Monday, November 30, 2009

Domaine du Vieux Chene Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Cuvee Friande, 2007

This wine is 80% Grenache/20% Syrah--the same blend as the Les Trois Couronnes below. And it has similar dark fruit qualities--blackberries, blueberries and dark cherries--almost caramelized in their ripeness and very compacted. I also find understated cassis and garrigue qualities.

I expect more strawberry/red raspberry qualities from Grenache than I find in either of these 2007 Southern Rhones. The difference is apparently due to the ripeness of the 2007 vintage that has been highly touted by Robert Parker and others. The 2003 vintage was too ripe for me, but 2007 has less menthol and raisins and more compact black fruits and spices. So far I have not found any over-ripeness in the 2007 Rhones. But I still prefer the more pure and focused ripeness level of the 1998 vintage.

As for Cuvee Friande, I liked it much better when I first tasted it early last summer. Now it's a bit raisined and one-dimensional. It may turn the corner with aging, but I doubt it.

Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone, 2007

The Les Trois Couronnes label first appeared in my area earlier this year, offering Cotes du Rhone, Vacqueyras and Gigondas wines at low-end prices. Of the three, I like the Gigondas best, but for about $20 a bottle, I more inclined to buy wines such as Font-Sane, Tourelles or Tourade. The Cotes du Rhone at $6 to $8 is one of the best values on the market but may get overlooked because of its price and old-fashioned label. The wine is worth trying.

The color is deep and saturated, and the aromas are oriented toward black fruits and spices--blackberries, blueberries, plums and cassis. Very ripe and very spicy, more like Cinsault or Carignane than Grenache. The label says it is 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. I can taste the Syrah fruit, but the Grenache is spicier and darker than I expect. That may be a trait of the 2007 vintage. The wine has improved quite a bit since I first tasted it last Spring; it's riper and more accessible. A slight bit of black pepper emerges after 30 minutes of airing, but intense dark fruits flavors and smells dominate.

Toasted Head Russian River Chardonnay, 2005

I don't care for this wine; the fruit has been manipulated too much by barrel fermentation and aging in toasted new oak barrels. But others in my family like it very much, and I am intrigued by a spicy note that is exaggerated but otherwise very appealing. It's like ripe pears and apples poached in nutmeg, cinnamon and butter. This pie filling sweetness is framed by a doughy, yeasty quality like that of Champagne, and the wine is rich and full-bodied in the mouth with a pleasantly bitter finish. While it's not my type of Chardonnay, I can see that it has merit and it has aged nicely.

The label attributes the spicy quality to the Russian River climate--cool, foggy mornings and sunny afternoons. I remember a similar spiciness from previous vintages of Belvedere Russian River Chardonnay. But I also remember it from J.J. Vincent's Saint Veran Domaine des Morats. Both of these wines I like very much. Does it come from the micro-climate and soil? a specific clone of Chardonnay? or the interaction of the fruit with French oak barrels?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Best's Great Western (Victoria) Bin 0 Shiraz, 1994

Best's Bin 0 Shiraz was a $15 wine when I purchased this bottle in the mid-1990s. Produced from some of Australia's oldest and best Shiraz vines, I still consider it, at $60A, an undervalued treasure. I wish I had bought more in the 1990s.

The color is majestically deep and dark, and the bouquet is also very deep and Hermitage-like--black fruits, cassis, flowers and a cedary, spicy French oak note. I would guess that the wine has been aged in about 30 percent new oak plus some seasoned oak. Whatever it is, it is just the right amount to frame rather than hide the beautiful varietal characteristics of the fruit. On the palate, it simply gorgeous--ripe fruit upfront, followed by a plump mid-palate and a deeply concentrated finish. Very expansive--makes you feel like you have the whole bottle in your glass, and you can savor it forever. Although fully mature, it's a very young 15 years. This ranks right up there with the 1974 Dessilani Gattinara as one of my favorite wines of the year. Again: I wish I had bought more.

