Sunday, March 28, 2010

Les Garrigues Cotes Du Rhone, 2008

This is not the Domaine les Garrigues Cuvee Romaine that has gotten well deserved rave reviews from critics. I don't know the producer of this wine, but it is imported by Michael Skurnick who has an excellent portfolio. The proof is in the bottle, of course, and what is in the bottle is very good.

Garrigues is a widely used term to denote the smells and flavors of Provencal herbs that are dominant in good Southern Rhone wines. And this wine has plenty of garrigue along with red and black fruits, spice and black pepper. This is a well made traditional Cotes du Rhone. And even though the 2008 vintage is low key compared to the highly touted 2007, that is a plus as far as I'm concerned. Alcohol content is 13%, and Domaine les Garrigues carries it quite well.

Casa Castillo Jumilla Monastrell, 2007

Having enjoyed the Lorca Monastrell (see below), I did not hesitate when I spotted another Spanish Monastrell on the wine list at Amavi Mediterranean Restaurant in Santa Fe. Jumilla, I know, is a reliable appellation for Spanish Monastrell, and I was not disappointed in this Casa Castillo.

Again the color is deep, dark and purplish, and the Monastrell aromas and flavors are big and fruity--dark cherries, spice, cassis, flowers and peppercorn. While perhaps a bit less ripe than the Lorca, this Jumilla Monastrell offers more complexity and finesse. It reminds me of the Luzon Verde Jumilla Monastrell I reported on a year or so ago; the wine just keeps unfolding with every sip. I'm becoming a fan of Spanish Monastrell, and Casa Castillo joins the others on my radar.

Once again, I willingly paid $10 for a glass of this wine, even though I suspected correctly that was probably more than the retail bottle price. As much as I love Southern Rhones, I must admit that some of the best values in artisan wines right now come from Spain.

Lorca Murcia Bullas Monastrell, 2007

I paid $9 for a glass of this wine at a Tapas Bar in Santa Fe, NM and felt I was getting a decent value. When I later learned that the wine retails for $8 to $9 a bottle, I still didn't feel cheated. This is a very good wine regardless of price, and if I can find any in my market area, I'll be a buyer.

Monastrell is one of several Spanish names for Mourvedre, and Lorca Monastrell has all of the charm and power that make Mourvedre special. The color is deep, dark and purplish, and the initial smells suggest a fruity wine with big tannins--tree bark, herbs, purple flowers and black pepper. There is more of the same on the palate along with chewy dark cherry flavors that get spicier and more complex with each sip. This Monastrell has a lot of the qualities I like in a good Gigondas. It's very drinkable now and should get even better in a few years.

The wine comes from Bodegas Rosario, a cooperative in the Murcia region of Bullas, southeast of Valencia. Although this is generally a sunny climate, the vineyards are at an elevation of 600 to 800 metres. With warm sunny days and cool nights, the grapes have a chance to ripen fully with good depth of flavor. While the cooperative continues to respect traditional wine-making practices, it has recently modernized its facilities so it can better control fermentation temperatures.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1988

Winemakers like to point out that a wine will not gain, but only lose, fruit with aging. Fruit, however, can sometimes be deceiving. This Domaine de Thalabert Crozes from Jaboulet (one of my favorite Northern Rhone wines during the 1980s) was a bit disappointing when I tasted it in the late 1990s--weedy, thin and lacking in fruit. The tannins that were obscuring the fruit were not very apparent to me at that time, but the wine in my glass tonight has strong black raspberry fruit with all the nuances that I love in Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage--cassis, blackcurrants, violets, black olives, herbs and juniper berries. The bouquet has a nice lift, giving an impression of freshness for a wine now more than two decades in the bottle. In the mouth, the wine is full bodied and has even more concentration than you expect from the bouquet. This is now a big wine--plums, berries, cassis and peppercorn with a savory Provencal olive finish. My patience has been rewarded.

Crozes-Hermitage is not a particularly worthy appellation; most of the vineyards are on flat land below the highly regarded sites of Hermitage and Cote Rotie. I have always considered Thalabert to be the best of the appellation, however, and the wines were under $10 a bottle through most of the 1980s and early 1990s when Jaboulet was producing excellent wines. Nearly all are still drinking well. I continued to buy Thalabert through most of the 1990s, but reports have been increasingly negative during recent years while prices have been steadily going up. The last vintage I bought was 1998, and I would be happy to hear experiences that others have had with Domaine Thalabert.

