Tuesday, March 31, 2009

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

By all rights, I should love this wine. The producer is one of my favorites from the Plan de Dieu, a very good area for Cotes du Rhone, and I like the 2004 vintage. This wine, however, has something missing--at least for my taste.

The color is a medium ruby, a bit muted in color, but a healthy hue. It takes considerable swirling to get the aromas forward, and even then they're a bit muted--some ripe fruit smells but not very well delineated and none of the pepper, spice and liveliness I expect from a l'Espigouette Cotes du Rhone Villages. The flavors are also pleasant but rather one dimensional--prunes rather than fresh berries and again none of the pepper, spice and fresh herbs I was looking for. It actually smells and tastes a bit tired, but a 2004 should not be over the hill. The winemaker, Bernard Latour, is one I respect a lot, but I suspect he picked the grapes a little too ripe for my taste in this vintage.

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape, 1985

There were other wines I could have gone to, but I chose this 1985 Beaucastel to help me celebrate my 70th birthday. And I wasn't disappointed.

The color is a medium to deep ruby, clear and bright but with some floating sediment. Beaucastel is unique among Chateauneufs because of a relatively high percentage of Mourvedre, and the Mourvedre--often shy and reticent in youth--has arrived in this 1985. Blue and purple--violets, blueberries and Provencal herbs. The bouquet is not perfect; there is a dry element (not necessarily unpleasant) that probably comes from the sediment. But I don't detect brett (a common complaint with some vintages of Beaucastel). In the mouth, the wine is a plump ripe berry of Beaucastel beauty. This is what I remember tasting when the wine was released...but with the added nuances to be expected from 20 plus years of aging. Plump, spicy and still fruity--warm blueberries and cream on the finish.

Oh, I suppose this wine appears more tired at age 24 than I feel at age 70. But no wine lives forever.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Les Trois Couronnes Vacqueyras, 2007

This is my first try of the village-specific Rhones from Les Trois Couronnes now on the shelves at D&W Parkview in Kalamazoo. The Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone has been available for about $7 at D&W for several months; this Vacqueyras is $13.99. Also available are a Gigondas for $16 and a Chateauneuf du Pape for $26.

If you've tried the Cotes du Rhone, you'll find that Les Trois Couronnes Vacqueyras is built along the same lines, although it's a bit more backward at this stage. The color is deep and dark, and the aromas feature black tones of licorice, black fruit and Vacqueyras minerals. Right now, there is a strong floral element, sort of like lilacs, that alternates between being pretty and aggressive. This is something I've found before in young Gigondas and Vacqueyras wines. I think at this stage, the wine is crying out for air to start creating something beautiful. In the mouth, I find the same qualities; it's very concentrated and chewy. This Vacqueyras should be much better in a few years or even a few months. If you're looking for something to drink tonight, I suspect you'll be happier with the Cotes du Rhone for half the price.

As for how this wine compares to other Vacqueyras wines I know, it has similarities to what I tasted in the 1998 Couroulu at the same stage--earthy and powerful with good potential. I don't think Les Trois Courounnes is in the same ball park as Le Sang de Cailloux ($40) or Monardiere Les Calades ($20).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Domaine Daulny Sancerre Le Clos de Chaudenay, 2004

If I had to choose a desert island white--a wine to take with me were I stranded away from my cellar and away from wine shops for an extended period--this would probably be it. Domaine Daulny's regular Sancerre is always very good (and reasonably priced) but the Clos de Chaudenay has a special quality.

Etienne Daulny owns 37 acres of vineyards in Sancerre, arguably the best area in the world for producing Sauvignon Blanc wines. (No, I don't think New Zealand comes even close!) Clos Chaudenay comes from a single vineyard on a slope just above Verdigny. The name defines it as a "hot spot" but in the Loire Valley that means a little less cool. Vines averaging 40 years of age face southwest so they get the morning sun, and the grapes are harvested by hand by Etienne and his daughter. Etienne's brother makes the wine, aging it in mainly in stainless steel but with a small lot kept in well seasoned large oak barrels before being blended in to the finished product. The bright, vibrant Sauvignon fruit is still dominant, but the seasoned oak adds complexity and body--the qualities that make it a special wine for me.

