Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Angeline California Pinot Noir, 2008

I'm nearly always disappointed by the Pinot Noirs I order from the wine list at the Common Grill in Chelsea, MI. But this one has the smells and flavors of real Pinot Noir and is a good match for the always excellent fish dishes at the Common Grill.

After a few sips, I realized that this is the same Martin Ray Angeline I enjoyed several vintages ago. Martin Ray's Pinot vineyards are a mixed bag; as I remember, I always liked the Sonoma better than the Mendocino cuvee. This California appellation bottling apparently is a blend of produce from Sonoma, Mendocino and Santa Barbara. And I like it.

The smells are classic Pinot---fragrant flowers mingled with ripe strawberries and cherries. And there is Pinot earth as well as fresh fruit on the palate. This is a wine worth looking for on retail shelves. The earlier Martin Ray Angelines sold for about $15; I suspect this one, with the broader appellation, is a bit cheaper.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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

This is one of my favorite wines, and the 1998 one the best vintages I've had of this cuvee. Ordinarily this is a wine for drinking at about five to seven years of age, but this 1998 seems to be getting better with every bottle.

The color is a medium deep crimson, still bright and lively but with some garnet tones developing. The bouquet is full of cherries, red plums and garrigue. Has everything I like about Cairanne--sweet fruit and spice, velvety texture, mouthfilling, lovely finish. Like most Southern Rhone wines, this one benefits from about 10 minutes in the fridge before serving during the hottest summer months, at least for my taste.

I had the 2000 Reserve des Seigneurs a couple of years ago alongside a Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape. I preferred the Cairanne and believe this 1998 would also be a good match for any Chateauneuf du Pape of comparable age. I paid less than $10 for the 1998, but the current price for Reserve des Seigneurs is about $20 a bottle.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Domaine du Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2005

From the same vintage as the Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone (below) and from vineyards only a few kilometers away, this Font-Sane Ventoux has a distintly different personality. The color is medium deep crimson but with none of the bluish tones of the CDR. Pepper, spice, flowers and berries are all there but in a different proportion and format. At this stage, the wine is all red fruit, not as ripe as the Grand Prieur perhaps but more lively with a lifted minty, herbal quality to the aromas. Two summers ago, this was the wine that our resident hummingbird tried to dive bomb in the glass, and it still has some of those come-hither qualities although it is beginning to show some signs of maturity.

Like the two wines below, this red Ventoux can safely accompany any summer dish featuring fresh vegetables and herbs. And if you have a strip steak or lamb chop on the grill, all the better.

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2005

Lke Ottone I (below), Grand Prieur is a wine I usually drink in its first year after release, but I have a few bottles from 2005 and 2006 alongside the 2007s in my cellar. My first impression on pulling the cork was that the wine was beginning to lose some of its vibrant fruit; about 10 minutes later, I became convinced that it is in its prime and dancing.

The color still has some bluish tints, unusual for a Cotes du Rhone, but when the glass is nearly empty, you can see the lightening shades of crimson with some slight browning at the rim. The nose reveals lovely mature pepper and spice with some floral tones. Then black raspberries and licorice. A rich mouthful of ripe fruit.

San Silvestri Ottone I Barbera Piemonte, 2007

I drank this Barbera with Asian food, Margharita (basil, tomatoes, garlic) pizza and lamb with chick pea stew. It went well with all three, and that is one of the beauties of this inexpensive Barbera. It has enough acidity to be used with white wine dishes and enough black fruit substance to match up with lamb or beef dishes.

The color is a very deep crimson, no change from previous bottles. Although I ordinarily drink this wine young, I suspect it might take on some nuances with a couple of years of age. Aromas and flavors are of dark cherries, licorice and roses. It has an almost aggressive attack without overpowering vegetable dishes; the ripe fruit sort of overpowers all else. Very pleasant, but right now this wine is a bit one dimensional, particularly compared to the Cotes du Rhone and Ventoux described above.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pasqua Venezie Pinot Grigio Garganega, 2009

This is a $5 wine that's widely available. And with a coupon, you can get a $5 rebate on the purchase of two bottles. That's cheap, but the wine is not. It has good color and brisk acidity with hints of mint, basil, citrus and apple. At this stage of development, it reminds of MezzaCorona but maybe even more exciting on the palate. The Garganega adds a pleasantly bitter note and some complexity.

I saw a bottle of 2007 on shelf beside this one, but I went for the 2009 since we like Venezie Pinot Grigio for its vivid fruit qualities. I'll take more, please.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How About Bordeaux Futures?

There is widespread agreement among wine critics that 2009 is an excellent vintage for red Bordeaux wines. So even though the wines are not yet in the bottle, trade in these wines is taking place through the futures market. I have bought Bordeaux on futures for similar vintages in the past--1982, 1986 and 1990--always ending up with good wine at an incredibly low price. For example, I bought a case of the 1986 Cos d'Estournel for $345--less than $30 a bottle for a wine that sold for about $50 when it reached the store shelves. If you want the 2009 Cos, the futures price is $4,200/case. The swing could go the other way, of course, particularly if the Euro crashes against the U.S. dollar, but futures purchases are usually a good idea in excellent vintages, as long as you avoid the highest-priced, most highly hyped offerings.

I'm not buying any 2009 wines on futures myself (mainly because of my age), but if I were, these are the wines I would go for:
1. Tour St. Bonnet at $139/case (see note below) would be my top choice. I have found wines from this estate consistently good over several decades--as fine as wines selling for two to three times as much. And they age fantastically. Parker calls Tour St. Bonnet a "sleeper of the vintage" with "the finest potential of all the offerings I have ever tasted from this estate."

