Thursday, September 30, 2010

Camille Cayran Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne, 2004

If you're looking for a stereotype of Cairanne, you need two descriptors: dark cherries and black pepper. This wine has always been a typical Cairanne, and, as it matures, the dark cherry and black pepper elements are becoming all the more pronounced. At some point, the stereotype will become an over-the-hill caricature; but not yet.

The color is still deep and dark. The bouquet: cherries and pepper plus plus. The flavors are getting fuller and broader with maturity, and there is a peppery warmth on the mid-palate. Made by the coop at Cairanne, Camille Cayran was produced with at least some degree of carbonic maceration to preserve the fresh fruit traits. In its youth, it was a charmer; and in its late middle age, it still gives me plenty of pleasure.

Val de Sil Valdeorras Godello, 2008

This is probably the best bargain wine available right now in Southwest Michigan, selling for $9 to $10 at D&W Markets or Russo's Wine and Spirits in Grand Rapids. That's less than half its suggested retail price. But what's more important is that this is a very fine wine.

Godello is a traditional white-wine grape of Galicia in northwestern Spain. Because the grape is difficult to grow, it fell out of favor among winemakers for many years but is now making a comeback...and for good reason. It makes wine that is as fat in texture as Chardonnay but with subtle, delicate aromas and a complex array of flavors. This was my first taste of Godello, and it was love at first smell.

Bodegas Valdesil makes several cuvees of Godello, some from vines 140 years old. This Val de Sil comes from 20-year-old vines planted on hillsides at an altitude of 500 meters above sea level. The grapes were harvested by hand and vinified without oak but with some time spent on the lees.

It's a medium light yellow with some green glints. On the nose, it's a bit shy but opens up beautifully--pears, white peaches, spring flowers. In the mouth, it's very full bodied for such an aromatic wine--somewhat like Viognier in this respect. It smells sweet but tastes dry. There is a good mineral touch in the complex flavors and a pleasantly bitter finish that tells me the wine will only get better with some time in the bottle. The makers say it will develop positively over 36 months.

What's to say? I bought a case. And now that I've written this, maybe I should have bought more.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tahbilk Victorian Cabernet Sauvignon, 1990

Tahbilk (formerly known as Chateau Tahbilk) is far from being the most expensive Australian Cabernet, but it is, in my estimation, one of the most authentic and ageworthy. The last bottle I had of this 1990 Cab was in December of 2004, and this bottle represents a definite improvement.

At 20 years of age, the color is still good with minimal amber around the rim. The bouquet is well developed with notes of currants and mint. Previous bottles of this wine have been spicier and much less classic in this respect. It's light and elegant on the palate, claret-like, but with good concentration. Mid-palate flavors are savory, almost salty, and the finish is long and ripe with no hard edges. This is an excellent Australian Cabernet at its prime.

Gran Sasso Sangiovese IGT Terre de Chieti, 2008

This was a very satisfying wine-by-the-glass selection I had at Salt of the Earth Rustic Eatery in Fennville, MI.

My initial impression: this is not Sangiovese. It's not as big nor as aggressively acidic as a Sangiovese from Tuscany, but that apparently is due to the terroir and not to any manipulation. The color is every bit as deep and dark as the Australian Shiraz (d'Arenberg Stump Jump) beside it, but the wine is much less tannic than it appears. There are pleasing aromas of dark cherries, black plums, herbs and soft fruit tannins that make the wine very drinkable, with or without food. It's similar to the Stump Jump in style but, in my view, has considerably more depth and complexity.

According to winemaker Marco Flacco's notes, grapes were hand picked, de-stemmed, crushed, macerated and then fermented at 26 to 28 degrees Centigrade. The wine was aged for five months in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks before bottling. I haven't seen this Sangiovese on retail shelves but will keep an eye out for it. It should sell for about $10 a bottle.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Domaine le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras, 1999

This is one of the finest of Vacqueyras wines, and I am impressed every time I open a bottle. It has a deep, dark garnet color all the way to the rim. From the first sniff and sip, this wine is very black fruit, very Vacqueyras--berries, plums, black licorice and minerals. The bouquet is nicely developed and classic to the Vacqueyras appellation. There is warmth on the palate that brings forward a pleasing array of flavors. Tasted side by side, this wine is firmer, not as fruity as the Mordoree (see below); but there is significantly more concentration and depth. Complex, ripe, fruit flavors come together in a cascade on the finish, bringing me back for sip after sip. This is a very fine wine, not at all old at 11 years of age.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Domaine de la Mordoree Lirac, 1998