Paul Jaboulet Cornas, 1980

Thanksgiving dinner this year came a day late and featured roast lamb rather than turkey. We were also honoring my daughter's 29th birthday, so it was a good occasion to pull out this 1980 Syrah from Paul Jaboulet. 1980 was not a good vintage in the Rhone, and Jaboulet's 1980 Hermitage la Chappelle has been in serious decline (for my taste, anyway) for more than a decade. This Cornas, considered a lesser wine in the Jaboulet portfolio, however, is still going strong. At least at that time, the Jaboulet family had contracts with some of the best growers in Cornas. And the sunny micro-climate there apparently added some oomph to the wine, albeit without the finesse or either Hermitage or Crozes-Hermitage.

The color is still medium deep, although it has lightened a lot over the years. Otherwise, the changes are remarkably minor. It has always had a piercingly acidic nose--green olives, red and black cherries and cassis. There is also a slightly weedy element that doesn't bother me. On the palate, the wine is smooth and carries its acidity well because it also has a firm base of fruit tannins. The dominant dark cherry/green olive trait is one I find very attractive in northern Rhones. There is also a savory, salty note on the finish. For a mature Cornas--or any 29-year-old wine of any appellation--it's very well preserved.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pierre Bouree Gevrey-Chambertin Clos de la Justice, 1982

A mature red Burgundy for Thanksgiving dinner? Well, yes. Donna and I were on our own (the family arrive tomorrow for the offiical feast), so we decided to treat ourselves with Beef Bourguignonne a la Julia Child. Wow! The meal was magnifique, and the wine was good enough.

This Gevrey-Chambertin was one of those "just in case" wines, a single bottle that never seemed right for any occasion until now. While the wine may have been better a few years ago (the cork certainly would have been easier to remove), it was still a decent representation of its appellation and producer. Pierre Bouree is a large negotiant firm with headquarters near Gevrey-Chambertin. In the 1980s, Bouree was known for producing good, but not great, wines, made in a traditional style--no de-stemming and no new oak. Clos de la Justice was its best wine, and I paid $13.50 for the 1982--30 percent more than the Hermitage la Chappelle of that vintage.

The color is deep garnet with significant amber at the edges. The bouquet is fully formed with notes of black cherries, earth and old barrels. It's a rustic wine, sturdy and full-framed. In the mouth, the wine is full bodied and glycerined with a rich, satisfying finish. Although some old barrel notes have crept in, the fruit has not faded. This is not what you'd call an elegant Burgundy but it's fairly deep and complex, worth some serious sipping and contemplation after the meal is finished. And a good enough match for the Boeuf Bourguignonne.

There was no wine to match and no words to describe the chocolate pecan pie we had for dessert.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Just in Case: Veuve Clicquot NV Brut

When I opened my email this morning, I came across a wine buyer's alert that I thought was worth passing along: Veuve Clicquot NV Brut for $35.99 today and tomorrow only (November 24 and 25) at World Market. This is a wine that ordinarily retails for $45 to $50 or more (although I do note prices similar to the World Market price at this time in other areas of the country).

Let me say that I have no commercial ties to World Market nor to any retailer, wholesaler, distributor or importer of wine. I am merely your ultimate wine consumer who cannot pass up a good deal and has a cellar full of wine to show for it. I am fighting the impulse to rush out and buy a couple of bottles myself, not because I have a need for it this holiday season but just in case a Champagne lover might some day come knocking on my door asking for dinner and a glass of high-quality Champagne. Or in case someone in my family asks for advice about a special bottle to give a friend for an anniversary or wedding present. My cellar is full of "just-in-case" bottles. Isn't that what a wine cellar is all about?

As you think about bubblies for the holidays, there is no requirement that you focus on Champagne (sparkling wine grown and produced by the traditional method in the Champagne region of France), although it is the "real thing" and I know nothing that comes close to it in quality or pleasure. The big houses, of course, are Roederer, Veuve Clicquot, Krug, Bollinger, etc., and they command a premium price based on a long-standing reputation. I usually prefer grower Champagnes such as Jacquesson, Barnaut, Coutier Ambonnay and Pierre Moncuit. These are, in my opinion, a bit higher in quality and a bit lower in price, but still usually retail for $40 or more.

