Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Frenzy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2008

After the Domaine Daulny Sancerre, this is my second favorite Sauvignon Blanc at the moment.

The color is a medium gold with green highlights. I still feel a frenzy of action in my nostrils and on my tongue. Some jalapeno pepper is now emerging along with mint, passion fruit and lime. There is more ripeness on the palate than the aromas suggest; flavors dance on the tongue, shifting and changing like the views on a kaleidoscope.

I like what the Italian winemakers have done with this Sauvignon Blanc. And I like the price: $9.99 at D&W Markets in Michigan. But, as a serious dinner wine, it doesn't even come close to matching the Domaine Daulny Sancerre.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Domaine Daulny Sancerre, 2005

I usually prefer Domaine Daulny's Clos de Chaudenay Sancerre, but this regular bottling is perfect tonight as a match for a Thai noodle dish seasoned with basil, cilantro and lime. The wine is beautfully mature with bright aromas and flavors of lime, melon, mint, minerals and sea salt. This is what Sauvignon Blanc is all about.

Cellier des Chartreux Chevalier d'Anthelme Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This Cotes du Rhone was recommended to me by Rod Johnson, now head of the wine department at Plum Market in Ann Arbor. For more than 20 years when he was on the staff at Village Corner, Rod reliably steered me toward Rhone wines that pleased my palate, and this time was no exception. Neither he nor I had heard of this label, but I found online that Cellier des Chartreux is a large wine store, operating sort of like a cooperative, between Chateauneuf du Pape and Avignon. I visited a similar outlet near Beaume de Venise a couple of years ago.

As I expected, this is a traditionally made Cotes du Rhone. It's a deep crimson color, and it smells as a Cotes du Rhone should--black and red berries with ample garrigue--very forward. The wine has good body, strength and just the right degree of ripeness and warmth (13.5%). Long spicy finish. There is a pleasing tang to the fruit flavors that reminds me of the Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, one of my favorites of the 2007 vintage. I suspect there is a good bit of Syrah and maybe some Cinsault in the blend.

For $7.99 a bottle, my only regret is that I didn't buy more.

Woodbury Alexander Valley Old Vines Vintage Port, 1979

Port or Vinho do Porto is fortified wine in the Portuguese style, of course, and true Port has always been priced reasonably enough that I am rarely tempted to buy look-alikes from California, Michigan, South Africa or Australia. This wine I bought more than 25 years ago because it had been marked down from $9.95 to $1.99. At that time--and even 10 years ago--it had a greenish, weedy quality to the aromas and flavors so powerful that it was disagreeable to drink. That may have been the reason it was marked down so drastically. After 30 years, the green quality is still there but it has faded into the background, and the result is a lush dessert wine.

It's a medium light brownish ruby, about the color of tawny Port. I still smell some greens, similar to what might be expected from a New World Merlot or Carmenere--not at all unattractive. Also burnt sugar, toffee, caramel, walnuts. This is more like a tawny Port or an Australian Muscat than a vintage Port, but it is very nice.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Chateau des Coulinats Sainte Croix du Mont, 1983

Sainte Croix du Mont is a neighbor of Sauternes and Barsac. And since this area typically gets less botrytis (the noble rot) in its vineyards than its more well known neighbors, these wines are less well known and less expensive. I think I paid less than $40 for 24 half bottles of this old favorite.

The color has turned from deep old gold to a light pinkish color, as is often the case with older dessert wines. The nose though is as beautiful as ever--botrytis honey, dried apricots and figs. The wine is rich and oily on the palate with grassy Semillon flavors along with honey, apricots and marzipan. Good complexity. Hide the price tag and this could easily pass for a big-ticket Sauternes.

I haven't noticed any Sainte Croix du Mont wines in my area in recent years, but wines from Loupiac are similar in style and quality. Chateau La Rocque Loupiac can be found for about $15/half bottle or less--a good price. When young, these wines usually display scents of almonds, coconut and pastry along with dried apricots and a hint of honey. As the wine ages, the honey may become more prominent, and the almonds more like marzipan.

Clos Mont Olivet Chateauneuf du Pape, 1988

This wine and the Napa Cellars Cabernet below were good companions on the Christmas dinner table--both wines mature and stately but with clearly focused flavors to accompany the roast lamb dinner.

