Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Basket Pressed Cabernet Merlot, 1994

For a New Year's Eve dinner of grilled beef tenderloin on smoked tomato demi-glace, this 17-year-0ld Australian Cabernet Merlot was a perfect match. It is Aussie Cab at its finest: mint, black raspberries and chocolate with very fine tannins, an intense mid-palate and a long, ripe finish. With age, the wine has taken on amber tones and has lost all of the oaky qualities it showed as a young wine. It has enough acidity to pick up the smoked tomato flavors. A very enjoyable wine, with or without food.

I enjoyed the 1993 Reynella Basket Pressed Cabernet Merlot in February of 2010, but I think I like this 1994 even better. The 1993 had aromas and flavors of blackcurrants and cherries with hints of herbaceousness; this 1994 seems riper, fuller and more to my liking.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fred Loimer Lois Gruner Veltliner, 1999

I get a great deal of pleasure from a good Austrian Gruner Veltliner such as Fred Loimer's Lois. It's lively enough to match up with spicy Asian fusion dishes and yet subtle enough to make you sit back and contemplate. From everything I have read, Gruner ages well, maybe even better than white Burgundy, but since this wine is a relatively new find for me, I have never had the chance to see how a good bottle holds up in the cellar. As a result, I was intrigued by this 1999 Lois when I was bottom fishing for bargains in a recent WineBid auction. It was clear from the auction photo that the color had deepened considerably, and that may have been why the wine had no takers--even at $5 a bottle. I thought it was worth the chance and won a three-bottle lot.

Very deep color but it doesn't deepen any more when opened, as some over-the-hill whites do. There is a definite stale, oxidized smell on top--not to my liking. But it's possible to get past that to some deeper smells and flavors--nuts, spices, white pepper (maybe). Full bodied and well balanced for fruit and acidity. It's not what I expected from an aged Gruner, but then again, I don't know what I expected. I'm not sure it's typical, either for its age or the Lois label. The wine is definitely not corked; the green closure is a cork substitute. The wine may have been exposed to heat or light damage (due to the clear bottle). Another possibility is that the smell I dislike is merely part of the normal maturation of Gruner Veltliner that takes some getting used to. I'd be happy to hear from readers who have more experience than I have with mature Gruner.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Domaine du Cayron Gigondas, 1988

Even though it's a year older and from a lesser appellation, this Cayron Gigondas actually had more life and fruit than the Lucien Barrot Chateauneuf du Pape beside it. That's saying a lot.

Darker and deeper than the Barrot in color; also darker and deeper bouquet. Deep, deep scents and flavors of cherries along with some spice and pepper. Everything has come together nicely. Still has some amazingly fresh cherry/berry acidity to accompany the powerful Gigondas presence. Layers and layers of flavors. When it was young and even in the late 1990s, this wine seemed to have some kind of funky flaw. But I can find nothing wrong tonight. Although Gigondas does not have a great reputation for long aging, Cayron is apparently a keeper. I have had vintages all the way back to 1980 in recent years--all aging beautifully.

Domaine Lucien Barrot Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

This was one of two excellent Southern Rhones that we enjoyed with our 2011 Christmas dinner featuring roast lamb and vegetables. Two different views of mature Southern Rhone.

Lucien Barrot is one of the most traditional Chateauneuf estates and one that is often overlooked. Previous bottles of the 1989 and 1988 (opened from 2003 to 2006) have been outstanding. At this stage of its development, the 1989 does not attract attention to itself in the same way, but I don't think it's necessarily past its prime. The color is medium light, about what you'd expect from a 22-year-old Chateauneuf du Pape. The nose is slow to open but has lots to offer when it does--fresh and dried berries on a bed of spices and dried flowers. Lovely ripe Grenache flavors with no hard edges. This wine is showing a calm, reserved personality at the moment, but it's a fine accompaniment to roast lamb.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Domaine Sainte Anne Saint Gervais, 2000

When I google Domaine Sainte Anne, I keep getting my own blog posts. I must be this domaine's biggest fan in the whole wide world. But I'm certainly not ashamed of that. I love everything Domaine Sainte Anne produces, and this Saint Gervais in particular.

DSA's Saint Gervais is 60 percent Mourvedre, and the wonderful spiciness of mature Mourvedre is just beginning to show. The dominant trait, though, is the classic Sainte Anne blueberries and full cream trait--almost too fruity and too sweet for its own good but beginning to give way to the punget spiciness of Mourvedre. As I taste it alongside the Bergadano Langhe Nebbiolo, it's hard for me to believe two wines could be so different. But like two of my own children, I love both equally. The tannins are beginning to melt, and paradoxically the wine seems to be getting less ripe and more spicy with each sip. It's at a good stage and I see no sign that it's beginning to fade.

Bergadano Langhe Nebbiolo, 2008

I love Nebbiolo. Some of the best wines I have ever had were Nebbiolos from the Piedmont area of northern Italy--not just the well known Barolo and Barbaresco but lesser known Nebbiolo-based wines from the Novara hills such as Gattinara, Spanna, Caramino, Fara and Ghemme. Prices for Barolos and Barbarescos have escalated beyond my budget but how about the Nebbiolo wines for every day enjoyment that were so plentiful a few decades ago? I remember a 1982 Dessilani Spanna purchased for $4.99 a magnum that continued to give immense pleasure until at least the late 1990s. Today, Spanna, Gattinara and even generic Nebbiolo from Langhe and Alba usually cost $20 or more--not my version of every day. When I saw this 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo for $10 at Binny's in Chicago a few months ago, I jumped at the chance to try it. And now I wish I had bought more; this is good old-fashioned Nebbiolo at its best.

The color is deep and dark, and the classic Nebbiolo aromas burst from the glass--cherries, cherries and more cherries and now some dark licorice and the fragrance of freshly cut roses. There is really nothing quite like the smell of Nebbiolo! All those qualities carry over to the palate. Big, big wine. Acid and tannin fighting for control. This wine is so dry it almost makes you thirsty. There is plenty of fruit but the fierce tannins are keeping it tightly surrounded. This wine is, after all, only three years old. It needs time and air to show its best. But that doesn't mean there is not enough to enjoy now. The nose, in fact, is worth the price of admission. There were other Nebbiolos on the shelf beside this Bergadano, some costing three times as much. When I asked the clerk, he shrugged his shoulders as if nothing significant would be selling for only $10. If you see that clerk, don't tell him how good this wine is. Just sneak what you want away and leave some behind for me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chateau Bel-Air Sainte Croix du Mont, 1986

Sainte Croix du Mont is a satellite appellation with wines similar to those made in Sauternes and Barsac. Bel-Air is recognized as one of the top two or three wines produced in Sainte Croix du Mont. As Sauternes prices have escalated, these satellite appellations have become recognized as offering good value, but their prices have risen too. More than 20 years ago, I paid $35 for a full case of Bel-Air; today, one bottle of the current vintage would cost $28 to $30. Oh, the joys of having a cellar!

