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 1998

At 11 years of age, this modestly labeled and priced Cotes du Rhone is finally showing signs that it intends to mature. And a very fine maturity it is going to be. The color has lightened a little but is still a deep, brilliant ruby nearly all the way to the rim. This wine was clearly exposed to a minimal amount of oxygen during the winemaking process. The developing maturity shows most in the nose, as the primary fruit aromas that were still there as recently as last Spring begin to merge into a more complex bouquet of red fruits, garrigue and spice. The wine has a satiny mouthfeel, and the bouquet repeats itself in the lush flavors. There is a just a touch of black peppercorn creeping in, but the overall impression is sweet and the finish, long. This wine is still very similar to the 2005 and 2004 Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhones but with emerging complexity that should become increasingly apparent over the next year or two.

Sainte-Anne's Cotes du Rhone has the same blend as the estate's Cotes du Rhone Villages--60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Cinsault. The only difference is that the simple CDR comes from young vines with an average age of 20 years. (In California, those "young" vines might be considered "ancient.") Domaine Sainte-Anne's wines are fermented and aged in stainless steel and concrete, seeing no new oak. They have a reputation for long aging, and several cuvees of the 1986 are still being sold at the winery.

I've been buying the domaine's wines since the early 1980s when they were recommended in the writings of Rhone expert Robert Mayberry. Only since the 1998 vintage have I tried cellaring them for longer than a decade, and so far I have not been disappointed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fazi Battaglia Verdicchio Classico dei Castelli di Jesi, 2004

Verdicchio is another white wine for those occasions when you're tired of the same old, same old Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. It's a crisp high acid, low alcohol wine with intriguing aromas and flavors. And it comes in interesting hour-glass shaped bottles modeled after ancient Etruscan amphoras. Drink the wine; use the bottle as a vase.

At five years of age, Fazi Battaglia Verdicchio is a deeper yellow color than the Gruner Veltliner below, but it's still light and bright for a wine of its age. And the aromas and flavors are equally fresh--melon, white berries, green apples and a pleasing hint of bitter almond. It blends so well with the food (spinach/lemon pasta) that it's easy to lose track of this wine. But when you pay attention, there is plenty of flavor interest.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ecker Niederosterreich Gruner Veltliner, NV

As one reviewer said, this is "a wine to drink, not to taste." Even the packaging is appealingly unpretentious: a simple liter bottle similar to that used for mineral water with a basic inexpensive screw cap. No ceremony here, but once you open the bottle the excitement begins. The color is very light; the aromas and flavors are as airy as a summer breeze. Delightful fragrance of spring flowers and green fruits. Actually, looking for descriptors lessens the delightful drinking experience this wine offers. It's fresh and brisk with penetrating flavors; perfect with vegetable oriented meals or spicy food. And I also like the size (25% more wine) and price ($8.99 at Village Corner in Ann Arbor).

The Ecker family have made wine at their 20 hectare estate near Krems in Austria for more than 300 years. The porous, sandy loess soil is ideal for Gruner Veltliner, and this area to the northwest of Vienna has the deepest deposits of loess soil in Europe. If you're not yet familiar with Gruner Veltliner (or "Gruve" for short), this wine is a good place to start.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Four Sisters Southeastern Australian Sauvignon Blanc, 2007

This is a very well made Sauvignon Blanc. I knew it would be when I bought it because it was made by Trevor Mast, former owner of Mount Langi Gihran and one of Australia's best winemakers. The four sisters who inspired the name (the eldest designed the beautiful label) were teenagers when our family visited Trevor and Sandra several times during the 1990s.

The screwcap has kept this Sauvignon Blanc fresh and lively. It has all the smells and flavors to be expected from a well made Sauvignon Blanc--fresh herbs, citrus and a touch of minty spice. The finish is clean and crisp with good acidity. It goes beautifully with Margharita pizza, thin-crusted, hot from the oven and brimming with fresh tomato, basil and abundant garlic.

Of course, this wine doesn't have the special qualities I get from my favorite Sauvignon Blancs of the moment--Domaine Daulny's Clos de Chaudenay Sancerre and Frenzy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. And that is one of the premises of my blog: the best wines are made in the vineyard and not in the cellar. As the label states, Trevor Mast chose the "finest Southeastern Australian fruit available." And that fruit doesn't match the quality produced by the soil and climate of the Loire Valley in France or parts of the Marlborough region in New Zealand.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnay Reserve, 2005

This is my style of Chardonnay--taut acidity, understated Chardonnay fruit flavors and minerality that reflects its origins. At four years of age, it's still a medium light yellow so it probably hasn't been exposed to too much barrel aging--if indeed any at all. The fruit aromas are likewise fresh and lively--nearly ripe pears, citrus, green apples. In the mouth, the wine is medium to light bodied with acidity that reminds me of wines from more expensive Burgundian appellations such as Saint Aubin. There is a fruit and mineral element on the finish that is particularly intense and persistent. Mmmmm. I want more.

This wine was a great match for squash risotto but, on the second night, its relatively high acidity clashed terribly with over-ripe sweet corn.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chateau Beauchene Sens de Syrah Cotes du Rhone, 2003

Chateau Beauchene is one of the oldest estates in the Southern Rhone, with vineyards owned by the Bernard family since 1794. The current owners, Michel and Dominique Bernard, are not averse to using some modern techniques such as use of new oak and small barriques, particularly for some of their upper end wines such as Chateauneuf du Pape. This 100 percent Syrah cuvee, from 20-year-old vines just north and just south of Orange, has not seen new oak but the fruit has been de-stemmed--a common practice in most wine regions but not among traditionalists in the Southern Rhone. I am a strong traditionalist; nevertheless, I like this wine a lot and feel that those with more modern and international tastes would like it even more.

The color is a beautiful deep ruby, with lustrous and lively tones. Aromas are of fresh, ripe red raspberries with just the right amount of spice to identify it clearly as Syrah. On the palate, it has the full, rich feel of a good Australian Shiraz but without the oak and the thick, chewy tannins. It's actually smooth as silk in the mouth with fruity ripeness but also substance and depth. The wine could easily pass for a Crozes Hermitage. There is none of the minty quality I dislike in the 2003 Southern Rhones, and the alcohol content is only 13%. The only thing I don't like is that I bought only one bottle, and it's all gone.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Marchesi di Montecristo Nerello del Bastardo, 1999

This is Nerello's bastard wine--70% Piedmontese and 30% Tuscan. As the label partially explains, excess Nebbiolo grapes not making the cut for either Barolo or Barbaresco (that's the Piedmont parent) were blended with Sangiovese from Tuscany. For several years, this has been one of my favorite bargains ($5.99) from Trader Joe's, and I put away a few bottles of three vintages (1999, 2000 and 2002) to see how well they would age. From this bottle of 1999, I would say so far, so good.

