Sunday, April 25, 2010

Domaine du Vieux Chene Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Cuvee Friande, 2007

This is an inexpensive Vin de Pays, 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, that I have enjoyed immensely in past vintages--2001, 2004 and 2005. It comes from old, low yielding vineyards right near the Vieux Chene winery on the Plan de Dieu.

Since the 2007 vintage is highly regarded, I bought this wine with great expectations that have yet to be fulfilled. Although there is nothing wrong with the ripe raspberry/cherry aromas and flavors, the wine goes down a bit too easily. It's a bit lacking in the garrigue, spice and black pepper elements that usually give the wine structure and interest. When this bottle had been opened for a day or two, some of these traits began to appear so I haven't totally given up on my expectations. I'll come back to Cuvee Friande next Fall or Winter.

Domaine Beau Mistral Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau, 1990

I have a theory about Rasteau--that it's one of the most ageworthy wines of the Southern Rhone. And this 20-year-old Beau Mistral confirms the theory. Even though Rasteau is located very near Cairanne, it generally has a pronounced black licorice/mineral element that distinguishes it from Cairanne and other Cotes du Rhone Villages (except perhaps Vacqueyras, which has a slightly different black licorice trait). This trait is often a bit too aggressive for my taste when the wine is young but shades out beautifully with extended bottle age.

It's a medium ruby color with definite amber tints. Aromas and flavors, though, seem considerably younger. The Grenache berry/spice/licorice bouquet has gained breadth and depth and now seems very much like that of a Chateauneuf du Pape. The flavors open up beautifully. There is good strength in the ripe berry fruit. The dark minerals have softened, revealing true Rasteau goodness--mellow and savory. The best Rasteau I've ever had. But also the oldest. I'll wait a bit longer on my 1998 Beau Mistral.

Olivier Leflaive Saint Aubin Premier Cru en Remilly, 1995

At least until recent reports of prematurely oxidized wines, white Burgundies have always had a good reputation for aging, and this wine provides a good example. The strong Chardonnay fruit has become burnished after 15 years and the deep gold color confirms that some oxidation has taken place. But the result is ever more complexity and enjoyment. I've been drinking this wine for many years now, and while this bottle might be a slight comedown from the last bottle I enjoyed in December of 2007, it is no slouch. It offers up a full range of smells and flavors--peach, green apple, minerals, hazelnuts. The slight note of oxidation adds richness rather than staleness and seems to open up the ripe flavors on the palate. Creamy smooth.

Saint Aubin is, in my opinion, one of the best values in white Burgundy, and this Olivier Leflaive offering ranks near the top.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Gaetano d'Aquino Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, 2008

Unless you live in California and can buy Two Buck Chuck for two bucks, this Pinot Grigio is one of the least expensive wines going. It sells for $3.99 at Trader Joe's, and, for my money, it's much better than any of the Charles Shaw (Two Buck Chuck) wines sold there.

As usual, it's a light straw color and characterized by fresh fruity/herbal aromas and flavors. As the label suggests, the finish has a slightly bitter edge that makes the wine very drinkable. It reminds me of a young Mezza Corona, but at about half the price.

A-Mano Puglia Primitivo, 2007

Primitivo is the Italian name for the grape that became Zinfandel when it was brought to California. And A-Mano (literally, made by hand) is produced by a young Californian, Mark Shannon, who has moved to Italy and formed a partnership with a young Italian, Elvezia Sbalchiero. Mark and Elvie own property in Puglia and declare on the label that "this would could only be made in Italy." Well...actually, the technology is state-of-the-art California, but the style is traditional Puglia. I like the combination.

It's deep bluish and very fruity at this stage--raspberries, blueberries and cassis with ripe skin tannins. Neither a Zin nor a Salice Salentino but some of both. There is a good solid structure under the fruit that should allow the wine to grow with a few years in the bottle, but it is very pleasant to drink now, particularly with tomato-sauced dishes. It's being sold for $8.99 a bottle right now at D&W Markets, an excellent buy.

