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 ( 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.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Almira Los Dos Grenache + Syrah "Old Vines," 2007

This wine is marked down to $5.99 right now at D&W in southwest Michigan, a very good value.

The wine greets with a spicy, briary Spanish Grenache nose. Whatever Syrah is here seems to be lurking in the background. I find plenty of alcohol and power--reminds me of Garnacha del Fuego. It lights up the tongue and lingers with a nice spicy bite. I don't find a lot of complexity, but Los Dos goes very well with a grilled pork chop.

Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnay Reserve, 2005

This wine no longer dances on the tongue as it did a year ago. It was undoubtedly at its peak then, but if this were your introduction to the wine, you would certainly not think it to be in decline. It's a classy French version of what Chardonnay is all about.

Medium gold with good brightness./ White peaches, pears on a bed of nuts and grains. There is a hint of lemon butter but just enough to frame the lovely aromas and flavors of the Chardonnay grape. Medium bodied and fine. Even without the dance, this is still one my favorites from the cellar.

Ecker Eckhof Wagram Gruner Veltliner, NV

This wine is about unpretentious as you can get. It comes in a plain green bottle similar to those used for mineral water with a simple screw cap (not a "stelvin closure"). The price is $9.99 for a full liter--the equivalent of about $7 for a regular wine bottle. What's inside is what counts, and that is very good.

Light to medium gold. Fresh herbal/fruit scents with clean, clearly defined flavors. Mint, basil, snap beans in a citrus-toned base. Bring a bottle out on the deck. The brisk flavors will get you going and keep you happy throughout the meal.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Two Sicilian Reds

Martini's Pizza, just down the street from my home in Kalamazoo, is a no-nonsense place offering delicious pizza, pasta and Mediterranean-oriented dishes. You would expect a place like this to have well chosen inexpensive Italian wines on the wine list, and they do--served the traditional way in Italian-style water glasses. Yes, Citra Montepulciano is on the list; it's a reliable standard at the lowest end of the price scale. We chose a couple of Sicilian reds that were only slightly more costly and even more enjoyable.

The 2007 Cusomano Italian Syrah is a far cry from Australian-style Shiraz, and my wife (who likes Shiraz more than I do) turned up her nose. It's as darkly colored as Shiraz and extremely fruity, gushing with blackberries, black plums, licorice and herbs--no oak in sight. It's closer to a Southern Rhone than a New World Syrah but basically it represents a distinct Sicilian style--warm climate and full of ripe fruit tones. I like it.

My wife was happier with the 2007 Feudo Arancio Sicilian Pinot Noir. Again, it's not like any Pinot Noir we've tasted. It may be even riper and fruitier than the Syrah, but the earthy Pinot finish makes it food friendly. Both wines go very well with dishes such as Farcitta (savory crust stuffed with vegetables and sausage) and acorn squash with sauteed vegetables.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages Cuvee Notre Dame des Cellettes, 1998

While this cuvee of Domaine Sainte Anne is only 60% Grenache (with the rest Syrah and Mourvedre), it is all Grenache in personality and style. Particularly compared to d'Arenberg Old Vine Shiraz (below) the color is medium light with some amber tones but good brilliance. There are some signs of maturity here, but the wine is so well balanced that I see it going on at this level for years. The bouquet and flavors are all classic Sainte Anne--very ripe red berry Grenache with a doughy, yeasty quality. Strawberries in a warm pie crust with full cream; hard to resist. The wine is medium bodied with a silky elegance and finely focused flavors that go on and on. On the second night, spicy Mourvedre notes come through even more than the Grenache, and the wine somehow seems to have gained some substance and depth overnight.

This is my first bottle of the 1998 Notre Dame in several years, and it has probably matured more than the regular Cotes du Rhone and CDR Villages from this estate (which I drink more regularly). It is a finer wine than either of these, however, and has impeccable balance. I'm looking forward to following it over the next five to ten years.

Monday, May 10, 2010

d'Arenberg McLaren Vale, The Old Vine Shiraz, 1995

According to the label, this wine was produced from old vines, some of which were more than 125 years of age--stumpy, gnarled and shy bearing with "small bunches of highly colored and flavored grapes." The grapes are gently crushed and spend about two weeks in traditional "headed down" open fermenters before being pressed off the skins, by basket press, into American oak hogsheads and barriques.

At 15 years, this wine has thrown a thick crust that totally covers one side of the bottle but it's still a deep, dark ruby. It is still remarkably fruity with aromas and flavors of blackberries, black plums, currants, cassis and spice. This wine could not be mistaken for anything but an Aussie Shiraz, and it has the full, rich mid-palate feel of a McLaren Vale red. It's very ripe and all fruit, a plummy mouth full of concentrated juice. Incredibly youthful and vigorous, this wine could go on giving pleasure for at least another 5 to 10 years.

In recent vintages, I believe, the Old Vines Shiraz is now known as The Footbolt Shiraz, and it still sells for about $15.

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2005

This Cotes du Rhone and the Jaboulet Parallele 45 below provide good proof of the strength of the 2005 vintage in the Southern Rhone. Whereas the Parallele 45 is Syrah-oriented, this Grand Prieur presents all the beauties of a Grenache-based wine.