The color is classic--a deep ruby at the center shading out to amber at the rim. It's not as dark or bluish as it was a couple of years ago but there are no signs of over-maturity. I smell black cherries, licorice and roses--the same as before but more subtle now and less flamboyant. It's really beginning to develop some Barolo-like complexity. The changes in flavors are more noticeable. The acidity is more pronounced and the wine is very dry. But again, the Nebbiolo flavors are becoming more subtle and complex as they lose their fruit-oriented flamboyance. The Nebbiolo portion of this wine has been aged in cask for four years, to meet the minimum requirements for Barolo and Barbaresco. It was culled not necessarily because of lower quality but because appellation laws limit the amount of Barolo and Barbaresco that can be produced each vintage. I like the future of this 1999, at least for the next year or two, and I suspect the 2000 might age even better. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any vintages of Nerello del Bastardo, at any price, recently on the shelves of Trader Joe's.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Domaine du Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2006

The label recommends drinking this wine at about three years of age. But even a wine made for early drinking can shut down for a spell, and this 2006 Font-Sane was not displaying much generosity when I first opened it.

The color is deep and dark, showing no signs of age, but the aromas and flavors seem reduced--gasping for air. On the second night, the Grenache/Syrah fruit opens up nicely--black fruits, spices and purple flowers. It has many of the qualities I like in the Font-Sane Gigondas. For now, though, I'll go back to the 2005 Font-Sane Ventoux or maybe give the 2007 a try.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2006

All three of the Rhone wines I drank this week--Couroulu, Vieux Chene and Grand Prieur--come from vines either in or only a few miles from Vacqueyras. And they share a black pepper/black fruit/black licorice/earthy/mineral element that I find typical of wines from this area. Bertin Gras of Grand Prieur has vineyards within the Vacqueyras appellation but for this wine chooses the simple Cotes du Rhone label in order to seek higher yields than the appellation rules allow.

It's still deep and dark, but some of the bluish tints it had a year ago are turning to garnet. The dark peppery aromas and flavors are pronounced now from the very first sniff. Threre is none of the funkiness of Couroulu and less subtlety than I found in Vieux Chene. The wine is full bodied and warm in the mouth with no hard edges, probably at its peak for most drinkers. I still have some of the 2005 Grand Prieur, and I'm anxious to try some very soon.

Toasted Head Russian River Chardonnay, 2005

I bought this wine on close-out last February for $6.59. It's fully mature, with some deep gold color, but the aromas and flavors are still hanging in there. The name gives this wine away as one that doesn't shy away from heavy oak treatment. It pulls all the stops in that regard and offers up scents of very ripe pears, lime, buttered apples and tropical fruits with a creamy mouthfeel. More appealing to me is the pronounced spicy element that I have found in a few other Russian River and Alexander Valley Chardonnays. Toasted Head has a lower end California appellation Chardonnay that sells for about $8, but this Russian River cuvee ordinarily sells for $15 to $20.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Domaine du Vieux Chene Cuvee de la Haie aux Grives, 2004

I've always liked the wines of Vieux Chene and have found them particularly appealing since the 2004 vintage. The estate is well situated on the Plan de Dieu with old vines that produce Cotes du Rhones with a Villages level of quality. With a relatively high percentage of Syrah, Haie aux Grives is the cuvee that Beatrice and Jean-Claude Bouche consider most ageworthy.

The color is dark, and the developing bouquet is very deep although not as showy or ripe as it was two or three years ago. I smell dark cherries, flowers, garrigue and subtle notes of black pepper. The latter is what I like most about this wine; the pepperiness is not at all aggressive but offers subtle complexity. In the mouth the wine has good body and flavors that unfold nicely leading to a peppery, dark cherry finish. With 13.5% alcohol, there is just the right amount of warmth, leaving a beautifully smooth mouth feel. This is a traditionally made wine but not as old fashioned as the Couroulu, and I can't imagine anyone not enjoying it.

Domaine le Couroulu Vacqueyras, 1998

Guy Richard of Domaine le Couroulu ages his Vacqueyras for 24 months in large old foudres. That's a relatively long time even for traditional Southern Rhones, and the result is not for those who like sleek New World wines crafted in new oak. But it's always a very good, authentic Vacqueyras with plenty of personality.

The color of this 1998 is very dark, almost impenetrable...but in an old fashioned way with no purple or blue tones. Smells are of licorice, black fruits and Vacqueyras minerals. There is also a bit of tanky volatility that I have not noted in previous vintages, but it doesn't really detract from my overall enjoyment of the wine. The palate offers the same black fruit, black licorice notes with full body and the essential ripeness of the vintage. It's almost candied in its sweetness but with a warm kick on the finish. It's not for everybody, but I love the funkiness. It's true to the personality I have found in Couroulu since the early 1980s.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2000

This wine is as fresh and fruit-oriented as it was seven years ago. It may have changed color slightly, but it's still a deep plummy red. The nose is more typical of Sainte Anne's simple Cotes du Rhone than the Villages--gushing with blueberry fruit, garrigue and a resinous vanilla quality that does not derive from oak. (Sainte Anne's wines fermented in stainless steel and aged in concrete tanks.) There is fresh fruit savor but less complexity than I found in the 1998 and 1998 Villages. As with the CDR from nearly any vintage, it's smooth and sweet on the palate with no noticeable tannins but impressive concentration from the peels and ripe stems. There are hints of pomegranate on the finish.

Sainte Anne winemaker Alain Steinmaier is clearly very careful not to expose his wines to too much air during processing. As a result, they stay young and lively long after similar wines start to fade. My only problem with this 2000 CDR Villages is that it does not seem destined to become any more complex or subtle than it is right now.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Maison Joseph Drouhin Vero Bourgogne Pinot Noir, 2006

"Vero" conjures up images of a beach in Florida, but on this wine label, it's short for Veronique Drouhin-Boss who personally selected the vineyards from Maison Joseph Drouhin (in France, not Oregon) to create what she considers a classic red Burgundy. What she was seeking was the elegance of Volnay, the subtle aromas of Hautes Cotes du Beaune, the red berry flavors of Chorey-les-Beaune and Rully, and the structure of Chambolle-Musigny. I don't know the appellations of Burgundy well enough to judge her success in that respect, but I thoroughly enjoy the wine in my glass.

There is nothing at all showy about this wine; that in itself is a hallmark of classic red Burgundy. Medium light ruby tones, bright and beautiful./Aromas that seem dusty and dry at first, then open up beautifully with scents of red cherries, ginger, ripe raspberries and a dash of pepper./The flavors unfold in a similar fashion with more black than red fruits. Excellent balance with round, harmonious flavors. At $22/bottle, Vero is a bit pricey for me to drink with any regularity, but it was a good wine-by-the-glass choice at Epic Bistro in Kalamaoo--a flavorful match for manchego pork cutlets with chorizo and red pepper linguine.