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2007

Tasted alongside a 12-year-old Gigondas (Font-Sane) and a 21-year-old Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Les Clefs d'Or), this young Cotes du Rhone showed lots of youthful fruit and vigor. Although I would not expect it to age more than three to five years, it did not embarrass itself in such company.

The color is a deep ruby with some purplish tints. Aromas and flavors are bursting with peppery, spicy fruit--dominated at this time by a lemon peel element that I often find in Cinsault. It's a unique quality that gives the wine freshness and lift--reminds me of one of my favorite Cotes du Tricastin wines. The flavors are round and friendly but by no means simple. An inexpensive CDR, available a few months ago at World Market for $9.99, this wine ranks at the top of many very good 2007 Southern Rhones I have tasted.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mittnacht-Klack Rosacker Riesling, 1993

Rosacker vineyard lies just outside the medieval wall of the tiny village of Riquewihr in Alsace. When we visited Riquewihr in the mid-1990s, I passed along the end of the vineyard on my morning run each day, smelling the roses neatly planted at the end of each row of Riesling or Gewurztraminer. This 17-year-old Riesling, from a 375 milliliter bottle, captures all the charm and beauty of Rosacker, Riquewihr and Alsace.

The color is deep gold, and the bouquet is classic Alsace Riesling--petrol, dried apricots and flowers, rich and compact. There is also a Gewurz-like spice that is quite pleasant. On the palate, age has made this wine richer and more viscous in texture, but there is good acid to keep the flavors in focus. It clings to the palate, leaving a lovely after glow. Although not at all sweet, this wine is rich and complex enough to finish off a meal. Excellent.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Jean Deydier et Fils Les Clefs d'Or Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

Harry Karis, in his excellent new book on Chateauneuf du Pape, writes of Les Clefs d'Or as a wine that ages well. This 21-year-old bottle is a testament to that aging ability.

The color is light crimson with considerable amber. Immediately, I get mature though lively Chateauneuf du Pape smells--fresh and dried cherries and blueberries, Mourvedre spice. Bice lift and concentration. On entry, the wine has a flavor profile similar to that of the 1998 Font-Sane Gigondas, but Les Clefs d'Or is much sweeter on the mid-palate. This is not the sweetness of sugar but of completely ripened grapes from 60- to 80-year-old vines. No showy power but incredible strength and concentration. The great fruit concentration sneaks up on you, and the flavors linger long after you have swallowed. Les Clefs d'Or is not among the high flying Chateauneuf estates in price, but it certainly ranks high in quality and value.

Domaine de Font-Sane Gigondas, 1998

I was a bit disappointed with this Gigondas last April and not quite sure whether it needed additional aging or was already past its prime. This bottle convinces me that the wine has turned the corner and is ready for drinking.

The color is still a deep, dark ruby, and the bouquet is everything you expect from a Gigondas--pretty red berry/floral qualities plus a powerful whiff of dark cherries and Gigondas minerals. The cherry flavors fill out across the palate with a bit of firmness in the middle that may be either fruit tannin or alcohol. Either way, the wine is the none the worse for it; when that firm quality is gone, the wine will have lost some of the power that is characteristic of Gigondas. This 1998 Font-Sane is not as charming as the 2006 Perrin I had last week in Santa Fe nor as complex as the 1998 Tourade I had a few weeks ago. But it's a very good Gigondas with a few more years to show its stuff.

Font-Sane has a more expensive cuvee, aged in new oak, that I have tried only once or twice but never purchased.

Frenzy Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc, 2008

This wine showed a sparkling range of aromas and flavors when it was young. Then a few months ago, it took on broad grapefruit aromas and flavors that were pleasant but not very complex. Yet another couple of months in the bottle, and the wine has evolved into yet another stage, better than either of the previous two. While not as fresh and sparkling as it was last summer, it is even more complex, blending grapefruit with gooseberry, passion fruit, Meyer lemon and honey dew melon. There is racy acidity and clean flavors that keep you coming back for sip after sip.