Unlike the Jaboulet wine, the Grand Prieur has lightened a bit in color and lost the bluish tint that it had when it was first released. But that's the difference between Syrah and Grenache and not a sign that the wine is fading. The sweet Grenache aromas are still there--strawberries and currants laced with black licorice and crushed black pepper. As the wine warms and airs, it gets more aromatic by the minute. I smell lavender, basil and flowers. The ripe flavors are persistent and go well with a spicy black bean chili.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Paul Jaboulet Parallele 45 Cotes du Rhone, 2005

Paul Jaboulet is best known for its Hermitage and Crozes Hermitage wines from the estate's Northern Rhone vineyards near Hermitage hill, but, like Guigal, the estate also sells a full range of negociant wines from all over the Rhone Valley. This Cotes du Rhone, usually available from Cost Plus World Market for about $10 a bottle, has offered a good value in recent years.

The color is a deep ruby purple, indicating the wine probably has a high proportion of Syrah in the blend. Aromas and flavors are vigorous and youthful--berries, briar and herbs--with good weight for a Cotes du Rhone. It's firm like Syrah in the middle with a good punch on the finish. At a good stage for drinking right now.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Edna Valley Vineyards San Luis Obispo County Paragon Chardonnay, 2007

Do you pay attention to appellation when you buy wine? You should if you're interested in getting value for your money. The appellation does not give you a guarantee that you'll like the wine, but it tells you where the grapes were grown. And prices for wine grapes are based in large part on where they were grown.

Edna Valley Chardonnay has had a good reputation for nearly four decades in large part because the appellation is considered good for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It's an east/west-oriented valley bordered by hills and mountains that capture the cool breezes blowing in from the ocean.

Edna Valley Vineyards owns more than half the land in the Edna Valley appellation, and the estate's Paragon Vineyards, planted in 1973, is a major source of the estate's Chardonnay. Select portions of the vineyard are currently being replanted with new clones and new drainage and trellising systems, however. That may be one reason this Edna Valley Chardonnay has come down in price--from about $15 to less than $10 a bottle. It's an excellent buy at that level but probably in line with the appellation listed on the bottle: San Luis Obispo County (a broader area) rather than Edna Valley as listed on vintages of this wine from 2006 and earlier. Most of the grapes undoubtedly come from the Paragon Vineyard, but Paragon Vineyards Company is also co-owner of the estate. As the winery claims, "2007 was a fantastic vintage in the Edna Valley," and, regardless of price or appellation, this wine pleases me at least much as the 2006.

What you should expect to find from Edna Valley fruit is a complex mix of white peaches, green pears and minerals; rich flavors countered by brisk acidity from the long growing season and cool sea breezes. I do find many of those qualities, and that's why I continue to buy Edna Valley Chardonnay. But what the winery describes as "subtle oak influences" I find not so subtle. The white peaches and green pears seem to be overwhelmed by grapefruit, lime, pineapple, vanilla and caramel--all very pleasant but probably derived mostly from aging in new French oak. The creamy, full bodied mouth feel can probably be attributed to partial barrel fermentation and aging sur lie (on spent yeast cells) in small oak barrels. If there are subtle qualities to the fruit that have been lost because of the change of appellation, they are not noticeable, in large part because of these oak influences.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Camille Cayran Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne Reserve, 2004

If there Is one good thing about the continuing escalation of Chateauneuf du Pape prices, it's the increased appreciation it has given me for lesser appellations and lesser wines. When I could buy my favorite Cairanne, Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin, for $6 to $8 a bottle and drink it as often as I wanted, I had a tendency to take it for granted. Why bother to look for lesser wines from Cairanne? With l'Oratoire Saint Martin now selling for $20 to $25, I Looked for, and found, a less expensive Cairanne to satisfy my daily thirst.

Camille Cayran 2004 is a beautiful crimson Grenache color, with just a bit of bricking around the rim. And it is classic Cairanne--dark cherries and red raspberries backed by Rhone spices and freshly ground black pepper. This wine has everything you expect from Cairanne and from the 2004 vintage. It Is so plump and fruity and acccessible that, again, it's easy to take it for granted. I love this wine, and the more I drink, the more I find to love. Camille Cayran is a cooperative of 100 growers, and this Cairanne Reserve is made using carbonic maceration. After six years in the bottle, the fruit is still lively, and the wine is a good example of traditional Cairanne, usually selling for about $10 or less.

Sweet and Sweeter

Mention New World Chardonnay a decade ago, and one style came immediately to mind: tropical fruit and big, buttery oak. I dislike that style and welcomed the emergence of unoaked Chardonnays from California, Australia and New Zealand. What I like most about this trend is the focus on the subtleties of the Chardonnay fruit as it is expressed in certain soils and micro-climates.

As the trend has caught on, it's now common to see wine stores and restaurant wine lists pointing to "unoaked," "naked" or "bare" Chardonnays. One person in our dining group will drink nothing else; another in this group consistently rejects the unoaked choice as "too sweet." Penny Ross, the wine specialist at D&W Parkview reports the same with her customers. Some shy away from the unoaked wines because they see them as "too sweet." In fact, if you're judging sweetness by residual sugar, the oaked versions are usually considerably sweeter, but the unoaked wines may appear sweeter because the fruit is more apparent and there are fewer wood tannins.

Whether new oak is used or not, what's important, of course, is the quality of the fruit. Poorly sited, over-cropped vineyards will produce simple wines, regardless of what tricks are used to try to disguise the mediocrity.