There is also a Vero Bourgogne Chardonnay, similarly blended and similarly priced. If you're interested in learning about Burgundy, these two wines give you a start. The next step would be to sample the various appellations that make up the blend.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2007

For the past three vintages, this wine has been unusually dark and purplish for a Cotes du Rhone. The nose is right on target for Grand Prieur--blueberries, licorice, garrigue, black pepper. On the palate, the black pepper and licorice dominate; in some ways, the fruit is more developed than I would expect at this age but the wine still has some tannin to lose on the mid-palate. The finish is smooth, warm and ripe. This 2007 is right in line with the 2005 and 2006 from Grand Prieur; in fact, I think I prefer the 2005.

I didn't buy a case of Grand Prieur this year because the vintages have been backing up on me. Glad I didn't. So far, the 2007 is nothing special.

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva Vereto, 2000

This has been a very good wine, but it's time to drink up. The volatile acidity that was once part of its rustic charm has now taken over too much of the wine's personality. It's still deep and dark with smells and flavors of dark cherries and their skins, licorice and purple flowers. It matches up well with ribollito, a rustic Italian vegetable stew, and is very enjoyable. But its better days are in the past.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Domaine LaFage Cote Est Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalans, 2008

The label and packaging of this wine will cause it to jump out at you from the shelf. The screw off cap is a light spring green, the same color as the vine that curls its tendrils across the label. This wine comes from the Catalan region in the Pyrenees of southern France, just across the border from Spain. Jean-Marc LaFage, in his 30s, comes from a family that has been producing wine for six generations, but he and his wife, Eliane, have traveled to Australia, Chile, South Africa and California to learn about wine making and wine marketing. This wine is a product of their learning--bright, fresh and modern but with traditional roots. The cuvee is 60% old vine Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, 20% Chardonnay and 10% Marsanne, fermented and aged in stainless steel (no oak) to preserve the fresh, lively fruit flavors and aromas.

The first sniff of this wine makes you say, WOW. It's not Sauvignon Blanc, but it has all the excitement of the New Zealand Frenzy I reported on earlier [July 10 and August 5, 2009]. I smell spring flowers, lemon, green apples, almonds and an intriguing musky note. On the palate, it has racy acidity and flavors that keep coming at you fromn all directions--not quite like any wine I've tasted before. It would drink beautifully with Asian fusion food.

When the label jumps at you, go ahead and buy the bottle. It's $9.99 right now at D&W FreshMarkets in Michigan and, if you're on Roz Mayberry's email list, you can get a case for $99. Robert Parker has reviewed the wine and given it 90 points so it should be readily available across the country.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Paul Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, 1983

I had great expectations for this wine when it was released nearly 25 years ago. 1983 was being touted as the best vintage for the Northern Rhone since 1978 or 1961 so I bought a case of both the Hermitage la Chapelle and the Domaine de Thalabert. Both wines have turned out to be a bit disappointing--mainly because the vintage produced harder tannins than were apparent in early tastings. The tannins are still present in this Domaine de Thalabert, and the fruit is less enjoyable than it was a few years ago. But it is still a very fine wine.

The color is deep and dark but there is considerably more amber (and more crusty sediment) than in the 1984 Pichon Lalande (below). The bouquet is deep and compacted--cassis, blackberries, red spices and juniper berries. It smells tannic, and the flavors also have dark, tannic tones. Ripe berried fruit comes through on the mid-palate and finish, and the flavors become more open and enjoyable as the wine airs so there is some hope for the future. But it's not as aromatic nor as flavorful as the 1982 Thalabert was a few years ago.

Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, 1984

From a good vintage, a top Bordeaux wine--or even a lesser one--can be expected to give pleasure for 25 to 30 years or longer. 1984 was not such a vintage, and most 1984s have passed the stage of being useable vinegar. Pichon Lalande is a notable exception and was rated top wine of the vintage by many critics. In a year when Merlot grapes failed to ripen properly, Pichon Lalande winemakers chose to go with a high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and used a very high quality new oak that integrated nicely with the fruit. This is the second time I've had 1984 Pichon Lalande in the past five years; both bottles have been very good.

The color is still medium dark with some amber around the rim. (The estate also minimized exposure to air during processing and used very good corks.) The nose is fine and well developed with scents of blackcurrants, cherry and dill with just a faint hint of green. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied and silky with well delineated flavors that are slightly thin on the finish. It is a very fine wine, reminiscent of a good Australian or California Cabernet.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Basket Pressed Cabernet Sauvignon, 1994

You can spend a lot of money on Australian wine and get less enjoyment than I received from this Cabernet, purchased for less than $10 some years ago. As the label points out, gentle basket pressing of the juice is used to ensure a rich wine with fine tannins as opposed to the inky blockbuster that is more typical of Aussie aspirations.

Chateau Reynella's 1994 Cab has thrown a thick crust on one side of the bottle but is still deep and dark with hints of amber at the rim. The bouquet is classic McLaren Vale: black currants, mint, violets and dark cherries. The oak is fully integrated into the mature scents. In the mouth, the wine is medium bodied with well defined flavors, a good fruit-oriented mid-palate and a long finish. I get a hint of sea salt on the mid-palate that turns into a ripe berry finish--very satisfying. The tannins have melted, leaving a lovely wine--a good match for filet mignon with Niman Ranch apple-wood smoked bacon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

McWilliams Hanwood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006

At one time, Cabernet was king for me. I drank Bordeaux at times but mostly Napa Valley and Australian Cabs, big and burley--Burgess Cellars, Conn Creek, Napa Cellars, Stag's Leap, Taltarni, Penfold's Bin 407. Those wines were very affordable then; not so, today. But the major change has been my diet, which has shifted from American staples of meat and potatoes to Mediterranean fare, focusing on roasted vegetables, fish and pasta. A big, oaky Cabernet just doesn't taste very good with penne arrabiata, ribollito or a spicy Mexican dish. For these dishes, Grenache/Syrah-based wines--low in tannin and big in flavor--are exactly what the taste buds call for.

I bought this McWilliams Hanwood Estate Cabernet because the price was right, and while it's not going to turn my head away from any of my favorite Southern Rhones, it was an agreeable wine to accompany beef fajitas. The color is a deep crimson with purple tints. The aromas are not so typically Cabernet--spice, tannin, berry and vanilla but no pronounced varietal character. The firm tannins on the mid palate fade with airing, however, and there are pleasant flavors of plums, cherry sauce and spice. Aged in about 30% new barrels (apparently American oak), the wine is not overly oaky. A little bit of residual sugar and a good dose of alcohol (14%) make it quite pleasant going down. A pleasant wine for $8.99 and a better choice than one of those cute wines with animals on the label.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Monkey Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2007

When I bought this Monkey Bay Sauvignon last December, it was very good; by May of this year, it was singing. But it's evolving quickly. Whereas I smelled blood orange, grapefruit and racy, exotic elements in May, this bottle is pretty typical of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc--dominated by scents and flavors of green bell pepper and jalopena. It's racy and fine, but I preferred the face it was showing in May.

