Monday, September 28, 2009

Paul Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, 1983

I had great expectations for this wine when it was released nearly 25 years ago. 1983 was being touted as the best vintage for the Northern Rhone since 1978 or 1961 so I bought a case of both the Hermitage la Chapelle and the Domaine de Thalabert. Both wines have turned out to be a bit disappointing--mainly because the vintage produced harder tannins than were apparent in early tastings. The tannins are still present in this Domaine de Thalabert, and the fruit is less enjoyable than it was a few years ago. But it is still a very fine wine.

The color is deep and dark but there is considerably more amber (and more crusty sediment) than in the 1984 Pichon Lalande (below). The bouquet is deep and compacted--cassis, blackberries, red spices and juniper berries. It smells tannic, and the flavors also have dark, tannic tones. Ripe berried fruit comes through on the mid-palate and finish, and the flavors become more open and enjoyable as the wine airs so there is some hope for the future. But it's not as aromatic nor as flavorful as the 1982 Thalabert was a few years ago.

Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, 1984

From a good vintage, a top Bordeaux wine--or even a lesser one--can be expected to give pleasure for 25 to 30 years or longer. 1984 was not such a vintage, and most 1984s have passed the stage of being useable vinegar. Pichon Lalande is a notable exception and was rated top wine of the vintage by many critics. In a year when Merlot grapes failed to ripen properly, Pichon Lalande winemakers chose to go with a high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and used a very high quality new oak that integrated nicely with the fruit. This is the second time I've had 1984 Pichon Lalande in the past five years; both bottles have been very good.

The color is still medium dark with some amber around the rim. (The estate also minimized exposure to air during processing and used very good corks.) The nose is fine and well developed with scents of blackcurrants, cherry and dill with just a faint hint of green. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied and silky with well delineated flavors that are slightly thin on the finish. It is a very fine wine, reminiscent of a good Australian or California Cabernet.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Basket Pressed Cabernet Sauvignon, 1994

You can spend a lot of money on Australian wine and get less enjoyment than I received from this Cabernet, purchased for less than $10 some years ago. As the label points out, gentle basket pressing of the juice is used to ensure a rich wine with fine tannins as opposed to the inky blockbuster that is more typical of Aussie aspirations.

Chateau Reynella's 1994 Cab has thrown a thick crust on one side of the bottle but is still deep and dark with hints of amber at the rim. The bouquet is classic McLaren Vale: black currants, mint, violets and dark cherries. The oak is fully integrated into the mature scents. In the mouth, the wine is medium bodied with well defined flavors, a good fruit-oriented mid-palate and a long finish. I get a hint of sea salt on the mid-palate that turns into a ripe berry finish--very satisfying. The tannins have melted, leaving a lovely wine--a good match for filet mignon with Niman Ranch apple-wood smoked bacon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

McWilliams Hanwood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006

At one time, Cabernet was king for me. I drank Bordeaux at times but mostly Napa Valley and Australian Cabs, big and burley--Burgess Cellars, Conn Creek, Napa Cellars, Stag's Leap, Taltarni, Penfold's Bin 407. Those wines were very affordable then; not so, today. But the major change has been my diet, which has shifted from American staples of meat and potatoes to Mediterranean fare, focusing on roasted vegetables, fish and pasta. A big, oaky Cabernet just doesn't taste very good with penne arrabiata, ribollito or a spicy Mexican dish. For these dishes, Grenache/Syrah-based wines--low in tannin and big in flavor--are exactly what the taste buds call for.

I bought this McWilliams Hanwood Estate Cabernet because the price was right, and while it's not going to turn my head away from any of my favorite Southern Rhones, it was an agreeable wine to accompany beef fajitas. The color is a deep crimson with purple tints. The aromas are not so typically Cabernet--spice, tannin, berry and vanilla but no pronounced varietal character. The firm tannins on the mid palate fade with airing, however, and there are pleasant flavors of plums, cherry sauce and spice. Aged in about 30% new barrels (apparently American oak), the wine is not overly oaky. A little bit of residual sugar and a good dose of alcohol (14%) make it quite pleasant going down. A pleasant wine for $8.99 and a better choice than one of those cute wines with animals on the label.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Monkey Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2007

When I bought this Monkey Bay Sauvignon last December, it was very good; by May of this year, it was singing. But it's evolving quickly. Whereas I smelled blood orange, grapefruit and racy, exotic elements in May, this bottle is pretty typical of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc--dominated by scents and flavors of green bell pepper and jalopena. It's racy and fine, but I preferred the face it was showing in May.

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

Grapes for this wine come from an old vineyard just outside the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation. At its best, it has the qualities of a good Chateauneuf, and some vintages from the 1990s drank well for a decade or longer. That's no longer the case. This 2003 is drinking very nicely right now, but the 2001 is beginning to fade. If you have any of the 2003, it's drink up time. The color is still a deep ruby, and the aromas and flavors are what you would expect from well placed Grenache/Syrah vineyards--red berry, pepper and garrigue. It's a pleasant easy drinking wine that sold for less than $9 a bottle when it was released four or five years ago.