This wine was recently pronounced DOA by a taster at a wine board I often visit. I disagree. The color is a medium deep ruby with some browning but really not very much. The ripe cherry/berry smells are fragrant. I pick up some slight volatility, but that probably adds, rather than detracts from the wine's ripe fruit charm. I sense some volatility on the mid-palate as well, and the wine seems to be losing the impeccable balance that characterized it a few years ago. If you're grading wines, as you would students in a classroom, you might mark it down. But if you're looking for enjoyment, this wine still offers plenty. It's 50% Syrah, 50% Grenache, and the Syrah seems to be in control at the moment.

Matthieu de Brully Bourgogne Pinot Noir, 2005

This Bourgogne Rouge personifies the delicate side of Pinot Noir. It's very light in color, almost pink. Sniffing the wine is like walking into a Cherry Republic store in northern Michigan--sweet, fragrant cherries on a bed of spring flowers and Pinot dirt. There is absolutely no thickness in this wine, but there is a tensile strength and a ripe finish.

On the second night, the wine tasted tired, and the cherries had given way to the earthy Pinot qualities. I would say its time for drinking has arrived.

Perrin & Fils Vinsobres Les Cornuds, 2004

The Perrin brothers produce two of my favorite wines--the exalted Chateau Beaucastel Chateuneuf du Pape (now out of my price range at $60+ a bottle) and the lowly La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux (one of my every day favorites at $5 to $8 a bottle). Over the past couple of decades, the Perrins have branched out into many other areas of the Cotes du Rhone as well as Paso Robles, CA (Tablas Creek). Wherever they go, their philosophy of wine-making virtually ensures a wine that is high quality and true to the traditions of the wine's origins.

This Vinsobres Les Cornuds is produced from 65% Syrah and 35% Grenache grapes using mostly traditional methods. About 35% is aged in seasoned French oak, however, and this probably broadens the wine's appeal. Now approaching maturity, the wine is still very deep and dark with forward smells of pepper, spice and black fruits, mostly dark cherries and black raspberries. It smells very traditional to me and typical of Vinsobres and the 2004 vintage. The oak influence comes through more in the flavors--not overtly oaky but ripe and silky smooth. The peppery, spicy flavors come through nicely even though there are some oak tannins on the finish.

Vinsobres is in the southern part of the Cotes du Rhone, between Valreas and Nyons. This is an area that had more olive groves than vineyards until about 50 years ago, but the vines now have enough age to produce some truly distinctive wines. I like them.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chateau Saint Bonnet Medoc Cru Bourgeois, 1982

The gap between the rich and the poor among Bordeaux estates is widening. When I paid $5.75 for this Medoc Cru Bourgeois, I could have purchased Lafite or Latour for less than $50, Cos d'Estournel for less than $20. For the current 2009 vintage, first growths are priced at $1,000 a bottle and up, Cos for about $300 while Saint Bonnet and other comparable Cru Bourgeois sell for less than $15. "You get what you pay for," some wine drinkers insist, but that's clearly not true.

After 28 years in the bottle, Saint Bonnet is still a dark ruby color with minimal amber tones at the edge. The cork is soggy and hard to remove so it may not have been protecting the wine as intended, but there is really very little oxidation for a wine of this age. I get some slight medicinal smells when the bottle is first opened, but they blow away within a few minutes. The black currant and other fruit aromas that were present in December of 2008, however, have been replaced by mature wine scents--dried cherries, oriental spices and a hint of black tea. Although the blend is 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet, there are none of the green herbal smells that are often associated with Merlot. On the palate, the wine is ripe and charming with a smooth mid-palate and a pleasing finish. This is not a wine to blow you away, but it's very enjoyable for what it is and not at all old.

Saint Bonnet will never compete with Lafite or Cos, of course, and I can't guarantee that recent vintages of this wine were made with the same standards as the 1982. But there are lesser known wines such as Poujeaux and Fourcas Hosten that can be had for a fraction of the price of a classed growth and will give you much more than a fraction of the quality.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Edna Valley Vineyards Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard Chardonnary, 2005

This is another wine that was lost in the cellar (though not in the beer fridge). Edna Valley is a well priced Chardonnay ($10/bottle) that I buy periodically. I am currently drinking the 2007 vintage, but this 2005 was found under some other bottles in the cellar. Experience told me it should be opened sooner rather than later, and I was right.