The color is a medium to light crimson, bright and not a bit faded. Cherries dominate the nose plus the ripe red berries you expect from Grenache. There is also Provencal spice, saddle leather and a hint of tobacco leaf. All so beautifully delineated. On the palate, it's silky smooth, an elegant mouthful of wine, much like a fine Burgundy. It's pretty rather than powerful, although on the second night the power and warmth of Grenache (90 to 92%) become more apparent. A very fine example of Chateaneuf du Pape--mature but by no means on the down slide.

Napa Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1979

I've had many fine Napa Cabernets from the mid- to late-1970s, but this is perhaps my favorite. Although many California Cabs of this era were huge and powerful, this wine has always stood out for its elegance. And at 30 years of age, it is still shining brightly.

The color is a light ruby--light but bright with no browning and very little amber. The nose is typical Napa Cab--currants, cassis, cherries nicely focused. And it sits lightly on the tongue with a slight spicy note on the mid-palate. Reminds me of a St. Julien. This wine has never aspired to be a show wine and today it is just as self assured in its elegance. It's lighter in color and body than it was the last time I had it (perhaps a decade or more ago), but it's every bit as enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Edna Valley Vineyards Paragon Edna Valley San Luis Obispo Chardonnay, 2005

Edna Valley Chardonnay is now widely available for under $10 a bottle, and it's a good value for those who like a barrel fermented style of Chardonnay. Edna Valley is a good appellation for Chardonnay, but the dominant character of this wine comes from barrel fermentation and aging in 90 percent new French oak. The vintage on the market right now is the 2008, but the 2005 is still drinking well, nearing the end of its maturity curve.

The color is medium deep gold, and the wine is generally showing more maturity than it did last April. Aromas and flavors offer up brown butter and apples and still a hint of lime and white peaches. Barrel fermentation has given the wine a creamy texture that fills the mouth.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chateau de la Roulerie Coteaux du Layon Le Cerisier, 2003

Some of the best values in dessert wines come from the Coteaux du Layon appellation of the Loire Valley. While Loire dessert wines made from the Chenin Blanc age very well, this one is showing very well in its youth.

The color is a medium deep gold. The grapes clearly had a good dose of botrytis, the "noble rot" that contributes to the greatness of Sauternes. I smell honey, melon and citrus--fairly developed for a six-year-old wine. There is lively acidity again in the mouth along with honey and just the right level of sweetness. It's a perfect match for key lime pie, although the pie is clearly sweeter than the wine. Citric tang on the finish.

I can't remember when or where I bought this wine, but the price tag says $16.99 for a full 750 ml bottle--an excellent value.

Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2006

This old favorite is showing much better tonight than it did last August. Cellar temperature (and room temperature) is much cooler in December, of course, and I think the flavors and aromas show their best at around 65 to 70 degrees.

The color is a deep crimson; the wine has lost the bluish tints it had a year or so ago. Garrigue--the smell of Provencal herbs and countryside--dominates the aromas at this stage of development along with spicy red and black fruits. All the aromas are blending together nicely, almost to the point that you could call it a bouquet. All those same elements are confirmed in the flavors, and the wine goes down very smoothly. Good ripeness front to back with the 14% alcohol providing body rather than warmth on the palate.

Huber Hugo Gruner Veltliner, 2006

I discovered this Gruner Veltliner on the wine list at Chinn Chinn Asian Fusion restaurant and found that it was a good match for the spicy curry beef dish. So it was a safe choice from the cellar when we ordered takeout from Chinn Chinn.

Even though this Gruner is now a couple of years old, it is a bright medium gold with fresh lively smells of freshly sliced lime, flowers and minerals. Flavors are even snappier--spicy citrus fruit dances on the tongue from front to back. I'm becoming a fan of Austrian Gruner Veltliner, and this is an excellent example.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux, 2007

If you need large quantities of a red wine for holiday entertaining, this is an excellent choice. I have seen prices as low as $5.99 a bottle or $10.99 a magnum, and, in some cases, the distributor is offering a mail-in rebate. More important, it's an excellent wine that goes well with almost any food.

It's a medium crimson, bright and clear. The Perrin brothers of Chateau Beaucastel know how to make a wine that's expressive of its Southern Rhone origins and traditions. Smells and flavors are bursting with red berries, but this is by no means a simple wine. I smell garrigue, more berries and then some black pepper. It's reasonably full bodied and glides down the throat like silk. No hard edges, but no soft ones either. Ripe but not over-ripe. Perfectly proportioned and priced. La Vieille Ferme can be relied on to prduce an enjoyable wine year after year, but the 2007 is special. Every time I open a bottle, I wonder why I don't drink it more often.