Monday, September 14, 2009

MezzaCorona Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti, 2008

Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio is one of the best white wine values I know. Ordinarily priced at $8.99, it is often discounted and was on sale for $6.99 for most of the summer at D&W FreshMarket in Kalamazoo. I didn't buy in quantity because, even though the wine keeps well, I like it best when it's very young. Fortunately, the wines put on sale this year were not leftovers from the warehouse but the current vintage.

The color is a medium light yellow, and the nose is vibrant with smells of fresh pear, melon, citrus, mint and basil. In the mouth, it's medium bodied with a racy acidity and a pleasingly intense finish. I drank the wine with a spicy Malaysian curry from Chin Chin in Mattawan, Michigan. It would also be good on its own or with vegetarian fare.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Domaine Chaume Arnaud Cotes du Rhone Villages Vinsobres, 2004

Vinsobres is located only 13 kilometers to the southeast of Valreas, but the wine produced from this Cotes du Rhone village has a personality substantially different from that of Valreas. Typical of its appellation, Chaume-Arnaud's 2004 is very deep and dark, almost purplish. But unlike many wines of this hue, it has been raised in tank and has not seen new oak. The nose is muted at first; the scents of purple flowers and red cherries are very deep and require considerable swirling to emerge. Flavors are the same--very deep and concentrated but still hiding behind firm tannins on the mid-palate. The finish is very long and ripe, giving promise of a fine future.

I like Chaume-Arnaud's wines, and I like Vinsobres as an appellation. On the surface, they are indeed sober wines, and that's why they are often under-rated and consumed too early.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bouchard Domaine du Val des Rois Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas Signature, 2004

Valreas is the northernmost appellation and is often called the most Burgundian of Cotes du Rhone Villages. I found Burgundian charm from the first sniff of this Valreas, although the aroma/flavor profile was classic Southern Rhone: dark cherries, pepper, tobacco, garrigue--as deep and as compact as fruit cake. Old vine Grenache and Syrah fruit flavors are very ripe and easy on the palate but also carry a bright freshness and acidity. This wine has all the spicy fruit qualities I love in the inexpensive Trader Joe's Valreas I buy and report on regularly but with significantly more depth and complexity.

Bouchard's Val des Rois has a reputation for long aging; I bought Bouchard's 1990 Val des Rois and enjoyed it for a good part of the decade. I'm not so sure this 2004 will age as well. It has a peppery maturity that became more pronounced on the second night. But there is no need to wait; the wine is beautiful right now.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Chateau la Canorgue Cotes du Luberon, 1999

The last time I posted a note on this wine [January 14, 2008], I reported that it was doing quite well at 9 years of age. Tonight, I discovered that the wine is doing even better 10 years after the vintage date. But, alas, this is my last bottle of a wine I bought for $8.99 nearly a decade ago.

The color is deep and dark, and there is sediment at the bottom. La Canorgue is 100% organic and biodynamic with no filtration. The cepage is reportedly 70 percent Syrah, 30 percent Grenache with just a touch of Carignane, but it smells and tastes to me as if it has some Mourvedre. Maybe it's just the sunny Provencal climate, but it has a lovely red and purple berry spiciness that reminds me of Mourvedre in its prime. From bouquet to finish, this wine is full of fruit charm, with the just the right amount of ripeness.

The 2005 La Canorgue is available for $14.99 at Village Corner in Ann Arbor. If I knew it would age as nicely as this 1999, I would snap it up.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Franciscan Oakville Estate Chardonnay, 2005`

This wine has all the credentials of a Napa Valley Chardonnay. It's a medium deep gold, fully mature. The nose is butter, butter, butter, then ripe pears and nearly ripe pineapple. It's creamy on the tongue and as buttery as a Julia Child dessert; yet still with enough acid to keep it lively and a good match for tomato-based fish stew. Tropical fruits and butter; rich and luscious, but with the fish stew I get almost a note of red berries. For my taste, I prefer the Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnay (see below), but my table companion likes this style of Chardonnay, and there is no denying that it is a very good example at a good price. Regular retail price for Franciscan Chardonnay is $17 to $20, a low price for an Oakville wine, but I bought this on closeout at Harding's Market for $12.49. And I'll probably go back for more.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

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

For years, Domaine de l'Espigouette's Cotes du Rhone Villages has been one of my favorite wines. In 2004, the new Plan de Dieu appellation was added to the label, and I've fought my way through half a case wondering what is wrong with this wine. With this bottle, finally, I found some attractive qualities...but not the spicy, black licorice qualities I wanted.

The color is a medium deep ruby, a bit darker than you'd expect from a Grenache-based wine. The smells are more like Syrah than Grenache--black plums and berries, lavender and coffee. Aroma and flavors are reserved but quite nice--ripe fruit, slightly firm in the middle, nothing jammy but an enjoyable finish. Fruit and oak seem to be integrating and developing into an attractive package, and that may be the problem for me. Apparently, winemaker Bernard Latour has decided to use some new oak or small barrels for this wine, and the result is a wine that is like hundreds of other international-styled wines on the market but lacks the unique peppery, spicy, licorice-laced qualities I have come to know and expect from Domaine de l'Espigouette's Cotes du Rhone Villages.