Monday, June 29, 2009

Langmeil Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre, 2006

I generally don't care for Rhone blends from Australia or California. But after trying this one several times with meals at Every Day People Cafe in Douglas, MI, I've put it on my buy list.

The wine is a lot darker than I would expect from a Chateauneuf du Pape so I suspect it has spent some time in new oak barrels. The aromas and flavors though are mostly from the fruit rather than oak, and it's nicely balanced for easy drinking. Red berries from the Grenache, darker fruit from the Syrah and a slight floral lift from the Mourvedre. A versatile wine for drinking with pork, beef or chicken.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

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

Can a wine lose its fruit and still drink beautifully? Logic says no, but this wine argues otherwise. Rich, buttery aromas are abundant, evidence of barrel fermentation. The luxurious, creamy feel on the palate demonstrates what nine months aging sur lie (on the spent yeast cells) can do for a Chardonnay. The beautiful limey flavors come from well selected French oak. All of those qualities create a wine that would produce ooohs and aaahs from most audiences. But where is that unique, spicey Alexander Valley fruit from Belle Terre Vineyard that justifies the $30 price tag? It's there but not as prominent as I would like and not as apparent as in the last bottle I had a month or two ago. With six years' aging and bottle variation (probably related to aging and storage), the winemaker qualities still overshadow those from the very fine Belle Terre Vineyard. It's possible that could change with more aging, but I doubt it. Fortunately, I didn't pay $30 but rather $13 on the closeout shelf at Harding's Market in Kalamazoo.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Alain Voge Cornas, 1983

My first choice for Father's Day was a 1983 Auguste Clape Cornas, honoring the birth year of my youngest son, Ted. That bottle was, alas, corked so I turned to this 1983 from Alain Voge, another top Cornas producer. Ted and I were not disappointed.

At 26 years of age, the wine is a medium light color. As with the Clape, a thick crust of sediment lines one side of the bottle, a testament to its long, undisturbed stay in the cellar. But the wine is thankfully not corked. A bit reticent on the nose and a bit fungal but unlike the damp cardboard smell of the Clape, this blows away with a little air. Gains depth in the glass with some dried flowers and berry fruit. Savory mature Syrah flavors. Warm on the palate and mature with no hard edges. Old style Northern Rhone--old barrels and no de-stemming. Would not win an Australian show prize but all the better for that. A real wine, and a very good one; wish I had more.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes Hermitage, 1988

Crozes-Hermitage is a large and not very distinguished appellation in the northern Rhone. The land is flatter and the yields higher than in the more prestigious appellations of Hermitage and Cote Rotie nearby. Paul Jaboulet's Domaine Thalabert, a pebble-covered 40-hectare plot with vines 40 to 60 years old, is arguably the best of the appellation, or at least was until the early 1990s. It was my favorite wine through the 1980s, and nearly all of these wines are still drinking well. While not as powerful or dramatic as Hermitage, Thalabert Crozes is often more intense and complex in its personality. In the 1980, 1984 and even 1982 vintages, I preferred Thalabert to its sibling, Hermitage la Chapelle, recognized as one of the world's greatest wines and priced accordingly.

The color is a deep, dark ruby; has lightened a bit but there is only a little browning around the edges. The bouquet reveals a very classy French Syrah--red and black berries, black currants, violets and cassis. It smells dry but is very fruit oriented. There is plenty of acid to keep the wine lively on the palate; sharply focused entry followed by a good mid-palate presence and a strong, fruit-oriented finish. This has aged very nicely and is even better than the last bottle I had some four or five years ago.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Liberty School California Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003

This is a wine you may have seen at Cost Plus World Market or other stores for $10 to $12. It's a Cabernet you can bring home and drink that night or keep for three or four years, as I did with this one. For my taste, it has improved with that short-term aging and is perfect for drinking right now.

Deep, plummy red. Smells ripe, and it is: currants, plums, chocolate and sweet spices. Has a lot of Paso Robles traits, and that's where Liberty School is located. The appellation though is California so at least some of the grapes come from elsewhere. The wine is soft and friendly but every inch a California Cabernet and perfect with rib eye steak

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pont du Rhone Prestige Cotes du Rhone, 2006

This Cotes du Rhone has 30% Mourvedre in its blend, and I like the lovely spiciness that results. It reminds me of an inexpensive Spanish Mourvedre (or Mataro) such as Castano or Luzon Verde.

