Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Louis Latour Ardeche Chardonnay, 2007

This is a pungent, spicy Chardonnay sans oak in the Louis Latour Ardeche Chardonnay tradition. I get scents and flavors of apple, citrus, nutmeg and white spices; lots of range and flair. Has a spicy quality that reminds me of a Saint Veran or a Belvedere Alexander Valley Chardonnay. Good body and clean, fruit flavors. The finish is very ripe but not at all sweet, as many New World unoaked Chardonnays are. For $8.99 at Cost Plus World Market, this is a very good value.

J. Chave St. Joseph Offerus, 1999

Chave produces this St. Joseph from purchased grapes rather than his own vineyards, and the price (under $20) was within my reach when this 1999 was released.

The color has turned a bit but is still deep and dark. And the smells and flavors are at a pleasant stage of maturity. This is typical Northern Rhone Syrah--dark berries, herbs and cassis--with typical St. Joseph supple charm. Eventually, though, significant brett barnyard aromas begin to dominate. These are all part of the charm of the wine, but they might turn some drinkers away.

Ridge Geyserville, 1991

Ridge Geyserville is probably my favorite California wine, and, even though it is mainly Zinfandel, I know that, in most vintages, it ages beautifully over two decades or longer. This 1991 is 50% Zin with 30% Carignane and 20% Mourvedre from old vines in the Dry Creek Valley.

The color is still deep and dark, almost inky. I can smell the American oak on the nose, but it has blended nicely into scents of blackberries, cassis and hints of violets. This has the depth and concentration that I expect from a Geyserville. Tasted alongside the Chante Perdrix Chateauneuf du Pape, this wine is clearly bigger, rougher, more tannic and more alcoholic. Impresses with power rather than finesse but very good.

Francoise et Denis Clair Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes-de-Beaune, 2005

This 2005 red Burgundy has changed considerably since I tasted it in its youth, but I foresee a year or two of positive development ahead. Aromas are slow to open and somewhat herbaceous at first, but with some aeration, I smell delicate fruits and flowers. On the palate, the wine really sings. Sleek tannins, focused red fruits and a long, ripe finish.

Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Basket Pressed Shiraz, 1994

Due to considerable crusty sediment and a crumbly cork, this wine had to be decanted carefully, but the McLaren Vale Shiraz that emerged was well worth the effort. It's still a deep, brilliant hue. Lively Australian Shiraz aromas are apparent even as the wine is being decanted and poured: mint, eucalyptus, blackberry--smells young. This Shiraz has seen plenty of new American oak, but it's become integrated by now and the oak is all part of the Australian tradition. On the palate, I find a supple McLaren Vale mid-palate and a long fruit-oriented finish. Tannins are very fine and they frame the fruit rather than dominate it. A lovely mature McLaren Vale Shiraz--wish I had more.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Domaine Chante Perdrix Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

This was my Christmas present to myself, and what a present it was! I've had the 1989 Chante-Perdrix Chateauneuf du Pape several times over the past four or five years and have become convinced that it's one of the finest wines in my cellar.

The color is definitely fading with considerable bricky, amber tones. And it's easy to miss the subtle qualities in the mature bouquet--dried flowers, wild blueberries, exotic Asian spices. As before, my first impression is that the wine is fading, but the longer the bottle is opened, and the more I drink, the more I find to like. On the palate, the flavors are strong, fine-boned and persistent; yes, it seems to be made from rare, wild fruit. Very long, very ripe, very complex finish.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Casa Castilla Jumilla Monastrell, 2008

Wow! This is my wine of the week so far. It's not quite as exciting as the Altos de la Hoya Jumilla Monastrell I had a couple of weeks ago, but it comes close. And it pleases others at the table maybe even a bit more. Jumilla is apparently a good appellation for modest-priced Monastrell (the Spanish name for Mourvedre).

The color is a deep ruby, and the aromas are somewhat backward--tree bark opening slowly to subtle scents of violets and blueberries. And I get the same on the palate. Some tannins, but they're ripe and promise a lot more to come. Like many Jumilla Monastrells, it's a bit high in alcohol but carries 14% well. I'm on the lookout for more of this little beauty.

San Silvestro Ottone I Piemonte Barbera, 2007

San Silvestro makes an inexpensive Piemonte Barbera that goes well with light vegetable or bean oriented meals. It combines the freshness of a white wine with the substance of a red.

This wine has certainly been made with a great deal of contact with the macerating skins. It's deep, deep ruby and exudes aromas of purple flowers, licorice and grape peels. Even after a couple of years in the bottle, it's still almost fizzy in its acidity, but this is a positive for me. For about half the price, it has many of the dark fruit traits that I expected but did not get from the Vacqueyras below.

Domaine la Monardiere Vacqueyras Les Calades, 2003

Year after year this is one of my favorite moderately priced Vacqueyras wines. The 2001 was drinking beautifully at the same age, and the 1998 was fine at age 10. My last bottle of the 2003 was about a year ago, and I had no complaints then. But it has now gone the way of the 2003 Rasteau below--not a dead Vacqueyras but close enough.

The color is noticeably lighter than a typical Southern Rhone, and the nose is also attenuated. I get the licorice and black fruits that are part of the Vacqueyras profile but without the power and vibrant flavors that are usually part of the package. Much better than the Rasteau, but that isn't saying much.

Robert Parker predicted the 2003 Rhones would be great if given proper time. Robert Parker has been right on many issues; one the 2003 Southern Rhones, I would say that he is dead wrong.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chateau du Trignon Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau, 2003

Chateau du Trignon Rasteau is a highly regarded Southern Rhone, and this wine was originally listed at about $20 a bottle. So I was quite pleased when I saw it offered for $6.99 a bottle a few years ago in Bloomington, Indiana. I have never liked the super-hot 2003 vintage, but for $6.99, I was ready to accept something other than perfection. I'm glad I bought only three bottles.

