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 ( 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.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone, 2005

I'm still not convinced that the 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone is head and shoulders above the other good vintages that appellation has produced recently. But if you're looking for 2007 Cotes du Rhone wines to buy, I'd suggest you put Domaine de la Janasse on your buy list. It was very good in 1998 and 2001, and this 2005 is drinking beautifully right now.

It's a medium deep and dark ruby, and the complete ripeness of the grapes is apparent from the first sniff. Blueberries, pomegranates, sweet cherries and garrigue galore. The palate has more of the same. The small amounts of Cinsault and Carignane in the blend add subtle spices that contribute to the complexity and interest. There is a lemon peel edge to counter the ripe Grenache berry fruit and a trace of black pepper on the long, pleasing finish. This has everything I like in a Cotes du Rhone...and a bit more.

The Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes is usually one of the best wines of the appellation. The price has soared out of my range in recent years, but the 1989 (purchased when the estate was not as well known) is drinking beautifully (see my post on June 10, 2008). The Cotes du Rhone comes from domaine grapes grown just outside the Chateaneuf du Pape appellation.

For more on the estate, see my earlier posting on this site (June 8, 2008).