Clos Saint Jean Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Les Calades, 2003

Grapes for this wine come from an old vineyard just outside the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation. At its best, it has the qualities of a good Chateauneuf, and some vintages from the 1990s drank well for a decade or longer. That's no longer the case. This 2003 is drinking very nicely right now, but the 2001 is beginning to fade. If you have any of the 2003, it's drink up time. The color is still a deep ruby, and the aromas and flavors are what you would expect from well placed Grenache/Syrah vineyards--red berry, pepper and garrigue. It's a pleasant easy drinking wine that sold for less than $9 a bottle when it was released four or five years ago.

Monday, September 14, 2009

MezzaCorona Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti, 2008

Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio is one of the best white wine values I know. Ordinarily priced at $8.99, it is often discounted and was on sale for $6.99 for most of the summer at D&W FreshMarket in Kalamazoo. I didn't buy in quantity because, even though the wine keeps well, I like it best when it's very young. Fortunately, the wines put on sale this year were not leftovers from the warehouse but the current vintage.

The color is a medium light yellow, and the nose is vibrant with smells of fresh pear, melon, citrus, mint and basil. In the mouth, it's medium bodied with a racy acidity and a pleasingly intense finish. I drank the wine with a spicy Malaysian curry from Chin Chin in Mattawan, Michigan. It would also be good on its own or with vegetarian fare.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Domaine Chaume Arnaud Cotes du Rhone Villages Vinsobres, 2004

Vinsobres is located only 13 kilometers to the southeast of Valreas, but the wine produced from this Cotes du Rhone village has a personality substantially different from that of Valreas. Typical of its appellation, Chaume-Arnaud's 2004 is very deep and dark, almost purplish. But unlike many wines of this hue, it has been raised in tank and has not seen new oak. The nose is muted at first; the scents of purple flowers and red cherries are very deep and require considerable swirling to emerge. Flavors are the same--very deep and concentrated but still hiding behind firm tannins on the mid-palate. The finish is very long and ripe, giving promise of a fine future.

I like Chaume-Arnaud's wines, and I like Vinsobres as an appellation. On the surface, they are indeed sober wines, and that's why they are often under-rated and consumed too early.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bouchard Domaine du Val des Rois Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas Signature, 2004

Valreas is the northernmost appellation and is often called the most Burgundian of Cotes du Rhone Villages. I found Burgundian charm from the first sniff of this Valreas, although the aroma/flavor profile was classic Southern Rhone: dark cherries, pepper, tobacco, garrigue--as deep and as compact as fruit cake. Old vine Grenache and Syrah fruit flavors are very ripe and easy on the palate but also carry a bright freshness and acidity. This wine has all the spicy fruit qualities I love in the inexpensive Trader Joe's Valreas I buy and report on regularly but with significantly more depth and complexity.

Bouchard's Val des Rois has a reputation for long aging; I bought Bouchard's 1990 Val des Rois and enjoyed it for a good part of the decade. I'm not so sure this 2004 will age as well. It has a peppery maturity that became more pronounced on the second night. But there is no need to wait; the wine is beautiful right now.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Chateau la Canorgue Cotes du Luberon, 1999

The last time I posted a note on this wine [January 14, 2008], I reported that it was doing quite well at 9 years of age. Tonight, I discovered that the wine is doing even better 10 years after the vintage date. But, alas, this is my last bottle of a wine I bought for $8.99 nearly a decade ago.

The color is deep and dark, and there is sediment at the bottom. La Canorgue is 100% organic and biodynamic with no filtration. The cepage is reportedly 70 percent Syrah, 30 percent Grenache with just a touch of Carignane, but it smells and tastes to me as if it has some Mourvedre. Maybe it's just the sunny Provencal climate, but it has a lovely red and purple berry spiciness that reminds me of Mourvedre in its prime. From bouquet to finish, this wine is full of fruit charm, with the just the right amount of ripeness.

The 2005 La Canorgue is available for $14.99 at Village Corner in Ann Arbor. If I knew it would age as nicely as this 1999, I would snap it up.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Franciscan Oakville Estate Chardonnay, 2005`

This wine has all the credentials of a Napa Valley Chardonnay. It's a medium deep gold, fully mature. The nose is butter, butter, butter, then ripe pears and nearly ripe pineapple. It's creamy on the tongue and as buttery as a Julia Child dessert; yet still with enough acid to keep it lively and a good match for tomato-based fish stew. Tropical fruits and butter; rich and luscious, but with the fish stew I get almost a note of red berries. For my taste, I prefer the Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnay (see below), but my table companion likes this style of Chardonnay, and there is no denying that it is a very good example at a good price. Regular retail price for Franciscan Chardonnay is $17 to $20, a low price for an Oakville wine, but I bought this on closeout at Harding's Market for $12.49. And I'll probably go back for more.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

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

For years, Domaine de l'Espigouette's Cotes du Rhone Villages has been one of my favorite wines. In 2004, the new Plan de Dieu appellation was added to the label, and I've fought my way through half a case wondering what is wrong with this wine. With this bottle, finally, I found some attractive qualities...but not the spicy, black licorice qualities I wanted.

The color is a medium deep ruby, a bit darker than you'd expect from a Grenache-based wine. The smells are more like Syrah than Grenache--black plums and berries, lavender and coffee. Aroma and flavors are reserved but quite nice--ripe fruit, slightly firm in the middle, nothing jammy but an enjoyable finish. Fruit and oak seem to be integrating and developing into an attractive package, and that may be the problem for me. Apparently, winemaker Bernard Latour has decided to use some new oak or small barrels for this wine, and the result is a wine that is like hundreds of other international-styled wines on the market but lacks the unique peppery, spicy, licorice-laced qualities I have come to know and expect from Domaine de l'Espigouette's Cotes du Rhone Villages.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnary Reserve, 2005

This is an old favorite of mine--a generic Bourgogne Chardonnay with many of the qualities of more prestigious and expensive appellations such as Saint Aubin and Puligny Montrachet. It's a medium to light yellow color with classy aromas of white peaches, pears, citrus and a hint of spice. On the palate, it's even classier with flavors that dance on the mid-palate and finish. It's slender in build but oh so elegant.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Placido Rosso di Montalcino, 2005

Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy's most highly regarded and expensive wines, originating from vineyards around Montalcino, in the Tuscan Hills about 70 miles southwest of Florence. Rosso di Montalcino is Brunello's little brother, less ambitious and considerably less expensive. Although it usually comes from younger vines with higher yields, it also spends less time in wood (six months compared to a required one year for Brunello), and that can be a plus, resulting in a wine that is more pleasurable at a younger age. Like Brunello, Rosso is made from a clone of Sangiovese, Sangiovese Grosso, that is believed to be ideally suited for the microclimate of Montalcino.