The color of the 2004 has deepened into a full gold, reminding me that I should drink up the remaining bottles of this vintage. Sauvignon Blanc wines are best when they are young, but the smells and flavors of this bottle are not at all diminished by age. White peaches, grapefruit, green apples and just the right touch of minerality, faintly reminiscent of freshly ground coffee beans. The finish is incredible; this wine refuses to let you forget it. Actually, it's two days later when I'm writing this note, and I'm still remembering the flavors of Clos de Chaudenay.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fortia: A Best Buy in Chateauneuf du Pape

When I went to a large tasting of 1998 Rhone wines several years ago, the Chateauneuf du Pape that stood out as the best of the lot to many of us who gathered around the Chateauneuf table was Chateau Fortia. This is an estate that was once ranked near the top of the appellation but often gets overlooked today, in part because Robert Parker put the label "under achiever" on it after several under-par wines produced in the 1980s. There is no question in anyone's mind, however, that Fortia has been making excellent wines in recent years. And it often sells at a discount.

The 2005 Fortia Cuvee Tradition is available right now for $31/bottle at Sawall Health Food store in Kalamazoo. That's about $10 to $40 less than other comparable Chateauneuf wines. The 2005 Fortia was given a high rating (90 to 93) by Steve Tanzer. And if it's anything like the 1998, it should be drinking well even at this youthful stage.

New Les Trois Couronnes Wines

In comments on the Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone below [March 8], Jim Z inquired about the new village specific wines under this label now being offered at D&W Parkview in Kalamazoo. I'll answer in a separate post so that the information does not get buried in the comments section.

The wines referred to are Les Trois Couronnes Chateauneuf du Pape for about $26, LTC Gigondas for $17 and LTC Vacqueyras for $13--all from the excellent 2007 vintage and all marked down several dollars from their regular retail price. Needless to say, a $26 Chateauneuf du Pape from 2007 is a rarity. In fact, the LTC Cotes du Rhone at $7 is a bargain compared to the $13 to $15 price I find for this wine in other areas of the country.

I haven't tried any of these new selections, although I bought a couple of bottles of the Vacqueyras the other day and plan to open one soon. I talked to Penny (the wine specialist) at D&W who hasn't tried them either, although she loves the Cotes du Rhone and drinks it frequently. According to Penny, all of these wines were very well liked by Roz Mayberry, head of the wine department at D&W, and her husband, Robert, one of the most respected voices on Rhone wines in the country. I will eventually try all three and will report on them here. As always, I'd welcome tasting reports from readers.

Information about Les Trois Couronnes has been difficult to find. I believe they are products of Louis Musset, former owner of Chateau des Fines Roches in Chateauneuf du Pape who now runs a large negotiant business, selling mainly to supermarkets. The wines may have been made in a cooperative, but in the Southern Rhone there are many fine co-ops. I'm looking forward to trying all of them and am grateful to D&W for making them available at these prices.

Patrick Lesec Cuvee Aurore Cotes du Rhone, 2000

I can imagine myself in a wine bar drinking this wine with an appetizer and commenting about how enjoyable it is. As I sit here tonight at my own table, with knowledge of other Southern Rhones I could have brought up from the cellar, I am glad I bought only one bottle of Patrick Lesec Cuvee Aurore Cotes du Rhone.

For a nine-year-old Cotes du Rhone, this wine is amazingly well preserved. It's a medium ruby with fresh lively scents of strawberries, kirsch and minty oak. On the palate it's smooth as silk, and the flavors are well delineated. It's very sophisticated with no embarrassing off notes--a good face of new oak in a Southern Rhone wine. But the strawberry Grenache character is a bit riper than I like and there is less of the pepper, spice and earth to provide structure and balance. There's nothing wrong with this wine, but the more I drink, the less I like it.

