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.