Sunday, February 28, 2010

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2005

Tasted alongside the the Domaine de la Janasse (below), this wine offers a slightly different angle on Cotes du Rhone. Donna and I agree that the Janasse is the superior wine, but there is no question that Grand Prieur is more flamboyant in its personality.

It's a deeper ruby than Janasse, with some youthful blue tints, and the aromas are also darker: black fruits, licorice and minerals: Vacqueyras as opposed to Chateauneuf du Pape. Some red berry Grenache emerges as the wine airs and warms in the glass. This is a relatively big bodied wine and not as silky nor as elegant on the palate as the Janasse. But I think there is still some potential for improvement, even though Grand Prieur is ordinarily not a wine for aging. A testament to the quality of the 2005 vintage?

Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone, 2001

I remember this wine being somewhat stern and disappointing when I first tasted it about seven or eight years ago. Tonight the wine is dancing, and so am I.

The color is a deep ruby with minimal browning at the rim. Compact notes of blueberry/strawberry Grenache dominate the bouquet along with peppercorn and garrigue. This wine has developed nicely, like a high-level Cotes du Rhone Villages. There is good balance and a full range of flavors that dance on the palate. This wine is most certainly at its peak, and it's a delight to drink.

Domaine de la Janasse is a top Chateauneuf du Pape estate, and the vineyards for this Cotes du Rhone are just outside the Chateauneuf appellation. Year after year, it's one of the top values in Cotes du Rhone.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Chateau Pierre Bise Anjou Blanc, 2001

One of my favorite white wines is Savennieres--a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley that seems to live forever, developing nuance on top of nuance. I have bottles from the late 1970s and early 1980s that I dip into for special occasions.
Anjou Blanc is another Chenin Blanc wine from the Loire, considerably less expensive than Savennieres or Vouvray...or nearly any other wine on the market. I bought several cases of this 2001 Anjou Blanc for my daughter's wedding in 2005. I thought it had more depth and flavor interest than most white wines available at that time...and it was only about $50 a case! This is my last bottle from that stash, and it's holding up well.

The color is now a deep gold, and the fruit smells and flavors are considerably more pungent than they were in the wine's youth. In fact, I think I detect some botrytis, which is not unusual in Pierre Bise Chenin Blancs. I smell pears, green berries, peach stones, honey and hazelnuts. For a white wine, it's really very tannic and firm on the palate. This Anjou Blanc lacks the prettiness and sweetness of most young Vouvrays and it may never become as profound as a top Savennieres, but it's aged well and has considerable depth and flavor interest. If you see the current vintage of this Pierre Bise wine, it will probably cost you a good bit more than the price I paid in 2004. Don't let that stop you from buying.

Nerelo del Bastardo, 2006

I have reported previously on three vintages of this wine--1999, 2000 and 2002--all purchased at Trader Joe's for $6.99. The current vintage on the shelves, 2006, spells Nerelo with one "l" rather than two and eliminated Marquesi di Montecristo as the producer, but it's the same wine at the same price. And it's very good.

2006 Nerelo del Bastardo is a medium deep ruby color with lovely scents and flavors of dark cherries, mint, berries and sweet new oak (more new oak than I remember from previous vintages). On the first night, I thought this wine might be a super Tuscan (Cabernet and Sangiovese) rather than a declassified Barolo, as the label suggests. But I believe that was because of the new oak, which I tend to associate with Cabernet-based wines. On the second night, the flamboyant Nebbiolo qualities emerged, even with some hints of licorice and roses. And there are lively fruit-forward qualities similar to those of a good Barbera. This is a big, full-bodied wine, but the tannins are ripe and smooth. It's delightful to drink now, particularly with beef or tomato-based pasta. But like its predecessors, it should age well if you're so inclined. The 1999 was going strong when I tasted it a few months ago.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas Cuvee Prestige Les Vignerons de l'Enclave des Papes, 2007

The 2007 is still the vintage of the moment for this Valreas Prestige, available at Trader Joe's for $5.99 a bottle. The wine has always been one of my Trader Joe favorites, and this vintage is particularly noteworthy.

The promise that I saw in my earlier bottles has pretty much been realized, although there is still some growth to come. It's still a deep purplish crimson; the fresh berry scents now have hints of fresh ground peppercorn and Provencal herbs. There is a depth and complexity that is highly unusual in a wine at this price level, and the texture is silky smooth with no signs of heat or over-ripeness.

A Valreas Val des Rois available across town at Village Corner in Ann Arbor is without question a superior wine--but at two and one-half times the price. The 2004 Val des Rois holds a special place in my cellar; I have not yet tried the 2007 but plan to buy some soon.

La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux Rouge, 2008

I finally had a chance to try the 2008 La Vieille Ferme that is now on the market. And I stand by my previous statement: if the 2007 and 2008 LVF Rouge are on the shelf together, I would buy the 2007. The 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone is ranked as one of the best; 2008 is generally considered less than spectacular.

