Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Louis Latour Ardeche Chardonnay, 2007

This is a pungent, spicy Chardonnay sans oak in the Louis Latour Ardeche Chardonnay tradition. I get scents and flavors of apple, citrus, nutmeg and white spices; lots of range and flair. Has a spicy quality that reminds me of a Saint Veran or a Belvedere Alexander Valley Chardonnay. Good body and clean, fruit flavors. The finish is very ripe but not at all sweet, as many New World unoaked Chardonnays are. For $8.99 at Cost Plus World Market, this is a very good value.

J. Chave St. Joseph Offerus, 1999

Chave produces this St. Joseph from purchased grapes rather than his own vineyards, and the price (under $20) was within my reach when this 1999 was released.

The color has turned a bit but is still deep and dark. And the smells and flavors are at a pleasant stage of maturity. This is typical Northern Rhone Syrah--dark berries, herbs and cassis--with typical St. Joseph supple charm. Eventually, though, significant brett barnyard aromas begin to dominate. These are all part of the charm of the wine, but they might turn some drinkers away.

Ridge Geyserville, 1991

Ridge Geyserville is probably my favorite California wine, and, even though it is mainly Zinfandel, I know that, in most vintages, it ages beautifully over two decades or longer. This 1991 is 50% Zin with 30% Carignane and 20% Mourvedre from old vines in the Dry Creek Valley.

The color is still deep and dark, almost inky. I can smell the American oak on the nose, but it has blended nicely into scents of blackberries, cassis and hints of violets. This has the depth and concentration that I expect from a Geyserville. Tasted alongside the Chante Perdrix Chateauneuf du Pape, this wine is clearly bigger, rougher, more tannic and more alcoholic. Impresses with power rather than finesse but very good.

Francoise et Denis Clair Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes-de-Beaune, 2005

This 2005 red Burgundy has changed considerably since I tasted it in its youth, but I foresee a year or two of positive development ahead. Aromas are slow to open and somewhat herbaceous at first, but with some aeration, I smell delicate fruits and flowers. On the palate, the wine really sings. Sleek tannins, focused red fruits and a long, ripe finish.

Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Basket Pressed Shiraz, 1994

Due to considerable crusty sediment and a crumbly cork, this wine had to be decanted carefully, but the McLaren Vale Shiraz that emerged was well worth the effort. It's still a deep, brilliant hue. Lively Australian Shiraz aromas are apparent even as the wine is being decanted and poured: mint, eucalyptus, blackberry--smells young. This Shiraz has seen plenty of new American oak, but it's become integrated by now and the oak is all part of the Australian tradition. On the palate, I find a supple McLaren Vale mid-palate and a long fruit-oriented finish. Tannins are very fine and they frame the fruit rather than dominate it. A lovely mature McLaren Vale Shiraz--wish I had more.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Domaine Chante Perdrix Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

This was my Christmas present to myself, and what a present it was! I've had the 1989 Chante-Perdrix Chateauneuf du Pape several times over the past four or five years and have become convinced that it's one of the finest wines in my cellar.

The color is definitely fading with considerable bricky, amber tones. And it's easy to miss the subtle qualities in the mature bouquet--dried flowers, wild blueberries, exotic Asian spices. As before, my first impression is that the wine is fading, but the longer the bottle is opened, and the more I drink, the more I find to like. On the palate, the flavors are strong, fine-boned and persistent; yes, it seems to be made from rare, wild fruit. Very long, very ripe, very complex finish.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Casa Castilla Jumilla Monastrell, 2008

Wow! This is my wine of the week so far. It's not quite as exciting as the Altos de la Hoya Jumilla Monastrell I had a couple of weeks ago, but it comes close. And it pleases others at the table maybe even a bit more. Jumilla is apparently a good appellation for modest-priced Monastrell (the Spanish name for Mourvedre).

The color is a deep ruby, and the aromas are somewhat backward--tree bark opening slowly to subtle scents of violets and blueberries. And I get the same on the palate. Some tannins, but they're ripe and promise a lot more to come. Like many Jumilla Monastrells, it's a bit high in alcohol but carries 14% well. I'm on the lookout for more of this little beauty.

San Silvestro Ottone I Piemonte Barbera, 2007

San Silvestro makes an inexpensive Piemonte Barbera that goes well with light vegetable or bean oriented meals. It combines the freshness of a white wine with the substance of a red.

This wine has certainly been made with a great deal of contact with the macerating skins. It's deep, deep ruby and exudes aromas of purple flowers, licorice and grape peels. Even after a couple of years in the bottle, it's still almost fizzy in its acidity, but this is a positive for me. For about half the price, it has many of the dark fruit traits that I expected but did not get from the Vacqueyras below.

Domaine la Monardiere Vacqueyras Les Calades, 2003

Year after year this is one of my favorite moderately priced Vacqueyras wines. The 2001 was drinking beautifully at the same age, and the 1998 was fine at age 10. My last bottle of the 2003 was about a year ago, and I had no complaints then. But it has now gone the way of the 2003 Rasteau below--not a dead Vacqueyras but close enough.

The color is noticeably lighter than a typical Southern Rhone, and the nose is also attenuated. I get the licorice and black fruits that are part of the Vacqueyras profile but without the power and vibrant flavors that are usually part of the package. Much better than the Rasteau, but that isn't saying much.

Robert Parker predicted the 2003 Rhones would be great if given proper time. Robert Parker has been right on many issues; one the 2003 Southern Rhones, I would say that he is dead wrong.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chateau du Trignon Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau, 2003

Chateau du Trignon Rasteau is a highly regarded Southern Rhone, and this wine was originally listed at about $20 a bottle. So I was quite pleased when I saw it offered for $6.99 a bottle a few years ago in Bloomington, Indiana. I have never liked the super-hot 2003 vintage, but for $6.99, I was ready to accept something other than perfection. I'm glad I bought only three bottles.

The first bottle I opened soon after my return; it was so foul tasting that I couldn't finish the bottle. I opened a second shortly thereafter just to make sure. Yuk. The second bottle went down the sink. Maybe it just needs time, I thought, and put away the last bottle for a couple of years. So this is my final bottle, and it doesn't say good things about the 2003 vintage, which was highly hyped by Robert Parker and many other Rhone experts.

The color is fading a bit from the deep crimson it showed previously. Initial smells resemble Cheracol cough syrup but then some Rasteau licorice and minerals emerge. It's not terrible but it lacks the spicy, peppery fruit that I'm looking for in a CDR Villages. In the mouth, it's thick with Port-like body and ripeness. But again no peppery, spicy acidity. A plodding wine, pulling its heavy boots through the mud. I can't drink much of this. On the second night, some interesting flavors emerge but the wine still plods. On the third night, it's oxidized and dead.

Fortunately, I didn't buy many 2003s, but I still have a couple of bottles of Domaine la Monardiere Vacqueyras that tasted okay last year; I'll have to open another bottle soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chateau Bel Air Haut-Medoc, 1990

This Cru Bourgeois is produced by Domaines Henri Martin, which also makes Chateau Gloria and Chateau Saint Pierre. I don't see much of Gloria and Saint Pierre these days, but they ranked near the top of popular medium-priced Bordeaux in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Bel Air is even a little cheaper than these wines, but I have found the quality to be very good, particularly in strong vintages such as 1986 and 1990. I've had this 1990 several times over the past five years, and it has always made a strong showing.

The color is a deep, dark ruby with brilliant tones. And from the first sniff I get deep scents of currants, dark cherries, green herbs, cassis and leather. Beautifully developed bouquet; all of the elements are blending together nicely. On the palate, Chateau Bel Air is light to medium bodied with a cool uplift and plenty of ripe tannins on the mid-palate. The flavors are fresh and vibrant for a 20-year-old Cru Bourgeois.

The price tag on my bottle reads $10.59. If you can find a current vintage of this wine, it may be about the same price or even cheaper. Like Tour Saint-Bonnet, this is an overlooked and undervalued Haut Medoc well worth checking out.

The Rhoning Stone Cotes du Rhone, 2007

I'm not much for cutesy names for wine and passed up this wine several times because of the name. When the price came down to $6.88, I had to try it and glad that I did.

The color is a deep, pure crimson; it looks like the real thing--good Grenache fruit and no new oak or barriques. And, oh yes, the nose confirms the deal: pepper and spice galore. Ripe, as to be expected from the vintage, but not outside the boundaries of traditional Cotes du Rhone. Blueberries, red cherries, garrigue and peppercorn--powerful like a good Cairanne. On the palate, the wine is sweetish up front with firm fruit tannins in the middle and a long finish featuring anise and peppercorn. This is not a one-year wonder but a wine that will continue to grow for at least three or four more years.

For me, this unpretentious Cotes du Rhone (along with Altitude 500 Ventoux and Delas' Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone) belongs in the top ranks of the highly touted 2007 Southern Rhone vintage. I'm still steering clear of the $50 to $100 Chateauneufs that I suspect are over-oaked and over-manipulated and putting my money on the good old-fashioned wines at the bottom of the pyramid.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone, 2005

I bad-mouthed my last bottle of this wine; it seems oxidized and prematurely aged. That must have been a bad bottle because this one is very good and right in line with the development that I found in the 2001 Janasse Cotes du Rhone.

The color is deep with some bricking but definitely not as much as the last bottle. The wine has developed to the point that the classic Rhone pepper and spice aromas are front and center, but I find no premature oxidation. Underneath it all is a compact layer of Grenache strawberry fruit. Flavors are a bit dry in the center but there is reasonable depth and flavor interest and a silky finish. Even after being open (and re-corked) for two or three nights, fruit flavors are still hanging in there...and maybe even getting better.

Altitude 500 Parcelles Saint Nicolas Ventoux, 2007

This is my second bottle of this Ventoux, and I am more impressed than ever. Produced by the Vignerons du Mont Ventoux at Bedoin, a growers' cooperative, it has beautifully focused Grenache (75%) and Syrah (25%) fruit exhibiting all of the benefits of a 500 meter elevation.

The color is deep, dark crimson with good saturation, and you can probably smell the fragrance from across the room--blueberries, violets, Provencal herbs and spices. High class stuff. And I get the same on the palate. A very strong fruit presence--perfect ripeness countered by racy acidity and structure from the peels. Medium bodied and silky smooth. Fantastic. What more can one expect from an under-$10 Ventoux?

I've yet to try Les Trois Messes Basses, a Ventoux made by the same coop and selling for $1 a bottle less. It's next on my list.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tenimenti Conti Neri Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso, 2005

I bought this wine at Trader Joe's a couple of years ago for $8.99. I don't know if it's still available, but if it is, I will be going back for more.

The wine looks almost black as it's poured, and the aromas match: blackberry, dark chocolate and everything black and deep. There is also a floral note and sweet, raisined fruit. On the palate, it's thick and rich, not as powerful as a Gigondas but a big wine for big flavored foods. The flavors are very ripe and glide along the palate like blackberry puree. This may not be the most complex Ripasso I've ever had, but that may come with extra time in the bottle. Most Ripassos sells for $20 to $25 so this is an excellent value

Monday, November 29, 2010

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1983

Paul Jaboulet's Domaine Thalabert was my favorite wine of the 1980s, and I have thoroughly enjoyed nearly every vintage. I don't remember having the 1987 (a weak vintage), and the 1989 which I reported on earlier this Fall is so far a distinct disappointment. The 1983, however, is my favorite, and it seems to be getting better with every year that passes.