Placido's 2005 Rosso is a deep, dark garnet. Aromas offer up dark cherry fruit and peels, deeper and more complex than most Chiantis of the same price range. Racy, intense flavors--black raspberry, sage and violets. Good level of acidity from the front to the back of the palate; it goes well with penne pomodoro. For my taste, this wine could benefit from another year or two in the bottle. I paid $9.99 for it as a closeout wine at Harding's Markets--a good value.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Nine Stones Hilltops Shiraz, 2005

Nine Stones is my favorite source of mid-priced Australian Shiraz. Owned by Len Evans, a well known wine writer, Nine Stones goes easy on the oak and extraction and carefully chooses grapes that express a sense of place. My favorite cuvee is the McLaren Vale, with its full range of mid-palate flavors, but this Hilltops is equally impressive. It comes from cool-climate vineyards at an elevation of 1,700 feet in southern New South Wales.

Aromas are somewhat tight and reduced at this stage, but spicy, peppery Shiraz notes come through with very little oak influence. This is good cool climate Australian Shiraz with plums, black fruits, lavender and peppercorn. There is plenty of tannin on the front and mid-palate but fruit is peeking through on the finish. Very enjoyable now, this wine will be even better in another three or four years. I plan to buy more of this cuvee.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2005

I nearly always buy a case of Grand Prieur on release and finish the last bottle about the time the new vintage comes on the market. It is a delightful Cotes du Rhone for drinking young, and there is always a noticeable evolution, even over that time span. Recently, my Grand Prieurs have been piling up a bit on me, and I still have several bottles of 2005 and 2006 as well as the current vintage, 2007. This 2005 has undergone even more development than I've noticed in past years--all positive.

It's still deep and dark, but the bluish tints are fading into a burnished crimson color. I think I could pick this wine out of a blind tasting with only a few sniffs. It's very distinctive--sweet, spicy berries with emerging peppercorns. The nose gets deeper and more complex as it sits in the glass and even on the second night. This wine is definitely CDR Villages quality, although now it's reminding me more of Cairanne than Vacqueyras. I get more sweet spices and less black licorice than I got a year ago. On the palate, it has the peppery warmth of maturing Grenache with a strong mid-palate presence and dancing fruit on the finish. It's probably at its prime right now, but I suspect this inexpensive Cotes du Rhone ($8/bottle) will still be singing this time next year.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cru d'Arche Pugneau Sauternes, 2003

Cru d'Arche Pugneau is an unclassified Sauternes estate, but its vineyards lie in close proximity to several big name estates--d'Yquem, Suiduiraut, Lafaurie Peyraugie and Rabaud Promis.

It's a glorious deep gold color with viscous "legs" that coat the glass. It's almost too thick to swirl. The nose offers up rich notes of apricots with their peels plus a more delicate air of spring flowers. There is a heavy dose of botrytis, creating a slightly bitter note on the palate. This wine would be better with a little bottle age, but it's still drinking nicely and is a good accompaniment for the excellent dessert--Viognier-macerated apricot and goat cheese gratin. It was the perfect choice to end the Tasters' Guild meal at Cosmo's Cucina.

Montegrossi Chianti Classico, 2004

This Montegrossi Chianti Classico was served at the Tasters' Guild dinner to accompany the fantastic main course of grilled swordfish, summer vegetable ratatouille and pesto pasta. From the heart of the oldest and finest part of the Chianti Classico appellation, the grapes (90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo) are hand harvested from 60-year-old vines on steep slopes.

It's a deep cherry color. Smells include just a hint of sulfur dioxide that blows away in a few minutes. I also smell oranges and tart cherries with their skins--very Sangiovese with a racy acidity. The tannins are much firmer than those of the Traverso Sottocastello (below), and the aromas and flavors unfold and become more complex as the wine airs. Even so, I'm not so sure that this wine will age as well as the Sottocastello. There is something a bit disjointed--maybe just an awkward stage. I had this wine at a previous Tasters' Guild and it left a similar impression. For $30 (the price of this Chianti Classico), I could buy two or three bottles of a lesser Sangiovese such as Querceto, La Rocca, Monte Antico or Gabbiano...and be quite happy.

Vigna Traverso Sotocastello, 2002

If you know me or follow this blog regularly, you know that I am not a big fan of Merlot. Most Merlots on the market today strike me as being green and thin--products of overcropped vines and over-zealous winemakers. I know, of course, that Chateau Petrus (arguably the world's finest wine) is 100% Merlot, and I have been entranced by Petrus every time I have had an opportunity to taste it.

This 2002 Traverso Sottocastello, from the same domaine in northern Italy that produced the Ornella Molon Prosecco below, is also 100% Merlot, and it swept away all of my negative stereotypes. It's a beautiful deep red color with a glorious nose of dark cherries, black raspberries, coffee, chocolate, spice and a pleasant hint of tobacco. On the palate, it's silky smooth with ripe tannins and exotic flavors. There is only a hint of the greenery that is part of the Merlot flavor profile and a much heftier dose of dark cherries and Oriental spices. The finish is long and luxurious right now, but I'm sure this wine will improve for at least a decade. At $46, this wine seems expensive for an Italian Merlot, but if you've got the money, it's worth every penny.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ornello Molon Prosecco

When shopping for a sparkling wine, it's too easy to overlook Italian Prosecco. It lacks the prestige of French Champagne and is generally more expensive than Spanish Cava or most California Brut wines. This Ornello Molon Prosecco, from an area just north or Venice, was served at the Taster's Guild dinner to accompany heirloom tomato soup with white cheddar, avocado and tortillo strips. Both the wine and the soup were excellent.

The color is a bright straw, and the bubbles are small and persistent. The bouquet is fresh and lively with scents of pears, apples, lemon, flowers and hints of yeasty biscuits. What I like most about Italian sparkling wines is the light, frothy mouth feel. And there is a satisfying tang to the fizzy finish. This is very nice, and at $23, a decent value. I would serve it as an aperitif, with or without food.

Brassfield Volcano Ridge High Valley Petite Sirah, 2005

When I was first getting interested in wine, I bought and drank a lot of Petite Sirah, mostly from Foppiano, Stags' Leap and Caymus. I was impressed by the inkish color and the extraction--qualities highly prized by many wine drinkers during the late 1970s and early 1980s. I soon lost interest in these wines because I could never find anything worth looking for underneath the huge tannic structure. I still have a few bottles of Caymus and Stags' Leap Petite Sirah from the mid-1970s that I open from time to time, and I have yet to find one that has gone over the hill, even though the range of flavors is still somewhat constrained by the limitations of Petite Sirah. This grape, incidentally, is known as Durif in France and is not related in any way to Syrah.

