Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1989

Throughout the 1980s, Domaine Thalabert was one of my favorite wines, showing consistently fine Syrah fruit capable of improving for 20 years or more. Up until 1988, Thalabert was always aged in seasoned oak only--no new wood--and that may have contributed to some of the lovely animal/cured meat/black olive qualities that developed in the wine after 10 years or so in the bottle. A little more than 30 percent of this 1989 Thalabert was aged in new oak, and that may be the reason this wine is less appealing to me.

The color is a medium deep ruby with only a touch of amber at the rim. The bouquet shows purple fruits, lavender and concentrated tomato sauce, but it seems to come up a bit short and stunted. I find the same tannic toughness on the palate. The fruit concentration is good and some attractive berry flavors come and go but are stopped a bit short by a bitter tannic finish. Although tannins can be tamed with aging and aeration, this wine tasted oxidized and overly old after a night in the decanter. Aging is not what it needs.

It's interesting to note that Robert Parker gave this 1989 90 points, one of the highest ratings he's given to any Domaine Thalabert. John Livingstone-Learmouth, in Wines of the Northern Rhone, gives it two stars out of five and says, "drink soon." I agree with Livingstone-Learmouth.

Fred Loimer Lois Gruner Veltliner, 2009

The packaging of this wine is so simple and understated that you're likely to miss it on the shelves. No cute animals, no sexy words such as velvet, just the name "Lois," scribbled nonchalantly in light green ink on a white label. That light mint green is also on the screw cap closure and on the back of the label, giving a subtle green tint to the otherwise clear bottle.

Surprise! Lois Gruner Veltliner smells and tastes as fresh and green as the label suggests--spearmint, green beans, a splash of lime. The wine is very fresh and goes well with vegetable dishes or pasta with pesto. But there is also a creamy texture that wraps around the tongue and teases your taste buds with subtle pleasures. Lois steps lightly but makes a big impression. This wine may appear simple, but there is much to discover.

Chateau Fourcas-Hosten Listrac Medoc, 1981

I enjoyed this wine often during the early 1990s for its lovely black currant/berry Cabernet fruit. Not having visited it for awhile, I now find a mature wine with a different set of traits--different but no less attractive.

The color is a deep ruby with definite amber tones at the rim. I smell and taste a bit of tankiness at first, but this blows away quickly. It's not unexpected in a wine that's been in the bottle for nearly 30 years. The currant/berry perfume has given way to a mature wine bouquet with an attractive minty, cassis quality. There is plenty of acid keeping this wine going but it's still sweet fruited and stately. The fruit concentration is apparent in the long, ripe finish.

Fourcas-Hosten was a bargain back in the early 1980s; the price tag reads $9.95. And it's still a bargain; the 2009 vintage is selling for less than $20.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone, 2005

This is ordinarily one of my favorite Cotes du Rhones, and I have been enjoying this 2005 regularly over the past three years. At this point, however, the wine has taken a definite turn toward maturity and is showing much older than the 2001 did at five, or even ten, years of age. Has the domaine changed any of its wine making practices?

The color is a deep ruby, but amber tones are clearly present at the rim. Initial smells are gorgeous--sweet berries and Provencal herbs--but there is a touch of oxidation that becomes more apparent on the second night. On the palate, I find the usual peppercorn and black fruits but also some alcoholic heat that makes the wine clash with an acidic tomato sauce. The wine has good body, with "legs" clinging to the glass all the way to the rim. Flavors have considerable concentration and depth. But, alas, I liked it better last year, and I was hoping it would carry on for a few more years as the 2001 did.

Domaine Sante Anne Cotes du Rhone Village Saint Gervais, 1999

If you follow this blog regularly, you know how much I like Domaine Sainte Anne wines, and this is my favorite cuvee. The blend contains 50 to 60% Mourvedre, and I know from experience that it takes a special turn for the better (at least for my taste) at around 10 to 12 years of age. Now 11 years after harvest, this 1999 is just about there.

It's a medium deep ruby, still looking young, but the spicy Mourvedre nose tells me it's close to maturity. In its youth, Mourvedre has a tight, purple flower smell that becomes dramatically more expansive with maturity, yielding scents of pungent spices and old and new leather. I also smell ripe blueberries and raspberries, violets and even a hint of the vanilla that is so dominant in the Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone. (None of the Sainte Anne wines see any new oak, so it's a different kind of vanilla aroma, probably coming from ripe stems.) In the mouth, the wine is medium bodied with a silky mouth feel. Beautiful Mourvedre spice and ripe fruit tannins lead to a long finish. The wine goes down easily but still has room to grow. I'm looking forward to visiting it again in a few months.

Damilano Barbera d'Alba, 2005

Barbera from the Piedmont region of Italy is usually consumed at a fairly young age because of its upfront fruit charm. This wine has that charm, but it has also some tannic structure and a depth that requires your attention. Like most Barberas, it is a useful wine because it has enough acid to drink with light meat or vegetable meals and enough dark fruit depth to go with beef, lamb or richly sauced dishes.