Deep ruby with some bricking but not as brown as the 1979 Sociando Mallet that accompanied it on the table. While everyone enjoyed both wines, nearly all preferred the Thalabert for its "big flavors." The bouquet is high toned with the best herbaceous qualities of northern Rhone Syrah--elegant and fine. I also smell red fruit, cassis and a hint of iodine. There is a great deal of complexity on both the nose and palate. And the fruit concentration on the mid-palate--wow! It's like a young wine in many respects with flavors that just keep coming at you. The flavors linger for 10 seconds or longer.

Robert Parker has damned this 1983 Thalabert with faint praise, and I must say that I disagree strongly. He gave a higher rating to the 1989, and I disagree even more strongly. Parker has always raved about the 1990, the best Thalabert ever made, in his opinion. I must admit that I've yet to try it (not counting early tastings) although I do own several bottles and plan to open one soon. If the wines from the 1980s are any indication, there should be nothing lost in waiting for the 1990 to develop its true charms...as the 1983 is doing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chateau Sociando Mallet Haut Medoc, 1979

Visit any of the top restaurants in France, and you're likely to see a vintage or more of Sociando Mallet. It's widely recognized as a Cru Bourgeois that consistently produces wines comparable to those of far more expensive classed growths. This 1979 is testament to the wine's ageworthiness.

The color is very deep but with definite browning. The bouquet is also mature but not at all attenuated. I get deep scents of fragrant herbs, tart cherries, currants and Asian spices--has the exotic fragrance of a wine from the Margaux commune. On the palate, the varietal traits of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot have merged into minty and herbaceous old wine flavors but with all the strength and concentration you'd expect from a first or second growth. Very smooth with no hard edges and a more than decent finish.

The tag on this 1979 reads $8.95 because it was purchased nearly 30 years ago. A bottle of the current vintage will set you back at least $45, and the 1979, when you can find it, sells for $50. If well stored, it's worth the price.

Pierre-Bis Clos du Coulaine Savennieres, 2000

Savennieres, the dry white Chenin Blanc of the Loire, is not a wine to everyone's liking. And that's good because it leaves more of it for those of us who love this wine. And the price is usually embarrassingly low for a wine of this quality. Domaine du Coulaine's 4.5 hectares of Chenin Blanc vines are planted on silty-sandy soils over sandstone and schist deposits. The vines are old, yields are low and the wines are recognized by locals and experts as some of these best of the appellation. Yet I paid less than $12 earlier this decade for this bottle, and the current vintage is probably not much more expensive.

The 2000 Clos du Coulaine Savennieres is drinking quite well right now, although I'm sure it will continue to improve for at least another decade. It's a medium deep gold in color, and it's developed some beautiful Chenin Blanc scents--peaches, pears, honey and probably some botrytis. Very fragrant but not at all over the top. On the palate there is an essential sweetness--honey and ripe pears--but the wine is also notably dry with notes of straw and Savennieres minerals. It has a firm, broad-shouldered body--a white wine for red wine lovers, big and powerful but by no means fat. It's a wine of place, everything a Savennieres should be. And it's got me dreaming about the 1985, 1981 and 1990 Savennieres of Domaine des Baumards that I've had before and will have again. Drink it now or wait? With Savennieres that is always the question. And there is no satisfactory answer.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bourgogne Leroy Rouge, 1990

Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy, owner of the Domaine de la Romanee Conti, is the producer of arguably the very best (and most expensive) Burgundy wines. As French wine critic Michael Bettane put it, "Domaine Leroy is a welcome reminder of the difference between the very good and the great." This simple Bourgogne is the least prestigious of the estate's wines, and I was fortunate enough to get this 1990 on futures for about $150/case. You'll pay $90 a bottle for this 1990 (if you can find one) today, and even the current vintage sells for about $40.

The color shows good saturation, with some amber tones, and there is plenty of sediment as Mme Leroy predicts on the label, since the wine has not been filtered. I get some tanky scents when the wine is first opened, but they give way to wild cherries, cranberries and flowers. On the palate, the cherries are dominant. There is none of the earthiness that I usually find in Pinot Noir. The terroir for this wine has resulted in more fresh fruit plus savory tones of iodine, herbs and mushroom. The after taste is very long and satisfying.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2002

There is a tendency among wine snobs to dismiss Beaujolais and all wines made from Gamay as simple and unworthy of aging. There are, in fact, many ageworthy Gamay wines (mostly Beaujolais Cru), and I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise to try the Morgon of Jean Descombes at eight-plus years of age. A gorgeous full-fruited, red cherry wine when young, it takes on special nuances, similar to those of Pinot Noir, when given some time in the cellar. I've bought Jean Descombes Morgon nearly every year since the 1991 vintage, and I sample them all from time to time to see how they are developing. My favorites at the moment are 1995, 2004 and 2005. The 2002 has been disappointing until now, but this bottle seems to indicate that it may be a late bloomer, just now coming into its own.

The color is a brilliant ruby, and the bouquet is best described as pretty rather than powerful. The bouquet opens slowly to reveal dark cherries, pomegranates and violets. Flavors are ripe and plump on the mid-palate with concentration and depth that become more apparent with every sip. The after-taste, though, is what makes this wine special. It just keeps on coming at you several seconds after you swallow.

Domaine de Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2006

This wine has the qualities I expect from a good Southern Rhone: a bright crimson color, lightening just a bit from a year ago; a nose of red and blue berries, Provencal spice and black pepper; and a full-bodied fruit cake presence on the palate. As always with Font-Sane, there are some muscular tannins lurking in the background to remind you that this is a serious wine. But in the end, there is the ripe fruit and generous personality that defines Ventoux. The label talks about the "happy combination" of Grenache and Syrah, and happy, indeed, is the marriage. It's a more powerful wine than La Vieille Ferme Ventoux but equally enjoyable as a more-than-simple every day drink.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya Finca Hoya de Santa Ana Monastrell, 2008

I've been on the lookout for good Jumilla Monastrell, and this is the Jumilla Monastrell of my dreams. Why Jumilla Monastrell? I've tasted several very good ones recently, and they were very good values. I love Monastrell (known as Mourvedre in France), and Jumilla, in southeastern Spain, apparently provides a good climate for growing this warm-weather grape. Summer days can get hot in Jumilla but because the elevation is 1,500 feet above sea level, nights become very cool. As a result, Monastrell grapes reach a complete level of ripeness while maintaining high acidity. Luzon Verde and Casa Castillo are Monastrells from Jumilla. Castano, another excellent Monastrell, is from nearby. All are under $10. I paid $12.99 for this Altos de la Hoya, but, wow!

Some of the vines at Bodegas Olivares date back to 1872, and all are pre-Phylloxera (the root louse that destroyed nearly all of Europe's vineyards in the late 1800s). Because the fruit from these vineyards is gloriously aromatic, the winemaker carefully avoids using any new oak that might cover up the natural scents and flavors. The wine is aged in well seasoned small barrels from Burgundy in France.

The color is deep and inky. From the time the cork is popped, the scents coming from the glass are heavenly. I smell delicate, ripe red berries and flowers at first, almost like Grenache or Pinot Noir. Later, they broaden out; now, I get darker smells of blueberries, cassis, black pepper and spice. Very deep. On the palate, the wine is super friendly. No tannins to get between the tongue and those lovely fruit flavors--red and blue berries and dark peppery, spicy notes. Deep, deep fruit; lovely spicy finish.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pierre Sparr Alsace ONE, 2005

As the label indicates, Alsace ONE is a blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. All of these grapes have a role to play, but right now the Gewurztraminer spiciness is dominating the nose with powerful scents of fruit cocktail, rosepetal and Gewurz barbershop. On the palate, the wine has a glycerined, full bodied texture but plenty of brisk acidity. Peachy ripe up front with Gewurz spiciness again on the mid-palate and a ripe pear-like finish. This is a delightful Alsace white drinking beautifully right now.

Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2006

After a few evenings spent drinking Australian Shiraz and California Cabernet, it was an unbelievable delight to come back home to one of my favorite Southern Rhones. While the Joel Gott and Nine Stones wines (see below) are very well-made, fruit-oriented wines, they lack both the complexity and come-hither qualities of this 2006 Cotes du Rhone.

As in the past several vintages, the color of Grand Prieur is more purplish and less crimson than you'd expect from a traditional Cotes du Rhone. But there is nothing else that might indicate new oak treatment. I smell ripe blueberries, licorice, cherries and Vacqueyras minerals. (The vineyards are in Vacqueyras but the yields are too high to meet appellation standards.) Compared to both the Nine Stones Shiraz and Joel Gott Cabernet tasted alongside it, this wine is very ripe, silky smooth with rounded fruit flavors and a hint of pepper on the finish. Goes well with just about anything you put on the table.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Joel Gott 815 California Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008`

Joel Gott has a Napa Valley Cabernet that sells for about $40. This is a California appellation blend with fruit coming from less exalted vineyards in Mendocino, Lake and Paso Robles. It is probably made with a little less exposure to new oak as well, but the resulting price, $15 to $20, is attractive. It's very fragrant, not so much blackcurrant as blueberries, spice and cassis. The aromas are blended together so nicely you could almost talk about a bouquet. There is sweetish berry fruit on the palate with a slight spiciness. I would say that a good portion of the fruit comes from Paso Robles; it's similar in style to Liberty School and other Cabs from that area.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nine Stones Hilltops Shiraz, 2005

Nine Stones also has Shiraz bottlings from Barossa and McLaren Vale in Southwestern Australia. It's important to read the label before you buy, because each wine has its own personality. If you like your Shiraz big and bold, you'll like the Barossa; I prefer the McLaren Vale for its elegant mid-palate fruit. Hilltops, which comes from high elevation vineyards in Southern New South Wales (in the southeast) shows a totally different side of Shiraz...and one that I like a lot, particularly after it has spent a few years in the bottle.

You can smell the ripe berry fruit from across the table as soon as the screw cap is removed. It has the immediacy of a barrel sample plus the warm glow of a maturing wine. There is very little evidence of new oak, and I like that. On the palate there is black pepper, spice and racy blueberry/raspberry fruit. Reminds me a bit of a Crozes-Hermitage. It's drinking very nicely right now, but I think it will continue to improve for a few more years.

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva Vereto, 2000

I assumed that this wine was on its last legs when I saw many, many bottles on the closeout shelf at Harding's Market for $4.79 a bottle. I avoided it for several days, thinking it was no bargain, then tried a bottle. And the first bottle sent me back for more and more. But that was two years ago, and the wine just keeps getting better and better.

It's a deep ruby with good saturated color, and the bouquet is beautifully mature but without any loss of vibrant fruit. Dark cherries, licorice, flowers--sweetish fruit with ripe skin tannins but plenty of racy acidity. A long, ripe finish, no hard edges. Very Italian, very Puglian, very good. I once had a stash of this wine, but it is too good to stay away from.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Domaine Daulny Clos de Chaudenay Sancerre, 2006

Nearly all Sauvignon Blanc wines are considered DYA--drink youngest available. Although this Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley is four years past its vintage date, it's hard to believe it was ever drinking any better than it is right now. In fact, I've had this wine several times since it appeared on the market, and I can attest that this is a special bottle.