The color is a medium deep gold, and the smells are exactly what you would expect from a good Sauternes: apricots, almonds and honey. Rich on the palate but not sticky sweet. Good fruit acidity; even a little tartness when tasted alongside ice cream and chocolate. This 25-year-0ld Sainte Croix du Mont is not at all old; even on the second and third night, it is fresh and lively. It's showing much, much younger than a 1983 Filhot and a 1983 Guirard I had in September. And I still have most of my $35 case!

Vignerons du Mont Ventoux Altitude 500 Parcelles Saint Nicolas Ventoux, 2009

If you miss out on the 94-point Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux (and you probably won't since there seem to be ample supplies, at least in Michigan), you might want to give this Ventoux a try. Like Pesquie Terrasses, it comes from stony south-facing vineyards 500 meters above sea level. It's similar to Pesquie in many other ways as well, and I think I prefer the lesser known Altitude 500.

The color is a deep crimson, not as dark and bluish as the Pesquie but with good saturation. The aromas are equally impressive--less aggressive pepper but finer tannins and more spicy red and black Ventoux fruit. Raspberries, currants, cinnamon and black pepper. Like the 2007 Altitude 500 I reported on earlier, this is a very impressive Ventoux. It glides easily across the palate leaving not only the obvious charms but many secrets and hints of more to come.

Sawall's health food store in Kalamazoo still has stocks of the excellent 2007 Altitude 500 for $9.99. D&W Market across the street carries both the 2007 and 2009 for about the same price. Again, I prefer this wine to the highly touted Pesquie Terrasses selling for $12.99.

Louis Latour Saint Aubin, 1996

The vineyards of Saint Aubin, located in a side valley just to the west of Chassagne-Montrachet, offer, in my estimation, some of the best values in white Burgundy. They have the liveliness and minerality that I like in Puligny-Montrachet...but at about half the price. I paid less than $15 for this wine when it was released, but most comparable Saint Aubins today sell for $20 to $30--still a bargain compared to any New World Chardonnays in the same price range.

At 15 years of age, the wine is still a medium deep gold with good brilliance. The bouquet has developed beautifully and in line with what I expect from Saint Aubin: green apples, pears, citrus, minerals--sweet and lovely. Medium bodied with a good acid lift. Lots of life; dances on the tongue. Classy white Burgundy not showing any signs of advancing age.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chateau Pesquie Terrasses, 2010 Revisited

Oops, I thought the alcohol level of this wine was 13.5%; and it did indeed taste like 13.5% on the first night--warm and peppery but well balanced. On the second and third nights after being opened, alcohol emerged more prominently, bringing out a little too much heat on the back end. And a look at the label revealed that ABV is actually 14%. That alcohol level makes the wine very showy when first opened, with aggressive aromas and flavors. Compared to other Rhones from 2009 and 2010 I've had recently, though, (such as the 2009 Vieux Chene VDP Grenache, the 2010 Vieux Chene VDP Cuvee de la Dame Vieille and the 2009 Cuvee Les Trois Messes Basses Ventoux), this 2010 Pesquie did not develop as much complexity and subtlety with continued exposure to oxygen. I may even prefer the 2008 Pesquie, even though it's from a lesser vintage. Pesquie 2010 is a nice wine, no doubt about it. But I'm not running out to buy a case as I might have a decade ago for a 94 point Parker wine selling for $12.99.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux, 2010

I went through a stage, a few decades ago, when Robert Parker points had a significant influence on my wine buying. I've changed, and so has Robert Parker. Today, when I'm told that Parker awarded a wine 94 points (as he did this Ventoux), my first thought is that someone must think a hard sell is necessary. I really liked the 2008 Pesquie Terrasses, though, so I thought the 2010 (a much better vintage) was worth a try. Glad I did.

Ventoux is ordinarily a smaller scaled wine--full bodied but fruity and charming from day one. This 2010 Terrasses (like the 2008) is a much bigger, more tannic wine...but still in the Ventoux tradition and very accessible. Deep, dark and bluish tints but no sign of new oak in color, texture or aroma. Very peppery and spicy, reminds me of the 2007 Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone. La Terrasses is 70% Grenache, 30% Syrah, but it comes across as much heavier on the Syrah. That is likely to change, of course, but I like what the wine is showing now as well as what it promises in a year or two. Spicy, peppery, dark berry fruit. None of the tanky odors I got from the 2o07 Terrasses. 13.5% alcohol is just about right. I wouldn't give it 94 points. But maybe 91 or 92.

Georges DuBoeuf Macon-Villages Chardonnay, 2009

George DuBoeuf's bottling is nearly always the least expensive Macon-Villages on the market. But then Macon should be an inexpensive every day drinking wine, and, at $8 to $10 a bottle, DuBoeuf Macon-Villages is nearly always worth buying. It is particularly good in the 2009 vintage.

Medium yellow. Bright apply fruit, with a delightful fragrance that you expect more from Riesling or Pinot Blanc. Brisk acidity, ripe fruit, a long finish. Good value; buy more.

Echelon Vin de Pays de l'Isle de Beaute Pinot Noir, 2009

Wonder why a California label is selling a wine from the "Isle of Beauty"? Because Pinot Noir is now such a popular wine, some California vintages, such as 2009, simply do not produce enough grapes to meet demand. So large-production wineries such as Echelon go to the cheapest source of Pinot they can find--the island of Corsica in France. This is the same appellation that produces Pinot Evil, generally the least expensive wine you'll see in any wine store. (And well worth the money, in my opinion.)

Yes, this wine reminds me a lot of Pinot Evil: cherries, red plums, cinnamon and just a touch of Pinot earthiness. Fragrant, ripe, medium bodied and fruity. The only thing this wine lacks is the complexity you expect from a $25 red Burgundy. But then it sells for $7.99.

Although the "l'Isle de Beaute" appellation represents "the sticks," even to French wine drinkers, it's a very good micro-climate for growing Pinot Noir--better, I think, than nearly any area of California. The 2010 Echelon has been released, and it's made from California grapes. I'd rather have the Corsican version...and it's at least a few dollars cheaper.

Domaine le Couroulu Vacqueyras, 1998

Hard and offputting when it was young, this wine has gone through a beautiful evolution. The heavy crust on the side of the bottle shows how much tannin has been shed over the past decade plus. A couple of years ago, bright raspberry notes were front and center but these have given way to mature, somewhat funky, Vacqueyras traits--dark fruits, licorice, spice, black minerals and leather. It's medium bodied and savory with a long, ripe finish. It's not as funky on the palate as it is on the nose. But, as far as I'm concerned, a bit of funkiness is necessary to define Vacqueyras. This is good old fashioned stuff, one of my favorites of the appellation. I believe this is my last bottle, and, if so, I timed it nicely.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1990

Inglenook is a legendary name in Napa Valley wines, but the reputation had dimmed considerably by 1990. Most of the property had been purchased by Heublein, and only the Inglenook Cask label continued to maintain a semblance of the quality established by Inglenook in the 1960s. This 1990 I bought mainly on the recommendation of Dick Scheer, owner of Village Corner in Ann Arbor. According to Dick, this 1990 regular bottling, selling for about $8 to $10 a bottle, displayed qualities hailing back to the Inglenook Cabs of old. I know of no one whose opinion I would trust more. So I bought the wine, and tonight I'm thanking Dick one million times for the good advice.