Compared to the 2005 La Vieille Ferme, which I reported on earlier this month, and the 2007 that I had several months ago, the 2008 is a bit acidic and disjointed. The ripe berry/peppercorn/garrigue elements that characterize Southern Rhone wines may well develop over the next six months or so, but it was not there for me last weekend. I will still buy several bottles of the 2008 La Vieille Ferme because it is has proved to be consistently good from year to year and is an excellent value at $6 to $8 a bottle.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso, 2008

This wine was recommended to me by Roz Mayberry and Penny Ross of D&W Markets. And what a recommendation!

Roz and Robert Mayberry compare the wine to a top French Burgundy, and I agree. Like many top Pinots, the color is a light ruby and the wine has an ethereal, almost weightless quality. Robert suggests letting it aerate and open up a couple of hours, but even without doing that, I get intense aromas of cherries, mixed berries, pomegranates and flowers. There is also a haunting mineral quality, not as earthy as Pinot Noir but maybe even more distinctive and pleasing. In the mouth, the wine is every bit as elegant and hard to resist. But it's deceptively tannic and acidic, and I would expect the wine to age beautifully, at least over six to eight years. If the wine is this good now, how much better can you expect it to get? I hope I have the resistance to save at least a bottle or two to find out.

Tenuta delle Terre Nere is produced by Marco and Iano de Grazia, who recently purchased about 30 hectares of old vineyards on the northern slopes of Mt. Etna in Sicily. Even though Sicily is far to the South, the vineyards are the highest in Europe, exposing the grapes to warm, sunny days and cool nights plus an "airyness" that limits the formation of mildew. The soil has been "enriched" by 700,000 years of volcanic eruptions, creating virtually endless soil variations even within a single vineyard. The Terre Nere red wines are all produced from 98% Nerello Mascalese and 2% Nerello Cappuccio. Vinification is similar to that used for red Burgundy: maceration and fermentation lasting 10 to 15 days followed by malolactic fermentation. The top selections are then aged for about 18 months in French oak, 25% new. This less expensive Etna Rosso bottling, however, has clearly seen little or no new oak.

The wines of Tenuta delle Terre Nere are not very well known, and only 20 cases were brought into Michigan. Most of the allotment was purchased (wisely) by D&W and is now available for $16.99--minus a 15% discount for a six-pack purchase February 20 and 21.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Basket Pressed Cabernet (85%) Merlot (15%), 1993

Aging has done wonderful things for this wine, purchased for $8.99 in the early 1990s. The color is still a deep ruby with no signs of browning or bricking. Like many Australian wines, this McLaren Vale Cab was fairly full bodied, oaky and vanilla tinged when it was young. Tonight it is an elegant mouthful of currants and cherries with just a hint of herbaceous Merlot. The fruit is well defined, and the wine is well balanced with a medium to light body and a strong mid-palate presence. This is my last bottle of 1993 Reynella, but I am looking forward to several more bottles of the 1994.

Not many moderately priced Australian wines on the market today can be expected to age this well. The best candidates, in my opinion, are a few in the Penfold's line--notably Bin 28 and 128 Shiraz and Bin 407 Cabernet--and the Nine Stones McLaren Vale and Hilltops Shiraz.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Jean Descombes Morgon, 1995

This is probably my all-time favorite Jean Descombes--15 years in the bottle and still growing. When it was young, this 1995 Morgon was a deep, dark, bluish color; it was full bodied with the rich texture and flavors of raspberry puree. Through the years the color has lightened to the point that it is now a light, but bright, cherry red with some amber around the rim. The aromas are also very cherry with some pomegranate and anise. The wine has lost its thickness and is all the better for it; it is now light and delicate with persistent aromas and flavors of sweet berries and spice. It's been about two years since my last bottle of this 1995, but it's still singing. Very Burgundian.

The Jean Descombes Morgon now on the market is the 2008 (still only $13.99 at D&W in southwest Michigan). It's very ripe (riper than I remember the 1995 at this stage) and probably drinking at its best right now, although I would be comfortable letting a few bottles ride for six to eight years to see what happens. The Jean Descombes most like the 1995, in my view, is the 2005.

Chateau Saint Roch Cotes du Rhone, 2004

I had a glass of this Cotes du Rhone to accompany cassoulet at the new Rustica Mediterranean restaurant in Kalamazoo. It's a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, but the red berry Grenache is dominant at the moment. Ripe strawberry fruit, with some hints of vanilla that don't seem to come from new oak barrels. The texture is lovely and the finish long and satisfying.