Aromas and flavors of mint and melon are subtle yet penetrating. They are ripe and fruity enough that the wine is pleasing to drink on its own before the meal. And they blend nicely with the complex flavors of Etruscan chicken. On the palate, the wine is fresh and lively but there is good concentration and more body than you'd expect from a Sauvignon Blanc. Domaine Daulny's Clos de Chaudenay has long been one of my favorite white wines. And this is Clos de Chaudenay at its best.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1989

Throughout the 1980s, Domaine Thalabert was one of my favorite wines, showing consistently fine Syrah fruit capable of improving for 20 years or more. Up until 1988, Thalabert was always aged in seasoned oak only--no new wood--and that may have contributed to some of the lovely animal/cured meat/black olive qualities that developed in the wine after 10 years or so in the bottle. A little more than 30 percent of this 1989 Thalabert was aged in new oak, and that may be the reason this wine is less appealing to me.

The color is a medium deep ruby with only a touch of amber at the rim. The bouquet shows purple fruits, lavender and concentrated tomato sauce, but it seems to come up a bit short and stunted. I find the same tannic toughness on the palate. The fruit concentration is good and some attractive berry flavors come and go but are stopped a bit short by a bitter tannic finish. Although tannins can be tamed with aging and aeration, this wine tasted oxidized and overly old after a night in the decanter. Aging is not what it needs.

It's interesting to note that Robert Parker gave this 1989 90 points, one of the highest ratings he's given to any Domaine Thalabert. John Livingstone-Learmouth, in Wines of the Northern Rhone, gives it two stars out of five and says, "drink soon." I agree with Livingstone-Learmouth.

Fred Loimer Lois Gruner Veltliner, 2009

The packaging of this wine is so simple and understated that you're likely to miss it on the shelves. No cute animals, no sexy words such as velvet, just the name "Lois," scribbled nonchalantly in light green ink on a white label. That light mint green is also on the screw cap closure and on the back of the label, giving a subtle green tint to the otherwise clear bottle.

Surprise! Lois Gruner Veltliner smells and tastes as fresh and green as the label suggests--spearmint, green beans, a splash of lime. The wine is very fresh and goes well with vegetable dishes or pasta with pesto. But there is also a creamy texture that wraps around the tongue and teases your taste buds with subtle pleasures. Lois steps lightly but makes a big impression. This wine may appear simple, but there is much to discover.

Chateau Fourcas-Hosten Listrac Medoc, 1981

I enjoyed this wine often during the early 1990s for its lovely black currant/berry Cabernet fruit. Not having visited it for awhile, I now find a mature wine with a different set of traits--different but no less attractive.

The color is a deep ruby with definite amber tones at the rim. I smell and taste a bit of tankiness at first, but this blows away quickly. It's not unexpected in a wine that's been in the bottle for nearly 30 years. The currant/berry perfume has given way to a mature wine bouquet with an attractive minty, cassis quality. There is plenty of acid keeping this wine going but it's still sweet fruited and stately. The fruit concentration is apparent in the long, ripe finish.

Fourcas-Hosten was a bargain back in the early 1980s; the price tag reads $9.95. And it's still a bargain; the 2009 vintage is selling for less than $20.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone, 2005

This is ordinarily one of my favorite Cotes du Rhones, and I have been enjoying this 2005 regularly over the past three years. At this point, however, the wine has taken a definite turn toward maturity and is showing much older than the 2001 did at five, or even ten, years of age. Has the domaine changed any of its wine making practices?

The color is a deep ruby, but amber tones are clearly present at the rim. Initial smells are gorgeous--sweet berries and Provencal herbs--but there is a touch of oxidation that becomes more apparent on the second night. On the palate, I find the usual peppercorn and black fruits but also some alcoholic heat that makes the wine clash with an acidic tomato sauce. The wine has good body, with "legs" clinging to the glass all the way to the rim. Flavors have considerable concentration and depth. But, alas, I liked it better last year, and I was hoping it would carry on for a few more years as the 2001 did.

Domaine Sante Anne Cotes du Rhone Village Saint Gervais, 1999

If you follow this blog regularly, you know how much I like Domaine Sainte Anne wines, and this is my favorite cuvee. The blend contains 50 to 60% Mourvedre, and I know from experience that it takes a special turn for the better (at least for my taste) at around 10 to 12 years of age. Now 11 years after harvest, this 1999 is just about there.

It's a medium deep ruby, still looking young, but the spicy Mourvedre nose tells me it's close to maturity. In its youth, Mourvedre has a tight, purple flower smell that becomes dramatically more expansive with maturity, yielding scents of pungent spices and old and new leather. I also smell ripe blueberries and raspberries, violets and even a hint of the vanilla that is so dominant in the Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone. (None of the Sainte Anne wines see any new oak, so it's a different kind of vanilla aroma, probably coming from ripe stems.) In the mouth, the wine is medium bodied with a silky mouth feel. Beautiful Mourvedre spice and ripe fruit tannins lead to a long finish. The wine goes down easily but still has room to grow. I'm looking forward to visiting it again in a few months.

Damilano Barbera d'Alba, 2005

Barbera from the Piedmont region of Italy is usually consumed at a fairly young age because of its upfront fruit charm. This wine has that charm, but it has also some tannic structure and a depth that requires your attention. Like most Barberas, it is a useful wine because it has enough acid to drink with light meat or vegetable meals and enough dark fruit depth to go with beef, lamb or richly sauced dishes.

The 2005 Damilano Barbera is a very deep ruby color with big fruit aromas--dark cherry, licorice, cassis and flowers. In the mouth, it's even better, coating the tongue with intense dark fruit flavors but no heat or hard tannins. The finish is smooth and beautiful. This is not Barolo, but it is a good poor man's substitute.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

La Vielle Ferme Cotes du Ventoux, 2006

After chewing my way through the tannic leftovers of Altos de Luzon on the second night, this old favorite was a welcome relief. The smells and flavors of red raspberries and crushed black pepper are friendlier and more forward than ever. This is a typical and straightforward Ventoux, yet still subtle enough to maintain a serious interest. And it's one of the least expensive wines on the shelf. This 2006 is burnished and smooth as it slides down. It seems to be showing substantially more age than its 2005 and 2007 siblings but still drinking well. La Vieille Ferme is a wine to drink young, but don't worry if you have a few left over from year to year to remind you of past glories.

Altos de Luzon Jumilla, 2006

Jumilla Monastrell is on my radar at the moment, based in large part on my favorable experience with Luzon Verde a couple of years ago. Another, higher priced, wine from the same bodega, Altos de Luzon is a blend of 50% Monastrell, 25% Temperanillo and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 12 months in new French and American oak. Compared to the Luzon Verde, it is a more internationally styled wine that should have broad appeal. Both Robert Parker and Steve Tanzer gave it high marks.

Altos de Luzon exhibits a deep purplish robe that is sure to bring exclamations from lovers of big, oaky New World Cabernets. There are smells of dill and vanilla from the American oak plus the more subtle toasty scents of French oak, but inside the oak frame I find plenty of berry/cherry dark fruit aromas and flavors. Cabernet currant and Mourvedre spice. Classy wine with plenty of tannic structure for aging five to eight years. It's drinking well now, but I suspect it may close down for a spell before it shows its full potential. On the second night, it's very spicy, but the fruit is mostly hiding behind tannins and alcohol. This will eventually be a very enjoyable wine, but I still prefer its less expensive sibling, Finca Luzon Verde Jumilla Monastrell.

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Soleil Blanc, 2008

When I asked Bernie Rink what grapes he used for Soleil Blanc, he replied: "Soleil Blanc!" I was somewhat embarrassed that I hadn't heard of that grape. "The French have a number for it," he said, "but I make the only Soleil Blanc in North America." The name means "white sun," and Bernie considers it Boskydel's "premium white wine,...bone dry with a touch of oak." He advises waiting "at least a year" before starting to drink it.

In the tasting room at Boskydel and as I try the first bottle of a case I brought home, I am at a bit of a loss to place Soleil Blanc in the context of wines I know. It's a light yellow color, and the aroma doesn't give a big come-on, although it has nice under-stated scents of white peaches, melon and flowers. It's medium to full bodied, again with understated fruit flavors. It's definitely dry but with ripe fruit flavors, pineapple and melon, that carry all the way from front to back. It's pleasant enough to drink now, but I'll take Bernie's word for it: the best is yet to come. This is nothing like Chardonnay. It's not racy enough to be Sauvignon Blanc nor fragrant enough to be Viognier. The acidity is not as apparent as it is in Leelanau Vignoles (my favorite Boskydel wine for many years). Having tasted it just after Domaine des Baumard's Clos du Papillon, I guess I would compare it to a Chenin Blanc from Anjou--often a puzzle, always changing and with good aging potential. I'm looking forward to following this wine over the next several years.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Domaine des Baumards Savennieres Clos du Papillon, 2003

The Clos du Papillon vineyard of Domaine des Baumards in the Loire Valley produces (in my opinion) one of the great white wines of the world--at least in some vintages. Savennieres, a dry Chenin Blanc that ages beautifully over many years, has never been very well known even among wine enthusiasts, and Clos du Papillon was cheap enough for me to buy in quantity during the 1980s. I enjoyed far too many at that time, when they were young, but held back a few bottles from the 1981 and 1985 vintages that are now showing the wine's full potential (see my post of February 17, 2008).

As more wine drinkers have discovered Savennieres, the price of Clos du Papillon has climbed to about $35 a bottle--still cheap for a wine of this quality but beyond my budget. So when I saw the 2003 Clos du Papillon offered for $17.99, I jumped at the opportunity. There was a reason for the discounted price, of course. The 2003 vintage was one of warmest on record, even for the usually cool Loire Valley. As a result, acidity was lower than usual and even though the Wine Spectator gave this wine high marks, it was downgraded somewhat by the WineDoctor, Chris Kissack (thewinedoctor.com). Kissack, one of my most reliable sources for information and tasting notes of Loire wines, had this to say: "Although it shows some early promise it becomes clear that this wine is less vibrant and precise than I would really like. And the acidity is unsurprisingly low, which lessens its appeal. A difficult vintage it seems. 14+?/20 (July 2007)" That review was enough to keep me from buying more than two bottles, a decision I now regret.