Deep ruby with good brilliance and clarity and minimal browning. Plums, currants, mint, cedar--classic and beautiful. At 21 years of age, this wine may be just coming into its own. On the palate, there is more of the same. Smooth, elegant and slightly warm. The flavors are exactly what you expect from a good Napa Cab, and they are so beautifully defined. Very long finish. This is a special wine, and I see no reason to hurry to drink it.

Luzon Verde Jumilla Monastrell, 2010

The last Luzon Verde I had was the 2005. The wine cost about $6 and had a very unpretentious label--a simple drawing of bugs buzzing through green weeds. The wine was fantastic, and I had an immediate urge to go back and buy several cases. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember where I bought it, and every clue I followed led to a dead end: the wine apparently was no longer brought into the country.

Finally, nearly five years later, Luzon Verde appears on the shelf of my local supermarket, D&W Markets in Kalamazoo. It has the same weedy label (and the Verde, I understand, indicates that the wine is produced from organically grown fruit). Beside it on the shelf is the non-organic version in a flashier black label. Both sell for $8.99. Will they be as good as the 2005 that grabbed me in 2008? Probably so.

Luzon Verde 2010 Jumilla Monastrell is impressively deep, dark and bluish when it's poured. This is young Mourvedre (known in Spain as Monastrell). And there is absolutely nothing green about this wine except its label. It smells thick and tannic, like a barrel sample. The young Mourvedre is gasping for air, but as it gets it, it unfolds like a flower--violets, lavender, black fruits. Now some black pepper and spice emerge. Now some ripe blueberries and plums. With time and air, it loses some of the furry tannins and becomes ripe and smooth on the palate. Yes, this is a wine to buy in quantity and sample frequently over the next two to three years and maybe longer.

Domaine de Font Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2006

Domaine de Font Sane produces one of my favorite Gigondas wines, and the estate also owns property in the nearby Cotes du Ventoux. Styled with less power than the Gigondas, the Ventoux is a wine to drink while you're waiting for the Gigondas to mature, so I usually buy at least a half case in most good vintages. This 2006 is an orphan bottle that got overlooked in the cellar, but it is still drinking beautifully.

Deep, dark crimson. Has not lightened much at all. This wine smells more tannic than La Vieille Ferme or similar Ventoux wines, and it's more tannic on the palate as well. But with a little time, it opens up to scents of dark berries, cherries, lavender and herbs. Relatively full bodied for a Ventoux; a bigger wine than most Ventoux, but not as bright and friendly. Plenty of ripe cherry fruit, though. Reminds me of a good Cairanne. Ripe and smooth on the finish. Probably at its peak right now. Drink, drink, drink.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Domaine Chante Perdrix Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

Tasted alongside the excellent 1998 Clos Saint Jean, this 1989 Chateauneuf du Pape was the favorite of most at the table. All agreed that both wines are excellent.

Chante Perdrix was one of the most highly rated wines of the 1989 vintage, garnering 94 points from Parker (in the days before point inflation). And it's always been one of my favorite Chateauneufs. I've had the wine numerous times over the past five years, and each time it gets a bit lighter in color and body but stronger in flavor and personality. It seems to be the essence of great old vine Grenache--wild red raspberries and cherries on a bed of exotic Asian spices and dried flowers. Flavors quietly unfold on the finish, then turn into an explosion of pleasure. Chante Perdrix has a high level of Grenache (75%) in its blend; but then so does Clos Saint Jean (85%). This wine is lighter in color and texture primarily because it is nine years older. I'm looking forward to tasting both again three or four years down the road.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape, 1998

This 1998 wine was produced five years before Clos Saint Jean hired a wine-making consultant and started drawing rave reviews from Robert Parker. Yet there were many Rhone wine lovers in Michigan and elsewhere who were already enjoying immensely the old style Chateauneufs of Clos Saint Jean. I vividly remember the 1989, 1990 and 1995--flamboyant and exciting wines. Then the 1998 arrived, and it was clearly the best of the lot--better even than 1989. Even though the previous vintages had not shown great longevity, my early tasting told me 1998 was a vintage not to approach too soon...and this tasting confirmed that I was right.

The 1998 Clos Saint Jean is moderately deep and dark for a Grenache-based wine--considerably deeper than the 1989 Chante Perdrix beside it. The bouquet is forming nicely--Grenache red berry but mostly darker fruits, a bit of black licorice and some leather and animal tones. Slightly roasted like the crust on a well cooked leg of lamb. Very deep and promising. On the palate, there is substantial body and power for a Grenache-based wine. And more fruit-driven complexity--dark plums, black currants and just a hint of garrigue. The finish is very ripe and long.

The vines at Clos Saint Jean are very old and some of the best in the appellation. An acquaintance who visited Chateauneuf du Pape about this time was referred to Clos Saint Jean by Laurence Feraud of Domaine Pegau and was blown away by the quality he found there. The owners are not very commercial, Laurence reportedly told him, but they produce some of the best wine of the appellation. In 2003 the big change at Clos Saint Jean came. The estate now produces several prestige cuvees from the oldest and best vines, selling for $60 to $80 a bottle and busting Robert Parker's 95-point barrier. Even the low priced stripped down regular Chateauneuf is beyond my budget. The wines are less rustic now, I am told. I was quite happy with the rusticity myself and will cling happily to my remaining bottles of the 1998. It is a very fine wine.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Chateau La Tour Carnet Haut Medoc, 1979

As a companion to the 1980 Conn Creek Cab (below), this 1979 La Tour Carnet illustrated well the differences in New World and Old World styles.

The light brickish color is the first indication of the difference, and the wine is clearly thinner in texture...but not in flavors. The bouquet is definitely herbaceous (rosemary and thyme?) but not vegetal (which I define as celery and green bell pepper). Merlot and Cab Franc are clearly in the blend. Aromas are as fresh and well defined as the flavors. And over the course of an hour, these deepen and bring out scents of red currants and cranberries. No raisins here, though. Silky and svelte on the palate with racy flavors that cling to the tongue and bring you back for more. Almost like a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc.

I paid about $10 for this wine some 30 years ago, as I did for the Conn Creek. Roughly half of those at the table preferred the Conn Creek; the rest, the La Tour Carnet. All agreed they were both very fine wines.

Conn Creek Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, 1980

Through the late 1970s and early 1980s, Conn Creek Cabernets received consistently good reviews from the Wine Advocate, the California Grapevine and other wine newsletters. Yet the wine was always modestly priced, much less expensive than Caymus, Jordan, Diamond Creek, Stag's Leap, Heitz, Inglenook Reserve or Mondavi Reserve. I bought the wine regularly (about $10 a bottle) and have been rewarded ever since. This 1980 was brought up from the cellar to help celebrate my daughter's 31st birthday.

Very deep and dark, almost opaque. Really looks and smells like a young Cabernet. The nose is classic Napa Cabernet--black currants, dark plums and cassis. Many at the table say "raisins" because the wine is ripe, but no riper than to be expected from from a Napa Cab. Full bodied and very New World in style, but the oak has integrated nicely and the wine is still showing plenty of well defined fruit flavors. Well balanced, complex finish.