This will be a lovely wine for spring and summer drinking on the deck, and it's still on the shelves for about $10 a bottle--relatively inexpensive for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva Vereto, 2000

Ribollito, a robust stew made of whatever vegetables you have on hand (onions, peppers, celery, squash, tomatoes) plus white beans and a healthy dose of greens (collard, mustard, kale, spinach) for body and flavor, is one of my favorite vegetable dishes. And to accompany it, I like a hearty Italian red--full bodied but with good acid to match the qualities of the ribollito. Barbera Piemonte would be good, but this Salice Salentino, an old favorite, worked even better.

This wine has reached a beautiful level of maturity. It's a deep ruby red color with little or no browning. The bouquet is flush with sweet cherries, black licorice and rose petals--beautiful. Full bodied and full fruited, this is a big wine...but not too big for ribollito. Extended contact with the skins has given this wine a lush texture and black licorice/mineral-tinged flavors. The finish is ripe, long and complex.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chateau Bel Air (Domaine Henri Martin) Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois, 1990

This is a mere Cru Bourgeois, purchased for $8 to $10, but at 20 years of age, it is still drinking beautifully. It's a bright ruby color with minimal, if any, signs of advancing age. The bouquet has developed nicely, dominated by blackberries, black currants and cherries. Everything is up front, but there is enough subtlety to make you pay close attention. The blend is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot. While there is plenty of the subtle cherry-tinged elegance of Merlot, I find none of the bell pepper that often comes through in lower end Bordeaux or New World Merlot. Flavors are clean, bright and well focused from front to back, and the finish is long and ripe. 1990 was an excellent vintage in Bordeaux, even for lesser wines such as this Chateau Bel Air.

La Vieille Ferme Rouge Cotes du Ventoux, 2005

The Perrin brothers who produced the lovely Gigondas described below also make this every day drinking wine that is widely available for less than $7 a bottle. I usually drink La Vieille Ferme in the first year after it hits the market, but this bottle has been in my cellar for three years now, and it's still showing beautifully.

It's a lively crimson color, and the fruit aromas and flavors are fresh and well focused--blueberries, spring flowers, spice and a hint of black pepper. It has a medium full body, silky texture and reasonably long finish. This is the wine that I know and love year after year. I haven't yet bought any of the 2008 but will do so soon.

Perrin et Fils Gigondas, 2006

It's not often you find a wine of this quality offered by the glass in a restaurant. So even though the price was more than I usually pay ($13), I was not going to settle for anything else to accompany my "baseball steak" dinner at the Dinner for Two Restaurant in Santa Fe. The "baseball steak" was actually a baseball-size beef tenderloin on a spherical bed of garlic mashed potatoes with spokes of green beans on the periphery--a perfect match for Gigondas. But the wine also paired up well with the crab cake appetizer and the asparagus soup made with Nieman Ranch apple wood smoked bacon.

This is definitely not a backward Gigondas. Aromas of wild blueberries, flowers and spice are front and center from the first sniff. I could enjoy this wine without ever taking it in my mouth, but why not? It's silky smooth on the palate with expanding flavors of dark cherries and blueberries and a bright lift in the middle that's characteristic of good Gigondas. I see Gigondas as a marriage of beauty and power, and this wine is oriented more toward the former than the latter. It's large framed but oh so lovely to drink.

The retail price for this Gigondas is $27, so a per glass price of $13 is more than reasonable.

Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti Le Orme, 2007

Barbera is often a good wine to order by the bottle in a restaurant because it goes so well with so many different entrees. At Graham's Grille, an excellent restaurant on the plaza in Taos, NM, Donna ordered a lamb burger and I had pan fried trout. We were both more than pleased with this $30 bottle of Barbera d'Asti.

The wine is a deep, dark, bluish color as it's poured, and there are intense aromas of black and red fruit that give the impression of a big, tannic wine, more suited to lamb than fish. On the palate, the wine has a zippy acidity to counter the sweetish, blackberry/black currant flavors, and it's a delightful match for the trout. I suspect this wine will gain complexity with aging, but it's charm right now is its straightforward approach to the dinner table.