Now seven years from the vintage, the wine is a medium deep yellow. The Chenin Blanc nose is immediately apparent--peaches, melons and spring flowers. Has the elegance and finesse of a fine wine. Yes, it is riper than I'd expect from a Savennieres, but that's not all bad, at least at this stage. It's very ripe up front, then shows some reductive tannic notes that suggest it still has some development ahead of it. After the wine has been open for several hours, the flavors open and become riper all the way through the finish--honey, melons, minerals and hint of petrol. This wine may never become as good as the 1985 (February 18, 2008), but I now wish I had bought more than two bottles.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet, 2008

Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet may be the last of the inexpensive yet sturdy and ageworthy Aussie reds. Big conglomerates have been buying up smaller Australian wineries for many years; yet Penfolds has resisted efforts to commercialize and internationalize at least some of its traditional labels. You'll see the Koonunga Hill name on Cabernet, Shiraz and Chardonnay, but the original (Koonunga Hill Claret) was a Shiraz Cabernet, introduced in 1976. We spent 1976-77 in Australia, and Koonunga Hill Claret, selling for $1.79 a bottle or less, was one of our every day favorites. The Koonunga Hill vineyard was a fine one, but the high-volume wines bearing that name today are "named after" the vineyard and the sturdy type of wine it produced. This 2008 Shiraz Cabernet comes from vineyards in Padthaway, Barossa, Wrattonbully, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Valey and Coonawarra--all excellent appellations for Shiraz and Cabernet. The price suggests, of course, that few, if any, of the grapes were the pick of the lot.

The Shiraz Cab blend produces unique aromas and flavors, different from those of either grape. I smell black plums, berries and other dark fruits along with brown spices and maybe a hint of dark chocolate. Small parcels of this wine were matured in small oak barriques with the rest in stainless steel. The result is a wine focused on fruit rather than oak but with firm tannins. It's ripe enough to enjoy now, but it should age nicely until 2016, according to the winemaker. From my experience, the bouquet and flavors of a Shiraz Cab are at their best with that kind of medium term aging.

The Koonunga Hill line is selling for about $8 to $9 a bottle right now, marked down from the usual price of $10 to $12. Whether you're interested in cellaring wines or not, it's a good buy.

A-Mano Pinot Grigio, 2008

This is my favorite under-$10 Pinot Grigio at the moment. It's available for $7.99 at Sawall's Health Foods in Kalamazoo (and undoubtedly other locations around the country). But if you're interested, you should act fast because the wine is high quality and suggested retail price is substantially higher (around $16).

Some of the grapes for this Pinot Grigio are dried in a mountain loft for several weeks before being added to the crushed juice. After fermentation, the wine is stirred weekly to mix in the spent yeast cells (lees). All of this adds body and complexity to a wine that is incredibly fresh and fruit-oriented.

Now a year old, the color of this 2008 is a medium yellow, darker than when I tasted it last Spring. Aromas and flavors are vibrant--peaches, tropical fruits, mint and melon with a racy citric edge. This is exactly the type of wine I like to add spice to a vegetable meal. Flavors are very finely focused, a rarity for a wine at this price level. It smells like a light wine, but it has a pleasing weight on the palate.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Mourvedre, 2008

I'm always a bit skeptical when I see the term "ancient vines" on a New World wine. In some cases, it means vines that may be relatively old but would be considered "young" in France, Italy or Spain. That's clearly not the case with this wine, which I ordered by the glass at Zingerman's Road House in Ann Arbor. It has all the concentration and power that I expect from old vines and, what is more important, true Mourvedre character.

With a little research, I learned that most of the grapes come from some of the oldest vines in California--110 to 115 years old--from Oakley just east of San Francisco. As I remember, this has in the past been a prime source for Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John, who produces some of my favorite New World Mourvedre and Syrah wines.

The wine is a deep purplish color, and I also find deep purple flower tones in the aromas and flavors. There is a rough tree bark note in the smells that may turn off some tasters. But that's Mourvedre. Have a little patience. With a little aging, a little aeration or just a little rich food in your mouth to coat the tongue, the rough outer shell opens to reveal a beautiful kernel of fruit--fresh, dew-covered blueberries on a bed of violets. Other tasters' notes speak of eucalyptus, dark cherries and cocoa powder. And I agree. On the tongue, there is true old vine concentration but the tannins are ripe enough that the wine goes down smoothly right now.

I am a real fan of Mourvedre from Southern France, Spain and Edmunds St. John in California. Add this Cline Cellars Ancient Vines to the list. At 8 to 10 years of age, it should be even better.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Camille Cayran Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne, 2004

If you're looking for a stereotype of Cairanne, you need two descriptors: dark cherries and black pepper. This wine has always been a typical Cairanne, and, as it matures, the dark cherry and black pepper elements are becoming all the more pronounced. At some point, the stereotype will become an over-the-hill caricature; but not yet.

The color is still deep and dark. The bouquet: cherries and pepper plus plus. The flavors are getting fuller and broader with maturity, and there is a peppery warmth on the mid-palate. Made by the coop at Cairanne, Camille Cayran was produced with at least some degree of carbonic maceration to preserve the fresh fruit traits. In its youth, it was a charmer; and in its late middle age, it still gives me plenty of pleasure.

Val de Sil Valdeorras Godello, 2008

This is probably the best bargain wine available right now in Southwest Michigan, selling for $9 to $10 at D&W Markets or Russo's Wine and Spirits in Grand Rapids. That's less than half its suggested retail price. But what's more important is that this is a very fine wine.

Godello is a traditional white-wine grape of Galicia in northwestern Spain. Because the grape is difficult to grow, it fell out of favor among winemakers for many years but is now making a comeback...and for good reason. It makes wine that is as fat in texture as Chardonnay but with subtle, delicate aromas and a complex array of flavors. This was my first taste of Godello, and it was love at first smell.

Bodegas Valdesil makes several cuvees of Godello, some from vines 140 years old. This Val de Sil comes from 20-year-old vines planted on hillsides at an altitude of 500 meters above sea level. The grapes were harvested by hand and vinified without oak but with some time spent on the lees.

It's a medium light yellow with some green glints. On the nose, it's a bit shy but opens up beautifully--pears, white peaches, spring flowers. In the mouth, it's very full bodied for such an aromatic wine--somewhat like Viognier in this respect. It smells sweet but tastes dry. There is a good mineral touch in the complex flavors and a pleasantly bitter finish that tells me the wine will only get better with some time in the bottle. The makers say it will develop positively over 36 months.

What's to say? I bought a case. And now that I've written this, maybe I should have bought more.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tahbilk Victorian Cabernet Sauvignon, 1990

Tahbilk (formerly known as Chateau Tahbilk) is far from being the most expensive Australian Cabernet, but it is, in my estimation, one of the most authentic and ageworthy. The last bottle I had of this 1990 Cab was in December of 2004, and this bottle represents a definite improvement.

At 20 years of age, the color is still good with minimal amber around the rim. The bouquet is well developed with notes of currants and mint. Previous bottles of this wine have been spicier and much less classic in this respect. It's light and elegant on the palate, claret-like, but with good concentration. Mid-palate flavors are savory, almost salty, and the finish is long and ripe with no hard edges. This is an excellent Australian Cabernet at its prime.

Gran Sasso Sangiovese IGT Terre de Chieti, 2008

This was a very satisfying wine-by-the-glass selection I had at Salt of the Earth Rustic Eatery in Fennville, MI.

My initial impression: this is not Sangiovese. It's not as big nor as aggressively acidic as a Sangiovese from Tuscany, but that apparently is due to the terroir and not to any manipulation. The color is every bit as deep and dark as the Australian Shiraz (d'Arenberg Stump Jump) beside it, but the wine is much less tannic than it appears. There are pleasing aromas of dark cherries, black plums, herbs and soft fruit tannins that make the wine very drinkable, with or without food. It's similar to the Stump Jump in style but, in my view, has considerably more depth and complexity.

According to winemaker Marco Flacco's notes, grapes were hand picked, de-stemmed, crushed, macerated and then fermented at 26 to 28 degrees Centigrade. The wine was aged for five months in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks before bottling. I haven't seen this Sangiovese on retail shelves but will keep an eye out for it. It should sell for about $10 a bottle.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Domaine le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras, 1999

This is one of the finest of Vacqueyras wines, and I am impressed every time I open a bottle. It has a deep, dark garnet color all the way to the rim. From the first sniff and sip, this wine is very black fruit, very Vacqueyras--berries, plums, black licorice and minerals. The bouquet is nicely developed and classic to the Vacqueyras appellation. There is warmth on the palate that brings forward a pleasing array of flavors. Tasted side by side, this wine is firmer, not as fruity as the Mordoree (see below); but there is significantly more concentration and depth. Complex, ripe, fruit flavors come together in a cascade on the finish, bringing me back for sip after sip. This is a very fine wine, not at all old at 11 years of age.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Domaine de la Mordoree Lirac, 1998

This wine was recently pronounced DOA by a taster at a wine board I often visit. I disagree. The color is a medium deep ruby with some browning but really not very much. The ripe cherry/berry smells are fragrant. I pick up some slight volatility, but that probably adds, rather than detracts from the wine's ripe fruit charm. I sense some volatility on the mid-palate as well, and the wine seems to be losing the impeccable balance that characterized it a few years ago. If you're grading wines, as you would students in a classroom, you might mark it down. But if you're looking for enjoyment, this wine still offers plenty. It's 50% Syrah, 50% Grenache, and the Syrah seems to be in control at the moment.

Matthieu de Brully Bourgogne Pinot Noir, 2005

This Bourgogne Rouge personifies the delicate side of Pinot Noir. It's very light in color, almost pink. Sniffing the wine is like walking into a Cherry Republic store in northern Michigan--sweet, fragrant cherries on a bed of spring flowers and Pinot dirt. There is absolutely no thickness in this wine, but there is a tensile strength and a ripe finish.

On the second night, the wine tasted tired, and the cherries had given way to the earthy Pinot qualities. I would say its time for drinking has arrived.

Perrin & Fils Vinsobres Les Cornuds, 2004

The Perrin brothers produce two of my favorite wines--the exalted Chateau Beaucastel Chateuneuf du Pape (now out of my price range at $60+ a bottle) and the lowly La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux (one of my every day favorites at $5 to $8 a bottle). Over the past couple of decades, the Perrins have branched out into many other areas of the Cotes du Rhone as well as Paso Robles, CA (Tablas Creek). Wherever they go, their philosophy of wine-making virtually ensures a wine that is high quality and true to the traditions of the wine's origins.

This Vinsobres Les Cornuds is produced from 65% Syrah and 35% Grenache grapes using mostly traditional methods. About 35% is aged in seasoned French oak, however, and this probably broadens the wine's appeal. Now approaching maturity, the wine is still very deep and dark with forward smells of pepper, spice and black fruits, mostly dark cherries and black raspberries. It smells very traditional to me and typical of Vinsobres and the 2004 vintage. The oak influence comes through more in the flavors--not overtly oaky but ripe and silky smooth. The peppery, spicy flavors come through nicely even though there are some oak tannins on the finish.

Vinsobres is in the southern part of the Cotes du Rhone, between Valreas and Nyons. This is an area that had more olive groves than vineyards until about 50 years ago, but the vines now have enough age to produce some truly distinctive wines. I like them.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chateau Saint Bonnet Medoc Cru Bourgeois, 1982

The gap between the rich and the poor among Bordeaux estates is widening. When I paid $5.75 for this Medoc Cru Bourgeois, I could have purchased Lafite or Latour for less than $50, Cos d'Estournel for less than $20. For the current 2009 vintage, first growths are priced at $1,000 a bottle and up, Cos for about $300 while Saint Bonnet and other comparable Cru Bourgeois sell for less than $15. "You get what you pay for," some wine drinkers insist, but that's clearly not true.