You won't find many Napa Cabs on the market today that will provide as much pleasure--even those selling for $100 or more. Yet 1980 Conn Creek still goes for about $20 a bottle at auction, and KL Wines in California is selling magnums (1500 ml) for $99. At either price, this wine is a bargain. Wish I had bought even more.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Two Good Buys in Rhone Wine

Two recent email alerts from G.B. Russo & Son in Grand Rapids caught my attention. The first announced the close-out sale of 2008 Pesquie La Terrasses Ventoux for $5.99 a bottle or $60 a case. That's an amazing price for an excellent wine that I reviewed on this blog last summer [June 30, 2011]. I didn't like the 2006 and 2007 La Terrasses; there was a tanky smell that I didn't care for. So I was dubious when I saw the 2008 (a lesser vintage) on sale for $9.99 at D&W Market in Kalamazoo. I bought a bottle to try and went back for more. If you don't have any of the 2008 and you're in the vicinity of Grand Rapids, I suggest you load up the trunk--if it's not too late.

A more recent email alert reported that Russo had purchased the entire Michigan allocation for 2010 Cercius Cotes du Rhone Villages, a wine highly praised and rated 93 points by Robert Parker. From 70- to 80-year-old Grenache and Syrah vineyards near Domazon, just south of Chateauneuf du Pape, Cercius is produced by Michel Gassier and imported by Eric Solomon of European Cellars. Parker and Russo compare it to a Chateauneuf du Pape in everything but price. At $15.99 a bottle, it will probably go fast.

I haven't tasted Cercius but am not planning a special trip to try it. Parker's highest points these days usually go to Rhone wines that are more international in style, with at least some use of new oak and/or small barrels. I prefer a more traditional style and know there are plenty of good choices available for $8 to $10 in my market--such as the 2010 Vieux Chene VDP Vaucluse Grenache and the 2009 Vieux Chene VDP La Dame Vieille.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone, 2005

I paid a premium for this 2005 Cotes du Rhone because Domaine de la Janasse is a well known producer of very good Chateauneuf du Pape. While it's always been a very enjoyable wine, it has not aged as gracefully as the 2005 Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone described below.

It's a medium deep ruby--darker than the Grand Prieur but with considerably more bricking. The rich fruit is still front and center--blueberries, blackberries and dark cherries plus a hint of smoke. A mellow Cotes du Rhone blend, but the Syrah (35%) and Carignan (10%) seem to be dominating the Grenache (55%), Cinsault (5%) and Mourvedre (5%) at this point in time. All dark fruits, ripe and lovely, but without the complex, subtle elements that the Grand Prieur has attained with maturity. No secrets here. And on the second night, the fruit flavors start to break up, and the alcohol (14%) becomes more apparent. Still good but not a wine for keeping.

Boskydel Vineyards Leelanau Peninsula Vignoles, 2009

In the 1980s, when wineries first started to pop up on Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula, Vignoles was a workhorse grape, and I regularly bought dry Vignoles from Larry Mawby, Bernie Rink at Boskydel and Bruce Simpson at Good Harbor. For my taste, it had less sweetness and more personality than Seyval Blanc, the other popular white wine grape. (Riesling, of course, has always been well suited to the climate of Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas.)

Today, Vignoles is the forgotten grape as new vineyards have veered toward better known varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Larry Mawby now uses his Vignoles grapes for a sparkling wine, and Good Harbor uses it in several proprietary blends. For authentic dry Vignoles, Boskydel is now my only source, and I make a yearly pilgrimage to chat with Bernie Rink and bring home a case of the liquid gold. I am a fan.

While 2009 may not have been the greatest vintage for Leelanau whites, this Vignoles still measures up to my standards. It's a medium deep color; looks like Chardonnay in the glass. And it also has the full bodied mouth feel of Chardonnay...but accompanied by the brisk acidity of Sauvignon Blanc or Gruner Veltliner. It's a great combination. I smell grapefruit and later red berries and Red Haven peaches. Flavors are round and ripe, but again with a bracing acidity and a pleasantly bitter note on the finish.

Bernie Rink tells me this Vignoles will only get better with age. And I believe him.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Domaine Wachau Gruner Veltliner, 2010

Austrian Gruner Veltliner wines are a perfect match for Asian food, and this Gruve from Domaine Wachau was a fortunate find on the wine list at Chinn Chinn Asian fusion restaurant in Mattawan, Michigan. It's brisk enough to rise above the Asian spices and add its own aromas and flavors.

Green is the theme with this Gruner Veltliner, but it's not the green bell pepper that is so often found in Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot wines. It's the more subtle green of a meadow in spring or a freshly sliced Granny Smith apple. Lilting aromas and flavors that keep peeking through the aggressive Asian spices. Lovely.

Montaribaldi Langhe Nebbiolo, 2008

I had a glass of this Langhe Nebbiolo at Vio Stato Osterio in Chicago and was quite impressed. For me, Nebbiolo is one of the best wine grapes in the world, and I have been priced out of buying Barolo and Barbaresco. Inexpensive every day Nebbiolo is on my radar, and this wine is precisely what I'm looking for. It's tannic, as you would expect from young Nebbiolo, but not enough to keep the beautiful aromas and flavors of Nebbiolo from blossoming forth--roses, dark cherries and minerals. The acidity keeps you coming back for more, and there is more to find with every sip. I don't know the retail price, but at $10 to $15, I'm a buyer.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2005

This wine has changed considerably since I opened my first bottle four or five years ago. The color has lightened, and some bricky tones are appearing. The lush berry smells and flavors have also faded slightly, but that's not all bad. Still some pretty berry scents with licorice and spice--very typical of Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone but now with subtle qualities from aging. Grenache complexity keeps unfolding--berries, spice, minerals and a hint of pepper--and the fruit is still plenty strong. Very much like a Vacqueyras, and that's not surprising since the grapes come from that appellation. Bertin Gras, the owner, chose the lower appellation to take advantage of the slightly higher yields permitted, and I have never been disappointed by the results.

Grand Prieur, selling for about $8 a bottle, is a wine I have enjoyed through many vintages, and this is my 11th bottle of a very enjoyable case.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Wines They Are a Changing

One of the great things about wine is that it changes. Of course, there are changes that take place in a fine Bordeaux or Napa Cabernet over two or three decades--changes that can turn a good wine into a great experience. But there are also changes that take place in simple wines like the Vin de Pays from Vieux Chene reported on below. While the aging curve may be five years rather 30 years as in the 1985 Sociando Mallet, it is important nonetheless when you decide whether you want to buy the wine and when you should best drink it.

When I'm through drinking a wine for the evening, I use the VacuVin to remove as much air as I can from the bottle. There's always some left, of course, and exposure to air over 24 to 48 hours causes the wine to go through an aging process that probably mirrors what it undergoes over a longer span in the unopened bottle. That's my theory, at least.