Patrick Lesec is a Frenchman who owns a restaurant in California. Believing that his restaurant customers do not like traditional Rhone wines, he has contracted with various domaines to produce wines more palatable to Americans. He has succeeded admirably in that task. But here is one American who likes the real thing better than the international version.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Chateau St. Jean Belle Terre Vineyards Chardonnay, 2003

After my extremely positive note on this wine [December 31, 2008] I've had a chance to try two additional bottles that were not as scintillating. Bottle No. 2 smelled a bit burned, as if it had been exposed to heat at some time; bottle No. 3, tonight, was a bit tired and not as exciting as bottle No. 1 but still very good.

It's a medium deep gold in color, several shades darker than the December 31 bottle. The white peaches, nutmeg and spice notes are still prominent in the aroma and flavors along with a distinctly buttery quality and a creamy texture. A very enjoyable bottle but there is a lot more focus on the oak-derived as opposed to the unique fruit qualities that characterized the December 31 bottle.

Bottle variation is a fact of life with this wine--either because of age or heat damage. I'm willing to put up with it because at it's worst the wine is enjoyable while at it's best it's exceptional. At it's best, the wine is worth its $30 original retail price and a real bargain at $13.39--the price I paid and that is still available at Harding's Market Crosstown in Kalamazoo. I'm willing to put up with the bottle variation; if you're not, Hardings will give you a refund if you go to the service counter with an empty or full bottle.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Domaine de la Mordoree Lirac, 1998

Lirac is located only 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) west of Chateauneuf du Pape, and the two appellations have similar soils. Yet Lirac wines have a distinct personality, frankly fruity but with a substantial texture and an ability to gain nuances with aging up to 10 years or so (versus 15 to 30 for Chateauneuf du Pape).

Established in 1986 by the Delorme brothers, Christophe and Fabrice, Domaine de la Mordoree has quickly established itself as a premier producer of both Lirac and Chateauneuf du Pape. While maintaining respect for terroir and embracing at least some biodynamic principles, the estate has also invested in state-of-the-art equipment and uses new oak for its top cuvees of Lirac and Chateauneuf du Pape--both labeled Cuvee de la Reine des Bois. This wine, the lower level Lirac (50% Grenache, 50% Syrah), is produced with basically traditional methods, although with de-stemming. The domaine lists its aging potential at four to five years, so I have kept this bottle a bit long, even for an outstanding vintage such as 1998. But it is nevertheless showing very well.

The color is a medium ruby, bright and clear, with some sediment forming. From first sniff, it's wonderfully fruity and spicy--raspberries, dark cherries, violets and garrigue--still fresh with no sign of attenuation. There is deceptive depth and concentration. In the mouth, the wine has a velvety texture--soft on the surface but with deep layers of fruit underneath. Long finish. Very fine.

If I were to base my 2007 Southern Rhone purchases on the quality and staying power demonstrated in the last outstanding vintage (1998), this wine would be on my buying list. Price, however, for me, is always a consideration, and particularly so in this economic climate. The tag on this 1998 reads $9.29; the retail price for the 2007 release is $24.99. Ouch. I'll be looking more seriously at my No. 2 selelction from Lirac, Chateau Segries, where the price increase has been less steep.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Domaine le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras, 1998

Le Sang des Cailloux is one of the most highly regarded of Vacqueyras wines--so much so that the current vintage sells for $37.99 at Sam's in Chicago. I bought this 1998 at less than a third that price, even though it got very good reviews. All of these early reviews mentioned that the wine needed lots of aging time; even so, I was a bit worried about waiting so long to dip into my first bottle. My worries soon vanished.