After 28 years in the bottle, Saint Bonnet is still a dark ruby color with minimal amber tones at the edge. The cork is soggy and hard to remove so it may not have been protecting the wine as intended, but there is really very little oxidation for a wine of this age. I get some slight medicinal smells when the bottle is first opened, but they blow away within a few minutes. The black currant and other fruit aromas that were present in December of 2008, however, have been replaced by mature wine scents--dried cherries, oriental spices and a hint of black tea. Although the blend is 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet, there are none of the green herbal smells that are often associated with Merlot. On the palate, the wine is ripe and charming with a smooth mid-palate and a pleasing finish. This is not a wine to blow you away, but it's very enjoyable for what it is and not at all old.

Saint Bonnet will never compete with Lafite or Cos, of course, and I can't guarantee that recent vintages of this wine were made with the same standards as the 1982. But there are lesser known wines such as Poujeaux and Fourcas Hosten that can be had for a fraction of the price of a classed growth and will give you much more than a fraction of the quality.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Edna Valley Vineyards Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard Chardonnary, 2005

This is another wine that was lost in the cellar (though not in the beer fridge). Edna Valley is a well priced Chardonnay ($10/bottle) that I buy periodically. I am currently drinking the 2007 vintage, but this 2005 was found under some other bottles in the cellar. Experience told me it should be opened sooner rather than later, and I was right.

The white peach, floral quality of Edna Valley fruit has been completely replaced by mainly oak traits--brown butter, lime and coconut. Those who like oak more than I do can still enjoy this wine, but for quality and authentic personality, I'll take the 2004 Pinot Grigio from Gaetano d'Aquino (a $3 wine lost in the beer fridge for five years) any day.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

La Clape Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge des Karantes, 2007

This is another 2007 wine from Southern France that I have mixed feelings about. The color is a deep ruby and the wine smells tannic--skins and pips rather than oak. Within a few minutes, the aromas open up a bit: black- and blueberries with Mourvedre purple flowers but no Grenache red fruit at this stage. I think it's alcohol (14%) more than tannin that keeps the wine stand-offish on the palate, and my initial impression is that it has enough fruit to carry it once it gets past an awkward stage. Right now, though, it reminds me more of the Grand Prieur than the Delas Saint Esprit (see below), and I am not impressed.

2007 in Southern France has been touted as a vintage of the century, but, at this point, I've gotten much more pleasure from 2005. Time will tell.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Boskydel Vineyards Revisited: No Vignoles. Soleil Blanc

On my last visit to Boskydel Vineyards, I bought two bottles of the 2008 Vignoles, and those bottles were good enough to bring me back last weekend to buy a case. Alas, I was too late; the Vignoles was sold out, with the next vintage not due until next Spring. So I bought a case of the 2008 Boskydel Soleil Blanc and may end up liking it even better than the Vignoles.

Boskydel is by far the least commercial of the wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan, and it is also one of the best. Owner Bernie Rink, now in his 80s, is not a salesman and doesn't specialize in vintages of the century. "You wouldn't want the 2009," he said. "That was the worst vintage I've had in 40 years of winemaking."

I was disappointed by not getting my case of Vignoles, but the Soleil Blanc--Boskydel's highest priced wine at $9.35 a bottle or $71/case (including tax)--intrigued me. "What is the grape?" I asked. "Soleil Blanc. Oh, the French have a number for it. But I'm the only person in the country making a Soleil Blanc wine."

I liked the clean, crisp aromas and flavors. It has pleasant fruit but lacks the acidity I expect from Vignoles. "Will it age?" I asked. "All wines improve with age," Bernie answered flatly. And I knew exactly what he was saying. There are, of course, bottles that go downhill--or sideways--from the day they are placed on the shelves, but they don't meet Bernie's (nor my) definition of wine.

He showed me an empty bottle labeled Boskydel Red, 1980. "This was sent to me by a couple who had the wine last New Year's Eve. They loved it." I needed no convincing. The few bottles of his 1982 Vignoles that I kept on a back shelf of the cellar for nearly 20 years rewarded my patience...and then some.

Soleil Blanc clearly lacks the acidic thrust of Vignoles. "It won't age as long as the Vignoles," Bernie said, "but it will improve for at least 10 years." I'm not sure I will have the patience (or the longevity) to taste Soleil Blanc at its best, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Giuseppe Lonardi Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore Veneto, 2006

The first good decision was to eat at Trattoria Stella, an off-the-beaten track restaurant in Traverse City, located in a restored mental hospital building at Grand Traverse Commons. This is a place that takes food and wine seriously, and every bite and sip I had at Trattoria Stella was heavenly. The second good decision was to order the gnochetti pasta dish made with slow-cooked shoulder of wild boar, caramalized onions, coriander and a fried edgg. And the third good decision was to order a 500 ml carafe of this Ripasso to accompany it. The wine was as rich, intense and delightful as the gnochetti--reduced, powerful scents and flavors of blackberries, dark cherries and licorice. Great fruit concentration and structure. Any restaurant offering a wine like this by the glass or carafe ($24 for 500 ml) is worth numerous return visits.

I've since learned that the wine can be purchased for about $20 to $22 a bottle retail--worth every penny. If you're not familiar with Ripasso, it is a cousin of Amarone, the rich, highly regarded and highly priced Italian dessert wine. The traditional way of making Amarone is to spread the grapes on a rooftop to dry, then using the highly concentrated produce to make the wine. With Ripasso, grapes dried by a similar process are added to the fermenting must of a dry wine. According to Lonardi, each plant yields only one-half to one bottle of Ripasso--and even less for Amarone, which loses 30 to 40 percent of its mass in the drying process. The result is a wine concentrated enough to stand up to the richest dish you can place on the table, such as gnochetti made with shank of wild boar.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jean Descombes Morgon, 1997

I've written about Jean Descombes Morgon many times; it is one of my favorite Cru Beaujolais wines, and I buy it in nearly every vintage. It's a wine that ages well, and I try to sample it at various stages. At present, 1995 is one of my favorite vintages, and, while this 1997 is two years its junior, it's showing more age right now.

It's a deep cherry red, shading to amber at the edge. The classic dark cherry scents are there, reserved and graceful. An aged Jean Descombes Morgon develops the personality of red Burgundy, and this vintage is no exception. The finish is sweet and in line with the Descombes style. A bit tired but still a beauty.

The vintage on the market right now is the 2008, selling for $13 to $15. It was a bit of a disappointment when I tasted it last Spring, but I plan to re-visit it soon.

Lost in the Beer Fridge: Gaetano d'Aquino Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, 2004

My son is master of the beer fridge; I rarely go near it. But on a cleaning binge in the basement recently, I discovered not only beer but a lone bottle of wine in the car fridge. Unfortunately, it was not Chateau Latour, but Gaetano d'Aquino's Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, a Trader Joe's bargain at $3.99 a bottle (or less). This bottle apparently had been misplaced at the time of my daughter's wedding and had been sitting untouched--lost in the beer fridge--for five years.

The label, still as old-fashioned as it was in 2005, describes the wine as "light gold in color with a full, dry flavor and pleasingly bitter aftertaste." And when the bottle was opened, that was exactly what was found. I would now call the color "medium light gold" because it has darkened slightly, but the flavor was even fuller and dryer than it was in its youth. And there was still plenty of zip and life in the pleasingly bitter finish. It took awhile for the aromas to open up--subtle flowers and ripe pears--and flavors also broadened and gained complexity as the wine aired in the glass. This is now a very substantial Pinot Grigio, all the better for the five years it spent conversing with beer.

The lesson: d'Aquino Pinot Grigio is well worth the $3.99 you'll pay at Trader Joe's or even the $5.99 you'll pay for the slightly updated label (same wine) at Cost Plus World Market. It drinks well young and will keep for several years. I wouldn't say the same for Two Buck Chuck.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva Vereto, 2000

Agricole Vallone's Salice Salentino has reached a good stage of maturity, at least for my taste. The color has lightened to a brick red, and the aromas and flavors are nicely burnished, although this wine has never been anything other than outgoing and friendly. I smell dark cherries, licorice and lots of ripe skin tannins. There is substance and structure, mostly from the peels, but the ripe fruit qualities still dominate. It's silky smooth, and the flavors glide all the way to a long, pleasing finish. I bought this wine for $4.79 on closeout three or four years ago, and I'm still getting my dividends on a regular basis. Alas, only two bottles left.

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This has been one of my favorites Cotes du Rhone wines for more than a decade, and I still drink the 2005 and 2006 vintages with great pleasure. The 2007 Grand Prieur seems impressive from the first pour and sniff, but it ends up being a bit of a disappointment for a vintage that has received such acclaim.

It's deep and dark for a Cotes du Rhone with some bluish tints (as in the 2005 and 2006) but no sign of new oak aging. It smells and tastes tannic but is still fruit-oriented--black fruits, spice, minerals, black pepper and even some purple flowers a la Gigondas. This is an ambitious Cotes du Rhone but perhaps a little too much so. On the second night, the alcohol (14%) seems to dominate and wipe out the ripe fruit qualities. I may have caught this wine at an awkward stage, but I suspect it will never please me as much as the 2005 does.

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This is still my favorite 2007 Cotes du Rhone. Deep and dark; looks almost like a Crozes Hermitage. Black pepper and spice and everything nice. Young Syrah aromas; smells lively and it is. Sweetness of red raspberry tart but with lemon peel acidity. Pleasantly warm but not hot (13.5%). Good structure and mouthfeel but flavors unfold nicely even after being open several days on the counter. This wine will get even better when the Grenache qualities start to shine. Still available for about $10 at D&W and Cost Plus World Market.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chateau de la Roulerie Anjou Rouge le Maronis, 2006

This is a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley that is drinking beautifully right now and should continue to do so for some time. The color is deep and dark with bluish tints, still young. Typical Cab Franc aromas and flavors are well displayed: black raspberries and cherries, flowers and a dusty, dry finish, somewhat like black tea. Tannins are smooth and silky, and the wine should go well with a variety of summer dishes. If you like sweetish, oaky New World Cabernet Franc or Sauvignon, you might be turned off by the earthy finish (some describe it as "dirt"), but it's true Cabernet Franc. The wine comes from vineyards that can be traced back to 1020, and winemaking practices are traditional and uncompromising. Try it; you might well love it, as I do.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gilbert Picq et ses Fils Chablis, 2000

While on the topic of unoaked Chardonnays, here is another fine example. Gilbert Picq ages all of his wines in stainless steel to preserve the special character of wines from this region, located about halfway between Paris and the slopes of Burgundy.

The color is deeper than the Faively Montagny (below) but not yet showing any sign of advancing age. The aromas are classic Chablis: flint, minerals, citrus, bold and lively. This wine has many of the mineral qualities of a good Sancerre but is still unmistakeably Chardonnay from Chablis. A perfect accompaniment for seafood paella. The finish is piercing and could probably benefit from a bit more aging. I opened the wine a bit earlier than I ordinarily would because I had a few bottles of Picq Chablis from the 1996 and 1997 vintages that showed some premature oxidation. Whatever might have caused this premature oxidation, it should not be blamed on the vineyards nor the winemaking of Gilbert Picq. This is one of the finest and one of the best values in Chablis.