The Cuvee de la Dame Vieille, for example, showed pleasant plummy Syrah characteristics on the first night it was opened--good but not nothing that would send me back for another bottle. On the second night, those aromas and flavors had deepened considerably; and on the third night, it was showing peppery, spicy smells and similar to those in the lovely 2007 Delas Saint Esprit (a wine with a comparable blend of Syrah and Grenache). Surprise: the Delas is three years older and exactly what I'm looking for in a good Southern Rhone. It's too simple, of course, to assume that La Dame Vieille will be showing those same peppery, spice qualities in 2014, but I think it's safe to assume that it will evolve along a similar path, putting on more weight, depth and complexity as time passes. That's why I'm now a buyer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Domaine du Vieux Chene Vin de Pays Vaucluse Cuvee de la Dame Vieille, 2010

This is a sibling of the Vieux Chene Grenache reported on below. This cuvee is 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah from vines on sandy soil immediately surrounding the winery--some of which, I understand, are about 80 years old. It's 100% organic and sells for $9.99 right now at Sawall's Health Food store in Kalamazoo, MI.

The color is much deeper and darker than the Grenache cuvee with the bluish tints that are to be expected from the relatively high percentage of Syrah. It's also a year younger than the Grenache bottling, and, on the first night, it's a bit rough around the edges. With vigorous swirling, some pretty floral/berry/spice notes emerge. Very full and somewhat tannic on the mid-palate. Plummy Syrah flavors with herbal, spicy notes emerging on the finish. For my taste, this wine is still a bit young; even a few months will bring out some of the peppery qualities I like in a Southern Rhone Syrah/Grenache. I doubt, though, that it will ever match its Grenache sibling in complexity.

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2000

At 11 years of age, this CDR Villages has a medium deep color and a beautiful summer pudding nose--red berries, blue berries, black berries and more berries. Also purple flowers and spices. It has the characteristic Domaine Sainte Anne ripeness and a glycerined feel on the mid-palate. Very little of the pepper that you find in Rhone wines from Vaucluse but more elegance and grace. The wine has just shed its baby fat and has reached a nice stage of maturity for my taste. Compared to other wines from this estate, however, this 2000 CDR Villages is not particularly complex and could use just a bit more acidity.

Justin Monmousseau Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, 2009

This is a wine to drink with your breakfast grapefruit. I'm kidding, of course. It's a nice, low-priced Loire Sauvignon Blanc but more than a bit on the tangy side. Grapefruit and slightly ripe pineapple. Not the kind of tropical fruit you might get from a Monterey County Chardonnay. Strong mineral presence and also a touch of sea salt. Gooseberries and canteloupe. Very tangy, almost to the point of being non-food-friendly--makes a pork with tomatillo and peppers dish taste downright sweet.

Generic Touraine Sauvignon Blancs are often this shrill. They lack the elegance of Sancerre or Pouilly Fume but can be very enjoyable in the proper context. I bought this bottle for less than $10 at the huge Jungle Jim's store near Cincinnati, OH.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Donna Laura Bramosia Chianti Classico, 2006

This is about as perfect a restaurant wine as you'll find. And that's where I found it, at Martell's Pub (formerly the Black Swan Inn) in Kalamazoo. The ruby red color is as bright and lively as the aromas and flavors: cherries, red fruit and aromatic spices. About 30% of the wine has been aged in new oak, but it's not enough oak to intrude on the fresh Sangiovese fruit. A little Merlot (20%) is probably responsible for the pleasantly aromatic herbal qualities and the soft finish. The wine goes down very smoothly, either with the Italian beef entree at Martell's or on its own. But it lacks that something extra that would bring me to pay more than $8 to $10 for it from a wine store shelf.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Domaine du Vieux Chene Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Grenache, 2009

You probably know by now that I'm a big fan of Grenache...but mostly those from the Southern Rhone and certain areas of Spain. What I like most about Grenache is that it's capable of showing very early the subtle nuances that take decades to develop with Cabernet-based wines. The grape is not very tannic and any attempt to beef up the tannin through new oak or small barrel aging is a fatal flaw, as far as I'm concerned, because the oak tends to mask or destroy the spicy, peppery, herbaceous nuances that I love most.

Domaine du Vieux Chene, located on the Plan de Dieu just west of Gigondas and Vacqueyras, has some very good Grenache vines that are used in varying proportions in their Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages wines. This 100% Grenache is a simple Vin de Pays de Vaucluse from vines close to the winery itself, but even some of these Grenache vines are 70 years old. The color is the deep crimson to be expected from Grenache--not as bluish or dark as the Syrah-dominant Saint Esprit from Delas described below. As to be expected from Grenache, the nose is lush--ripe peppery, briary, strawberries. There is Grenache ripeness on the palate as well...but not too ripe. Vieux Chene's Cuvee Friande from 2007 (still on the shelves) is a bit ripe for my taste, but this 2009 Grenache has a sense of restraint that keeps you sniffing and tasting all the corners and crevices. And there is ample reward for your effort. Has the subtlety of Pinot Noir but with more power. The pepper and spice add structure, and the finish gets better with each sip.

All of Vieux Chene's wines are 100% organic, and they are billed as such at Sawall's Health Food store in Kalamazoo. For $8.99, this wine offers more depth and personality than Grenache wines from California or Australia selling for several times that much. And it's less fiery than the similarly priced Grenache wines from Spain. On the shelf beside it, for $9.99, is the 2010 Domaine du Vieux Chene La Dame Vieille, a blend of Grenache and Syrah that I'm anxious to try.

Bodkydel Leelanau Peninsula Soleil Blanc, 2008

Like the Loire Valley in France, the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan was once below water, and I believe that has resulted in a soil capable of producing fine white wines. With proper age, well made wines from this area are capable of developing a unique minerality. And the cool 45th parallel climate gives them the acidity to age well.

Bernie Rink at Boskydel Vineyards considers Soleil Blanc to be his finest dry white wine. I still prefer his dry Vignoles, but since that wine sold out early in the fine 2008 vintage, I decided to give the Soleil Blanc a try. It's just now beginning to show some of the subtlety and complexity that Leelanau grapes are capable of producing. Medium gold color. Slightly musky nose. Now some green apples, flowers, almonds. Nuances emerge slowly and require some attention at first but are well worth the effort. This is on the way to becoming a very good wine. Brisk acidity, a little saltiness on the mid-palate and a touch of foxiness on the finish. This is not Chardonnay nor Sauvignon Blanc, but it's a good alternative when you're looking for something different. Soleil Blanc is made with a French hybrid grape with a name you probably wouldn't recognize. But it still reminds me of Savennieres, the dry white Chenin Blanc from the Loire.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This wine still ranks high on my list of favored 2007 Southern Rhones. It's very dark when poured; Syrah comprises 75% of the blend. Pepper and spice and everything nice. Bold peppery Syrah smells and flavors. Black fruit and more gushing from the glass but sprinkled with a hearty dose of freshly ground peppercorn. Also black plums, violets, lavender and cassis. Hard to resist. The wine has a strong tannic presence but there is nothing to keep you from coming back for sip after sip. The fruit tannins are very ripe, accessible and oh so flavorful. Pepper on the tip of the tongue; lush, peppery fruit in the middle; and a slightly warm peppery finish. Some tobacco/herb Grenache pepper but mostly the crushed peppercorn of ripe Syrah.

