Thursday, October 29, 2009

Four Sisters Southeastern Australian Sauvignon Blanc, 2007

This is a very well made Sauvignon Blanc. I knew it would be when I bought it because it was made by Trevor Mast, former owner of Mount Langi Gihran and one of Australia's best winemakers. The four sisters who inspired the name (the eldest designed the beautiful label) were teenagers when our family visited Trevor and Sandra several times during the 1990s.

The screwcap has kept this Sauvignon Blanc fresh and lively. It has all the smells and flavors to be expected from a well made Sauvignon Blanc--fresh herbs, citrus and a touch of minty spice. The finish is clean and crisp with good acidity. It goes beautifully with Margharita pizza, thin-crusted, hot from the oven and brimming with fresh tomato, basil and abundant garlic.

Of course, this wine doesn't have the special qualities I get from my favorite Sauvignon Blancs of the moment--Domaine Daulny's Clos de Chaudenay Sancerre and Frenzy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. And that is one of the premises of my blog: the best wines are made in the vineyard and not in the cellar. As the label states, Trevor Mast chose the "finest Southeastern Australian fruit available." And that fruit doesn't match the quality produced by the soil and climate of the Loire Valley in France or parts of the Marlborough region in New Zealand.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnay Reserve, 2005

This is my style of Chardonnay--taut acidity, understated Chardonnay fruit flavors and minerality that reflects its origins. At four years of age, it's still a medium light yellow so it probably hasn't been exposed to too much barrel aging--if indeed any at all. The fruit aromas are likewise fresh and lively--nearly ripe pears, citrus, green apples. In the mouth, the wine is medium to light bodied with acidity that reminds me of wines from more expensive Burgundian appellations such as Saint Aubin. There is a fruit and mineral element on the finish that is particularly intense and persistent. Mmmmm. I want more.

This wine was a great match for squash risotto but, on the second night, its relatively high acidity clashed terribly with over-ripe sweet corn.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chateau Beauchene Sens de Syrah Cotes du Rhone, 2003

Chateau Beauchene is one of the oldest estates in the Southern Rhone, with vineyards owned by the Bernard family since 1794. The current owners, Michel and Dominique Bernard, are not averse to using some modern techniques such as use of new oak and small barriques, particularly for some of their upper end wines such as Chateauneuf du Pape. This 100 percent Syrah cuvee, from 20-year-old vines just north and just south of Orange, has not seen new oak but the fruit has been de-stemmed--a common practice in most wine regions but not among traditionalists in the Southern Rhone. I am a strong traditionalist; nevertheless, I like this wine a lot and feel that those with more modern and international tastes would like it even more.

The color is a beautiful deep ruby, with lustrous and lively tones. Aromas are of fresh, ripe red raspberries with just the right amount of spice to identify it clearly as Syrah. On the palate, it has the full, rich feel of a good Australian Shiraz but without the oak and the thick, chewy tannins. It's actually smooth as silk in the mouth with fruity ripeness but also substance and depth. The wine could easily pass for a Crozes Hermitage. There is none of the minty quality I dislike in the 2003 Southern Rhones, and the alcohol content is only 13%. The only thing I don't like is that I bought only one bottle, and it's all gone.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Marchesi di Montecristo Nerello del Bastardo, 1999

This is Nerello's bastard wine--70% Piedmontese and 30% Tuscan. As the label partially explains, excess Nebbiolo grapes not making the cut for either Barolo or Barbaresco (that's the Piedmont parent) were blended with Sangiovese from Tuscany. For several years, this has been one of my favorite bargains ($5.99) from Trader Joe's, and I put away a few bottles of three vintages (1999, 2000 and 2002) to see how well they would age. From this bottle of 1999, I would say so far, so good.

The color is classic--a deep ruby at the center shading out to amber at the rim. It's not as dark or bluish as it was a couple of years ago but there are no signs of over-maturity. I smell black cherries, licorice and roses--the same as before but more subtle now and less flamboyant. It's really beginning to develop some Barolo-like complexity. The changes in flavors are more noticeable. The acidity is more pronounced and the wine is very dry. But again, the Nebbiolo flavors are becoming more subtle and complex as they lose their fruit-oriented flamboyance. The Nebbiolo portion of this wine has been aged in cask for four years, to meet the minimum requirements for Barolo and Barbaresco. It was culled not necessarily because of lower quality but because appellation laws limit the amount of Barolo and Barbaresco that can be produced each vintage. I like the future of this 1999, at least for the next year or two, and I suspect the 2000 might age even better. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any vintages of Nerello del Bastardo, at any price, recently on the shelves of Trader Joe's.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Domaine du Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2006

The label recommends drinking this wine at about three years of age. But even a wine made for early drinking can shut down for a spell, and this 2006 Font-Sane was not displaying much generosity when I first opened it.