Domaine Faively Montagny, 2006

This is a white Burgundy from Montagny, a satellite region just north of the Maconnais. As I've mentioned in an earlier post, it's an excellent version of unoaked Chardonnay, capturing the qualities of the grape and its origins--hillside vineyards at an altitude of about 400 meters. By New World standards, yields are relatively low--about 3.7 tons per acre.

The color is a medium light yellow. Some at the table are surprised to learn that it's a Chardonnay because it has brisk acidity and a lively personality. "There is more pear and less apple than you expect from a Chardonnay," one taster commented. Actually, there are both pears and apples but slightly unripe along with lemon, minerals and spring flowers. An absolutely gorgeous wine with all the qualities I expect from a Chardonnay.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Francois et Denis Clair Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Beaune, 2002

There are many artisans in the Burgundy region of France but not many wines that could be described as "budget." This Hautes-Cotes de Beaune, selling for $15 to $20 a bottle, is one of my candidates.

The color is a medium light garnet/ruby with bright lively tones. Smells coming from the glass are warm and aromatic--pomegranate, boysenberry and purple flowers. The wine has the delicacy to be expected from a fine Pinot Noir--light in body but rich in flavors of fresh red berries, cherries and a hint of Pnot earth. The earthy quality is actually much less prominent than in the Angeline California Pinot Noir reviewed below. I don't find many tannins, but there is a tensile strength that holds it all together. Sweet fruit with good acidity and a long finish. Reminds me of a wine from Nuits St. George, a nearby but much pricier appellation.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Guigal Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde, 1990

This is from a 375 ml bottle, and I would say that a half bottle of this is worth at least a magnum of any other Syrah you could put on the table. Although some brown/amber tones are forming, this 20-year-old is still remarkably deep and dark. Because it was from a half bottle, we probably finished this wine off too quickly to let the remarkable bouquet open up. The one quality everyone at the table noted was lavendar but I also smelled thyme, grilled tomatoes, and red and black fruits. I wish I had been more patient finishing off my glass, but the flavors and palate feel were too good to resist. Smooth and round with clearly defined flavors. Red berries and animal. Great concentration and lively fruit on the finish. This has to rank as one of my top wines of the year.

Tarima Jumilla Monastrel, 2009

From my admittedly limited experience, I would say that Jumilla is an excellent region for Monastrel (Spanish for Mourvedre). I have yet to taste an ordinary Monastrel from this appellation and was delighted to find this offering on the shelves at Cost Plus World Market for $6.99 for a bottle. Tarima is imported by Jorge Ordonez, who also brought in the excellent Finca Luzon Jumilla Monastrel I reviewed last year. Tarima, I have found out, is a replacement for Finca Luzon in Ordonez' portfolio.

The color is a medium light ruby, and the overall character of this wine leans lightly toward finesse rather than power. It has all the complexity I expect from Mourvedre but with Burgundian elegance. Berries galore--blue and black--on the nose plus Mourvedre flowers and spice. Still young with a lot more to come over the next couple of years. There is very little tannin in this wine, however, so I would not put it away for the long term. The label says 15% alcohol, but that's hard to believe. No heat, no warmth, no thickness; plenty of well focused fruit and elegance. It's a worthy successor to the Finca Luzon, I would say.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone, 2007

Some bottles of Les Trois Couronnes have exhibited the ripe Grenache qualities typical of the warm 2007 vintage. This and other bottles I have opened show a much more stern, almost tart quality as if at least some of the grapes were picked slightly unripe. The first impression I get is garrigue--spicy, briary Provencal herbs--a quality that is lacking in many overly ripe Southern Rhones from 2007. Also deep, deep cherry aromas and flavors. Skin tannins provide plenty of structure, almost too much. I have found considerable bottle variation, but no duds, from Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone, still widely available for about $7 a bo ttle.

Charamba Douro 2007

This is dry red wine from the Douro region of Portugal is made from the varieties used to make Port: Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional.

There is nothing shy about this wine. It has a very deep color and expressive aromas that are both elegant and powerful. Flowers, red and black fruits. Firm in the middle but flavors emerge nicely on the finish. I don't detect any oak, but the fruit tannins should carry this wine a long way. At $5 a bottle, how can you go wrong?

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Vignoles, 2006

Through the 1980s, Vignoles was a staple offering of wineries in the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan. Larry Mawby, who now concentrates on producing high quality sparkling wines, made excellent Vignoles and Vignoles Reserve wines that were always on my buying list. In fact, I still have a couple of bottles of Mawby Vignoles from 1982 and 1983 that I will open soon, mainly for curiosity because 27 years is a bit much for even a well made Vignoles. My other favorite Vignoles during that period was made by Bernie Rink at Boskydel Vineyards. When I finally found my way to Bernie's tasting room last summer, I was delighted to find that he is still making a dry Vignoles, perhaps the only one on the peninsula. I bought two bottles and opened the first last August, finding it to be a throwback to the Vignoles of old that I loved so much. A year later, I opened the second bottle and found the kind of change and development to be expected of a fine wine.

The color is now a deep gold, showing signs of maturity. The bouquet takes awhile to open but shows sweet scents of white flowers. Pineapple flavors dominate the palate, ripe and full bodied with racy acidity. Flavors cling to the back of the throat.

Boskydel is no longer available in wine stores or supermarkets in my area, but at the winery this wine sells for $8.99 a bottle or $65 a case. That's an incredible case discount, and I plan to pick up a case the next time I make it to Leelenau.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Angeline California Pinot Noir, 2008

I'm nearly always disappointed by the Pinot Noirs I order from the wine list at the Common Grill in Chelsea, MI. But this one has the smells and flavors of real Pinot Noir and is a good match for the always excellent fish dishes at the Common Grill.

After a few sips, I realized that this is the same Martin Ray Angeline I enjoyed several vintages ago. Martin Ray's Pinot vineyards are a mixed bag; as I remember, I always liked the Sonoma better than the Mendocino cuvee. This California appellation bottling apparently is a blend of produce from Sonoma, Mendocino and Santa Barbara. And I like it.

The smells are classic Pinot---fragrant flowers mingled with ripe strawberries and cherries. And there is Pinot earth as well as fresh fruit on the palate. This is a wine worth looking for on retail shelves. The earlier Martin Ray Angelines sold for about $15; I suspect this one, with the broader appellation, is a bit cheaper.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin Reserve des Seigneurs Cairanne, 1998

This is one of my favorite wines, and the 1998 one the best vintages I've had of this cuvee. Ordinarily this is a wine for drinking at about five to seven years of age, but this 1998 seems to be getting better with every bottle.

The color is a medium deep crimson, still bright and lively but with some garnet tones developing. The bouquet is full of cherries, red plums and garrigue. Has everything I like about Cairanne--sweet fruit and spice, velvety texture, mouthfilling, lovely finish. Like most Southern Rhone wines, this one benefits from about 10 minutes in the fridge before serving during the hottest summer months, at least for my taste.

I had the 2000 Reserve des Seigneurs a couple of years ago alongside a Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape. I preferred the Cairanne and believe this 1998 would also be a good match for any Chateauneuf du Pape of comparable age. I paid less than $10 for the 1998, but the current price for Reserve des Seigneurs is about $20 a bottle.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Domaine du Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2005

From the same vintage as the Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone (below) and from vineyards only a few kilometers away, this Font-Sane Ventoux has a distintly different personality. The color is medium deep crimson but with none of the bluish tones of the CDR. Pepper, spice, flowers and berries are all there but in a different proportion and format. At this stage, the wine is all red fruit, not as ripe as the Grand Prieur perhaps but more lively with a lifted minty, herbal quality to the aromas. Two summers ago, this was the wine that our resident hummingbird tried to dive bomb in the glass, and it still has some of those come-hither qualities although it is beginning to show some signs of maturity.

Like the two wines below, this red Ventoux can safely accompany any summer dish featuring fresh vegetables and herbs. And if you have a strip steak or lamb chop on the grill, all the better.

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2005

Lke Ottone I (below), Grand Prieur is a wine I usually drink in its first year after release, but I have a few bottles from 2005 and 2006 alongside the 2007s in my cellar. My first impression on pulling the cork was that the wine was beginning to lose some of its vibrant fruit; about 10 minutes later, I became convinced that it is in its prime and dancing.

The color still has some bluish tints, unusual for a Cotes du Rhone, but when the glass is nearly empty, you can see the lightening shades of crimson with some slight browning at the rim. The nose reveals lovely mature pepper and spice with some floral tones. Then black raspberries and licorice. A rich mouthful of ripe fruit.

San Silvestri Ottone I Barbera Piemonte, 2007

I drank this Barbera with Asian food, Margharita (basil, tomatoes, garlic) pizza and lamb with chick pea stew. It went well with all three, and that is one of the beauties of this inexpensive Barbera. It has enough acidity to be used with white wine dishes and enough black fruit substance to match up with lamb or beef dishes.

The color is a very deep crimson, no change from previous bottles. Although I ordinarily drink this wine young, I suspect it might take on some nuances with a couple of years of age. Aromas and flavors are of dark cherries, licorice and roses. It has an almost aggressive attack without overpowering vegetable dishes; the ripe fruit sort of overpowers all else. Very pleasant, but right now this wine is a bit one dimensional, particularly compared to the Cotes du Rhone and Ventoux described above.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pasqua Venezie Pinot Grigio Garganega, 2009

This is a $5 wine that's widely available. And with a coupon, you can get a $5 rebate on the purchase of two bottles. That's cheap, but the wine is not. It has good color and brisk acidity with hints of mint, basil, citrus and apple. At this stage of development, it reminds of MezzaCorona but maybe even more exciting on the palate. The Garganega adds a pleasantly bitter note and some complexity.

I saw a bottle of 2007 on shelf beside this one, but I went for the 2009 since we like Venezie Pinot Grigio for its vivid fruit qualities. I'll take more, please.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How About Bordeaux Futures?

There is widespread agreement among wine critics that 2009 is an excellent vintage for red Bordeaux wines. So even though the wines are not yet in the bottle, trade in these wines is taking place through the futures market. I have bought Bordeaux on futures for similar vintages in the past--1982, 1986 and 1990--always ending up with good wine at an incredibly low price. For example, I bought a case of the 1986 Cos d'Estournel for $345--less than $30 a bottle for a wine that sold for about $50 when it reached the store shelves. If you want the 2009 Cos, the futures price is $4,200/case. The swing could go the other way, of course, particularly if the Euro crashes against the U.S. dollar, but futures purchases are usually a good idea in excellent vintages, as long as you avoid the highest-priced, most highly hyped offerings.

I'm not buying any 2009 wines on futures myself (mainly because of my age), but if I were, these are the wines I would go for:
1. Tour St. Bonnet at $139/case (see note below) would be my top choice. I have found wines from this estate consistently good over several decades--as fine as wines selling for two to three times as much. And they age fantastically. Parker calls Tour St. Bonnet a "sleeper of the vintage" with "the finest potential of all the offerings I have ever tasted from this estate."

2. Fourcas Hosten at $199/case. I have bought and enjoyed Fourcas Hosten wines from the 1975, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1990 vintages. And again, they are always at least as good as wines costing two or three times as much. Jancis Robinsons says: "Seems like the sort of wine that should be a pleasure to drink all its life. The best Fourcas Hosten I can remember tasting."