Cost Plus World Market now has the the 2009 Saint Esprit on sale for $9.99, but the wonderful 2007 is still on the shelves for a few dollars more. I have bought both in ample quantities.

Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Chardonnay, 2009

Francis Ford Coppola pays tribute to his paternal grandmother with this Chardonnay, which the winery says is "styled after the graceful white wines of Burgundy." And the style does seem French although I'm not sure why. It's easy to stereotype California and Australian Chardonnays as big and buttery, drenched in new American oak, but that is a style that has become unpopular and is rapidly disappearing. Votre Sante Chardonnay, in fact, can hardly claim to be unoaked; 50% of the fruit was aged in new French oak. Because the other 50% was fermented in stainless steel, however, the vibrant fruit takes center stage and the finished product comes across as graceful and old world in style.

Medium yellow. Slightly unripe pears, nutmeg, melons and flowers. On the palate there is crisp lemon/lime acidity rather than sweet oak. Medium bodied and a spicy finish. Yes, this Chardonnay does remind me of many Macon Villages wines on the market today, and I like it for that reason. When it's priced at $10 or less, I buy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What Happened to My Budget?

What happened to my budget? you're probably asking. I have been drinking and reporting on a series of high-powered wines from the 1980s and early 1990s, none of which fall into the budget category. That's because we've had a couple of family birthdays plus house guests who love fine wine. The few younger bottles I've had during this period have confirmed to me the value of having a cellar. While a well chosen young wine may go down smoothly enough, it can never match the subtlety, complexity and sheer beauty of the 1981 Cos d'Estournel, the 1985 Clos du Papillon or the 1985 Robert Mondavi Cabernet.

I should point out, though, that none of these wines cost more than $20 when I purchased them. And I followed the same principles in selecting them that I use today: I avoided the highest priced, most highly sought after wines and chose an alternative that I considered a good quality/price ratio.

The Mondavi Cabernet is a good example. At that time, Mondavi produced a Reserve Cabernet that sold for about 50% more than the regular bottling. I was urged to buy the Reserve "unless you're planning to drink the wine right away." I rejected that advice, and I am pretty smug about the result. According to online reviews I have read, the 1985 Reserve is still drinking well, but these reviews are no more positive than the ones for the regular bottling--a beautiful wine that will probably last another decade. I rarely buy Reserve or Show bottlings, partly because I'm cheap but mainly because I know that winemakers are tempted to use a bit more new oak and a bit more pre-aging in their special bottlings in order to make the wine show better young and justify the higher price. This often results in a less ageworthy wine.

Cos d'Estournel and Leoville Barton are now recognized as top second growths, but the hype in the 1980s tended to fall more on wines such as Pichon Lalande and Gruaud Larose. I don't think I missed anything by going for the lower priced offerings. 1981 and 1993 were not highly regarded vintages, but some good wines were made in those years, and they cost less than the same wines from top vintages such as 1982, 1986 and 1990. There are many excellent, ageworthy wines at all price levels, and it's almost as much fun picking a winner as it is drinking the prize.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chateau Leoville Barton Saint Julien, 1993

1993 was not considered a very good vintage in Bordeaux; Parker rates it 78 (compared to 85 for the mediocre 1981). As a result, prices were reasonable, even for this Leoville Barton which was considered by many to be one of the top wines of the vintage. At 18 years of age, the wine is drinking beautifully.

As to be expected, the color is deeper and darker, with more crimson tones, than the 1981 Cos beside it. And the bouquet is firmer and more intense. This clearly has a high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon; I smell cassis, currants, cedar and a hint of aromatic herbs. Red cherries and berries take over on the palate. Very deep and very ripe with a lush finish that recalls the Henschke Shiraz as well as the Cos d'Estournel (see below). As good as those two wines were, this is even better. And I suspect it still has room to grow.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chateau Cos d'Estournel Sainte-Estephe, 1981

In his Bordeaux book, Robert Parker damned this 1981 Cos d'Estournel with faint praise, a score of 84 and an admonition to drink it within four to five years. I thank RMP very much; had he given the wine the score it deserves I would not be enjoying it tonight on my artisan wine budget.

The cork comes out very nicely for a 30-year-old wine, and the color is amazingly dark and saturated. Minimal bricking. On first opening, smells were muted and tarry, but they opened slowly and beautifully over the next hour. Dark cherries, black fruit, spice and a hint of tobacco. On the palate, the wine is also a slow starter but gets better every minute. Now the flavors are expanding on mid-palate and finish. This is a mature beauty. The texture is smooth and smoother. A satiny soft but very long finish. It's hard to stop drinking this wine.

I should add that British wine critic Clive Coates gave this 1981 Cos a much better review than did Parker. Reviews can help, but it's wise to read several and then make your own judgment based on your tasting of the wine.

Henschke Mount Edelstone Keyneton Vineyard Shiraz, 1986

When the Wine Spectator did a feature on Australian Shiraz in June of 1996, three aristocrats of Australian Shiraz were featured on the cover: Penfold's Grange Hermitage, Mount Langi Ghiran's Langi Shiraz and Henschke's Mount Edelstone. Based on my limited experience, I would agree with that these three wines rank at the top of the hierarchy. The Grange has always been an esteemed (and expensive) wine; the wines of Mount Langi Ghiran and Henschke were largely undervalued, except by insiders, until the publication of that article.

My last bottle of 1986 Mount Edelstone was in the summer of 2004, and it was drinking beautifully. Changes, mostly positive, have taken place over that seven-year period, but the big, rich flavors of true Australian Shiraz are still front and center. As he points out in the Wine Spectator article, Stephen Henschke thinks of Australian Shiraz as a "big" version of Pinot Noir. He aims for intense fruit flavors, soft tannins and what he calls a "slipperiness" on the finish. Henschke achieved all that and more in this wine.

The color is deep and dark, even a bit purplish still. When first opened, the nose reeked of sulfur. "I always like a good boiled egg," said one taster. This quickly blew away, yielding to scents of violets, vanilla and aromatic spices. But the bouquet still doesn't measure up to that of the bottle opened in 2004. It's on the palate that the wine shines--the flavors are even better than anything I remember from 2004. Flavors of mature red and black raspberries explode on the mid-palate leading to an incredibly plush finish. Soft and satiny yet so intense. This is Australian Shiraz at its best.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Prince Florent de Merode Corton les Marechaudes, 1993

This 1993 from les Marechaudes vineyard on the hill of Corton was a classy elegant wine with lots of complexity when I first tasted it in 2004. As good it was then, it's even better tonight. Although perhaps less showy than the earlier bottle, this 1993 now has incredible subtlety and depth. Dark color. Scents of dark cherries, charred wood and minerals; less earthy than some Pinots but traditional in its style. The wine is so smooth on the palate that it takes awhile to notice how tannic it really is. They are very fine tannins, however, that provide a sense of reserve and restraint while the fruit flavors open and expand on the palate. This is a special wine. Less than $20 when I purchased it, the 1993 les Marechaudes now sells for about $180 a bottle retail. With good reason. I'd love to see it seven years from now.