The color is deep and dark, showing no signs of age, but the aromas and flavors seem reduced--gasping for air. On the second night, the Grenache/Syrah fruit opens up nicely--black fruits, spices and purple flowers. It has many of the qualities I like in the Font-Sane Gigondas. For now, though, I'll go back to the 2005 Font-Sane Ventoux or maybe give the 2007 a try.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2006

All three of the Rhone wines I drank this week--Couroulu, Vieux Chene and Grand Prieur--come from vines either in or only a few miles from Vacqueyras. And they share a black pepper/black fruit/black licorice/earthy/mineral element that I find typical of wines from this area. Bertin Gras of Grand Prieur has vineyards within the Vacqueyras appellation but for this wine chooses the simple Cotes du Rhone label in order to seek higher yields than the appellation rules allow.

It's still deep and dark, but some of the bluish tints it had a year ago are turning to garnet. The dark peppery aromas and flavors are pronounced now from the very first sniff. Threre is none of the funkiness of Couroulu and less subtlety than I found in Vieux Chene. The wine is full bodied and warm in the mouth with no hard edges, probably at its peak for most drinkers. I still have some of the 2005 Grand Prieur, and I'm anxious to try some very soon.

Toasted Head Russian River Chardonnay, 2005

I bought this wine on close-out last February for $6.59. It's fully mature, with some deep gold color, but the aromas and flavors are still hanging in there. The name gives this wine away as one that doesn't shy away from heavy oak treatment. It pulls all the stops in that regard and offers up scents of very ripe pears, lime, buttered apples and tropical fruits with a creamy mouthfeel. More appealing to me is the pronounced spicy element that I have found in a few other Russian River and Alexander Valley Chardonnays. Toasted Head has a lower end California appellation Chardonnay that sells for about $8, but this Russian River cuvee ordinarily sells for $15 to $20.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Domaine du Vieux Chene Cuvee de la Haie aux Grives, 2004

I've always liked the wines of Vieux Chene and have found them particularly appealing since the 2004 vintage. The estate is well situated on the Plan de Dieu with old vines that produce Cotes du Rhones with a Villages level of quality. With a relatively high percentage of Syrah, Haie aux Grives is the cuvee that Beatrice and Jean-Claude Bouche consider most ageworthy.

The color is dark, and the developing bouquet is very deep although not as showy or ripe as it was two or three years ago. I smell dark cherries, flowers, garrigue and subtle notes of black pepper. The latter is what I like most about this wine; the pepperiness is not at all aggressive but offers subtle complexity. In the mouth the wine has good body and flavors that unfold nicely leading to a peppery, dark cherry finish. With 13.5% alcohol, there is just the right amount of warmth, leaving a beautifully smooth mouth feel. This is a traditionally made wine but not as old fashioned as the Couroulu, and I can't imagine anyone not enjoying it.

Domaine le Couroulu Vacqueyras, 1998

Guy Richard of Domaine le Couroulu ages his Vacqueyras for 24 months in large old foudres. That's a relatively long time even for traditional Southern Rhones, and the result is not for those who like sleek New World wines crafted in new oak. But it's always a very good, authentic Vacqueyras with plenty of personality.

The color of this 1998 is very dark, almost impenetrable...but in an old fashioned way with no purple or blue tones. Smells are of licorice, black fruits and Vacqueyras minerals. There is also a bit of tanky volatility that I have not noted in previous vintages, but it doesn't really detract from my overall enjoyment of the wine. The palate offers the same black fruit, black licorice notes with full body and the essential ripeness of the vintage. It's almost candied in its sweetness but with a warm kick on the finish. It's not for everybody, but I love the funkiness. It's true to the personality I have found in Couroulu since the early 1980s.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2000

This wine is as fresh and fruit-oriented as it was seven years ago. It may have changed color slightly, but it's still a deep plummy red. The nose is more typical of Sainte Anne's simple Cotes du Rhone than the Villages--gushing with blueberry fruit, garrigue and a resinous vanilla quality that does not derive from oak. (Sainte Anne's wines fermented in stainless steel and aged in concrete tanks.) There is fresh fruit savor but less complexity than I found in the 1998 and 1998 Villages. As with the CDR from nearly any vintage, it's smooth and sweet on the palate with no noticeable tannins but impressive concentration from the peels and ripe stems. There are hints of pomegranate on the finish.