3. Pitray at $119/case is an incredible bargain. I bought Pitray by the case in 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1986 and never regretted it. Parker says this is the best Pitray he's tasted, and I take his word for it. Pitray will drink best about 2012 to 2015; it's not a long ager like Tour St. Bonnet and Fourcas Hosten but very enjoyable.

4. Chateau Caronne Ste. Gemme, $179/case. My experience with this wine is not as extensive as with the above wines, but every Caronne Ste. Gemme I've had has been very good. This wine is highly regarded by British wine experts and often overlooked by Americans.

5. Pontoise Cabarrus, $179/case, is another reliably good value that I have purchased and enjoyed in 1979, 1981 and 1983. It's recommended by Decanter as a "fleshy, firm wine." Can be enjoyed young but will keep for many years.

6. Poujeaux at $399/case is more expensive than the rest but still an incredible bargain. According to one story, Baron Rothschild, when given a glass of the 1953 Poujeax at a state dinner, insisted that he was tasting his own wine, Chateau Lafite...until he was shown the label. I bought Poujeaux in 1982 and 1985 and have been equally impressed. Why buy Lafite when you can get Poujeaux for a fraction of the price? The Wine Spectator says the 2009 may be the best Poujeaux since 1929. I'm dubious because I've tasted the superb 1982. (The futures price for the 2009 Lafite, by the way, is $18,349/case.)

That's by no means an exhaustive list, just a few of the wines that would tweak my attention if I were certain I would still be alive and enjoying wine (at age 101!) in 2040. The prices (and the compilation of notes) are all from Village Corner in Ann Arbor, MI. Pitray at less than $10 a bottle?? I'm truly tempted.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Chateau Tour St. Bonnet Cru Bourgeois Medoc, 1990

I don't drink Cabernet or Bordeaux blends nearly as much as I once did. When I do, this is the kind of wine that catches and holds my attention. I have bought Tour St. Bonnet in good ageworthy vintages such as 1982, 1990 and 1995 and never been disappointed. I never paid more than $10 a bottle, and in 2009 futures offerings by Village Corner in Ann Arbor, the wine can be purchased for $139 a case--less than $12 a bottle. No other Cabernet blend I know gives as much serious pleasure for the price. And it ages very well.

Compared to the 10-year-old Margaret River Cab from Xanadu (see June 30 note below), this 20-year-old beauty is still vigorous and powerful, almost too young. And the power comes from fruit tannins rather than oak or alcohol. Like most Chateauneuf du Pape estates and some of the more traditional Bordeaux ones, Tour Saint Bonnet ages the wine for 18 months in large oak foudres that are seasoned enough that they impart no oak traits. The alcohol level is 12% compared to 15% for the Xanadu. The Xanadu offers up pleasant sweetish notes of black currant and blackberry--classic Cabernet--but the wine is simple and undistinguished compared to its cousin from the Medoc.

Tour St. Bonnet 1990 has a deep ruby color that is beginning to turn to garnet around the edges. The bouquet is well formed and powerful, welling up from the bottle even before a glass is poured. More dark cherries than currants here. Also some purple flowers and herbs, but nothing in the vicinity of green. There is only a small amount of Malbec in the blend, but at this stage it has many of the scents and flavors of a fine Malbec. In the mouth, the wine is medium bodied and powerful, maybe still a bit firm in the middle for my taste. I still have several bottles of this so I am looking forward to enjoying it again and again as it develops in the bottle. Tour St. Bonnet is what having a cellar is all about.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Chateau de Maligny Chablis Premier Cru Montee de Tonnerre, 1996

This is my idea of Chardonnay at its best--a well aged Premier Cru Chablis from a top vineyard. No oak, no butter, no toast, no cream, no tropical fruits, no lime lollipop--just good wine that reflects its soil and micro-climate.

The color is a beautiful bright yellow, medium deep with some hints of green even at this advanced age. The flinty, mineral tones that are typical of Chablis are present from the first sniff and they are embellished by pretty scents of white flowers, pears, citrus and a hint of honey. There is nothing showy or flashy, just rich, concentrated fruit that keeps coming at you. The finish is long and powerful.

When I bought this bottle from Sam's more than a decade ago, it was only about $10, and the salesman tried to point me to more expensive bottlings of Montee de Tonnerre. If I wanted something to drink tonight, he said, this wine would be okay. I have read reports of some of the wines he tried to sell me; they are all dead in the water. And this wine is still cranking.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva, 2003

I paid $10 for a glass of this wine to accompany a $5.99 lunch entree--penne with marinara sauce--at Tre Bicchieri in downtown Columbus, Indiana. I have no complaints: the wine was worth every cent, and the simple tomato-based pasta sauce did not embarrass itself in such company.

Querceto has a Chianti that retails for about $8.99 and a Chianti Classico that sells for a couple of dollars more. This 2003 Classico Riserva is listed at $24.99 in wine stores, and it seems to me to be at its peak of maturity right now. There is a good measure of amber/brown at the rim, and the bouquet is showing complex scents of dark cherries, flowers and aromatic herbs. I could spend an evening just sniffing this wine. The wine is medium bodied with a full range of flavors on the mid-palate and a rich, concentrated finish.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Xanadu Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000

This is a wine I bought for my daughter's wedding in 2005. It was drinking nicely enough at that time, but the tannins have melted over the past five years, and it's now at a good stage of maturity. The color has lightened a bit, and there is some garnet around the rim. The bouquet and flavors are classic black currant Cabernet, and there is an elegance that I find to be typical of Margaret River (Western Australia) Cabs--nothing showy or overdone. All of the oak traits that were present five years ago have integrated nicely into the savory Cabernet fruit.

Weighing in at 15% alcohol by volume, this wine seems to contradict all of the popular stereotypes about high-alcohol wines. There is no heat on the finish; the wine is not disjointed or out of balance. In fact, it's holding up quite well after a decade in the bottle, and neither of us had any idea that the alcohol level was so high until I checked the label. The bottle was opened a day before we left for a week long trip, but I hated to pour what was left down the sink. So I gave it the Vacu Vin treatment and put it in the refrigerator just in case. It's now two days later, and the wine is still drinking well.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Domaine Daulny Sancerre, 2005

I know: Sancerre and other Sauvignon Blanc wines are meant to be drunk young. Nevertheless, I know from experience that I like Domaine Daulny with a few years of bottle age. I had a bottle of this 2005 soon after it was released and enjoyed its brisk, mineral-laden fruit. Today, I love it even more for its elegant personality.

The color is medium to light yellow. The cutting edges of Sauvignon are gone, and the aromas and flavors have developed a beautiful complexity--lemon/lime, honeydew melon and minerals. For my taste, this is really at its prime--dances on the tongue. It's a serious wine but has a refreshing quality that goes nicely with a brunch of smoked salmon, dill, bacon and roasted new potatoes with goat cheese scones.

Rarely over $18 a bottle, Domaine Daulny (this regular cuvee or the Clos Chaudenay) is a good value Sancerre that never disappoints.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses Rouge Ventoux, 2008

This is a wine I enjoyed regularly during the mid 1980s and early 1990s. I came back to it again and again for its strong fruit quality, rustic charm and (ahem) price. (At 1980s prices, it was always under $5.) The cooperative that makes this wine (the same one that makes Altitude 500 Ventoux I reported on last week) has invested in modern high-tech equipment, and the rustic quality has disappeared since 2005. The fruit quality and decent price remain.

The 2008 vintage is a bit tight and stingy compared to 2007, and this wine is still young. It's a medium ruby color, and the aromas and flavors are still in an early stage of development. The Grenache is a bit shy; the Syrah, a bit primary; and the Cinsault is front and center with its spicy, peppery qualities. Everything is in place, though, and I expect a harmonious, traditional Ventoux to emerge. I'll buy some more and give it a try again in a couple of months.

Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses, both Rouge and Rose, are available at D&W Fresh Markets in southwest Michgian for $8.99. For the extra dollar, I prefer the 2007 Altitude 500 Ventoux, but since I'm a fan of Ventoux, I want some of both.

Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnay Reserve, 2005

This Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnay has been a little beauty for the past couple of years, but the last two bottles I opened (March and May of this year) were very ordinary--rather blunted in their fruit quality. With this bottle, the wine is back in top form, dancing on the tongue like a wine celebrating its prime.

The color has always been a medium to light yellow, probably indicating minimal or no new oak treatment. The complexity of aromas and flavors are remarkable, however. Fresh lemon, peaches, pears and minerals. The wine has the qualities I like in higher appellation white Burgundies from Saint Aubin, Puligny Montrachet and, to a lesser degree, Mersault. Medium bodied with a ripe finish. Nothing showy; just a lovely wine showing its best.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Domaine Fernand Engel Muscat d'Alsace Cuvee Engel, 2005

Always fine, this Muscat has matured nicely and is probably drinking at its best right now. It's a medium deep yellow and has the musky, peachy nose to be expected from a Muscat d'Alsace. Well focused aromas and flavors are spicy, floral and sweet but with a slightly bitter finish. This wine is very enjoyable as an appetizer or with a salad or vegetable oriented meal.

Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir, 2007

I've been buying and enjoying the Valmoissine Pinot Noir since the 2003 vintage, and this 2007 is the best of the lot. When I tried it last winter, it had ripe fruit tannins similar to those of a 2007 Southern Rhone; with a few additional months in the bottle it has taken on the traditional French Pinot traits that I love.

It's medium to light with bright, intense color. The aromas are equally intense and fragrant almost to the point of volatility. It's always tempting to believe this wine is too fragile to last, but that is not true. Bottles of 2004 from my own cellar have displayed this same delicate fragrance for several years, and the Louis Latour web site lists vintages going back to 1997 as being in their prime for drinking. Flavors are focused around ripe red cherry with traditional Pinot Noir earthiness and depth. This wine personifies delicacy and finesse--as a Pinot Noir should.

Louis Latour is a top Burgundy house, but this wine is a Vin de Pays from outside the appellation--from vineyards at 500 meters altitude on the Verdon hillsides. The grapes are entirely hand picked and fermented in open stainless steel vats for four to five days, then aged 10 to 12 months in stainless steel. Valmoissine is ordinarily price at about $14.99 but often discounted to $10 or $12. In my opinion, it is a top value and very fine wine regardless of price.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs, 1998

On a warm night, I thought at first this wine was beginning to show its age. When I poured out a small first sip, I noted some garnet around the edges and a touch of earthiness on the nose. With a full glass, the color was dark and deep. And with some time to savor the wine, I realized why Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin ranks as one of my favorites. The dark cherry/berry scents and flavors run deep with subtle hints of spice, garrigue and black pepper that are typical of Cairanne. Medium bodied and silky smooth on the palate with no hard edges. I ordinarily drink this Reserve des Seigneurs at five to seven years but held back a few bottles of the 1998 because I trust the vintage. It's doing well: ready to drink but no particular hurry. L'Oratoire Saint Martin's Prestige is an even finer Cairanne, in my opinion, and I'll be giving that 1998 a try in the next few weeks.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Edna Valley San Luis Obispo County Paragon Chardonnay, 2007

The label talks about the special qualities of the Edna Valley appellation, but I'm still getting mostly oak-influenced qualities. It's a medium to deep yellow, and the very limey French oak nose carries over to the flavors. It has a creamy mouthfeel, and the citric acidity (lime and grapefruit) provides a frame for the fruit. It's a pleasant wine for the table, but even at this stage of maturity, the oak still seems to dominate, and I'm doubtful that those white peach, green pear, mineral qualities I'm looking for will ever completely emerge. The zesty unoaked Faively Montagny (below) is more to my taste.