The hill of Corton, located near the village of Ladoix-Serrigny in the Cotes de Beaune, is the source of some highly regarded red Burgundy wines. Les Marechaudes vineyard lies relatively low on the slope, and the wines are more accessible at an early age than les Bressandes, les Renardes or Clos du Roi from higher on the slope. The winemaker in 1993 at Prince Florent de Merode's estate had a laid back traditional approach both in winemaking and vineyard management that I appreciate. Now under a new winemaker, the current vintage of Corton les Marechaudes might be more intense and elegant, but I would expect it to have the same great fruit quality and aging ability.

Domaine Leroy Bourgogne Blanc, 1996

Oak dominates the bouquet and flavors of this Bourgogne Blanc produced by the esteemed estate of Madame Bize-Leroy. But it's very fine and well selected oak that has integrated nicely into the fruit and mineral qualities of the Chardonnay. Medium deep gold. Powerfully aromatic nose of brown butter and minerals. Good acidity and length. Fully mature but not ready to drop off the edge, even at 15 years of age.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Michael Shiraz, 1994

Wynn's regular bottling of Shiraz is an excllent value that I buy fairly regularly at $8 to $12 a bottle. "Michael" is a special bottling from the oldest and best vines, and it sells for a premium price.

Very deep, dark and youthful. This is a very fruit-driven wine. Attractive, very forward scents of black plums, berries, dark cherries, cassis and coffee. The oak is there, but the fruit is even stronger and, again, it's very youthful. If I were to guess a vintage, I would say 2005. Tannins are present but barely noticeable. It would be interesting to taste this wine with another 5 or 10 years of aging, but I suspect that it will always have that strong fruit presence.

Chateau Filhot Sauternes, 1983

Chateau Filhot didn't get high marks from the critics in 1983, primarily because the grapes from the estate were not as botrytized as usual. At 28 years of age, though, it's still an enjoyable dessert wine.

The deep old gold color turns to copper soon after the cork is pulled and the wine is exposed to oxygen. Not much honey but abundant sweet, ripe apricot on the nose and palate. The texture is rich and seems to get richer over the next day or so. No hard edges at all and a rich, sweet finish.

Chateau Sociando-Mallet Haut Medoc, 1985

Most critics agree that Sociando-Mallet has been making classed growth wine at least since the late 1970s. Although the price has risen considerably since I purchased this 1985, it is always an excellent value.

Deep burnished ruby./ Flowers, herbs, currants and cherries--very fragrant. Definitely herbaceous, leaning toward the green side of Merlot and Cabernet Franc but not extreme or unattractive. It's all part of the personality of Sociando-Mallet. Strong fruit presence but with a restraint and reserve typical of good Bordeaux. Very different from the 1985 Mondavi Cabernet tasted alongside it. Both were good; I think I preferred the Mondavi. But on another day with another meal, I might choose the Sociando-Mallet.

Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, 1985

I brought out this 1985 Mondavi Cab because my daughter and son-in-law recently gave me a bottle of the 2005 Mondavi Oakville Cabernet. The fruit for both comes from Mondavi's To Kalon Vineyard near Oakville. Will the 2005 be this good in 2025? I probably won't have the patience or the life span to find out.

Good deep color with no signs of age. The minty/eucalyptus smells of Tokalon are upfront along with black currants and cassis. Some of the juice was aged in Nevers barrels, but the oak has integrated nicely. Classic Napa Cabernet. Gets deeper and more complex as the wine sits in the glass; the mintiness fades into more complex smells and flavors. Big but not heavy on the palate. A very graceful wine, worthy of the Mondavi name.

Domaine du Baumard Clos du Papillon Savenierres, 1985

I've had many good wines this week, but this, for me, ranks at the very top. Savenierres, a dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire, is always unique and not for everyone. Although pleasant when consumed young, a good Savenierres just keeps growing and changing for decades.

Medium deep gold--amazingly youthful presence for a 16-year-old white wine. The pungent, musky bouquet was a bit much for some at the table. "Smells like pee," one said. (But at least you can't mistake it for "cat pee," as you might for the Sauvignon Blanc beside it on the table.) It's Loire Chenin Blanc at its best, and I love it. Incredibly deep with many dark corners to explore. Similar depth and complexity on the palate but also plenty of lively flavors--again, amazingly youthful. Many faceted beauty with a long, long, long finish.

Domaine Daulny Clos Chaudenay Sancerre, 2006

I wrote a glowing report of this wine about a year ago, and there is not much more to add. Passion fruit, melon, mint and flowers--lovely and lively. Brisk, fresh, well defined flavors but serious depth and complexity. Sparkles and dances on the tongue. This is my favorite Sancerre.

Chateau Cantemerle Medoc, 1983

While 1982 is recognized as a great Bordeaux vintage, 1983 may have been even better for most wines of Margaux and the southern Medoc. This wine is a fine example.

Nice burnished ruby tones. Not as dark as the Chateau Tahbilk beside it but equally deep with good brilliance. From the first sniff, this wine is beautiful: flowers, red fruits, exotic spices and smoke. Just enough herbaceousness to be attractive. On the palate, the flavors just keep unfolding. Incredible satiny texture. Glides down so smoothly, I could keep drinking it all night without tiring. This is a special wine.

Chateau Tahbilk Goulburn Valley (Central Victoria) Cabernet Sauvignon, 1986

1986 was a good year for Australian reds, and Tahbilk is well known for producing ageworthy wines.

A good deal of sediment has settled in the bottle, but the color is still deep and dark with good brilliance. The minty, blackcurrant, black cherry aromas are typical of many good Australian Cabs. And they carry over on the palate. There is plenty of life in this wine--an assertive Aussie personality but not a great deal of subtlty. Muscular, straightforward and somewhat rustic. A very enjoyable drink. And I might have enjoyed it even more had I not paired it with a lovely 1983 Chateau Cantemerle from the southern Medoc.

Jacqueson Perfection Brut, NV

Jacqueson is one of my favorite Champagne houses, but unfortunately I haven't been able to find any bottles in my markets (Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio) for the past several years. This magnum was purchased with Y2K celebrations in mind so it has been resting in the cellar for at least 12 years. It is none the worse for wear, however.

Nice frothy mousse and persistent fine bubbles, as long as an hour after the cork was popped. Bouquet and flavors show a similar vigor. Glorious bouquet with everything you want in a Champagne--bread dough, baked goods, and beautiful well defined fruit. A blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Long, satisfying finish.

Starting with the 2000 vintage, Jacqueson started using numbers (728, 729, etc.) rather than "Perfection" to identify its non-vintage cuvee. As a result, it's now possible to know from what vintage most of the grapes were taken.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dragani Terre di Chieti Rosso, 2009

Do you take a chance on a wine you don't know selling for $6.99? My decision depends a lot on where the wine is from. I would not waste my time on a $6.99 New World Shiraz or Chardonnay with an animal on the label. But from Italy, Spain or France, there is always a good chance of finding an overlooked artisan wine selling for a bargain price.