Sainte Anne winemaker Alain Steinmaier is clearly very careful not to expose his wines to too much air during processing. As a result, they stay young and lively long after similar wines start to fade. My only problem with this 2000 CDR Villages is that it does not seem destined to become any more complex or subtle than it is right now.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Maison Joseph Drouhin Vero Bourgogne Pinot Noir, 2006

"Vero" conjures up images of a beach in Florida, but on this wine label, it's short for Veronique Drouhin-Boss who personally selected the vineyards from Maison Joseph Drouhin (in France, not Oregon) to create what she considers a classic red Burgundy. What she was seeking was the elegance of Volnay, the subtle aromas of Hautes Cotes du Beaune, the red berry flavors of Chorey-les-Beaune and Rully, and the structure of Chambolle-Musigny. I don't know the appellations of Burgundy well enough to judge her success in that respect, but I thoroughly enjoy the wine in my glass.

There is nothing at all showy about this wine; that in itself is a hallmark of classic red Burgundy. Medium light ruby tones, bright and beautiful./Aromas that seem dusty and dry at first, then open up beautifully with scents of red cherries, ginger, ripe raspberries and a dash of pepper./The flavors unfold in a similar fashion with more black than red fruits. Excellent balance with round, harmonious flavors. At $22/bottle, Vero is a bit pricey for me to drink with any regularity, but it was a good wine-by-the-glass choice at Epic Bistro in Kalamaoo--a flavorful match for manchego pork cutlets with chorizo and red pepper linguine.

There is also a Vero Bourgogne Chardonnay, similarly blended and similarly priced. If you're interested in learning about Burgundy, these two wines give you a start. The next step would be to sample the various appellations that make up the blend.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2007

For the past three vintages, this wine has been unusually dark and purplish for a Cotes du Rhone. The nose is right on target for Grand Prieur--blueberries, licorice, garrigue, black pepper. On the palate, the black pepper and licorice dominate; in some ways, the fruit is more developed than I would expect at this age but the wine still has some tannin to lose on the mid-palate. The finish is smooth, warm and ripe. This 2007 is right in line with the 2005 and 2006 from Grand Prieur; in fact, I think I prefer the 2005.

I didn't buy a case of Grand Prieur this year because the vintages have been backing up on me. Glad I didn't. So far, the 2007 is nothing special.

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva Vereto, 2000

This has been a very good wine, but it's time to drink up. The volatile acidity that was once part of its rustic charm has now taken over too much of the wine's personality. It's still deep and dark with smells and flavors of dark cherries and their skins, licorice and purple flowers. It matches up well with ribollito, a rustic Italian vegetable stew, and is very enjoyable. But its better days are in the past.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Domaine LaFage Cote Est Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalans, 2008

The label and packaging of this wine will cause it to jump out at you from the shelf. The screw off cap is a light spring green, the same color as the vine that curls its tendrils across the label. This wine comes from the Catalan region in the Pyrenees of southern France, just across the border from Spain. Jean-Marc LaFage, in his 30s, comes from a family that has been producing wine for six generations, but he and his wife, Eliane, have traveled to Australia, Chile, South Africa and California to learn about wine making and wine marketing. This wine is a product of their learning--bright, fresh and modern but with traditional roots. The cuvee is 60% old vine Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, 20% Chardonnay and 10% Marsanne, fermented and aged in stainless steel (no oak) to preserve the fresh, lively fruit flavors and aromas.

The first sniff of this wine makes you say, WOW. It's not Sauvignon Blanc, but it has all the excitement of the New Zealand Frenzy I reported on earlier [July 10 and August 5, 2009]. I smell spring flowers, lemon, green apples, almonds and an intriguing musky note. On the palate, it has racy acidity and flavors that keep coming at you fromn all directions--not quite like any wine I've tasted before. It would drink beautifully with Asian fusion food.

When the label jumps at you, go ahead and buy the bottle. It's $9.99 right now at D&W FreshMarkets in Michigan and, if you're on Roz Mayberry's email list, you can get a case for $99. Robert Parker has reviewed the wine and given it 90 points so it should be readily available across the country.