The color is deep and dark with tones of violet. The aromas are also violet-tinged--very Mourvedre. Now some Grenache berries and spice come out. It's very structured in an old-style Cotes du Rhone way--stems and peels. The tingly feel on the palate is from acid rather than alcohol, which is a modest 13.5%. Black pepper emerges on the finish, which is by no means simple.

For $5.99 at Trader Joe's, this is a very enjoyable every day wine. 2007 is the vintage on the shelf at present, and it should be even better than the 2006.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Two Chardonnays on the Table

There are two Chardonnays sitting side by side on my table, and two wines could not be more different in color, aroma, flavor and texture. They appeal to two opposing tastes in wine, and that's why they are both sitting on the same table.

The 1998 Gilbert Picq Chablis Vieilles Vignes is seven years older than the 2005 Edna Valley Vineyards Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard Chardonnay, but the difference in color is not one of maturity. They are probably equally developed in terms of maturity, but the Chablis has greener tints, probably because of its higher acidity. From the Chablis comes scents and flavors of flint, minerals, lemon/grapefruit and sea salt. Its alcohol content is only 12% (versus 13.9% for the Edna Valley Chardonnay), but it fills the mouth with power and substance. There are earthy qualities; this is real Chablis--aged in stainless steel and with no adornments added by the winemaker. Impressive depth and fruit concentration. The Edna Valley Chardonnay is much lighter on its feet and offers scents and flavors of white peaches, lime, very ripe pears, vanilla and butter--pleasantly sweet. In contrast to the raw power of the Chablis, this wine has a rich, creamy texture. Acidity is low, and this New World Chardonnay is probably more advanced on the maturity curve than the 11-year-old Chablis. It needs drinking over the next year whereas the Chablis might be even better in a couple of years.

They are both good wines, and the major differences are 1) acidity and 2) wine-making style. The majority of American wine drinkers, if given the choice, would probably choose the California Chardonnay because of its plump, approachable level of acidity and the adornment provided by barrel fermentation, malolactic fermentation and 90% new oak aging . As you might guess, I am strongly partial to the Chablis but keep plenty of the other wine on hand to serve guests...and for times when I am too tired to listen to what the Chablis is trying to say.

Ordinarily selling for about $15/bottle, the 2007 Edna Valley Chardonnay is available right now at D&W Parkview in Kalamazoo for $7.99 with a $15 mail-in rebate for purchase of six bottles.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Domaine la Monardiere Vacqueyras les Calades, 2003

Besides the name (les Calades means "the rocks" so presumably the vines grow in rocky soil), this wine and the Clos Saint Jean Vin de Pays below have much in common. They're both deep and dark with noticeable browning (more than you'd expect from a six-year-old wine). There's also a slightly roasted note in the aroma of each wine. All of these traits I would attribute to the 2003 vintage, which has never been my favorite. It was one of the warmest growing seasons in recent memory in France, producing very ripe, fat wines that were appealing young but have since lost some of their charm--at least for me. There are many respected critics who disagree and think highly of this vintage.

The alcohol levels are fairly modest (13.5% for the Clos Saint Jean and 14% for the Monardiere) and the roasted note on the nose is somewhat pleasant. The brownish tint, however, makes me think these wines will not keep much longer. Fortunately I have only a few 2003s left. And this Vacqueyras is still very good. Predominant smells are dark--licorice, black earth, smokey meat and stones--all very much in the Vacqueyras mode. Underneath is a core of bright red berries--ripe almost to the point of being candied and very concentrated. These same qualities come forth on the palate; a strong fruit presence, front to back, along with the trademark Vacqueyras personality. It's 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, but the structure is what you might expect of a Syrah- rather than Grenache-dominated wine. Not tannic but firm. The more I drink, the more I come back for that lovely core of red fruit--candied cherries on a black rock. Just enough earthy minerals to make you realize this is serious stuff.

My previous experience with Monardiere's Vacqueyras Les Calades were the 2000 and 2001 vintages. I enjoyed these even more, but, alas, they're all gone. Of course, I'm looking forward to the 2005 and 2007.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

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

This is another high-acid, fruity wine that matches up well with a Mediterranean dish like Ribollito [see note below]. It's medium deep with some browning around the edges. Southern Rhone fruit and spice dominate, with a hint of crushed black pepper. The acid level is high enough to provide a good match for the vegetables, but the wine still gives the impression of ripeness and plumpness.