This Brassfield Petite Sirah was presented to me as an aperitif at a Taster's Guild dinner at Cosmo's Cucina in Kalamazoo. As to be expected, the color is deep and dark. Blueberry-tinged fruit flavors are much more apparent than in Petite Sirahs I remember from years ago, and aromas, more complex. The wine has benefited from a blend that includes 8% Zinfandel, 5% Syrah and 5% other (Carignane or Mourvedre?). It has spent 18 months in French, American and Hungarian oak, and, for my taste, this may have been a bit much for such tannic grapes. There is decent fruit concentration, but it's still too big and tannic to ring my bell--particularly as an aperitif to accompany brie cheese, fruit chutney and herb-roasted almonds. I would have preferred a Vouvray, Alsace Pinot Gris or a Barbera Piemonte.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Vignoles, 2006

Vignoles (or Ravat 51) was a staple of Leelanau Peninsula wineries a few decades ago but has generally been replaced by more well known European grapes such as Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. I still have fond memories of the dry Vignoles wines produced by Larry Mawby in 1982 and 1983, but all of Mawby's Vignoles grapes now go into a very good sparkling wine. Leelanau Cellars produces a dessert wine with this French hybrid grape, but to get a true dry Vignoles made in the traditional style, you have to get off the beaten path and visit Bernie Rink's Boskydel Vineyards (described here on July 28, 2009).

Bernie Rink's 2006 dry Vignoles is a medium gold color with good clarity and brilliance. Vignoles is said to be a clone of Chardonnay, and I smell some of the smoky, grainy notes of Burgundy satellite vineyards such as Rully and Montagny along with buttered apples and minerals. On the palate, it's the same with more depth and complexity than you'd expect from a wine of this price range. It has the full bodied feel of a Chardonnay with the brisk acidity of a Loire Valley Chenin Blanc--ripe and racy with a full range of flavors and a long finish. I love it and plan to go back for more on my next trip to Leelanau. At $64.48 a case (including tax!), this is one of the best values in white table wine to be found anywhere.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sella & Mosca Cannonau Riserva (Sardinia), 2004

Given my love for Grenache-based wines, I can't really justify my ignorance of Cannonau--the Italian Grenache. I chose a glass of this very enjoyable Cannonau from the wine list of the Lucrezia Italian BCafe in Chesterton, Indiana and can't wait to re-visit both the wine and the restaurant.

The color is a deep crimson with some noticeable bricking, but there is nothing old about the smells and flavors. Actually, this wine reminds me of a good Gigondas or Cairanne--big, spicy, peppery with sweetish blueberry fruit. As with a Southern Rhone, the black pepper, licorice element on the finish serves as a foil to the ripe fruit and gives the wine backbone and interest. It's at a good stage of maturity right now. This is my style of wine. Cannonau, where have you been all my life?

Mittnacht-Klack Alsace Grand Cru Riesling Rosacker, 1993

When we visited Alsace in June of 1992, we stayed in a bed and breakfast just outside the walls of the story-book medieval village of Riquewihr. The vineyard just outside the windows of our bed and breakfast had roses planted at the end of each row. And it was appropriately named Rosacker Vineyard. I took my morning run each day on the one-lane paved road weaving through the vineyard from Riquewihr to the neighboring village of Hunawihr only a few kilometers away.

There were beautiful smells coming from the vineyards in 1992, and there are beautiful smells coming from this Rosacker Riesling a good 16 years later. The color is a deep gold with good brilliance. The bouquet and flavors are powerful and typical of Alsace Riesling--sea salt, wax, camphor, honey and spring flowers. The wine has a rich, powerful presence on the palate but is dry with razor-fine flavors. The finish is long and deep.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2007

The high percentage of Syrah (80%) in this Delas wine is not typical of Cotes du Rhone. It's unmistakeably Syrah--black raspberries, ripe plums and spices. But the style of wine is very much in the Cotes du Rhone mould, showcasing ripe fruit with just enough depth and complexity to keep you coming back for glass after glass. The mid-palate offers up a full range of flavors, and the finish is long and flavorful. Of all the 2007 Cotes du Rhones I've tasted so far, this is my favorite. It's perfect for drinking right now, and I feel confident it will continue to evolve for at least three or four years. For $10 or less a bottle, this wine is a steal.

Frenzy Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc

In another year or so, this wine might have the light yellow color expected of Sauvignon Blanc. Right now, it's as limpid as tap water, but there is nothing light about the smells and flavors--melon, grapefruit, white peaches, green pepper. I'm not a big fan of the green pepper trait in either Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot, but this wine can do no wrong. It's bursting with life right now, very intense, a perfect drink for a summer meal outside. I bought a half case of Frenzy because it's young and clearly has some life ahead of it. But I'm afraid it might be all gone by the end of the summer.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Camille Cayran Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne La Reserve, 2004

Now this is Cairanne the way I like it! The color is a medium to light crimson--no blue tones. Aromas and flavors are rich with red and black fruits, red and black licorice (mostly red); the wine has the trademark Cairanne blueberry sweetness plus pepper, spice, sour cherries and garrigue. All the Cairanne goodness shines through as it should, leaving a good impression on the back of the palate. While lacking the complexity and depth of a Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin wine, Camille Cayran is drinking well right now and would be my choice over Domaine du Boisson (see note below). I'm sure that many tasters, more familiar with international-styled wines, would prefer the Boisson.

Domaine du Boisson Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne

I've read good reports of this wine and, being a big fan of Cairanne, was anxious to try it. The color is deep, dark and bluish, indicating to me that some of the wine has been aged in new oak or small barriques. The smells and flavors confirm that impression. The sweetish blueberry fruit, a Cairanne trademark, is front and center, as it should be; it's a very attractive wine. On the first night, the oak elements blend nicely with the berry fruit but seem to cover up the spicy, peppery, earthy elements that I expect from a Cairanne. Tasted blind, the wine might well be mistaken for a good Australian GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre) such as Langmeil. On the second and third nights, however, the new oak traits begin to fade and integrate into the lovely Cairanne fruit. Sweet cherries and garrigue emerge to add to the complexity. It's still not my style of Cairanne, although I think it may be more to my liking with a couple of years in the bottle.

For a good comparison, I opened a bottle of a more traditionally styled Cairanne so that I could taste the two side-by-side. See the tasting note above for my impressions.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Domaine Daulny Sancerre Clos de Chaudenay, 2004

Sauvignon Blanc wines generally fall into the category of DYA--drink youngest available. But at five years of age, this Sauvignon Blanc is still giving plenty of pleasure. I've written before of Etienne Daulny's Clos de Chaudenay Sancerre (March 26, 2009, February 15, 2008); it's always been one of my favorite Sauvignon Blanc wines.

The color is medium deep gold with good clarity and brilliance. The aromas and flavors are unmistakeably Loire Sauvignon--mint, melon, peaches, gooseberries and minerals. While the frenzied excitement of young Sauvignon have been toned down by age, the wine offers tranquil pleasures with serious depth and complexity. As I've mentioned before, Clos de Chaudenay is a special southwest-facing vineyard that gets more sun and slightly more heat than Daulny's regular Sancerre. It's aged mostly in stainless steel but with a small portion given seasoned oak treatment for complexity and body. The lush texture and remarkable finish are accentuated with additional aging. Very nice.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Visiting Bernie Rink at Boskydel Vineyards

Little has changed since I last visited the Boskydel Vineyards tasting room. But that was in 1984, and much has changed in Leelanau wine-making over that 25 years. Compared to the fancy, tourist-centered wineries only a few miles away, Boskydel comes across as quaint and rustic. It is a small room on the lower level of a white barn with a cement floor and a crude wooden counter holding eight open bottles of wine for tasting. Bernie Rink, 83, the owner and wine-maker, is a bit stooped, and he fights a tremor when he pours wine for you. He is affectionately known as the "wine nazi" (after Seinfeld's "soup nazi") because he allows no nonsense. When there are more than eight in his tiny tasting room, he starts chasing people away. When I was there, one young woman asked which wine she should try first, and he replied gruffly, "How should I know? I don't know what you like." When she told him that she liked her wines on the sweetish side, he was able to direct her to ones she might like.