Vincent Girardin Emotion de Terroirs Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay, 2005

Grapes for this wine come from Mersault and Puligny Montrachet, prime properties for white Burgundy. And the quality shows in this lower end wine from Vincent Girardin. At four years of age, it's just now showing its best.

The color is a medium deep gold, and the nose has a beautiful maturity. It's plenty oaky, but the oak is very fine, blending nicely with the mineral and fruit elements. In a blind tasting, this would never be mistaken for a New World Chardonnay. Flavors have a fresh, lemony acidity balanced by a lush, silky texture and a slightly tangy finish that lingers for several seconds. This is my style of Chardonnay.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chateau Mazeris Canon Fronsac, 1982

The price tag on this bottle reads "$6.99." That's less than 26 cents for every year of productive life this wine has given.

The color is a medium light ruby with some amber at the rim (although not as much as you might expect from a wine of this age). Aromas are very Merlot: red cherries, aromatic herbs such as bay leaf and basil and some pretty floral tones. I find none of the green vegetal smells that turn me away from most of the cheap Merlots that dominate the market. On the palate, the wine is smooth, cool and elegant--again red cherries, a hint of black tea but no green pepper or veggies. Flavors are intense and not at all tired. This is not a great wine that will blow anyone away but an excellent expression of Merlot (70%), Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in a claret mode that was more common in the early 1980s than it is today.

Domaine des Pasquiers Cotes du Rhone, 2007

Domaine des Pasquiers is to be distinguished from Domaine du Pesquier, but you won't go wrong with either label. Both are traditionally run estates in the same general area of the Southern Rhone.

With cellars located in Sablet, the Pasquiers estate covers 90 hectares in Gigondas, the Plan de Dieu, Sablet and other areas of the Cotes du Rhone. The third generation of their family to farm the vineyards, brothers Jean Claude and Philippe Lambert took over from their father in 1999 and have been bottling under the Pasquiers label since 2002. (Previously the wine was sold to negotiants.) With the exception of the CDR Villages Plan de Dieu l'Envol (which is aged partly in new oak barriques), all of the Pasquiers wines are made traditionally and aged in cement tanks.

The 2007 Pasquiers Cotes du Rhone is a very deep, saturated crimson, and the aromas are equally deep and powerful--skin tannins galore. Flavors and smells are dominated by red berries, cherries, herbs and purple flowers. The wine is a big mouthful, much like a young Gigondas. It's impressive, but for my taste still a bit too tannic and alcoholic (14%) to really enjoy. I would like to come back to this and other 2007 Pasquiers offerings in a year or two.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Domaine Diochon Moulin-a-Vent, 2000

Of the 10 Beaujolais Crus, Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent are the two most ageworthy. Selected and imported by Kermit Lynch, Domaine Diochon's Moulin-a-Vent is a wine I would buy more frequently if it were available in my marketing area. It's produced from old Gamay vines planted on granite slopes and made by Bertrand Diochon using traditional methods, with aging in large barrels that allow the fruit to speak without oak accents.

The color is lighter than the Jean Descombes Morgon described below, and it's somewhat murky. That may be because the wine has not had fining or filtration. The nose, though, is beautiful. As with the Morgon, smells are in the cherry/kirsch mode but fully developed into a bouquet, understated and complex. On the palate, the wine is pure silk with texture and flavors that unfold gracefully into a long finish. At nine years of age, this wine is a thing of beauty. Wine critic Steve Tanzer, in reporting on the current 2008 vintage of Domaine Diochon, said he drank the 1989 recently "and it was gorgeous."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2008

In the village of Morgon in Beaujolais, Jean Descombes was well loved, a man who never missed an occasion to party with friends. And the wine he produced was said to reflect his extraverted personality. Jean died in 1993, and his daughter Nicole has taken over the estate. For my taste, the wine's style and personality has changed very little, if at all.

Although I had tried the wine earlier, I put Jean Descombes Morgon on my yearly buy list starting with the 1991 vintage. The wine is always a winner--full bodied, fruity and powerful--when first released, but it also ages well over 10 years and longer, developing complexity and finesse similar to that of a Burgundian Pinot Noir. I now have in my cellar small quantities of Jean Descombes Morgon from most vintages going back to 1995, and the 1995 is still drinking well.

