Sunday, January 31, 2010

Houghton Western Australia Cabernet-Shiraz-Merlot, 2004

The Cabernet/Shiraz blend is distinctively Australian, and this wine has all the typical smells and flavors of Cab/Shiraz--black plums, anise, berries and currants. From Western Australian vineyards and with some Merlot in the blend, this Houghton offering is a bit cooler and less thick than many Aussie wines. There is a good whiff of green herbs and black tea from the Merlot and slightly under-ripe Cabernet-- bit too much green for my taste, but Merlot lovers will appreciate it. Actually, this herbal element adds the acidity that the typical Aussie Shiraz usually lacks. Tannins are friendly.

I bought this 2004 at Harding's Market in Kalamazoo, marked down from $15.99 to $7.99. It's a good buy for current drinking.

Edna Valley Vineyard San Luis Obispo Paragon Vineyard Chardonnary, 2007

The price seems to be creeping down for the Edna Valley Chardonnay, but I haven't noticed any dimunition in quality. This 2007, in fact, is one of the best in recent year. This is very much an oak-influenced New World Chardonnay, but the fruit is relatively crisp and lively--white peaches, lime, nutmeg plus vanilla and caramel. There is a nice citric edge to the fresh, fruit-driven aromas and flavors. Better acid and better fruit than I remember from the 2003 and 2005 vintages. For those vintages, I paid $12--on sale. The 2007 was $9.99, and I've seen a similar price for the 2008. Way to go Edna Valley.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva Vereto, 2000

This wine has reached its 10th birthday in fine shape. It's a dark, deep ruby with a mature nose of dark cherries, licorice and floral perfume. On the tongue, the wine has good fruit sweetness with strong well defined flavors. It's full bodied but not at all heavy; plenty of tannic structure but nothing to get in the way of the ripe fruit and cascade of flavors and textures. There is a special touch of mature complexity on the finish. As far as I am concerned the estate (Agricole Vallone) and the appellation (Salice Salentino) rate strong buys.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Frenzy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2008

This wine has changed appreciably over the last six months, but it still maintains its zingy, zesty, frenzied personality. It's no match for a good Sancerre but a very enjoyable wine for casual drinking. We've gone through at least half a case since last summer; I always reach for it when we order a Margarita pizza (basil, fresh tomato, garlic and cheese).

The color has deepened a bit but is still a very light yellow. The aromas and flavors are fresh and lively--grapefruit, a hint of green pepper and some passion fruit merging into cat pee. Oh yes, for cat pee, it's amazingly attractive so I have to think of it as passion fruit. Any pretenses to seriousness that might have been present six months ago are now completely gone. The finish leaves a distinct impression of Florida grapefruit, even with the pleasingly fat bitter note at the end.

The wine is still available for $9.99 at D&W FreshMarket, and you can get a 10% discount if you buy six bottles.

Vintellect Southeastern Australia Shiraz, 2005

According to the label notes, this wine was fermented in stainless steel; then a small portion was aged in oak to provide depth and complexity. Vanilla oak is clearly present in the aromas; also fresh berries and cassis. In the mouth, the wine is less oaky than it smells and also less tannic. Friendly plum and berry fruit with a smooth, sweetish finish. The wine is a bit sweet for my taste, and I don't detect any of the cracked pepper suggested on the label. For under $10 a bottle, though, it's better than most Aussie Shiraz choices.

Hayman & Hill Russian River Chardonnay, 2007

This is a spicy Russian River Chardonnay, not as oaky as the Toasted Head but in a similar style. The color is deep gold for a 2007 but that has more to do with the winemaking style than maturity. The smells and flavors are tinged with apples, nutmeg and cinnamon with a fresh citric edge at the front and back. The oak is clearly present but under control. For $11.99 at D&W Market, it's a decent value; for $18.99, the regular price, there are better values.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Cotes du Ventoux, 2006

Knowing how much I like traditionally made wines, some of my friends--drinkers of oaky New World wines--give me a hard time about "stinky" Southern Rhones. In fact, none of the Southern Rhones I buy regularly--Sainte Anne, L'Oratoire Saint Martin, Font-Sane, Monardiere, Vieux Chene, Janasse, Grand Prieur--has ever given me a bottle that I considered "stinky," "tanky" or off in any way. This Chateau Pesquie Terrasses is a wine I have never bought before, but it comes highly rated and recommended by Robert Parker and many others. But it is stinky, no doubt about it.

I opened the bottle immediately after encountering a corked bottle from another estate (corked bottles can and do come from anywhere and cannot be attributed to the winemaker). So I thought there was still some residue in the glass creating the off odor. But no; it is stinky (probably mercaptan rather than H2S) and a bit spritzy on the tongue for a brief period. Otherwise, the wine is good--a deep, dark crimson color and good fruit sweetness on the palate. Blueberries, cassis, currants, reasonably deep and concentrated. Firm in the middle with a ripe finish. I don't question the 90 points Robert Parker gave this wine, but, for Ventoux, I prefer La Vieille Ferme and Font-Sane--both free of stinkiness and priced considerably less than this wine.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Georges Duboeuf Cote de Brouilly, 2003

Georges Duboeuf called 2003 one of the best Beaujolais vintages he could remember. It was a warm growing season, but Beaujolais is far enough north that this resulted in ripe, but usually not over-ripe, wines. At least this Cru Beaujolais fits that profile. The color is medium to light garnet. Aromas and flavors are flush with cherries that are very ripe, almost candied, but also have good acidity. Delicate and finely textured. As a Cote de Brouilly, this wine may be a bit past its prime, and on the second and third night, the acidity tends to take center stage over the ripe fruit.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Note on Cannonau di Sardinia

As a long-time fan of the Grenache-based wines, it embarrasses to admit that only yesterday did I buy my first bottle of Cannonau, the Italian version of Grenache. The bottle I purchased was the 2004 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna, I wine I had enjoyed a few months earlier from a restaurant wine list. The wine reminded me of a good Gigondas or Cairanne.