When I was at Boskydel in 1984, I bought a case of Bernie's 1982 Vignoles. It's a wine I'm partial to, and Bernie may be the last good source of dry Leelanau Vignoles. I tasted and bought the current vintage because it still has that full-bodied, spiciness that I love. It has the high acid of a Loire white with the full body of a California Chardonnay. When I bought the 1982, I asked Bernie how long it would age, and he answered, "I don't know because I've never had a bottle yet that was too old." I drank my last bottle of 1982 Boskydel Vignoles in the late 1990s, and I reported to Bernie my satisfaction. He had been right: the wine had aged beautifully and never tasted old, even in its second decade. He would not give me any promises on the 2006, however. "At my age, I'm not interested in wine futures," he said.

I also enjoyed Bernie's red DeChaunac, which American Wine Review called the best of its kind in the country. Having experimented with making my own DeChaunac several decades ago, I can appreciate what Rink has accomplished with this very high acid red grape. His Roi du Rouge is also DeChaunac, but a bit sweeter, Bernie says, and raised in cherry barrels rather than the white Michigan oak used for his other wines. How about aging of DeChaunac? "I don't know," he said, "but I have a man who comes in every year and buys four cases and puts them away for 10 years before he starts to drink them."

Wine lovers make their way to the tiny Boskydel tasting room where you can buy any of Rink's wines for $7 to $8 a bottle or $65 to $70 a case. (That's a big-time case discount!) They are real wines for real people, and, to my knowledge, they are no longer available anywhere but at the winery. Once the head librarian at Northwestern Michigan College, Bernie Rink bought his land in 1965 and opened his tasting room in 1975. His was the first winery on the peninsula, although Ed O'Keefe opened Chateau Grand Traverse on nearby Old Mission a year earlier. Leelanau Cellars (1977), Larry Mawby (1978) and Good Harbor (1980) followed Bernie Rink on Leelanau proper. These are the wineries I visited regularly in the early 1980s, and they are still among my favorites, even though there are some serious aspirations (and prices) among the 20 or more wineries that have sprung up in recent years. Thanks to these early pioneers, the Leelanau Peninsula appellation now enjoys a reputation for producing high-quality wines, particularly high acid white wines, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. DeChaunac? Only if you make your way to Boskydel Vineyards.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Larry Mawby's Sparkling Wine Picnic

Larry Mawby was an English major in college, and that may explain his aesthetics of winemaking. It starts with the soil and the vines, and it ends with a poem on the label and a moment of intense pleasure.

Mawby has been making Leelanau Peninsula wines for about 30 years and is now producing only sparkling wines--bottle fermented methode champenoise under the L. Mawby label and tank fermented (Cuvee Close) sparkling wine under the M. Lawrence label. Sitting on the deck of Mawby's tasting room, sipping a flight of sparkling wine and nibbling on a cheese or whitefish appetizer is one of the great pleasures of life that I think everyone should experience at least once every summer. This year, however, Donna and I went one step further and signed up for Mawby's July 25 Summer Sparkling Wine Picnic. Although the weather was a bit rainy, we were sheltered under a tent in the vineyard where we could enjoy four sparkling wines accompanied by a three-course lunch presented by North Shore Catering.

As a greeting wine, the L. MAWBY CONSERVANCY was very good, with nice toasty, biscuity qualities and a full range of flavors. In the middle of the sweetness range, it was a good aperitif, and my second favorite of the afternoon. Some proceeds from the wine go to help support the Land Conservancy--hence, the name.

The M. LAWRENCE WET was accompanied by a crisp, tart Jicama Salad. It was fruitier than the CONSERVANCY, like an apple tart with a nice round feel but noticeably less complexity and flavor interest than the CONSERVANCY.

The L. MAWBY CREMANT CLASSIC was my favorite of the day. It's a wine made from 100 percent estate-grown Vignoles. You can almost smell the high-acidity of the Vignoles fruit--intense and persistent aromas that are not as toasty as those of the CONSERVANCY but no less enjoyable. The wine is even better on the palate with a burst of spicy flavors. It was a perfect match for the grilled tuna with tropical salsa and jasmine rice.

L. MAWBY JADORE is a sweeter wine with 3.5% residual sugar, and it matched up well with the dynamite chocolate cake with Raz Collie Anglais presented by North Country Caterers. It's a fruit sweetness, though, and there is plenty of balancing acidity. The aromas are closer to those of CONSERVANCY, although not as doughy. The apricot/apple flavors tickle the tongue on the finish and make you beg for more.

Even with the rain, it was a lovely setting for a Sunday afternoon picnic, spiced by Larry's sparkling wines and wit. For me, the Cremant and the Conservancy were the highlights of the tasting. But when I'm in the wine store or restaurant, I will still opt for my traditional L. Mawby favorites, the Blanc de Blancs and the Blanc de Noir.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2006

This wine is still drinking beautifully. It's a deep, dark color with intense smells and flavors of fresh blueberries, Provencal herbs and freshly ground peppercorn. It's very ripe, almost to a fault, but the spicy, peppery qualities give it some backbone. The creamy qualities that were present last December have faded a bit, giving way to additional spiciness.

For my taste, this wine was best on the first night, when it was fresh from the cellar and still a bit cool. Even though the temperatures here in Kalamazoo are only in the low to mid-70s, a day on the shelf warmed it a bit too much, making the alcohol more prominent than I'd like. It's only 14%, but I prefer my Cotes du Rhones at 13.5%.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnay, 2005

This is my kind of Chardonnay: no butter, no cream, just beautiful mineral-tinged Chardonnay flavors. The color is a medium yellow, clear and bright. The nose offers up focused scents of minerals, apples, pears and a hint of spice. The limey French oak qualities that were present a few months ago have been integrated nicely into the fruit. Flavors are well developed with a nice mineral bite and a long finish. As I've mentioned in previous notes, this wine has many of the qualities of a fine white Burgundy at the price of a simple Bourgogne Chardonnay.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Valreas Cuvee Prestige, Les Vignerons de L'Enclave des Papes, 2007

This wine is one of my all-time favorites from Trader Joe's, and in the 2007 vintage, it is particularly fine--a true Cotes du Rhone Villages wine at a price ($5.99) about half what you'd expect to pay for a simple Cotes du Rhone. It's a cooperative wine, but Les Vignerons de L'Enclave des Papes is recognized as one of the top coops of the southern Rhone.