The color is deep, dark and purplish. I wondered for a minute if it had been aged in new oak barriques, but the smells and flavors immediately told me this wine is traditional Vacqueyras at its best. I smell blueberries, earth, licorice, pepper, spice and some aggressive tannic notes that I've smelled before in young Gigondas wines such as Domaine du Cayron. In the mouth, it's ripe and super-concentrated--chewy, in fact. Powerful is the word for this wine. I'm looking forward to tracing its progress over the next five years or so.

1974 Dessilani Gattinara: A Footnote

Luigi Dessilani was 90 years old when he produced the 1974 Gattinara Riserva reported on below. He was quoted at the time as attributing his longevity to his habit of drinking a full liter of red wine every day. Whatever the reason, his longevity was authentic: he lived and continued to make wine until he was 100.

Luigi's winemaking was traditional, and the wine spent long periods in old barrels in order to tame the high levels of both tannin and acid. His son-in-law Enzo Lucca now produces Dessilani wines, and he has installed modern, high tech equipment to control temperatures and fermentations. Although I haven't tasted Dessilani wines recently, I have little doubt that Enzo Lucca still draws upon the great vineyards and the wealth of traditional information passed along by his father-in-law. The Dessilani wines are no longer cheap, but I suspect that they are still very good values.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Piedmont vs. The Rhone

For those of you not familiar with Piedmont wines, I thought I'd fill you in on some background. Piedmont is a wine growing area in northwest Italy, north of Milan and Turin, that produces some of the greatest wines of the world, at least comparable in quality to those of Bordeaux and Burgundy. There are also many similarities to the Southern Rhone both in the style and variety of wines.

Barolo and Barbaresco are the king and queen of Piedmont. Barbaresco is generally a bit lighter than Barolo, and its appellation requirements a bit less strict (minimum alcohol content of 12.5% versus 13.0% for Barolo). Nebbiolo produced in the village of Gattinara is a less renowned and less expensive version--holding a rank somewhat comparable to Vacqueyras in the Southern Rhone. Wines from Ghemme and Spanna are even less expensive. In the early 1980s, Barolo and Barbaresco sold for $12 to $18 a bottle, Gattinara for $8 to $12 and Spanna $5 or less. In fact, I loaded up on several cases of 1982 and 1983 Dessilani Spanna for $4.99 a magnum! That was cheaper even than Gallo Hearty Burgundy or Paesano, and it was real wine. Unlike the jug wines, these magnums were still drinking beautifully and improving in the late 1990s. I wish I still had a few.

Nebbiolo is a very tannic grape but one that has an amazing aroma/flavor profile--roses, violets, cherries, tar, anise. Because of the high tannins, traditional winemakers kept their wines in large barrels for extended periods--as in Chateauneuf du Pape. And that practice had risks as well as benefits. Some of those great Spanna magnums, for example, had off odors that sometimes required an hour or two of airing to get rid of. What was underneath, however, was well worth the wait. With modern equipment, winemakers are now able to avoid these problems. Some, but not all, winemakers also use new oak barriques, which traditionalists scorn because they say that vanilla of the new oak tends to cover up the lovely scent of roses that is natural to Nebbiolo. I side with the traditionalists while admitting that control of temperature and bacteria in the cellar is important.

Where have all the Gattinaras gone? I quit buying most of these wines in the mid-1980s when the prices started escalating. Why pay $50 for a Barolo or $35 for a Gattinara when you could get a Chateauneuf du Pape for $10 to $15? Probably for the same reason, importers started bringing in fewer Gattinaras and Spannas, at least into my market. In some parts of the country, you can still buy Dessilani Gattinara for about $35 and Spanna for about $20, and in today's market those are probably pretty decent prices. Although they may be more ageworthy than a Gigondas or Vacqueyras, I would probably still choose the Southern Rhone wines for the same price.