The Cannonau grape, I have learned, was brought to Sardinia from Spain in the 14th century, when the Spanish ruled the island. Ampelographers believe that it corresponds with the Canonazo of Seville and the Garnaxa of Aragon. One smell or taste will convince you that it is also a close relative of the Grenache of the Southern Rhone (as well as the Garnacha of Spain).

Cannonau is widely planted on Sardinia, but production remains low because of the traditional "alberello" pruning practices that limit yields. Low yields, of course, mean more concentrated flavors. I am sure that modernized practices are being introduced in Sardinia as they are elsewhere in the world, and they are always a mixed blessing. With newer pruning methods, Sardinian Cannonau wines are less alcoholic and more drinkable than they once were, I read. Are they also less concentrated, I wonder?

Cannonau di Sardinia is now on my radar. I am looking forward to trying the Sella & Mosca again and will have my eye out for other Cannonau di Sardinia wines.

Oyster Bay Marlborough Chardonnay, 2006

A year ago, I liked this New Zealand Chardonnay enough to serve it at a dinner we hosted. Tonight, it's still drinking well but has lost a good deal of the vibrance that attracted me before.

The first sign of maturity is the deep gold color. The aromas are still fresh and bright with the spiced apple, citrus tones of a cool climate, slightly oaked Chardonnay. But the flavors are not as intense or bright as I remember, and it sits a bit heavy on the palate. It's still a good wine but either in an awkward stage or sliding a bit past its prime.

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

Bernard Latour's Domaine de l'Espigouette Cotes du Rhone Villages was for years one of my favorite wines, packed with all the things I love in Southern Rhones--well focused blueberry fruit, black licorice, minerals, peppercorn and garrigue. Even in terrible vintages such as 1992, I could count on this wine to deliver the goods. When I finished my last bottle of a case of 1998 l'Espigouette CDR Villages, I knew I had to re-load, and the wine that was available at that time was this 2004 CDR Villages Plan de Dieu. The price had gone up a bit, but I figured that was because of the new upgraded appellation status for the Plan de Dieu. L'Espigouette (along with Favards and Vieux Chene) is located on the Plan de Dieu, and I assume that most of their grapes come from the Plan de Dieu, an excellent, long undervalued appellation for Cotes du Rhone.

All that said, I'm glad I bought a half case rather than a full one, because this Plan de Dieu wine has been disappointing from the beginning. It's neither too old nor too young, but it simply does not deliver the qualities that attracted me for so many years to Bernard Latour's CDR Villages.

The color is a medium deep ruby--no sign of anything wrong but not really as brilliant as I expect from the best wines. On the nose, I get ripe plums, flowers and spice--again not very bright or intense. And the flavors are much the same. If I were drinking this blind, I would have a hard time linking it to the Southern Rhone because it's basically lacking in varietal traits expected from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault or Mourvedre. Where is the black licorice? Where is the pepper? Where are the blueberries? Where is the garrigue? The wine doesn't smell or taste oaky, but I suspect that some lots may have been aged in small barrels rather than traditional barriques. Or it may be that the grapes were picked a bit later than usual, resulting in overly ripe, stewed fruit. The alcohol level is 14%, and, for Southern Rhones, I consider 13.5% to be ideal for my taste.

The wine is pleasant enough; I suspect other tasters would like it more than I do. But I want my old-style Domaine de l'Espigouette Cotes du Rhone Villages. If I buy more recent vintages of this Plan de Dieu, I'll do so a bottle at a time.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

La Clape Domaine Karantes Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge, 2007

You might not take this wine seriously when you spot the large eye and lips on the label. Use your own eyes and lips, and you'll find the pleasures of a very good Coteaux du Languedoc wine. La Clape's wine is a blend of Grenache and Syrah plus 10 percent Mourvedre, and, at this young age, the Mourvedre makes its presence strongly felt through its deep purple color and tight, rather tannic aromas and flavors. It reminds me of a young Gigondas. It's a bit reticent at first but, with aeration, deep scents of purple flowers and black and red fruits start to emerge. It's better the second night than the first and what's left on the third night is beautiful. This too is a wine to keep and follow for a few years even though it will set you back only $9.99 at D&W Markets. Another excellent value.

Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir, 2007

This wine has a more forward personality than any Valmoissine I've tasted. But then it's the youngest Valmoissine I've had.

The color is a very deep crimson, and aromas of red berries, flowers and warm cherry tart burst from the glass. Flavors are the same. It's not as delicate as past vintages, but I suspect that will develop over time along with greater complexity. It's a very intense wine, and I'm looking forward to following its progress.

At this stage, this Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Verdon reminds me of a young Southern Rhone such as a Cairanne or Ventoux, and that's probably why I like it so much. Tasted beside the Cellier des Chartreux Cotes du Rhone (below) it was sweeter and not as peppery but has a similar personality and style.

Louis Latour's Valmoissine Pinot Noir is always a good value at about $15 a bottle, but Cost Plus World Market offered the 2007 for $9.99. I bought six bottles and got an additional 10% discount.