Clearly at a very early stage in its development, the 2007 Valreas Cuvee Prestige is very deep and dark, almost purplish. On the first night, the smells and flavors are almost sweetish, but this is because of the abundant fruit from the 2007 vintage. On the second night, the spicy, peppery elements begin to emerge, creating impressive depth, even for a Villages wine. Aromas are redolent of blueberries, spice and licorice. Hidden on the first night, tannins are lurking on the palate underneath the spice, black fruits and black pepper. In my view, this wine has a large upside potential over the next five years and maybe even longer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Vereto Rosso, 2000

My notes on this wine from April and May of 2008 indicate a deep ruby color with no browning. The wine poured from this bottle is noticeably brown toned, and the aromas and flavors are definitely mature. Since the wine was purchased at deep discount, I suspect that variations in storage, rather than one additional year of aging, are responsible for this discrepanacy.

Regardless of the reason for the added maturity, I would say that it has not harmed this wine one bit. The lush, sweetish fruit has gracefully evolved into complex notes of dried and fresh fruit (mostly cherries) with a background of roses and purple flowers. The licorice qualities are still there, but toned down a bit, and they blend in quite nicely with the autumnal fruit. Young or old, this wine offers up exotic pleasures.

Monday, July 13, 2009

MezzaCorona Dolomites Pinot Grigio, 2008

Now is the time to buy and drink your 2008 MezzaCorona Pinot Grigio. It's discounted to $6.99 at D&W Fresh Market in Michigan and undoubtedly in many other stores. And it's perfect for summer drinking on the deck or patio. The color of the 2008 is a light straw, and there are vibrant aromas and flavors of melon, peach, mint, basil and spring flowers. It's fresh, lively and elegantly stated with more complexity and interest than you'd expect from an inexpensive wine that's widely available. Although MezzaCorona is clearly a large production winery, all of the fruit for this wine comes from its own vineyards in the foothills of the Dolomiti mountains of northeastern Italy. The mountain air there is cool, and the wine is clearly aged in stainless steel to preseve the freshness and vitality. Why anyone would choose a Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay over this wine is beyond me.

My past encounters with MezzaCorona Pinot Grigio tell me that it's best to drink the youngest vintage available. By next winter, this wine will have lost some, although not all, of its charm.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

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

This VDP from Clos Saint Jean was a $5.99 wine when it was on the market, so I bought in quantity. And although it hasn't aged as nicely as its 1998 sibling, it's still showing well. It's medium deep with only a little browning around the rim. Ripe, berried Grenache dominates the smells and flavors, and it has a pleasant finish. My only complaint is that at this stage it is a bit flabby without enough spicy, peppery elements to maintain interest. For summer drinking, a few minutes in the refrigerator adds some much needed structure.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Frei Brothers Redwood Creek California Sauvignon Blanc, 2007

I wanted to taste this next to the Frenzy (below) to compare two inexpensive versions of Sauvignon Blanc. The Redwood Creek is a very enjoyable Sauvignon Blanc for the money (I paid $6.99), but it's not in the same league as the Frenzy. All the Sauvignon Blanc traits are there--gooseberry, grass, grapefruit, melon and a hint of cat. It's sweeter than the Frenzy, and it glides nicely across the palate on a summer evening. Compared to the Frenzy, though, where is the excitement?

If you're looking for a good Sauvignon Blanc for a large gathering or for easy drinking, Redwood Creek is fine. If you're looking for an experience, pick up a bottle of Frenzy.

Frenzy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2008

Frenzy is a good name for this delightful New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; that's what it creates for your senses. It's very young, and the color is almost as pale as tap water, but there is nothing watery or limpid about the smells and flavors--gooseberry, cat, green bell pepper, grapefruit and a twist of lime. Very fresh, very zesty and unmistakeably New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

This wine is actually produced by an Italian firm, Tenuto Campo di Sasso of Tuscany, whose owners have become enamoured of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. They clearly bring to the table an appreciation for high acid, cool climate wines with zesty skins and peels character. It's not at all like a Sancerre or Pouilly Fume but has some of the lively character of an inexpensive generic Anjou Sauvignon Blanc. Frenzy is the second label for Mount Nelson, a wine you may have seen in wine stores or at Cost Plus World Market for around $15 a bottle.

D&W Markets in Michigan is offering Frenzy SB at a special case price of $95 over the next several weeks. The wine is young enough that I have no worry that it might lose some of its charm over the next several years. At less than $8 a bottle (or at $9.99, the regular price), this wine is worth every penny and more.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Domaine du Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2005

A year ago (July 25, 2008), this wine was irresistible; smelling it was "like sitting in a herb garden surrounded by flowers." The floral/garrigue elements are not quite as forward at this stage, but the wine is no less intriguing and enjoyable. The deep crimson color has faded just a bit with a year of aging, and the garrigue has given away to Grenache/Syrah berries with minty spice and black peppercorn. There is a tannic punch in the center but it draws you into the fruit rather than away from it. Very ripe but with good acidity.

Font-Sane makes one of my favorite Gigondas wines, but for less than half the price this Ventoux is a sure winner. I've been enjoying it nearly every vintage since 1998. Unlike the Gigondas, which has some staying power, there is no need to worry about when to drink this wine--the ripeness is now.

Blue Jeans Meritage Red, NV

California Meritage wines are presumably Bordeaux blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and perhaps some Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot. This Blue Jeans red is not that type of Meritage wine but clearly a wine for casual drinking. The blend includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc from a number of California locations. It reminds me a bit of the Menage a Trois from Folie au Deux.

What I liked about Blue Jeans red was the racy acidity, presumably from the Cab Franc. It's a lively wine that was a good accompaniment for the grilled salmon with pesto I ordered from the River Lake Inn near Colon, Michigan. And it would match up even better with steak, prime rib or ribs

Frederic Magnien Nuits St. George Premier Cru Coeur Rocher, 2004

This Nuits St. George is not a budget wine; it usually retails for about $75 although it can often be found for less at online retailers such as Premier Cru (premiercru.net). It's a very fine wine that requires some concentration and appreciation of the subtleties of red Burgundy.

The color is very light; this is clearly a wine of finesse rather than power. Aromas and flavors come forward quite nicely: finely focused fruit of red berries, cherries and pomegranate, spring flowers and a healthy dash of minerals. Very mineral laden and very Burgundian. The palate feel is as fine and silky as you would expect from a wine of this pedigree. Very nicely under-stated but with insistent flavors that stay with you long after the wine is swallowed. As good as this wine is now, it will likely be even better with a few years of aging.

Even though this 2004 is five years past its vintage date, I feel sure it's still available--maybe even at a discount. If you like red Burgundy and have a wine budget to accommodate an occasional $75 bottle, you won't regret buying this wine.