I have been scouring the market over the past few years, however, for a decent $10 to $15 Nebbiolo. You can occasionally find Nebbiolo d'Alba or Langhe Nebbiolo in that price range, but I've found that most of them are pretty uninteresting, without the Nebbiolo fireworks. The one exception that I've found is an even better value--the Nerello di Bastardo sold recently at Trader Joe's for $5.99. I bought a case of the 1999 and still have some in the cellar. Then I added the 2000 and 2002 when they came on the market. I like the way these wines are maturing, and I don't detect any off odors or flavors. If you see any at Trader Joe's (I haven't recently), I highly recommend it. And if you have other inexpensive Nebbiolos to recommend, please let me know.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dessilani Gattinara Riserva, 1974

Patricia Wells, in Trattoria, says that osso bucco is a dish capable of bringing you to your knees. To accompany it, she recommends a winter wine such as Gattinara. I agree on both counts and might add that this well-aged Gattinara brought me to my knees again and again. The occasion was Donna's and my 36th wedding anniversary. Though I had no 1973 wine in the cellar, this 35-year-old Nebbiolo was clearly up to the task.

The color was very light, not brown but almost pink when poured as a taste while the meal was cooking. I remember when this Gattinara was almost black, but over the years those tannins have formed a thick crust on the side of the bottle. The bouquet is ethereal; I could just sit here and smell all night and be happy--roses, cherries, cassis and scents too complex to identify. A decade ago, the bouquet of this wine was powerful and somewhat rustic, with dark licorice notes; tonight, it is very finely toned and elegant. In the mouth, there is more of the same. The body is medium to light but not as fragile as the color suggests. There is a silky texture and a fierce concentration that tells you this wine is determined never to fall apart. The cherry flavors take over on the mid-palate and long finish with subtle hints of cassis and roses to give contrast, interest and structure. This is a truly great wine. If I were scoring, I would give it at least 96/100.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

L. Mawby Blanc de Blans Brut, NV

I reported on Mawby's Blanc de Blanc when I visited the winery last summer. It was my favorite of all of the Mawby lineup for this year. When I saw it on the wine list at Every Day People Cafe in Douglas, MI, I jumped at the chance to order a half bottle.

It is still drinking beautfully--fresh and lively with yeasty, biscuity qualities on the nose and palate, everything I expect from a good Champagne and at a very decent price. As Larry writes on the label, "she's not French, but she makes your tongue dance."

I also had a glass of River's Edge Umpqua Valley Pinot Noir which was very good--more tart than ripe, more flowers than ripe cherry. With food, it was perfect. For the main course, I ordered pork shank in a mole negra sauce with garlic mashed potatoes and spaghetti squash--a fantastic meal. If you're ever in Douglas (or Saugatuk), Michigan, you should give this place a try. For me, it ranks right alongside the Common Grill in Chelsea as a favorite dining destination.

2007 Southern Rhones To Consider

Following my post about 2007 Chateaneuf du Pape, "Anonymous" asked for recommendations about Cotes du Rhone Villages wines. Rather than answering in a comment, I'll do so here. Please bear in mind that my recommendations are based mainly on 1) wines that have been available to me in my market, 2) my own biases and 3) price. I have always been value conscious in my wine buying, and that may at times shut me out of some of the best wines. Please feel free to comment and add your own recommendations and experiences.

A good vintage is basically a year when growing conditions were such that grapes ripened to perfection. I would say that a good grower or wine maker will recognize a great vintage right away. However, as they say, at least about French vignerons, the best vintage is always the one you're selling. The inside word they give to critics and importers cannot always be trusted, although I have found that most of them are pretty open when talking to individuals who come to their tasting rooms. I tend to trust the word I'm given in tasting rooms more than I trust my own palate. Wines from a ripe vintage are always going to taste good; I loved the early 2003 Rhones but found within a year or two that they were too ripe for their own good.