2. Fourcas Hosten at $199/case. I have bought and enjoyed Fourcas Hosten wines from the 1975, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1990 vintages. And again, they are always at least as good as wines costing two or three times as much. Jancis Robinsons says: "Seems like the sort of wine that should be a pleasure to drink all its life. The best Fourcas Hosten I can remember tasting."

3. Pitray at $119/case is an incredible bargain. I bought Pitray by the case in 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1986 and never regretted it. Parker says this is the best Pitray he's tasted, and I take his word for it. Pitray will drink best about 2012 to 2015; it's not a long ager like Tour St. Bonnet and Fourcas Hosten but very enjoyable.

4. Chateau Caronne Ste. Gemme, $179/case. My experience with this wine is not as extensive as with the above wines, but every Caronne Ste. Gemme I've had has been very good. This wine is highly regarded by British wine experts and often overlooked by Americans.

5. Pontoise Cabarrus, $179/case, is another reliably good value that I have purchased and enjoyed in 1979, 1981 and 1983. It's recommended by Decanter as a "fleshy, firm wine." Can be enjoyed young but will keep for many years.

6. Poujeaux at $399/case is more expensive than the rest but still an incredible bargain. According to one story, Baron Rothschild, when given a glass of the 1953 Poujeax at a state dinner, insisted that he was tasting his own wine, Chateau Lafite...until he was shown the label. I bought Poujeaux in 1982 and 1985 and have been equally impressed. Why buy Lafite when you can get Poujeaux for a fraction of the price? The Wine Spectator says the 2009 may be the best Poujeaux since 1929. I'm dubious because I've tasted the superb 1982. (The futures price for the 2009 Lafite, by the way, is $18,349/case.)

That's by no means an exhaustive list, just a few of the wines that would tweak my attention if I were certain I would still be alive and enjoying wine (at age 101!) in 2040. The prices (and the compilation of notes) are all from Village Corner in Ann Arbor, MI. Pitray at less than $10 a bottle?? I'm truly tempted.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Chateau Tour St. Bonnet Cru Bourgeois Medoc, 1990

I don't drink Cabernet or Bordeaux blends nearly as much as I once did. When I do, this is the kind of wine that catches and holds my attention. I have bought Tour St. Bonnet in good ageworthy vintages such as 1982, 1990 and 1995 and never been disappointed. I never paid more than $10 a bottle, and in 2009 futures offerings by Village Corner in Ann Arbor, the wine can be purchased for $139 a case--less than $12 a bottle. No other Cabernet blend I know gives as much serious pleasure for the price. And it ages very well.

Compared to the 10-year-old Margaret River Cab from Xanadu (see June 30 note below), this 20-year-old beauty is still vigorous and powerful, almost too young. And the power comes from fruit tannins rather than oak or alcohol. Like most Chateauneuf du Pape estates and some of the more traditional Bordeaux ones, Tour Saint Bonnet ages the wine for 18 months in large oak foudres that are seasoned enough that they impart no oak traits. The alcohol level is 12% compared to 15% for the Xanadu. The Xanadu offers up pleasant sweetish notes of black currant and blackberry--classic Cabernet--but the wine is simple and undistinguished compared to its cousin from the Medoc.

Tour St. Bonnet 1990 has a deep ruby color that is beginning to turn to garnet around the edges. The bouquet is well formed and powerful, welling up from the bottle even before a glass is poured. More dark cherries than currants here. Also some purple flowers and herbs, but nothing in the vicinity of green. There is only a small amount of Malbec in the blend, but at this stage it has many of the scents and flavors of a fine Malbec. In the mouth, the wine is medium bodied and powerful, maybe still a bit firm in the middle for my taste. I still have several bottles of this so I am looking forward to enjoying it again and again as it develops in the bottle. Tour St. Bonnet is what having a cellar is all about.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Chateau de Maligny Chablis Premier Cru Montee de Tonnerre, 1996

This is my idea of Chardonnay at its best--a well aged Premier Cru Chablis from a top vineyard. No oak, no butter, no toast, no cream, no tropical fruits, no lime lollipop--just good wine that reflects its soil and micro-climate.

The color is a beautiful bright yellow, medium deep with some hints of green even at this advanced age. The flinty, mineral tones that are typical of Chablis are present from the first sniff and they are embellished by pretty scents of white flowers, pears, citrus and a hint of honey. There is nothing showy or flashy, just rich, concentrated fruit that keeps coming at you. The finish is long and powerful.

When I bought this bottle from Sam's more than a decade ago, it was only about $10, and the salesman tried to point me to more expensive bottlings of Montee de Tonnerre. If I wanted something to drink tonight, he said, this wine would be okay. I have read reports of some of the wines he tried to sell me; they are all dead in the water. And this wine is still cranking.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva, 2003

I paid $10 for a glass of this wine to accompany a $5.99 lunch entree--penne with marinara sauce--at Tre Bicchieri in downtown Columbus, Indiana. I have no complaints: the wine was worth every cent, and the simple tomato-based pasta sauce did not embarrass itself in such company.

Querceto has a Chianti that retails for about $8.99 and a Chianti Classico that sells for a couple of dollars more. This 2003 Classico Riserva is listed at $24.99 in wine stores, and it seems to me to be at its peak of maturity right now. There is a good measure of amber/brown at the rim, and the bouquet is showing complex scents of dark cherries, flowers and aromatic herbs. I could spend an evening just sniffing this wine. The wine is medium bodied with a full range of flavors on the mid-palate and a rich, concentrated finish.