The 2005 Damilano Barbera is a very deep ruby color with big fruit aromas--dark cherry, licorice, cassis and flowers. In the mouth, it's even better, coating the tongue with intense dark fruit flavors but no heat or hard tannins. The finish is smooth and beautiful. This is not Barolo, but it is a good poor man's substitute.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

La Vielle Ferme Cotes du Ventoux, 2006

After chewing my way through the tannic leftovers of Altos de Luzon on the second night, this old favorite was a welcome relief. The smells and flavors of red raspberries and crushed black pepper are friendlier and more forward than ever. This is a typical and straightforward Ventoux, yet still subtle enough to maintain a serious interest. And it's one of the least expensive wines on the shelf. This 2006 is burnished and smooth as it slides down. It seems to be showing substantially more age than its 2005 and 2007 siblings but still drinking well. La Vieille Ferme is a wine to drink young, but don't worry if you have a few left over from year to year to remind you of past glories.

Altos de Luzon Jumilla, 2006

Jumilla Monastrell is on my radar at the moment, based in large part on my favorable experience with Luzon Verde a couple of years ago. Another, higher priced, wine from the same bodega, Altos de Luzon is a blend of 50% Monastrell, 25% Temperanillo and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 12 months in new French and American oak. Compared to the Luzon Verde, it is a more internationally styled wine that should have broad appeal. Both Robert Parker and Steve Tanzer gave it high marks.

Altos de Luzon exhibits a deep purplish robe that is sure to bring exclamations from lovers of big, oaky New World Cabernets. There are smells of dill and vanilla from the American oak plus the more subtle toasty scents of French oak, but inside the oak frame I find plenty of berry/cherry dark fruit aromas and flavors. Cabernet currant and Mourvedre spice. Classy wine with plenty of tannic structure for aging five to eight years. It's drinking well now, but I suspect it may close down for a spell before it shows its full potential. On the second night, it's very spicy, but the fruit is mostly hiding behind tannins and alcohol. This will eventually be a very enjoyable wine, but I still prefer its less expensive sibling, Finca Luzon Verde Jumilla Monastrell.

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Soleil Blanc, 2008

When I asked Bernie Rink what grapes he used for Soleil Blanc, he replied: "Soleil Blanc!" I was somewhat embarrassed that I hadn't heard of that grape. "The French have a number for it," he said, "but I make the only Soleil Blanc in North America." The name means "white sun," and Bernie considers it Boskydel's "premium white wine,...bone dry with a touch of oak." He advises waiting "at least a year" before starting to drink it.

In the tasting room at Boskydel and as I try the first bottle of a case I brought home, I am at a bit of a loss to place Soleil Blanc in the context of wines I know. It's a light yellow color, and the aroma doesn't give a big come-on, although it has nice under-stated scents of white peaches, melon and flowers. It's medium to full bodied, again with understated fruit flavors. It's definitely dry but with ripe fruit flavors, pineapple and melon, that carry all the way from front to back. It's pleasant enough to drink now, but I'll take Bernie's word for it: the best is yet to come. This is nothing like Chardonnay. It's not racy enough to be Sauvignon Blanc nor fragrant enough to be Viognier. The acidity is not as apparent as it is in Leelanau Vignoles (my favorite Boskydel wine for many years). Having tasted it just after Domaine des Baumard's Clos du Papillon, I guess I would compare it to a Chenin Blanc from Anjou--often a puzzle, always changing and with good aging potential. I'm looking forward to following this wine over the next several years.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Domaine des Baumards Savennieres Clos du Papillon, 2003

The Clos du Papillon vineyard of Domaine des Baumards in the Loire Valley produces (in my opinion) one of the great white wines of the world--at least in some vintages. Savennieres, a dry Chenin Blanc that ages beautifully over many years, has never been very well known even among wine enthusiasts, and Clos du Papillon was cheap enough for me to buy in quantity during the 1980s. I enjoyed far too many at that time, when they were young, but held back a few bottles from the 1981 and 1985 vintages that are now showing the wine's full potential (see my post of February 17, 2008).

As more wine drinkers have discovered Savennieres, the price of Clos du Papillon has climbed to about $35 a bottle--still cheap for a wine of this quality but beyond my budget. So when I saw the 2003 Clos du Papillon offered for $17.99, I jumped at the opportunity. There was a reason for the discounted price, of course. The 2003 vintage was one of warmest on record, even for the usually cool Loire Valley. As a result, acidity was lower than usual and even though the Wine Spectator gave this wine high marks, it was downgraded somewhat by the WineDoctor, Chris Kissack ( Kissack, one of my most reliable sources for information and tasting notes of Loire wines, had this to say: "Although it shows some early promise it becomes clear that this wine is less vibrant and precise than I would really like. And the acidity is unsurprisingly low, which lessens its appeal. A difficult vintage it seems. 14+?/20 (July 2007)" That review was enough to keep me from buying more than two bottles, a decision I now regret.