The next level down--at $15 to $30 a bottle--include California selections such as Domaine Chandon, Schramsberg, Piper-Sonoma and Roederer Estate. At that price level, I would add Larry Mawby's Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs from the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan. And I have read positive reviews of Gruet Brut from New Mexico.

When serving a large group, though, I never hesitate popping a Spanish Cava--Cristalino Brut, Segura Viudas or Freixenet. For less than $10 a bottle, these are authentic Methode Champenoise wines (fermented and aged in the bottle rather than a huge tank) that give plenty of pleasure. If you tasted them side-by-side with Veuve Clicquot or Roederer Brut, you would understand the difference in price. But at a New Year's Eve party or Thanksgiving dinner, who cares?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Matthieu de Brully Bourgogne Pinot Noir, 2005

The 2005 vintage was special for red Burgundy so I stashed away a few bottles and am only now beginning to open a few to see how they are developing. This was a $12 to $14 wine from Village Corner in Ann Arbor.

Medium to light garnet. I get sweet, youthful yeasty scents upfront similar to the aromas of some 2005 Cotes du Rhones, but mostly Pinot Noir earth and cherries. The wine is light to medium bodied and the cherry-oriented flavors are understated, as they should be for a Bourgogne Pinot. From the excellent 2005 vintage, there is plenty of ripe fruit here but some of it is still hiding under tart acidity. No hurry to drink.

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2002

Jean Descombes Morgon is one of my favorite wines, and I know that it ages well for at least 10 to 15 years. This 2002 either represents a weak vintage of Descombes Morgon or is in an awkward stage at the moment.

It's a medium garnet color, and there is quite a bit of tannin floating at the bottom of the bottle. Both the aromas and flavors are a bit muted but offer up pretty notes of cherries and red berries. There is ripe gamay fruit on the finish, and it's a pleasant dinner wine...albeit without the full throated fruit charm of a young Jean Descombes or the complexity of a mature bottle.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fernand Engel Muscat d'Alsace Cuvee Engel, 2005

Alsace Muscat is an extremely aromatic wine with musky peachy scents that are almost too pretty to be taken seriously. Like Viognier, it smells sweet even when the wine is dry or off dry. That makes it a good choice for casual sipping or spicy Indian dishes.

From the beginning, this Cuvee Engel has also offered up barber shop notes similar to Gewurztraminer, and these seem accentuated as the wine ages. Sweet white peaches but also orange blossom, spice and lychee nuts. Sweeter than I remember but with a pleasantly bitter finish, again more like Gewurz than Muscat. This wine is very nice sipping after the meal but didn't go as well as I'd hoped with spicy Indian food.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Domaine de Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2005

Among the winemakers of Gigondas (mostly male), Veronique Peysson-Cunty has a reputation for adding a feminine touch to the appellation's often burly and rustic wines. Mme Peysson-Cunty's Cotes du Ventoux, by contrast, comes across as particularly big, bold and fruity.

One of my favorite every day wines, the Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux is traditionally made: the grapes are hand picked, never de-stemmed and never see new oak. A relatively short fermentation (8 to 15 days) is done in closed cement vats at very cool temperatures to preserve the freshness of the fruit. The result is a wine that is exceptionally fruity and aromatic with fine, sweet tannins. My impression on tasting a young vintage of this wine is that it's going to last and improve for decades, but I think it's wise to follow Peysson-Cunty's advice on the label: "keep 2-3 years." Although I've never tried extended aging (as I have with the similarly styled Sainte Anne wines), I've found that the wines tend to lose some of their vibrant charm after four to five years in the bottle. That's no problem; these wines are beautiful to drink at every opportunity.

A bottle of the 2006 I had last month was a bit closed, but this 2005 is begging to be enjoyed right now. It's a very deep crimson, typical of fine Grenache. The aromatics are cool and fragrant--red berries, garrigue, flowers--and the flavors are ripe and inviting but with a firm tannic core. This is a wine for drinking with serious meals--lamb or salmon, take your pick. The '07 is on the market now and undoubtedly drinking even better than this lovely '05. The price: under $10 at Village Corner or Plum Market in Ann Arbor.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Search Engine

If you haven't noticed before on this site, there is a search function at the upper left. This is for a search of the site. If you want to read what I said about a wine previously, just type in the name of the wine.