Saint Roch was acquired by the Brunel family of Chateau la Gardine (Chateauneuf du Pape) in 1998, and the fruit, at least from this vintage, apparently comes from cooler areas of the Cotes du Rhone. Aromas and flavors and well defined. The wine is matured partly in vats and partly in small barriques. So it's not totally traditional, but it meets all of my standards.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Matthieu de Brully Rully les Mollepierres, 2004

A somewhat stale, oxidized note struck me on my first sip of this wine. I had detected this on earlier bottles a year or so ago and attributed it to premature aging. I had determined at that time to drink up remaining bottles of my stash, but this last bottle had escaped my attention. Oh, well; should I drink it and suffer? or pour it down the drain? I went so far as to retrieve a replacement bottle from the cellar. But as I kept tasting, I realized that the sweet fruit finish was quite nice...and getting better. It wasn't long before the replacement bottle was forgotten. This Rully is pretty damn good.

The color is a deep gold, and the oxidized note remains, but it becomes gradually less noticeable, tasting and smelling more like hazelnuts or grain than stale apples. It blends nicely with the maturing peachy fruit of the Chardonnay. On the second night, the wine is even better--silky texture and ripe fruit finish. Too bad this is my last bottle.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Frenzy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2008

While La Vieille Ferme is meeting my expectations for aging (see below), this Sauvignon Blanc--incredibly exciting when I first tasted it last July--is now a bit disappointing. It still has high acidity freshness but the complex range of flavors it offered a few months ago (gooseberry, melon, passion fruit, spring flowers) has quickly been reduced. Grapefruit is now the dominant theme. It's still a nice wine, but I would recommend drinking any bottles you have over the next few months.

La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux, 2005

The 2008 La Vieille Ferme Rouge has hit the market. I haven't tried it yet but have read positive reports. Meanwhile, I can tell you that the 2005 LVF is still drinking nicely with nice fresh berry aromas and flavors and a pleasantly ripe finish. Like most Ventoux wines, La Vieille Ferme is made for early drinking, but in a good vintage such as 2005 or 2007, it's safe to buy it in case quantities for drinking over two to four years. I still have some bottles from 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. All are drinking well, but the 2007 is clearly the best, both for now and later. If I saw both the 2007 and 2008 on the shelf today, I would buy the 2007.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

San Silvestro Ottone I Piemonte Barbera, 2007

In the Piedmont region of Italy, Barbera is generally a second course wine, served with cold meats, pasta, pizza or salads. If you can't decide between a white or red wine, a Barbera such as this Ottone I Piemonte Barbera will meet your needs. It's been fermented and aged in stainless steel with 100% malolactic fermentation.

The color is a deep ruby red with good brightness and bluish tints. Aromas and flavors are wonderfully fruity--dark cherries, strawberries and a hint of purple flowers. Yes, it's almost jammy, and that's part of its charm. But there is also substance and structure from skin and tannins. Bring out the pizza and keep on drinking and enjoying. By the end of the meal, you'll decide that this wine is more than a simple quaff.

Loimer Lois Gruner Veltliner, 2007

I'm a relative newcomer but quickly becoming a fan of Gruner Veltliner, a versatile Austrian white. It has the high acid, low alcohol intensity to match up well with vegetable centered meals or spicy Asian food.

This wine has a simple white label with the word Lois printed in light green to match the green screw cap closure. The wine inside is equally elegant and deceptively simple. Give it time and attention, and you'll be rewarded. Aromas and flavors feature slightly underripe apples, lime, flowers, minerals and just a hint of green--only a fraction of what you'd expect from a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Some tasters have mentioned white pepper and lentils. On the palate, the wine is fresh and intense but very smooth with a mineral-tinged finish.

I paid a bit more ($15) than I usually spend for an every day wine, but this wine is worth the premium. I'll go back for more.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Camille Cayran Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne Reserve, 2004

This wine is a medium ruby, slightly burnished, nearing maturity. A fruit-cake bouquet is forming, rich and compacted: red cherries, strawberries, licorice and spice and a hint of volatility. On the palate, the wine is well balanced and smooth with a concentrated mid-palate presence and a peppery finish.

Camille Cayran clearly does not have the depth of a l'Oratoire Saint Martin (my favorite Cairanne), but it's a good Cairanne made in the old-fashioned style. This 2004 is for drinking soon, but I'll be on the lookout for later vintages.

Glazebrook Ngatarawa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2005

This New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is another half-price special right now at Harding's Market in Kalamazoo. Glazebrook is the former Corban's--an old-line Marlborough winery, and Ngatarawa is a prized micro-climate for Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is on sale undoubtedly because Sauvignon Blanc, with a few exceptions, is not generally known for aging, and the label itself states that the wine is for drinking within three years of the vintage date.

While the wine has undoubtedly changed in personality over five years in the bottle, it still has good fruit and freshness. High acid gooseberry, honey dew melon, lime and green chilies dominate the aromas and flavors. It's racy, almost spritzy on the palate. All Sauvignon Blanc and very enjoyable for $5.99 a bottle.