Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nine Stones McLaren Vale Shiraz, 2005

The last time I reviewed this wine [January 10, 2008], I noted the rare combination of power and beauty, comparing it to a Gigondas. I opened this bottle to drink side-by-side with a good Gigondas, and I still like the comparison (but prefer the Gigondas).

The color is much deeper and darker than the Tourade Gigondas. The wine is seven years younger and still has youthful bluish tints. Coffee tinged new oak is immediately apparent on the nose but there are also scents of fresh blackberries, cassis and a faint hint of herbs (usually not found in New World Shiraz). As I noted in my earlier review, McLaren Vale wines are noted for their strong mid-palate, and that's one of the things I like most about this wine. Flavors are strong (and pretty) from front to back. Compared to the Gigondas, there are a boat load of tannins (too many for my taste), but the wine is still young. And it's not Gigondas.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Domaine de la Tourade Gigondas, 1998

This is old-time Gigondas at its best--not a great wine but a very good one and a joy to drink with Provencal style roast lamb (potatoes, onions, tomatoes, olive oil roasted under the lamb to catch the drippings). It's not a Chateauneuf du Pape, but it may be an even better match for the dish on the table.

The color is dark but getting some brownish tints. The bouquet is powerful and intense; lifted notes of cherry/berry and hints of flowers and Provencal herbs. Thyme--yes! It's in the lamb dish, and it's also in the wine--garrigue galore. Flavors are similarly powerful and complex with lots of old vine Grenache character. Alcohol content is 14.5%, but that's a plus for this wine; it gives it warmth and power without detracting from its herbal subtlty and beauty.

This cuvee of Domaine de la Tourade Gigondas is made using traditional methods--no destemming, aging in large old barrels and no new oak. It's my style of Gigondas, and it's drinking beautifully right now. I like it better than the 1998 Font-Sane Gigondas I had a few weeks ago.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Annie's Lane Clare Valley Shiraz, 2002

I find that many mid-priced Australian Shiraz wines drink at their best from seven to nine years of age. This allows the oak tannins to integrate while the ripe fruit is still dominant.

The color and the aromas of the Annie's Lane Shiraz are reminiscent of sweet dark cherries, deep and ripe. You can smell the toffee/coffee oak at the bottom, but fruit scents and flavors are layered on top--ripe plums and blueberries and pie cherries. The oak tannins on the palate are fairly well integrated, framing the fruit flavors rather than blocking them. The longer the wine sits in the glass, the better it gets. Ripe mid-palate and finish.

Chateau St. Jean Belle Terre Vineyard Alexander Valley Chardonnay, 2003

You can still detect the French oak influence in this six-year-old Chardonnay, and it has the creamy mouth feel of extended lees aging. It's not my style of wine, but the personality of the Belle Terre Vineyard is so distinctive that I thoroughly enjoy glass after glass.

The color is a deep gold but not overly so. The bouquet features white peaches, butter, lemon and even more butter--rich, layered and oaky but still with a graceful carriage. Fruit flavors dominate with that distinctive Alexander Valley spice. Very long and very fine.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2004

This is the longest I've ever aged a Grand Prieur. My usual plan is to buy a case when it's released and drink it by the time the next vintage arrives. I kept one bottle of the 2004 back just to see how it would age, and I am pleased with the result.

The color has lightened considerably, and there is a brickish rather than a bluish tone. The raspberry-tinged fruit aromas have broadened considerably and given way to scents of black pepper, fruit cake, lavender, licorice and dark Vacqueyras minerals. Very nice development. Good depth and range of flavors as well with spicy cinnamon and mint framing the ripe fruit. Has the depth and interest of a good Vacqueyras--a village wine for the price of a simple Cotes du Rhone.

As pleased as I am with the development of this Cotes du Rhone, I still don't consider it a wine for the cellar. It's just too good when the fruit aromas and flavors are fresh and upfront. The 2005 and the 2006 are still in the prime of youth right now, and the 2006 can be purchased for about $8 at D&W Parkview in Kalamazoo. The 2007 should be showing up on the shelves in a month or two, and I am looking forward to it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Domaine de Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2005

This wine is a real beauty right now. It's a deep, dark ruby with scents of black pepper, raspberries and Provencal herbs--garrigue galore. On the palate, the wine has a pleasantly aggressive mouth feel, teasing the palate from all directions. Very lively with deep, spice-laden fruit. For its appellation, the wine has considerable structure (more than La Vieille Ferme, for example), but the fruit shines through clearly. For me, this wine is at a perfect stage of maturity, more lively and pleasing than the 1998 Font-Sane Gigondas I reported on last week.

2006 is the vintage of Font-Sane CDV currently on the market, and I recently bought a few bottles for $8.99 apiece.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chiusa Grande Tommolo Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 2006

This is a Trader Joe's wine recommended by Jason's Wine Blog. Jason and I agree on most of the TJ Italian selections, including this one.

