Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Xanadu Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000

This is a wine I bought for my daughter's wedding in 2005. It was drinking nicely enough at that time, but the tannins have melted over the past five years, and it's now at a good stage of maturity. The color has lightened a bit, and there is some garnet around the rim. The bouquet and flavors are classic black currant Cabernet, and there is an elegance that I find to be typical of Margaret River (Western Australia) Cabs--nothing showy or overdone. All of the oak traits that were present five years ago have integrated nicely into the savory Cabernet fruit.

Weighing in at 15% alcohol by volume, this wine seems to contradict all of the popular stereotypes about high-alcohol wines. There is no heat on the finish; the wine is not disjointed or out of balance. In fact, it's holding up quite well after a decade in the bottle, and neither of us had any idea that the alcohol level was so high until I checked the label. The bottle was opened a day before we left for a week long trip, but I hated to pour what was left down the sink. So I gave it the Vacu Vin treatment and put it in the refrigerator just in case. It's now two days later, and the wine is still drinking well.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Domaine Daulny Sancerre, 2005

I know: Sancerre and other Sauvignon Blanc wines are meant to be drunk young. Nevertheless, I know from experience that I like Domaine Daulny with a few years of bottle age. I had a bottle of this 2005 soon after it was released and enjoyed its brisk, mineral-laden fruit. Today, I love it even more for its elegant personality.

The color is medium to light yellow. The cutting edges of Sauvignon are gone, and the aromas and flavors have developed a beautiful complexity--lemon/lime, honeydew melon and minerals. For my taste, this is really at its prime--dances on the tongue. It's a serious wine but has a refreshing quality that goes nicely with a brunch of smoked salmon, dill, bacon and roasted new potatoes with goat cheese scones.

Rarely over $18 a bottle, Domaine Daulny (this regular cuvee or the Clos Chaudenay) is a good value Sancerre that never disappoints.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses Rouge Ventoux, 2008

This is a wine I enjoyed regularly during the mid 1980s and early 1990s. I came back to it again and again for its strong fruit quality, rustic charm and (ahem) price. (At 1980s prices, it was always under $5.) The cooperative that makes this wine (the same one that makes Altitude 500 Ventoux I reported on last week) has invested in modern high-tech equipment, and the rustic quality has disappeared since 2005. The fruit quality and decent price remain.

The 2008 vintage is a bit tight and stingy compared to 2007, and this wine is still young. It's a medium ruby color, and the aromas and flavors are still in an early stage of development. The Grenache is a bit shy; the Syrah, a bit primary; and the Cinsault is front and center with its spicy, peppery qualities. Everything is in place, though, and I expect a harmonious, traditional Ventoux to emerge. I'll buy some more and give it a try again in a couple of months.

Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses, both Rouge and Rose, are available at D&W Fresh Markets in southwest Michgian for $8.99. For the extra dollar, I prefer the 2007 Altitude 500 Ventoux, but since I'm a fan of Ventoux, I want some of both.

Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnay Reserve, 2005

This Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnay has been a little beauty for the past couple of years, but the last two bottles I opened (March and May of this year) were very ordinary--rather blunted in their fruit quality. With this bottle, the wine is back in top form, dancing on the tongue like a wine celebrating its prime.

The color has always been a medium to light yellow, probably indicating minimal or no new oak treatment. The complexity of aromas and flavors are remarkable, however. Fresh lemon, peaches, pears and minerals. The wine has the qualities I like in higher appellation white Burgundies from Saint Aubin, Puligny Montrachet and, to a lesser degree, Mersault. Medium bodied with a ripe finish. Nothing showy; just a lovely wine showing its best.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Domaine Fernand Engel Muscat d'Alsace Cuvee Engel, 2005

Always fine, this Muscat has matured nicely and is probably drinking at its best right now. It's a medium deep yellow and has the musky, peachy nose to be expected from a Muscat d'Alsace. Well focused aromas and flavors are spicy, floral and sweet but with a slightly bitter finish. This wine is very enjoyable as an appetizer or with a salad or vegetable oriented meal.

Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir, 2007

I've been buying and enjoying the Valmoissine Pinot Noir since the 2003 vintage, and this 2007 is the best of the lot. When I tried it last winter, it had ripe fruit tannins similar to those of a 2007 Southern Rhone; with a few additional months in the bottle it has taken on the traditional French Pinot traits that I love.

It's medium to light with bright, intense color. The aromas are equally intense and fragrant almost to the point of volatility. It's always tempting to believe this wine is too fragile to last, but that is not true. Bottles of 2004 from my own cellar have displayed this same delicate fragrance for several years, and the Louis Latour web site lists vintages going back to 1997 as being in their prime for drinking. Flavors are focused around ripe red cherry with traditional Pinot Noir earthiness and depth. This wine personifies delicacy and finesse--as a Pinot Noir should.