I've now added a more comprehensive search in the bar at the bottom. If you want to read what others say about a wine being reviewed or if you'd like more information about a term, an appellation or a producer, Google will do the research for you. Just type in the name or the term, and you'll get search results within a few seconds.

Frenzy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2008

This is one of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs at the moment simply because it is so full of life. It comes from the excellent 2008 vintage in New Zealand, and the color is still light and bright. Even so, the wine has evolved substantially even since last summer. Grapefruit is now the primary aroma. True to NZ Sauvignon Blanc, I also smell some bell peppers, both red and green. There is a nice passion fruit element and now some lime and freshly picked basil. But mainly I get cool and crisp grapefruit smells and flavors, sharply focused fruit balanced by a tart acidity. Makes the mouth tingle with pleasure. I find it a perfect match for Margarhita pizza (basil, sliced tomatoes, garlic and cheese), but it would also drink well on its own.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blason de Bourgogne Pinot Noir, 2007

A red Burgundy for $7.99? The price tempted me to pluck this one off the shelf at Trader Joe's. The appearance when I first poured the wine told me I had made a mistake--even at that price--but I eventually changed my mind. This is an authentic Pinot Noir from the hallowed slopes around Beaune--light but enjoyable.

The color is so light that it's difficult to think of it as a red wine. And it's downright watery looking out at the rim. The initial smells are also a bit tart and wimpy, but with a few minutes in the glass the aromas open up nicely--cherries, earth and delicate Pinot Noir qualities. It's very slender but with just the right amount of ripeness on the finish. This is not a great wine but a pleasant sipping experience and definitely worth my $7.99.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Domaine Tourade Cotes du Rhone, 2007

Just as the Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone is a Syrah-dominated cuvee (80% Syrah/20% Grenache), this Domaine Tourade offering is Grenache-dominated (80% Grenache/20% Syrah). And there is a big difference.

The color is an intense, deep crimson typical of Grenache, and the aromas are also very Grenache--strawberries, red raspberries, garrigue, and peppercorn. Very flamboyant. I find a slight but distinct difference between Syrah and Grenache peppercorn, the former being more like freshly ground black pepper and the latter more like a whole green peppercorn from the bottle. The wine is very powerful and complex, like a Gigondas. There are even some Gigondas-like purple flowers in the mix. Power and beauty. The wine is smooth on the palate, but there is a tad too much alcohol (14.5% vs 13.5% for the Delas) for my taste. The bite is menthol rather than red pepper, and it will probably fade with mid-term aging. But, even though I usually go for Grenache-based wines, I still prefer the Delas Saint Esprit.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2007

Of all the highly publicized 2007 Cotes du Rhones, this is one that truly lives up to the hype. It's deep and dark, the color of Syrah more than Grenache but with no sign of new oak treatment. Again on the nose, it's very Syrah but with the openness and charm that you expect from a Grenache-based wine. I believe the blend is 75/25. Very open black and red fruits with peppercorns; ripe but with great structure. It coats the tongue and the roof of the mouth and leaves a strong impression of ripe plums and black peppercorn on the finish. With or without food, this wine will keep you coming back for glass after glass.

I bought the Delas Cotes du Rhone last Spring when D&W FreshMarkets was offering it for a case price under $100. It's still available there and at Village Corner in Ann Arbor. And I recently noticed a World Market ad offering the wine for $9.99/bottle. If you don't have any yet, I suggest you give it a try.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva Vereto, 2000

My last two bottles of this wine were showing a bit of excess volatility (maybe a sign of age or heat damage?), but this bottle is just right, drinking as beautifully as the bottles I had in 2008 and earlier. It's a deep ruby with some bricking at the rim. If there is any volatility on the nose, it is exactly what you expect from a good Italian red, and it accentuates the powerful bouquet of cherries, black licorice and rose petals. There is excellent acidity for a wine grown so far to the South; it's medium bodied with a modest 13% alcohol level. Fruit tannins from the peels provide a gutsy mid-palate and a lasting finish. This wine is singing right now, and so am I because I have another five bottles in the cellar.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I paid $4.79 for this wine on closeout from Hardings Markets. In the future, I would gladly pay the regular price of $12.99 for a Salice Salentino of this quality.