Riff Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, 2006

When I see "riff" on the label, I think jazz. But in this case, "riff" is the German word for "reef," and indicates that the vineyards are
1) in the Dolomites, closer to Germany and Austria than Rome and
2) on a site that was once under the ocean and now offers limestone soil excellent for producing wines with a distinctive mineral quality.

In their first year or so, Pinot Grigios from the Dolomites (including MezzaCorona) tend to have a racy, herbal quality that is very pleasant for spring and summer drinking on the deck. With a few years of aging, this Riff Pinot Grigio has developed a nice body and texture for dinner drinking, more like Pinot Gris than Grigio. There are still pleasant fruit and herb highlights but the mineral background is taking over and adding complexity. This is a wine that would go well not only with fish or pork but with dishes with a buttery sauce.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cru de Coudoulet Cotes du Rhone, 1983

Twenty-seven years is admittedly is pushing Cotes du Rhone aging to the extreme. This is a wine that should have been consumed a decade ago but got overlooked in the cellar. It is, however, still very good.

Cru de Coudoulet (now known as Coudoulet de Beaucastel) is the sibling of Chateau Beaucastel. The vineyards are just across the road from those of Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape and the wine is given similar treatment in the cellar. So extended aging is not out of the question, although 27 years is a bit old even for most Chateauneufs. I had my last bottle of 1983 Beaucastel several years ago, and it was not in sterling condition.

The color has lightened considerably and there is heavy crust on one side of the bottle. (Hidden beneath other bottles, this one fortunately did not get moved much, if at all, over the past 25 years.) When first opened, the bouquet and flavors are lovely--dominated by spicy, floral Mourvedre notes. Dried berries, herbs, violets--lots of depth and intrigue. The wine also has the body of a much younger wine with sweet fruit and sparkling highlights showing nicely--a very pleasant surprise. About an hour after opening, however, the wine begins to lose its precarious balance, and the flavors get slightly sharp and short on the finish. It doesn't die, however, as some older wines do when exposed to air for awhile. A glass or so left in the decanter is still drinkable after three nights. The price tag says I paid $8.95 (the current vintage of Coudoulet de Beaucastel is more than $20); that amounts to about 30 cents for each year of aging potential.

Chateau St. Jean Alexander Valley Belle Terre Vineyard Chardonnay, 2003

This is a California Chardonnay that has been given the works in oak treatment--barrel fermentation, extended time on the lees, French oak aging--and is none the worse for it. While it is not my style, there is no denying that it is an enjoyable wine with a distinctive Belle Terre personality. After seven years in the bottle, the color is a deep, mature gold, and the bouquet is lovely with no hint of oxidation or staleness. Citrus, peach, tropical fruits, spice. In the mouth, it's round and ripe with no hard edges. A nice bit of acid on the finish keeps it live. This is not the generic Saint Jean Chardonnay that is widely available for around $10 to $12 but one of two single vineyard offerings by Chateau Jean. Of the two, I usually prefer the Robert Young Vineyard, but this Belle Terre was offered at half price, presumably because of worries about advancing age. That was a couple of years ago, and the wine is still going strong.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 1998

Even though it has a lower appellation, this 1998 Domaine Sainte Anne is much younger than the 1998 Tourade Gigondas (below). It is mature, however, and will never have the power of the Gigondas.

The color is a deep ruby with slight browning at the rim. The bouquet is typical Sainte Anne--raspberries, sweet cherries, garrigue and a touch of honey. The honey (or vanilla) has led some tasters to say that the wine has been aged in new oak, and that is definitely not the case. Sainte Anne uses only stainless steel and concrete vats in a very reductive winemaking process. There is none of the oxidation that creates some of Tourade's rustic charm. On the palate, it's ripe, ripe, ripe from front to back with some slight astringency on the mid-palate. With airing and warming, some nice floral touches emerge. As this wine ages, it becomes more and more like its sibling, the 1998 Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone. The Villages has always been more subtle and complex, but the simple Cotes du Rhone seems to be catching up in that respect.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Domaine de la Tourade Gigondas, 1998

Having compared the Hewitson Miss Harry GSM (below) to a good Gigondas, I had to open a Gigondas to make a direct comparison. As this point in time, the Gigondas is a clear winner, perhaps because of the additional nine years it has had in the bottle.