Now seven years from the vintage, the wine is a medium deep yellow. The Chenin Blanc nose is immediately apparent--peaches, melons and spring flowers. Has the elegance and finesse of a fine wine. Yes, it is riper than I'd expect from a Savennieres, but that's not all bad, at least at this stage. It's very ripe up front, then shows some reductive tannic notes that suggest it still has some development ahead of it. After the wine has been open for several hours, the flavors open and become riper all the way through the finish--honey, melons, minerals and hint of petrol. This wine may never become as good as the 1985 (February 18, 2008), but I now wish I had bought more than two bottles.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet, 2008

Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet may be the last of the inexpensive yet sturdy and ageworthy Aussie reds. Big conglomerates have been buying up smaller Australian wineries for many years; yet Penfolds has resisted efforts to commercialize and internationalize at least some of its traditional labels. You'll see the Koonunga Hill name on Cabernet, Shiraz and Chardonnay, but the original (Koonunga Hill Claret) was a Shiraz Cabernet, introduced in 1976. We spent 1976-77 in Australia, and Koonunga Hill Claret, selling for $1.79 a bottle or less, was one of our every day favorites. The Koonunga Hill vineyard was a fine one, but the high-volume wines bearing that name today are "named after" the vineyard and the sturdy type of wine it produced. This 2008 Shiraz Cabernet comes from vineyards in Padthaway, Barossa, Wrattonbully, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Valey and Coonawarra--all excellent appellations for Shiraz and Cabernet. The price suggests, of course, that few, if any, of the grapes were the pick of the lot.

The Shiraz Cab blend produces unique aromas and flavors, different from those of either grape. I smell black plums, berries and other dark fruits along with brown spices and maybe a hint of dark chocolate. Small parcels of this wine were matured in small oak barriques with the rest in stainless steel. The result is a wine focused on fruit rather than oak but with firm tannins. It's ripe enough to enjoy now, but it should age nicely until 2016, according to the winemaker. From my experience, the bouquet and flavors of a Shiraz Cab are at their best with that kind of medium term aging.

The Koonunga Hill line is selling for about $8 to $9 a bottle right now, marked down from the usual price of $10 to $12. Whether you're interested in cellaring wines or not, it's a good buy.

A-Mano Pinot Grigio, 2008

This is my favorite under-$10 Pinot Grigio at the moment. It's available for $7.99 at Sawall's Health Foods in Kalamazoo (and undoubtedly other locations around the country). But if you're interested, you should act fast because the wine is high quality and suggested retail price is substantially higher (around $16).

Some of the grapes for this Pinot Grigio are dried in a mountain loft for several weeks before being added to the crushed juice. After fermentation, the wine is stirred weekly to mix in the spent yeast cells (lees). All of this adds body and complexity to a wine that is incredibly fresh and fruit-oriented.

Now a year old, the color of this 2008 is a medium yellow, darker than when I tasted it last Spring. Aromas and flavors are vibrant--peaches, tropical fruits, mint and melon with a racy citric edge. This is exactly the type of wine I like to add spice to a vegetable meal. Flavors are very finely focused, a rarity for a wine at this price level. It smells like a light wine, but it has a pleasing weight on the palate.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Mourvedre, 2008

I'm always a bit skeptical when I see the term "ancient vines" on a New World wine. In some cases, it means vines that may be relatively old but would be considered "young" in France, Italy or Spain. That's clearly not the case with this wine, which I ordered by the glass at Zingerman's Road House in Ann Arbor. It has all the concentration and power that I expect from old vines and, what is more important, true Mourvedre character.

With a little research, I learned that most of the grapes come from some of the oldest vines in California--110 to 115 years old--from Oakley just east of San Francisco. As I remember, this has in the past been a prime source for Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John, who produces some of my favorite New World Mourvedre and Syrah wines.

The wine is a deep purplish color, and I also find deep purple flower tones in the aromas and flavors. There is a rough tree bark note in the smells that may turn off some tasters. But that's Mourvedre. Have a little patience. With a little aging, a little aeration or just a little rich food in your mouth to coat the tongue, the rough outer shell opens to reveal a beautiful kernel of fruit--fresh, dew-covered blueberries on a bed of violets. Other tasters' notes speak of eucalyptus, dark cherries and cocoa powder. And I agree. On the tongue, there is true old vine concentration but the tannins are ripe enough that the wine goes down smoothly right now.

I am a real fan of Mourvedre from Southern France, Spain and Edmunds St. John in California. Add this Cline Cellars Ancient Vines to the list. At 8 to 10 years of age, it should be even better.