The 2008, opened Saturday night, is right in line with past vintages: medium deep ruby with aromas of dark cherries, ripe and powerful. Compared to past vintages such as 2005, I find less red raspberry and more black cherry notes, and the fruit is clearly riper. On the palate, the wine has youthful power and some tannins to lose, but it's ripe enough to enjoy right now. Tasted alongside the 2009 Beaujolais, it's in the same mode but with considerable more depth and concentration.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, 2009

Beaujolais Nouveau is officially released--and rushed to its thirsty public--at 12:01 a.m. on the third Thursday of each November. I didn't make it to a Nouveau party this year, and only this weekend did I get around to drinking my first sample of the vintage--touted as the best of the last 50 years. These "vintage of the century" calls seem to be ever more frequent these days; I recall similar claims being made for 2000, 2003 and 2005.

The 2009 is an impressively purplish color, and the intense raspberry aromas waft up even as the wine is being poured. The fruit is fresh and lively, lush but not overly ripe. It's a wine that works well as an appetizer or even with a serious meal such as beef bourguignonne.

It's fashionable in some wine circles to dismiss Beaujolais wines, and that may be partly because of the marketing efforts connected with Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais is part of the Burgundy region of France, but red wines there derive from the Gamay rather than the Pinot Noir grape. Because Gamay is thin-skinned, it produces wines that are relatively low in fruit tannins and easy to drink young. Nouveau, comprising about one third of the harvest every year, is made by the carbonic maceration method, with whole grape fermentation to preserve the fresh fruit qualities. According to the traditional rule of thumb, Nouveau is to be consumed over the first six weeks of its life, although some 2009 Nouveaus will continue to offer pleasure into the first few months of 2010. Any Nouveau still on the shelves by next Spring should be deeply discounted (my son bought the 2008 at a closeout price of two bottles for $5). That same rule of early drinking does not apply to other wines from the Beaujolais region. The next step up, Beaujolais Villages, ages well over two or three years, and the Beaujolais Cru, particularly Moulin a Vent and Morgon, much longer--developing complexity and depth approaching that of a fine Pinot Noir Burgundy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Evodia Calatayud Old Vines Grenache, 2007

This wine certainly meets most of my criteria for an artisan wine. It's produced from vineyards up to 100 years old grown on slate soil in a mountainous region of northeast Spain. The estate was scouted out by a colleague of U.S. importer Eric Solomon who is herself a native of the region and knows the growers. The wine is 100 percent Garnacha (Grenache), and it retails for about $10 a bottle. The other side of the coin is that the beautiful blue label and capsule, with stylish design and typography, are obvious products of a marketing-savvy American importer. I was anxious to see what was in the bottle, but I saved it for an occasion when my son, who shares my enthusiasm for traditional Spanish wines, could enjoy it with me.

The color is very dark, almost opaque, leading me to believe the wine has had at least some exposure to new oak or small barriques. The intense aromas also seem somewhat oak-influenced although they also offer typical old vine Grenache notes of blueberries, raspberries, and Kirsch. There is a haunting spiciness in the complex flavors and a hint of pepper on the concentrated finish. There is also a bit of alcoholic warmth (14.5%) and some thick, dark, raisined qualities on the palate that strike me as a bit overdone. My son agrees: yes, it may have rustic origins, but the wine has a decided modernist bent. That's not all bad; I like the wine, but not as wholeheartedly as some of the critics who have called it an outrageous value at $10. In fact, I prefer the more complex and less flamboyant Vina Alarba Calatayud Old Vine Grenache that is nearly always available for $6 to $8 at Cost Plus World Market.

Is Frenzy an Artisan Wine?

A reader, presumably from New Zealand, recently challenged me about my inclusion of the Frenzy Sauvignon Blanc on a blog with the title "Artisan Wine on a Budget." Frenzy is a "virtual winery," a "marketing concept," he pointed out. Matt apparently read only my second report on Frenzy; in the first, I mentioned clearly that the wine is produced by Tenuto Campo di Sasso from Tuscany in Italy from grapes grown in the Marlborough wine-growing region of New Zealand. What I like about this wine is the straightforward presentation of exciting Sauvignon Blanc fruit without distracting wine-making manipulation...and at a price less than $10 a bottle.

There are, of course, numerous small "artisan" or "boutique" wineries in California, Australia and New Zealand selling their wines for $20, $30, $40 or more a bottle. Some, I'm sure, are worth the price, but I don't intend to spend my hard-earned money finding out. My quest is to find wines that are inexpensive enough to drink on an every day basis and good enough to appeal to a wine lover's sense of aesthetics. For me, that means wine that faithfullly represents the grape's varietal character and the micro-climate and soil of its origin.