The first bottle I opened soon after my return; it was so foul tasting that I couldn't finish the bottle. I opened a second shortly thereafter just to make sure. Yuk. The second bottle went down the sink. Maybe it just needs time, I thought, and put away the last bottle for a couple of years. So this is my final bottle, and it doesn't say good things about the 2003 vintage, which was highly hyped by Robert Parker and many other Rhone experts.

The color is fading a bit from the deep crimson it showed previously. Initial smells resemble Cheracol cough syrup but then some Rasteau licorice and minerals emerge. It's not terrible but it lacks the spicy, peppery fruit that I'm looking for in a CDR Villages. In the mouth, it's thick with Port-like body and ripeness. But again no peppery, spicy acidity. A plodding wine, pulling its heavy boots through the mud. I can't drink much of this. On the second night, some interesting flavors emerge but the wine still plods. On the third night, it's oxidized and dead.

Fortunately, I didn't buy many 2003s, but I still have a couple of bottles of Domaine la Monardiere Vacqueyras that tasted okay last year; I'll have to open another bottle soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chateau Bel Air Haut-Medoc, 1990

This Cru Bourgeois is produced by Domaines Henri Martin, which also makes Chateau Gloria and Chateau Saint Pierre. I don't see much of Gloria and Saint Pierre these days, but they ranked near the top of popular medium-priced Bordeaux in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Bel Air is even a little cheaper than these wines, but I have found the quality to be very good, particularly in strong vintages such as 1986 and 1990. I've had this 1990 several times over the past five years, and it has always made a strong showing.

The color is a deep, dark ruby with brilliant tones. And from the first sniff I get deep scents of currants, dark cherries, green herbs, cassis and leather. Beautifully developed bouquet; all of the elements are blending together nicely. On the palate, Chateau Bel Air is light to medium bodied with a cool uplift and plenty of ripe tannins on the mid-palate. The flavors are fresh and vibrant for a 20-year-old Cru Bourgeois.

The price tag on my bottle reads $10.59. If you can find a current vintage of this wine, it may be about the same price or even cheaper. Like Tour Saint-Bonnet, this is an overlooked and undervalued Haut Medoc well worth checking out.

The Rhoning Stone Cotes du Rhone, 2007

I'm not much for cutesy names for wine and passed up this wine several times because of the name. When the price came down to $6.88, I had to try it and glad that I did.

The color is a deep, pure crimson; it looks like the real thing--good Grenache fruit and no new oak or barriques. And, oh yes, the nose confirms the deal: pepper and spice galore. Ripe, as to be expected from the vintage, but not outside the boundaries of traditional Cotes du Rhone. Blueberries, red cherries, garrigue and peppercorn--powerful like a good Cairanne. On the palate, the wine is sweetish up front with firm fruit tannins in the middle and a long finish featuring anise and peppercorn. This is not a one-year wonder but a wine that will continue to grow for at least three or four more years.

For me, this unpretentious Cotes du Rhone (along with Altitude 500 Ventoux and Delas' Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone) belongs in the top ranks of the highly touted 2007 Southern Rhone vintage. I'm still steering clear of the $50 to $100 Chateauneufs that I suspect are over-oaked and over-manipulated and putting my money on the good old-fashioned wines at the bottom of the pyramid.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone, 2005

I bad-mouthed my last bottle of this wine; it seems oxidized and prematurely aged. That must have been a bad bottle because this one is very good and right in line with the development that I found in the 2001 Janasse Cotes du Rhone.

The color is deep with some bricking but definitely not as much as the last bottle. The wine has developed to the point that the classic Rhone pepper and spice aromas are front and center, but I find no premature oxidation. Underneath it all is a compact layer of Grenache strawberry fruit. Flavors are a bit dry in the center but there is reasonable depth and flavor interest and a silky finish. Even after being open (and re-corked) for two or three nights, fruit flavors are still hanging in there...and maybe even getting better.

Altitude 500 Parcelles Saint Nicolas Ventoux, 2007

This is my second bottle of this Ventoux, and I am more impressed than ever. Produced by the Vignerons du Mont Ventoux at Bedoin, a growers' cooperative, it has beautifully focused Grenache (75%) and Syrah (25%) fruit exhibiting all of the benefits of a 500 meter elevation.

The color is deep, dark crimson with good saturation, and you can probably smell the fragrance from across the room--blueberries, violets, Provencal herbs and spices. High class stuff. And I get the same on the palate. A very strong fruit presence--perfect ripeness countered by racy acidity and structure from the peels. Medium bodied and silky smooth. Fantastic. What more can one expect from an under-$10 Ventoux?

I've yet to try Les Trois Messes Basses, a Ventoux made by the same coop and selling for $1 a bottle less. It's next on my list.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tenimenti Conti Neri Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso, 2005

I bought this wine at Trader Joe's a couple of years ago for $8.99. I don't know if it's still available, but if it is, I will be going back for more.

The wine looks almost black as it's poured, and the aromas match: blackberry, dark chocolate and everything black and deep. There is also a floral note and sweet, raisined fruit. On the palate, it's thick and rich, not as powerful as a Gigondas but a big wine for big flavored foods. The flavors are very ripe and glide along the palate like blackberry puree. This may not be the most complex Ripasso I've ever had, but that may come with extra time in the bottle. Most Ripassos sells for $20 to $25 so this is an excellent value