The color is a deep, dark ruby red. Aromas and flavors are sleek and sophisticated with notes of dark cherries, herbs and flowers. It's medium bodied, a nice dinner wine in the mode of an inexpensive Bordeaux. Flavors are persistent and fruit-oriented, ripe but with a firm structure from the grape peels. I don't detect any new oak influence. On the second night, it was just as good, maybe a little better, but this is not a wine for the cellar. It's drinking nicely right now.

I believe I paid $5.99 for this wine, an excellent value, although there are many good values--even the high production Citra--from the Montepulciano appellation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Learning about Wine

Eric asked, a couple of weeks ago, about user-friendly books that might help him work his way through the maze of wine appellations, grapes and vineyards. I've been racking my brain ever since trying to come up with suggestions.

The two most obvious choices are Hugh Johnson's Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine (published yearly) and his World Atlas of Wine. These were books given to me very early by more experienced wine lovers. But I must admit they were never very helpful to me except as reference works. Others probably feel differently.

When I first got interested in wine, I read everything about wine I could get my hands on. I subscribed to The Wine Advocate, Connoisseur's Guide to California Wine, the California Grape Vine and the Quarterly Review of Wines. I read wine columns in Bon Appetit and Gourmet Magazine. What I wanted were recommendations for wines that would be exciting to drink. I suspect there were many others like me, and that was the environment in the early 1980s that created Robert Parker's popularity. His recommendations were sound, and they led me to wines like Cos d'Estournel, Hermitage la Chappelle, Chave Hermitage, Domaine Thalabert, Beaucastel and Vieux Telegraphe--all excellent values that escalated rapidly in price following Parker's reviews.

Looking back, what I see as most valuable in my wine education was the help of my wine merchant. Village Corner in Ann Arbor was an exceptional source because the store not only stocked a wide range of wines from all parts of the world but published a sales booklet every other month that provided detailed tasting notes and information about wine regions, appellations and producers. Village Corner's sales booklet was and is the most valuable handbook I have ever come across, and it was supported by personal recommendations and advice from staff such as Cheryl McMillan, Mike May, Rod Johnson, Ric Cerrini and Dick Scheer (the owner). Unfortunately, the VC sales booklet (with the familiar Village Corner mouse on the cover) is published less frequently today and no longer carries as much information about appellations. But it's still an incredibly valuable resource, and it's now supported by the web site and offerings (every two months) for members of the Ann Arbor Wine Club. AA Wine Club tastings are still organized according to appellation, and I go to one or two every year just to keep up on what's happening.

Wine merchants, of course, have a vested interest in selling the wines they have purchased from distributors. But a good wine merchant (or staff) who has tasted the wines being sold is probably a better source of information than any book or wine publication.

For informaton about wine regions, there are many good reference books. For the Rhone, Parker is the best known authority, but I also like the books by Robert Mayberry, John Livingstone-Learmonth (JLL also has a good web site: and Remington Norman. For Bordeaux and Burgundy, I look to Clive Coates, Michael Broadbent as well as to Parker. Jacqueline Friedrich has an excellent book on wines of the Loire Valley; Burton Anderson has several good handbooks on Italian wine. I buy the Hachette Guide to French wine as often as I can find it in the book stores.

Books are good, but the best way to learn is to travel and taste. When you travel through the Rhone, you learn where Gigondas is in relation to Vacqueyras and Chateauneuf du Pape. You can taste at individual domaines and learn which ones suit your taste.

Wine has been a big part of my life, but I can't say that I regret the time I have devoted to this interest. The more I learn, the more new territories I find to explore. Wine feeds the mind as well as the senses. I love it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Domaine de Font-Sane Gigondas, 1998

At 11 years of age, this Gigondas is mature and drinking nicely. The color is deep and dark but with some bricking around the edges. Aromas are a bit reduced at first, but they open up nicely with some air--dark berries, bulb flowers, cured meats and a hint of black pepper. The wine smells a bit tannic, but the flavors are ripe and engaging. This is a full bodied wine with the typical Gigondas power and beauty. Syrah and Mourvedre seem to be more dominant than Grenache at this stage.

Aging of Gigondas is sometimes a bit tricky. Only a few wines from this appellation (such as Cayron) are truly long-term agers, but most require a bit of time in the bottle (8 to 10 years) for the tannins to soften. As a result, it's sometimes difficult to pick the best time for drinking. If you get the timing right, you are rewarded with a wine of both power and charm. But if I were on my death bed and had to choose a Font-Sane wine for current drinking, I would probably go for a recent vintage of the Cotes du Ventoux--a wine that sells for less than half the price of the Gigondas.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Les Clefs d'Or Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

From a half bottle (375ml), I expected this wine to be a little more advanced than other 1989 Chateauneufs I've tried. In fact, it was showing very well.

Compared to the 2004 l'Espigouette Plan de Dieu beside it, the color is much deeper and darker with some garnet tones. The aromas are surprisingly similar to the Beaucastel I had two nights ago--dark cherries, herbs, violets and leather. Good depth. On the palate, it's not Beaucastel but very good with a full range of savory tones. Medium body with a good mid-palate presence and a long finish.

Les Clefs d'Or is not a very well known Chateauneuf du Pape, but I have found it be a very reliable estate and an excellent value.