Clos Saint Jean is located in Chateauneuf du Pape, and the vineyards for Les Calades lie just outside the appellation. Clos Saint Jean Chateauneufs were once among the most traditional (and inexpensive) of the appellation, and I got great enjoyment from the 1989, 1990, 1995 and 1998. Les Calades, at $3 to $4 a bottle, was one of my favorite house wines through the 1990s. Starting with the 2003 vintage, Clos Saint Jean hired a winemaker (the very talented and highly regarded Phillipppe Cambie) and started making wines in a more modern style, with some use of new oak and small barrels. I don't deny that some of these changes were for the better, but the prices are much higher now. The 2003 Les Calades was still a bargain when it came on the market, and I bought a case that has already given me more than my money's worth. At this point, however, the 2003 is taking on some tired, burnished notes and tastes older than the 1993 did in 1999.

Agricole Vallone salice Salentino Rosso Riserva, 2000

Mediterranean meals, featuring fresh vegetables liberally laced with olive oil, garlic and spices, require a high acid wine but have flavors too powerful for most whites. Fortunately, most Italian reds--Barbera, Chianti, Salice Salentino--meet the requirements quite well. Ribollito (literally re-boiled vegetables) is a hearty stew made with garlic, onions, celery, carrots, tomatoes, cannelini beans and kale poured over yesterday's whole grain bread--everything the doctor ordered but with flavors powerful enough to drive you up the wall. It's perfect with Barbera but also goes quite well with any Southern Rhone or the Salice Salentino from Agricole Vallone I opened tonight.

At age nine, this wine has reached maturity and is holding well. It's a deep, dark garnet and has dark smells of licorice, mushrooms, purple flowers and warm, macerated grape skins. Like many Italian wines, it's pushing volatility, but that's part of the charm. The same dark, rustic notes are on the palate, plump and ripe. Cosmo Taurino makes the best known Salice Salentino, widely available for about $12. This one from Agricole Vallone is better than any I've had, in part because, at age nine, it's reached a good stage of maturity.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux, 2007

This was my first real indication that the 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone is special. La Vieille Ferme is an excellent wine, year after year, and, at $6 to $8, always one of the least expensive wines on the shelf. I've been a regular buyer of half a case or more since the 1998 vintage and find that it is a good match for nearly any dish that goes on the table. With pork chops on the grill and a half case of 2007 LVF newly purchased, I couldn't wait to give it a try. And I was not disappointed.

The color is a medium deep crimson, as usual, with good brilliance. Aromas and flavors are bursting with raspberry-tinged garrigue, ripe and inviting. Big, full bodied presence--all fruit and a yard wide. Spice and peppercorns are showing already but only as a backdrop to the fruit. Loads of garrigue; this is what garrigue is all about. The more I drink, the more I want. This wine reminds me a lot of Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone, and that, of course, is a high compliment. I usually drink LVF within a year of buying it, but I suspect the 2007 will keep quite a bit longer (even though it's too beautiful to miss right now). I may go back for another half case.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Chateau Grand Corbin Manuel Saint Emilion, 1982

This has been sitting in the cellar for a long time and has a dirty label and a faded price tag reading $8.89. It's not a big name in Saint Emilion wines, but it's a very big wine in bouquet and flavor. It has 40% Cabernet, so it's a bit unusual for Saint Emilion where Merlot and Cabernet Franc are king.

The color is medium to deep ruby, brilliant, with only minimal browning at the edges--incredible for a 27-year-old wine! The bouquet is beautifully perfumed--cherries, blackcurrants and subtly herbaceous with none of the green pepper element that I find off-putting in many Merlot wines. Elegant and under-stated. In the mouth, it's even classier with a silky texture with a full range of flavors on the mid-palate and a long, ripe finish. There is absolutely nothing old tasting about this wine. I would say it was $8 (and 27 years) well spent.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Camille Cayran Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne Reserve, 2004

When I last reported on this wine on March 8, 2008, I said it was a Cairanne for early drinking. A year later, I still hold to that assessment even though, more than a year later, the wine is every bit as charming as it was before.

It's a very deep crimson color, bright and enticing. The smells and flavors have the same tone--ripe cherries, red licorice, red berries and flowers. Ripe, forward and bursting with fruit plus a pleasing dose of spice and black pepper. This is old-style Cairanne at its best. And it also seems representative of the fine 2004 vintage--reserved and classic in its charm. Alcohol level is 13.5%, just enough to add warmth.

As a Cairanne, this may not have the complexity of l'Oratoire Saint Martin, but it's a good representative of the appellation.