The white peach, floral quality of Edna Valley fruit has been completely replaced by mainly oak traits--brown butter, lime and coconut. Those who like oak more than I do can still enjoy this wine, but for quality and authentic personality, I'll take the 2004 Pinot Grigio from Gaetano d'Aquino (a $3 wine lost in the beer fridge for five years) any day.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

La Clape Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge des Karantes, 2007

This is another 2007 wine from Southern France that I have mixed feelings about. The color is a deep ruby and the wine smells tannic--skins and pips rather than oak. Within a few minutes, the aromas open up a bit: black- and blueberries with Mourvedre purple flowers but no Grenache red fruit at this stage. I think it's alcohol (14%) more than tannin that keeps the wine stand-offish on the palate, and my initial impression is that it has enough fruit to carry it once it gets past an awkward stage. Right now, though, it reminds me more of the Grand Prieur than the Delas Saint Esprit (see below), and I am not impressed.

2007 in Southern France has been touted as a vintage of the century, but, at this point, I've gotten much more pleasure from 2005. Time will tell.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Boskydel Vineyards Revisited: No Vignoles. Soleil Blanc

On my last visit to Boskydel Vineyards, I bought two bottles of the 2008 Vignoles, and those bottles were good enough to bring me back last weekend to buy a case. Alas, I was too late; the Vignoles was sold out, with the next vintage not due until next Spring. So I bought a case of the 2008 Boskydel Soleil Blanc and may end up liking it even better than the Vignoles.

Boskydel is by far the least commercial of the wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan, and it is also one of the best. Owner Bernie Rink, now in his 80s, is not a salesman and doesn't specialize in vintages of the century. "You wouldn't want the 2009," he said. "That was the worst vintage I've had in 40 years of winemaking."

I was disappointed by not getting my case of Vignoles, but the Soleil Blanc--Boskydel's highest priced wine at $9.35 a bottle or $71/case (including tax)--intrigued me. "What is the grape?" I asked. "Soleil Blanc. Oh, the French have a number for it. But I'm the only person in the country making a Soleil Blanc wine."

I liked the clean, crisp aromas and flavors. It has pleasant fruit but lacks the acidity I expect from Vignoles. "Will it age?" I asked. "All wines improve with age," Bernie answered flatly. And I knew exactly what he was saying. There are, of course, bottles that go downhill--or sideways--from the day they are placed on the shelves, but they don't meet Bernie's (nor my) definition of wine.

He showed me an empty bottle labeled Boskydel Red, 1980. "This was sent to me by a couple who had the wine last New Year's Eve. They loved it." I needed no convincing. The few bottles of his 1982 Vignoles that I kept on a back shelf of the cellar for nearly 20 years rewarded my patience...and then some.

Soleil Blanc clearly lacks the acidic thrust of Vignoles. "It won't age as long as the Vignoles," Bernie said, "but it will improve for at least 10 years." I'm not sure I will have the patience (or the longevity) to taste Soleil Blanc at its best, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Giuseppe Lonardi Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore Veneto, 2006

The first good decision was to eat at Trattoria Stella, an off-the-beaten track restaurant in Traverse City, located in a restored mental hospital building at Grand Traverse Commons. This is a place that takes food and wine seriously, and every bite and sip I had at Trattoria Stella was heavenly. The second good decision was to order the gnochetti pasta dish made with slow-cooked shoulder of wild boar, caramalized onions, coriander and a fried edgg. And the third good decision was to order a 500 ml carafe of this Ripasso to accompany it. The wine was as rich, intense and delightful as the gnochetti--reduced, powerful scents and flavors of blackberries, dark cherries and licorice. Great fruit concentration and structure. Any restaurant offering a wine like this by the glass or carafe ($24 for 500 ml) is worth numerous return visits.

I've since learned that the wine can be purchased for about $20 to $22 a bottle retail--worth every penny. If you're not familiar with Ripasso, it is a cousin of Amarone, the rich, highly regarded and highly priced Italian dessert wine. The traditional way of making Amarone is to spread the grapes on a rooftop to dry, then using the highly concentrated produce to make the wine. With Ripasso, grapes dried by a similar process are added to the fermenting must of a dry wine. According to Lonardi, each plant yields only one-half to one bottle of Ripasso--and even less for Amarone, which loses 30 to 40 percent of its mass in the drying process. The result is a wine concentrated enough to stand up to the richest dish you can place on the table, such as gnochetti made with shank of wild boar.