So far, I have loved every 2007 Southern Rhone I've tasted, but they were lesser wines, released early and to be consumed at a relatively young age. In the past, I've tended to stash away these early wines from a highly touted vintage, but I've learned it's best to drink as many as possible while they're still flush with lovely fruit. That way I also get an opinion of the vintage while deciding whether to buy the more expensive wines in quantity.

One Cotes du Rhone Villages wine I always buy is Domaine Sainte Anne. Frankly, I don't think there is such a thing as a bad vintage here; even 1996 and 1997 were beautiful. The straight CDR Villages (about $12) is very good, but the Notre Dame des Cellettes ($16) and the Saint Gervais ($18) can be spectacular after eight to ten years of age.

As for wines that resemble a Chateauneuf du Pape, the Cotes du Rhone from Domaine la Garrigue ($14) has many of those qualities (it reminds me of Bois du Boursan), but the 2007 has been hyped on the Parker message board so it may be difficult to find at a good price. Past vintages of the Chaume-Arnaud Vinsobres have reminded me of Bois du Boursan, so I will be on the lookout for it when it comes on the market.

I love Cairanne, and I'm sure there will be many very good wines from there in 2007. My favorite is Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin. The Reserve sells for about $18, the Prestige for more than $20, but these wines are worth it. Even the Cairanne cooperative (Camille Cayran) can make a pretty fine wine.

Monardiere has several cuvees of Vacqueyras. I usually go for the lowest priced one: Les Calades. The others are over $20 a bottle and I'm sure they are worth it. But again, I am a value buyer. I am also a fan of Couroulu, but I was disappointed in the 1998; I'll look more carefully before buying the 2007. I've liked Montvac in the past, and I've read good things about Grand Prieur, l'Espigouette and Mas de Bouquet.

In Gigondas, I usually go for Font Sane, Tourelles and Tourade--mostly because they are good values. In the 1980s, I bought most vintages of Les Cayrons and have no regrets. This is really a very fine, ageworthy wine (I enjoyed the 1980 last year), but it's above my price range right now. I think it would be my No. 1 pick for Gigondas, all other things being equal.

I'm not as enamoured of Rasteau but have enjoyed Queyrades, Girasol, Beau Mistral and Soumade. And I really should buy more Lirac; it's very under-rated. Segries and Mordoree are the ones I've enjoyed in the past. Mordoree has become a cult wine and is now out of my price range. (I noticed, however, some neglected bottles of Mordoree from 1998 in my cellar that I will be bringing out very soon.)

That's just a quick list. I'm anxious to hear suggestions from elsewhere.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

2007 Chateauneuf du Pape Vintage--Buy or Wait?

In comments on the Jaboulet post, "Anonymous" and I discussed the merits of buying wines from the 2007 vintage in Chateauneuf du Pape. By every indication, the vintage is going to produce some spectacular wines. Great wines usually come from great vintages, and there will undoubtedly be some wines from this vintage that will be highly sought after in two or three decades--wines comparable to the 1989 and 1990 Beaucastel, the 1990 Pegau and the 1998 Vieux Donjon. If owning wines like these is a high priority for you, then you should indeed buy at least a few 2007 Chateauneufs.

On the other hand, there are price issues that should be taken into consideration. Prices for Southern Rhone wines are at an all-time high, and production from this area is much higher than from Burgundy or Bordeaux. Look at auction prices at winbid.com or consignment prices at hdhwine.com, and you'll see many very good older Chateauneufs at reasonable prices--1995 Fortia for $35, 1995 Clos des Pape for $40, 1998 Pierre Usseglio for $35, 2000 Vieux Donjon for $40 (all at HDH). These are very good wines that should be drinking well over the next 10 to 15 years. Before shelling out $65 to $100 for a 2007 that MIGHT develop into a great wine over that same period, you should at least consider some of these older wines.