Domaine Faively Montagny, 2006

If you want to know what Chardonnay from a good terroir tastes like without the influence of oak, give this wine a try. Chardonnay is the only varietal permitted in Montagny, a village at the extreme south of the Cote Chalonnaise, just north of the Maconnais border. These two appellations (Chalonaise and Maconnais) are known for offering up good quality but reasonably priced white Burgundies. Faively's vineyards in Montagny were planted in 1991 and 1994 on steep slopes, up to 400 meters in elevation, with east/southeast exposure.

When I first tasted this wine, I assumed that it had been aged in oak because the aromas and flavors were beautifully framed with a good balance of fruit and acidity. I get lemon, spring flowers and minerals along with the apply Chardonnay fruit--very zesty, a good match for shrimp pasta. This is not at all like an Australian or New Zealand unoaked Chardonny, and even the most avid oak drinker could not accuse this wine of being "sweet." The color is lighter than you would expect from a barrel-aged wine, however, and Faively's web site confirmed it for me: "No barrel treatment; aged 10 months" (presumably in stainless steel). What I like most about this wine is that it tastes even better when it warms to room temperature. Unlike the Edna Valley Chardonnay (see above), which talks about terroir and gives you oak, this wine walks the walk as well.

Friday, June 11, 2010

An Education in Altitude and Terroir

American wine drinkers are not much into terroir; in fact, some boast about being anti-terroirists. As far as I'm concerned, those folks are missing one of the most intriguing aspects of wine.

Even though it's only a cooperative, Vignerons du Mont Ventoux takes a special interest in soil, micro-climate and placement of vineyards. The Altitude 500 Ventoux reported on below is produced from vineyards 500 meters above sea level. The winery also bottles an Altitude 450 and an Altitude 400 and, on its web site, gives geological and geographical details about each. This is "educational because a range was created to enable you to reappropriate the notion of TERROIR. That terroir, or soil, that gives our wines all their authenticity and personality." All three Altitude wines are produced using the same blend (75% Grenache, 25% Syrah) and the same winemaking techniques. Yet each presumably has its own distinct personality. (Unfortunately, only the Altitude 500 was imported into Michigan so I can't tell you any more about these differences.) Even by European standards, these Ventoux wines are inexpensive, selling for 4.30 to 5.00 Euros ($5 to $7) at the cooperative. Yet they are not to be dismissed as simple. When the French drink wine, even every day wine, they are looking not only for pleasure but also some appreciation for the land and how it affects aromas, flavors and personality.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Vignerons du Mont Ventoux Altitude 500 Saint Nicolas Ventoux, 2007

This wine meets all of my criteria for a good Southern Rhone red--vigorous ripe fruit balanced by spicy, peppery acidity and traits typical of traditional wines from this appellation. It's made by the cooperative at Bedoin that also makes the Cuvee des Tres Messes Basses Cotes du Ventoux, long a budget favorite of mine. Altitude 500, presumably from vines higher on the hill, is a step up in both price and quality, but it's one sale for $9.99 right now at D&W in southwest Michigan (buy six bottles for a 10% discount).

The color is a deep ruby, and the nose is typically 2007--ripe, rich and ready. The sweet red raspberry/blueberry fruit gives a quick up front impression that is quickly countered by scents of peppercorn and Provencal herbs, particularly lavender and rosemary. That's what garrigue is all about. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied with ripe fruit flavors and a pleasing peppery, spicy bite. This ranks high on my list of Southern Rhones from the highly touted 2007 vintage, and I plan to go back for more.

Dr. Jebediah Drinkwell's Paso Robles Meritage, 2007

A Trader Joe's special, Dr. Jebediah Drinkwell Meritage often makes the TJ Top Ten list on Jason's wine blog. As usual, I agree with Jason's assessment. The blend is 60% Cabernet Franc, 27% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot.

The wine has lively Cab Franc qualities--red raspberries, tart cherries and even a hint of Cab Franc dirt. It's medium to light bodied and works well with hearty vegetable-oriented dishes like Tuscan or Moroccan stew. For $8.99, it's a good value although not a wine that I would drink often.

Mittnacht Klack Rosacker Gewurztraminer, 1993

When I tasted this wine's sibling, the 1993 Riesling, a couple of months ago, I wrote that it had some Gewurz-like qualities. Had I tasted them side by side I would not have made such a statement. This wine has all the scents and flavors of a mature Alsace Gewurztraminer--roses, lychee nuts, bergamot and barbershop. It's big boned with even some tannins to give it a pleasantly bitter finish. The flavors dance; this is a special wine.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A-Mano Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, 2008

I continue to be impressed by the wines produced by ex-Canadian Mark Shannon and his Italian partner, Elvezia Sbalchiero. They do a good job of maintaining Italian traditions while using state-of-the-art technology to produce fresh, crisp well-made wines. Although the vineyards Mark and Elvezia own are in Puglia in southern Italy, the grapes for this Pinot Grigio come from the appellation around Venice in northeastern Italy--cool, rocky, well drained vineyards.

The color is very light but brilliant and seems to make your taste buds water before you even sniff it. I smell fresh pears, white peaches, green apples, green herbs and flowers--gently perfumed. On the palate, there is incredible freshness and a fuller body than the nose suggests. The finish is tinged with lemon and minerals.

I find this wine hard to resist right now. Although I'm curious as to how it might age over two to five years, I probably won't have the patience to find out.

Bodegas Ateca Atteca Old Vines Garnacha, 2008

This was a pleasing choice on the wine list at Every Day People Cafe in Douglas, MI. As a fan of old vine Garnacha from Calatayud in Spain, I was impressed by the powerful red and black fruit aromas and flavors--black cherries, raspberries, blueberries and Grenache spice. It's medium bodied and powerful because of the strength of the fruit, not the alcohol level, and it goes nicely with a grilled salmon dish.

Atteca Garnacha, which sells for about $12 to $15, is part of the Jorge Ordonez portfolio. The grapes come from 80- to 120-year old head pruned vines, aged for 10 months in seasoned French oak. My wife, who likes new oak more than I do, was first to notice the toasted, toffee/coffee traits that she loves but I ordinarily reject in a Grenache-based wine. To me, that's a sign that the wine should please New World as well as Old World wine tastes.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Kalamazoo Food & Wine Fest, 2010

The annual Kalamazoo Food & Wine Fest, a benefit for WGVU public television and radio, offers an excellent opportunity to try hundreds of wines. Those who attend can purchase any of these wines at a very steep discount, and apparently even those who missed the fest can still receive these discounts by ordering wines online from the sponsor, D&W Fresh Market (http://www.freshmarket.com/). I was very selective in my tasting this year but found some excellent values, listed according to my preference. Regular price/sale price in parentheses.

1. Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso, 2008 ($22.99/$13.49): This is an absolutely stunning wine that, in my opinion, is worthy of comparison to high-end red Burgundies and Italian Barolos. Aromas of red berries, flowers and herbs conjure up adjectives like delicacy and finesse; yet in the mouth, this is no shrinking violet. Tannins are strong but unobtrusive, and those flavors promised by the aromas are all there dancing on the tongue. I truly believe that this (and other Mount Etna wines) will soon be priced out of reach as wine drinkers come to realize what they have been missing. At this price, I will add to my cellar supply.

2. Chateau Greysac Medoc 2006 ($23.99/$15.99): Greysac has long been a favorite of American wine drinkers. With a high proportion of Cabernet in the blend, it has some of the qualities that attract Napa Cab drinkers; at the same, it has the finesse and class of a good red Bordeaux. I bought some of the 2005 Greysac for this price a few months ago and felt very smug for having done so. I just had to try the 2006, offered at the same price, and was not disappointed. It was my second favorite wine of the evening.

3. Mount Veeder Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($42.99/$20.99): I buy very little Napa Cabernet these days primarily because of my shifting food and wine tastes. But I was sorely tempted when I saw this wine on the shelf for $28.99 a few months ago. And at $20.99, wow! A taste confirmed what I remembered about Mount Veeder Cab: classy, elegant but powerfully focused fruit aromas and flavors. An incredible bargain.

4. Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($24.99/$14.99): This is definitely a step up from other New Zealand Sauvignons that I usually buy (Monkey Bay, Oyster Bay, Starborough) and, at this discount, worth a few more dollars. I've seen the wine priced at $29.99 in southwest Michigan.

5. Beni di Batasiolo Barbera d'Alba 2007 ($17.49/$8.99): At this price level, I usually buy the San Silvestri Barbera Piemonte Ottone I. (And I liked the 2008 Ottone I that I tasted at the Wine & Food Fest.) But this Barbera d'Alba is a step up in appellation and quality, discounted to about the same price. It's a full flavored, rich textured wine, and Barbera always pairs nicely with a variety of foods--from fish to steak.

6. Guigal Chateauneuf du Pape 2003 ($52.49/$37.99): I'm not a fan of the 2003 Southern Rhone vintage, but this is a very fine Chateauneuf du Pape drinking well right now. It has a lifted 2003 nose (mint and basil?) with compact cherry/berry flavors. More mature than I would expect from a 7-year-old Chateauneuf du Pape but it's not falling apart.

7. Carchello Jumilla Monastrell/Temperanillo ($20.49/$13.99): Jumilla Monastrell is on my radar at the moment. Every one I've had (Luzon Verde, Castillo) has been fantastic, and apparently the price has not caught up to the quality for this appellation's Monastrell wines. Carchello is another fine example--blending beauty and power--but I'm still looking for the Luzon Verde.

8. Burgess Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 ($35.99/$25.99): This wine has the same ripe blackberry/blackcurrant smells and flavors I remember from vintages of 1977, 1978, 1979 when the wine was priced right for my pocketbook ($8 to $10). It has the size, body and extraction I admired in those days, and I enjoy tasting it tonight (although my tastes have changed and, even when I drink California Cabernet, I still prefer the Mount Veeder).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2000

As I've mentioned here before, all of the Domaine Sainte Anne wines have good aging potential. They come from well tended old vines and are produced without new oak and with winemaking practices that reduce exposure to oxygen. Whenever vintage conditions allow it, the grapes are not de-stemmed, and that probably contributes to a distinctive vanilla trait when the wines are less than 10 years old.

This 2000 CDR Villages is incredibly youthful with bright aromas and flavors of fruit, flowers and Provencal herbs. Blueberries and cream, red raspberries, cherries and just a touch of vanilla that is beginning to fade. It's medium bodied with a silky texture similar to that of the Notre Dame des Cellettes described below. The two wines have the same blend--60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre--and a similar Grenache-oriented personality. The Notre Dame comes from the oldest and best vines on the estate and is a bit more complex and classy at this stage of development. As I drink this lovely CDR Villages, though, I have no complaints whatsoever. It is beautiful.