The color is a similar deep crimson, but with considerable amber around the rim. One sniff confirms that this wine is mature (and I suspect that some tasters would consider it too mature). Enough oxidation has taken place to open up the warm, sweet tones of old vines/low yield Grenache. I smell dried more than fresh berries and flowers, but these scents are deep and compact rather than thin and fading, as in a lesser wine. On the palate, there is warmth, but again the alcohol is carried so beautifully by the deep layers of Grenache fruit. Sweet, warm, complex, concentrated--it brings back memories of what Southern Rhones tasted like in the 1980s. The garrigue that dominated this wine when I reviewed it in April of 2009 is pretty much gone, replaced by a lovely degree of maturity. It's time to drink this wine, but I suspect it will remain at this plateau for several years. If I thought the Hewitson Miss Harry GSM would be this beautiful at 12 years of age, I would load up the truck.

Hewitson Miss Harry Barossa Valley GSM, 2007

The last time I had this wine (the 2005 vintage), I thought it was a bit tannic and backward for a Grenache-based wine. In this 2007, the Grenache is smiling and friendly. As before, the color is a deep crimson, and the aromas and flavors are upfront and fruity with cherries, red berries and spice. It's big bodied with substantial presence but the sleek fruit is the highlight--very Burgundian. It's very ripe, almost sweet, but the alcohol level is only 13.5%. On the second night, the tannins are more noticeable, so I like the potential for this wine.

This GSM is a blend of Grenache (54%), Syrah (40%) and Mourvedre (6%). The grapes come from low-yielding old vines and the wine is matured in large seasoned barrels--true to the Southern Rhone tradition. This vintage of Miss Harry reminds me more of a good Gigondas than a Chateauneuf du Pape.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chateau Meyney Prieure des Couleys Saint-Estephe, 1975

I brought out this 1975 Meyney to celebrate our 37th anniversary, and it was every bit as pleasurable as our 37 years of marriage. The wine, of course, is a couple of years younger; 1973 was a miserable vintage in nearly every part of the wine world except Rioja, and I have exhausted what was once a good supply of 1973 Rioja Reservas along with a few bottles of the 1973 Inglenook Cask Cabernet. But I have no trouble moving to a fine 1975 Bordeaux that is begging to be enjoyed.

Robert Parker has stated that Meyney produced arguably the Bordeaux wine of the vintage in 1975, and from my experience with this wine, I have no quarrel with that, although my experience is much more limited than his. Prieure des Couleys, incidentally, is the second label of Meyney. So it's hard for me to imagine how good the regular bottling must be.

The color is a medium light garnet, definitely mature. The bouquet and flavors are also fully mature but remarkably fresh and lively for a 35-year-old wine. Cedar, cherries, licorice and also some darker fruit such as plums. This is a lovely wine with everything very finely focused and defined. It has lift and life on the palate with a medium to light body and a silky texture. From the first taste, the finish is long and satisfying. What better wine to celebrate 37 years?

Glazebrook Ngatarawa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2005

The back label promises that this wine can be cellared for up to three years; the front label indicates that the wine was produced in 2005. And that may explain why this wine was placed on the close-out shelf of Harding's Market for $5.99. After one try, I decided it was a huge bargain and went back for more.

The color is still a light to medium yellow, and the aromas and flavors are fresh and lively. I find a good range of fruit flavors--melon, lemon, pineapple--and not very much of the vegetal green pepper qualities that are typical of some New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. What's most notable, though, is a pronounced mineral element, similar to that of the best Loire Valley Sauvignons. I would not hesitate putting this wine up against my favorite Sancerre--Domaine Daulny's Clos de Chaudenay. The label also suggests that the wine is "best served only slightly chilled," and I agree. As the wine warms, it gets smoother and more complex--a good sign. A many-splendored finish. Wish I had more.

Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnay, 2005

Traditionally, white Burgundies--even those from basic appellations--can be expected to improve in the bottle for 8 to 10 years. Since the 1995 vintage, however, even some of most expensive and sought after Burgundies have been plagued by what wine lovers call "premox"--premature oxidation. There are many theories as to what causes "premox," but the end product is easy to spot: an affected wine will turn color before your eyes in the glass and will have the musty, acrid smells and flavors of oxidation. I have found "premox" mostly in Chablis wines from 1996 and 1997--wines that theoretically should have aged well for at least two decades. But "premox" can presumably set in much sooner, and experienced tasters say that wines from vintages as recent as 2004 and 2005 could start showing the signs. I suspect that's the problem with this Pierre Andre Bourgogne Blanc that has given me a great deal of pleasure over the past couple of years. There are decent scents of pears, green apples and minerals, but they are muted compared to previous bottles and the finish is a bit hard and short. This bottle could be slightly corked, but my wife--who can spot a corked wine from across the room--says no. This bottle, for whatever reason, is just not very good.

Domaine de Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2006

Font-Sane's Cotes du Ventoux is one of my favorites year after year, and this 2006 is particularly fine. It's a deep ruby color with compact fruit smells--blueberries, garrigue, Syrah black fruit and spice. There is also a backward purple flower touch that is similar to what you'd expect from the very good Font-Sane Gigondas. This inexpensive wine ($8 to $10) is fruity but full bodied with a firm tannic structure; it has the strength and depth of a higher appellation. Flavors cling to the palate on the finish suggesting that this 2006 will continue to give pleasure over the next several years.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A-Mano Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, 2008

The promotional material for this wine states: "This wine could only be made in Italy." That may be true, but, like some of the wines now coming out of Spain, this wine has been touched by the New World as well. A-Mano means "by hand," and owners Mark Shannon and Elvezia Sbalchiero are doing their best to produce traditional artisan wine. Shannon is a Canadian who grew up in Los Angeles, learned winemaking at University of California Davis and worked for a time in California at wineries such as Bogle. He's lived in Italy since 1997 where he met his partner, Elvezia, who grew up in Friuli in Northern Italy. They now live in a once-abandoned farmhouse several hundred years old in Puglia in Southern Italy. And they are making a name for A-Mano with wines such as this lovely Pinot Grigio.

A-Mano Pinot Grigio is a light, bright yellow. Aromas are fresh and lovely--ripe pears, tropical fruits, lemon and just a touch of floral sweetness. Drink this wine outside in the Spring, and the bees will dive-bomb your glass. The same qualities are on the palate. The fragrance makes you expect a light wine, but it actually has substantial body for a brisk white wine. The interplay between lightness and body makes for an exciting complexity. I like this wine a lot.

I bought A-Mano Pinot Grigio for $6.99 (marked down from $9.99) at Sawall's Health Foods in Kalamazoo, but I'm sure it's widely available. A-Mano may be better known for its Primitivo (believed to be the grape that is now Zinfandel in California). I'll be trying that one very soon.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Monte Antico Toscano, 2006

In November of 2008, I drank my last bottle of 1980 Monte Antico Toscano Riserva. It had aged beautifully over 18 years with pure, focused Sangiovese fruit. "This is what good wine is all about," I wrote in my notes. Tonight I have in front of me the 2006 Monte Antico Toscano--a very different creature altogether but still a very good wine.

The first appearance is deep ruby--blueberries, black cherries, spice. The aromas are pleasantly lifted by new oak plus a small amount of Merlot (5%) in the blend. And the wine is also nicely forward on the palate with spices up front and then mixed berries all the way to the finish. It has the brisk acidity of Chianti combined with the sleek tones of Cabernet and Merlot. I suppose that qualifies it as a Super Tuscan, even though the price is a mere $10 to $12.

It surprised me to see this 2006 Monte Antico on the Wine Spectator's list of top 100 wines of 2009--not because I was unaware of the quality of this estate but because I figured it would always remain one of those undiscovered treasures of the wine world. Located very close to Brunello, the Monte Antico vineyards are clearly among the best of the appellation. But the wines have been traditionally made and notoriously slow to come around. From the early 1980s, I frequently found Monte Antico on wine store shelves in Ann Arbor, Chicago and Detroit, always for less than $10, and usually less than $5, a bottle. When I tried a bottle of Monte Antico young, or even at 8 to 10 years of age, I'd hold my jaws and cry for a tetanus shot. When I learned to give the wine its proper aging, I was rewarded with a wine purchased for $5 but giving $100 worth of pleasure. With this 2006, Monte Antico has clearly entered the 21st century of winemaking. This is a modern wine made to suit international tastes. And it is very good, although I don't expect it to be showing its best 18 years from now. I may buy a few more bottles, but I'm going to miss the Monte Antico of old.