Vintellect South Eastern Australia Red Blend, 2007

This is an innovative blend designed for easy and early drinking: 30% Shiraz, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Grenache and 20% Mataro (Mourvedre). The color is dark, but there is no indication from the color or smell that the wine has had very much, if any, new oak treatment. The aromas blend nicely--Shiraz black fruit and spice, Cabernet blackcurrants, Grenache strawberries and nice hints of purple flowers from the Mourvedre. It's sweet and smooth on the palate--red cherries and berries. It's bold enough to be taken serious (almost) but has no hard edges. And it should go well with almost any food you put on the table.

This is an Australian version of a Cotes du Rhone, but for about the same price it doesn't tempt me away from the real thing. While enjoyable, it has less substance and depth.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 1998

At 11 years of age, this modestly labeled and priced Cotes du Rhone is finally showing signs that it intends to mature. And a very fine maturity it is going to be. The color has lightened a little but is still a deep, brilliant ruby nearly all the way to the rim. This wine was clearly exposed to a minimal amount of oxygen during the winemaking process. The developing maturity shows most in the nose, as the primary fruit aromas that were still there as recently as last Spring begin to merge into a more complex bouquet of red fruits, garrigue and spice. The wine has a satiny mouthfeel, and the bouquet repeats itself in the lush flavors. There is a just a touch of black peppercorn creeping in, but the overall impression is sweet and the finish, long. This wine is still very similar to the 2005 and 2004 Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhones but with emerging complexity that should become increasingly apparent over the next year or two.

Sainte-Anne's Cotes du Rhone has the same blend as the estate's Cotes du Rhone Villages--60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Cinsault. The only difference is that the simple CDR comes from young vines with an average age of 20 years. (In California, those "young" vines might be considered "ancient.") Domaine Sainte-Anne's wines are fermented and aged in stainless steel and concrete, seeing no new oak. They have a reputation for long aging, and several cuvees of the 1986 are still being sold at the winery.

I've been buying the domaine's wines since the early 1980s when they were recommended in the writings of Rhone expert Robert Mayberry. Only since the 1998 vintage have I tried cellaring them for longer than a decade, and so far I have not been disappointed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fazi Battaglia Verdicchio Classico dei Castelli di Jesi, 2004

Verdicchio is another white wine for those occasions when you're tired of the same old, same old Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. It's a crisp high acid, low alcohol wine with intriguing aromas and flavors. And it comes in interesting hour-glass shaped bottles modeled after ancient Etruscan amphoras. Drink the wine; use the bottle as a vase.

At five years of age, Fazi Battaglia Verdicchio is a deeper yellow color than the Gruner Veltliner below, but it's still light and bright for a wine of its age. And the aromas and flavors are equally fresh--melon, white berries, green apples and a pleasing hint of bitter almond. It blends so well with the food (spinach/lemon pasta) that it's easy to lose track of this wine. But when you pay attention, there is plenty of flavor interest.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ecker Niederosterreich Gruner Veltliner, NV

As one reviewer said, this is "a wine to drink, not to taste." Even the packaging is appealingly unpretentious: a simple liter bottle similar to that used for mineral water with a basic inexpensive screw cap. No ceremony here, but once you open the bottle the excitement begins. The color is very light; the aromas and flavors are as airy as a summer breeze. Delightful fragrance of spring flowers and green fruits. Actually, looking for descriptors lessens the delightful drinking experience this wine offers. It's fresh and brisk with penetrating flavors; perfect with vegetable oriented meals or spicy food. And I also like the size (25% more wine) and price ($8.99 at Village Corner in Ann Arbor).

The Ecker family have made wine at their 20 hectare estate near Krems in Austria for more than 300 years. The porous, sandy loess soil is ideal for Gruner Veltliner, and this area to the northwest of Vienna has the deepest deposits of loess soil in Europe. If you're not yet familiar with Gruner Veltliner (or "Gruve" for short), this wine is a good place to start.