If you're looking for something to drink over the next five years, then you probably should not be spending big money for a bottle of wine. A good Chateauneuf du Pape will taste delicious when it is very young, then will most likely go into somewhat of a shell until age 10 or 12. But what you're paying big money for is the potential that it MAY achieve after that time. Over the next five years, the wines I'd most like to drink come from Cairanne, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Valreas and Vinsobres. They cost $10 to $20 a bottle, are showing well right now and will get better over the next few years.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Paul Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage, 1978

This was one of the first wines I bought in quantity for cellaring. With a few bottles left, I like to bring one up during March--my birthday month--just to see what aging is all about. There are many wines I wouldn't dare use for this purpose, but I know that Jaboulet's Crozes, from one of the best Rhone vintages of the century, is up to the task.

It's a medium light, brickish color; it's lightened a bit even from last year. The bouquet is well developed--red meat, olives, animal fur and grilled tomatoes. At this stage, it's more like a Cote Rotie than a Hermitage. Flavors are well defined with good acid structure to maintain the fruit presence. Savory mid-palate with a sweet after taste. In its youth, this wine was a summer pudding of fresh red and black berries. Through the years these aromas and flavors have evolved, mellowed and become more complex. It's neither better nor worse than it was...but different.

This is Jaboulet's regular Crozes Hermitage, not the more highly reputed Domaine Thalabert, which was one of my favorite wines through the 1980s. Because of the quality of the 1978 vintage, the Thalabert for that year sold out early, so I bought two cases of the regular Crozes for $56/case--a good price even in the early 1980s. Today, Jaboulet's regular Crozes is known as Les Jalets, and I would not expect it (nor the Thalabert) to age as gracefully as this wine has.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Domaine de Beauregard Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, 2006

Those who like Muscadet appreciate the wine's crispness, freshness and subtlety. Those who lean toward New World Chardonnay, on the other hand, might describe the typical Muscadet as lean and stingy.

This is not your traditional Muscadet; it walks a fine line between those two extremes. I get crisp, penetrating aromas of lemon and honeydew, but there's also a yeasty quality from aging on its lees (spent yeast cells). While lees aging is part of the Loire tradition, the leesy quality in this Muscadet is a bit more dramatic. The result is a medium bodied wine with a creamy, yet elegant, texture. The Muscadet crispness returns in the finish. Nice wine.

Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone, 2007

The label says 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah, but the wine has a tannic presence that would lead you to believe the percentage of Syrah is much higher. It's a deep, purplish color, and the tannins are apparent even from the opening sniff--peels, stems, dark berries, pepper and spice. Those carry through on the flavors, but again there are stern tannins that augur well for the future.

This bottle of Les Trois Couronnes confirms what I found in the first bottle I tried (September, 2008). A later bottle (December 17, 2008) was more foward with none of the tannic sternness. I described it as ripe, almost to a fault. Are there two lots of this wine? Or bottle variation? I have several more bottles--all purchased at D&W Parkview in Kalamazoo for $6.99. It's a great value; I've seen it priced at $13 to $15 elsewhere in the country.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Chateau de la Roulerie Anjou les Maronis

When I asked the clerk in the wine store his opinion of this Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, I was really faking it. I had tasted the wine a couple of years ago and had already decided to buy it. When he was a bit restrained in his enthusiasm, I knew that his tastes and mine were not in sync so I did not seek out his opinions on other wines I was less sure about buying.

The color is deep, dark and bluish, and the aromas are ripe and tannic--grape peels, flowers, herbs and pretty Cab Franc fruit. There is a slight green tone but it's more like the green of a floral bouquet than the bell pepper that you might find in a cheap Merlot. Some people don't like floral aromas in a red wine, but I find them quite appealing. The flavors are ripe and fruit-oriented with a dry, dusty finish that is typical of good Loire Cabernet Franc. As the importer's rep said when presenting this wine at a tasting, "it tastes like dirt and it's beautiful." It's a quality that matches well with certain foods, including linguine with garlic and olive oil; but it's not for everybody.