Louis Latour is a top Burgundy house, but this wine is a Vin de Pays from outside the appellation--from vineyards at 500 meters altitude on the Verdon hillsides. The grapes are entirely hand picked and fermented in open stainless steel vats for four to five days, then aged 10 to 12 months in stainless steel. Valmoissine is ordinarily price at about $14.99 but often discounted to $10 or $12. In my opinion, it is a top value and very fine wine regardless of price.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs, 1998

On a warm night, I thought at first this wine was beginning to show its age. When I poured out a small first sip, I noted some garnet around the edges and a touch of earthiness on the nose. With a full glass, the color was dark and deep. And with some time to savor the wine, I realized why Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin ranks as one of my favorites. The dark cherry/berry scents and flavors run deep with subtle hints of spice, garrigue and black pepper that are typical of Cairanne. Medium bodied and silky smooth on the palate with no hard edges. I ordinarily drink this Reserve des Seigneurs at five to seven years but held back a few bottles of the 1998 because I trust the vintage. It's doing well: ready to drink but no particular hurry. L'Oratoire Saint Martin's Prestige is an even finer Cairanne, in my opinion, and I'll be giving that 1998 a try in the next few weeks.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Edna Valley San Luis Obispo County Paragon Chardonnay, 2007

The label talks about the special qualities of the Edna Valley appellation, but I'm still getting mostly oak-influenced qualities. It's a medium to deep yellow, and the very limey French oak nose carries over to the flavors. It has a creamy mouthfeel, and the citric acidity (lime and grapefruit) provides a frame for the fruit. It's a pleasant wine for the table, but even at this stage of maturity, the oak still seems to dominate, and I'm doubtful that those white peach, green pear, mineral qualities I'm looking for will ever completely emerge. The zesty unoaked Faively Montagny (below) is more to my taste.

Domaine Faively Montagny, 2006

If you want to know what Chardonnay from a good terroir tastes like without the influence of oak, give this wine a try. Chardonnay is the only varietal permitted in Montagny, a village at the extreme south of the Cote Chalonnaise, just north of the Maconnais border. These two appellations (Chalonaise and Maconnais) are known for offering up good quality but reasonably priced white Burgundies. Faively's vineyards in Montagny were planted in 1991 and 1994 on steep slopes, up to 400 meters in elevation, with east/southeast exposure.

When I first tasted this wine, I assumed that it had been aged in oak because the aromas and flavors were beautifully framed with a good balance of fruit and acidity. I get lemon, spring flowers and minerals along with the apply Chardonnay fruit--very zesty, a good match for shrimp pasta. This is not at all like an Australian or New Zealand unoaked Chardonny, and even the most avid oak drinker could not accuse this wine of being "sweet." The color is lighter than you would expect from a barrel-aged wine, however, and Faively's web site confirmed it for me: "No barrel treatment; aged 10 months" (presumably in stainless steel). What I like most about this wine is that it tastes even better when it warms to room temperature. Unlike the Edna Valley Chardonnay (see above), which talks about terroir and gives you oak, this wine walks the walk as well.

Friday, June 11, 2010

An Education in Altitude and Terroir

American wine drinkers are not much into terroir; in fact, some boast about being anti-terroirists. As far as I'm concerned, those folks are missing one of the most intriguing aspects of wine.

Even though it's only a cooperative, Vignerons du Mont Ventoux takes a special interest in soil, micro-climate and placement of vineyards. The Altitude 500 Ventoux reported on below is produced from vineyards 500 meters above sea level. The winery also bottles an Altitude 450 and an Altitude 400 and, on its web site, gives geological and geographical details about each. This is "educational because a range was created to enable you to reappropriate the notion of TERROIR. That terroir, or soil, that gives our wines all their authenticity and personality." All three Altitude wines are produced using the same blend (75% Grenache, 25% Syrah) and the same winemaking techniques. Yet each presumably has its own distinct personality. (Unfortunately, only the Altitude 500 was imported into Michigan so I can't tell you any more about these differences.) Even by European standards, these Ventoux wines are inexpensive, selling for 4.30 to 5.00 Euros ($5 to $7) at the cooperative. Yet they are not to be dismissed as simple. When the French drink wine, even every day wine, they are looking not only for pleasure but also some appreciation for the land and how it affects aromas, flavors and personality.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Vignerons du Mont Ventoux Altitude 500 Saint Nicolas Ventoux, 2007

This wine meets all of my criteria for a good Southern Rhone red--vigorous ripe fruit balanced by spicy, peppery acidity and traits typical of traditional wines from this appellation. It's made by the cooperative at Bedoin that also makes the Cuvee des Tres Messes Basses Cotes du Ventoux, long a budget favorite of mine. Altitude 500, presumably from vines higher on the hill, is a step up in both price and quality, but it's one sale for $9.99 right now at D&W in southwest Michigan (buy six bottles for a 10% discount).

The color is a deep ruby, and the nose is typically 2007--ripe, rich and ready. The sweet red raspberry/blueberry fruit gives a quick up front impression that is quickly countered by scents of peppercorn and Provencal herbs, particularly lavender and rosemary. That's what garrigue is all about. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied with ripe fruit flavors and a pleasing peppery, spicy bite. This ranks high on my list of Southern Rhones from the highly touted 2007 vintage, and I plan to go back for more.

Dr. Jebediah Drinkwell's Paso Robles Meritage, 2007

A Trader Joe's special, Dr. Jebediah Drinkwell Meritage often makes the TJ Top Ten list on Jason's wine blog. As usual, I agree with Jason's assessment. The blend is 60% Cabernet Franc, 27% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot.

The wine has lively Cab Franc qualities--red raspberries, tart cherries and even a hint of Cab Franc dirt. It's medium to light bodied and works well with hearty vegetable-oriented dishes like Tuscan or Moroccan stew. For $8.99, it's a good value although not a wine that I would drink often.

Mittnacht Klack Rosacker Gewurztraminer, 1993

When I tasted this wine's sibling, the 1993 Riesling, a couple of months ago, I wrote that it had some Gewurz-like qualities. Had I tasted them side by side I would not have made such a statement. This wine has all the scents and flavors of a mature Alsace Gewurztraminer--roses, lychee nuts, bergamot and barbershop. It's big boned with even some tannins to give it a pleasantly bitter finish. The flavors dance; this is a special wine.