Terre di Chieti is a small relatively unknown area in Abruzzo in central Italy (think Montepulciano d'Abruzzo). I have had other wines from this area that I liked a lot, and this one matched the aroma and flavor profile that I remember.

The color is dark and bluish, but I don't detect any new oak or small barrel influence. Very forward aromas of dark cherries. Not much tannin on the palate to interfere with the lush fruit flavors. This is Sangiovese, I believe, but the wine is much smoother and less aggressive than the typical Chianti. Ripe but not too ripe. Goes down very nicely on its own, with appetizers or with the main course. For $6.99 (Harding's Market on South Westnedge in Kalamazoo), it is a very good buy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Domaine de la Mordoree Lirac, Cuvee de la Reine des Bois, 1998

I declared this wine nearly comatose after a previous tasting. This bottle makes me want to take it all back.

Deep ruby with minimal amber./ Beautiful bouquet of cassis, cinnamon, black fruits and coffee. The new oak has integrated nicely with the traditional Lirac fruit./ Silky smooth as I would expect from a wine aged in barriques but there is nothing to detract from the ripe, ripe fruit flavors of Grenache and Syrah. Very long finish with no hint of oxidation. This is the modern style of Southern Rhone at its best.

Cuveee de la Reine des Bois is Mordoree's premium bottling--the estate's oldest and best vines, given special winemaking treatment. I ordinarily prefer the less expensive regular bottling because I believe there are hazards involved with some modern winemaking methods. It's too easy with barriques to disguise the distinctive fruit flavors and expose the wine to too much oxygen before it is bottled. The previous bottle I disliked may have been the victim of poor storage before it reached me. But I have read other reports of the early demise of the 1998 Cuvee de la Reine des Bois. At this point in time, the wine is apparently showing bottle variation, and I am happy to encounter such a fine example.

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2000

Sometimes called the Petrus of Beaujolais, Jean Descombes Morgon has always been one of the very best values in wine. Georges Duboeuf's name is on the neck label because Duboeuf is the importer, but the wine has the distinctive stamp of the late, great Jean Descombes. The wine is now made by Jean's daughter, who is carrying on the family tradition quite nicely. Jean Descombes Morgon sells for $12 to $15 a bottle and drinks beautifully when it's young, offering up lush raspberry, cherry smells and flavors. With age, it evolves into a more subtle, delicate wine with the qualities of a fine red Burgundy. I buy the wine virtually every year, drink a few bottles while it's young and put the rest in the cellar where I now have vintages ranging from 1995 to 2008.

Medium garnet color./ Lovely cherry scents with flowers and spice. There is schist in the soil at Morgon that creates mineral tones unique to Morgon./ Medium bodied with finely framed cherry flavors. Also a hint of apricots. Very long finish that gets more satisfying with every sip. This 2000 Jean Descombes is aging beautifully, and it's not finished yet.

Good Harbor Leelanau Chardonnay, 2007

The Good Harbor Leelanau (Michigan) Chardonnay now on the market is the 2008, and I was impressed by both the regular bottling and the special Tribute Chardonnay I tasted at the winery a couple of weeks ago. I found this 2007 on close-out at a local grocery store and thought it was worth a try.

The color is a bright gold, and all indications are that the wine will continue to age well. There are bright fruit smells and flavors and brisk acidity for aging. As with many Leelanau whites, this wine has been left on the lees for an extended period, and the leesy quality dominates the wine at this point. Robust body, creamy texture, lively flavors and a medium long finish. While the 2007 is a decent value at $9.99 (Harding's Markets on South Westnedge in Kalamaoo), I would pay a couple of dollars more for the superior 2008.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone, 2009

If you like La Vieille Ferme Ventoux, you're going to love this wine. It's LVF plus plus. And that's no accident, of course. Both are made by the Perrin family, producers of the esteemed Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape. Someone on this board asked how La Vieille Ferme--so widely available at such a low price--could rank as an artisan wine. The answer is that Pierre Perrin knows how to scout out good vineyards and good fruit that are then made according to the best traditional practices. The Perrins believe strongly in traditional, organic farming and non-manipulative winemaking.

Unlike LVF, which is sourced mainly from purchased grapes, the Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone comes mainly from vineyards owned by Perrin family: 60% Grenache from the estate's vineyards at Prebois (ranking among the best in the area), 20% Syrah from estate vineyards in Vinsobres (also very highly regarded) and 20% Mourvedre. The relatively high percentage of Mourvedre should make for a wine that ages well, but there is no question that it drinks beautifully now. No need to wait and it would be a shame to miss the youthful vibrance of a fine Cotes du Rhone.

Beautiful deep crimson, almost opaque. Classic peppery, spicy Southern Rhone with concentrated red berries. Vigorous aromas and flavors. Very finely crafted with no hard edges but also no compromises to the international style.

The price: under $10 a bottle and on sale right now for $8.99 at Cost Plus World Market. That's only a few dollars more than you'll pay for La Vieille Ferme, and it's worth the premium. But that doesn't mean you should neglect LVF; I haven't tried the 2009 but plan to very soon.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Domaine Chaume-Arnaud Vinsobres, 2004

This is a wine I have visited several times over the past few years. While it's always been enjoyable, I always felt that it could stand some more time in the bottle. And now my patience seems to be paying off.

This wine is particularly deep and dark, although some of the blue tones are turning to bricky red./ Smells very much like a good Vacqueyras--black fruits, licorice, dark minerals, lavender. Also ripe cherries./ Also dark, Vacqueyras tones on the palate. That's a quality I like about Vinsobres, a less well known and less expensive appellation. At first, the alcohol (14%) seems to be a bit intrusive, but that's part of the package--big and powerful. With some time in the glass, however, the subtle qualities begin to emerge--deep, deep cherry with minerals and spice. Mmmm. A wine to sip and enjoy. Big on the finish but also very fruity. I think this wine is just on the verge of being special.

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages Saint Gervais, 1999

This is my favorite cuvee from Domaine Sainte Anne, mainly because of the high percentage of Mourvedre in the blend. From my experience, 12 years is just about right to let the unique spicy, floral qualities of Mourvedre to emerge.

The color has turned ever so slightly but it's still deep and dark with no sign of amber or brick./ Oh yes! The glory of mature Mourvedre fruit, spice and flower. Also the trademark Sainte Anne blueberries and cream. The bouquet is beginning to blossom, and I'm looking forward to future bottles./ Very friendly on the palate. Tannins have melted. Blueberries, honey, violets and cinnamon. I love this wine!

Domaine de l'Espigouette Plan de Dieu, 2004

I bought this wine shortly after I finished off a case of the lovely 1998 Domaine de l'Espigouette Cotes du Rhone Villages. The estate, like many of my other Cotes du Rhone favorites, is located on the Plan de Dieu, and I was happy to see the area rewarded as a designated appellation. With high expectations, I bought half a case but have always been somewhat disappointed. I suspect the winemaker (a man I have met and admire a great deal) departed from traditional practices, aging some of the wine in barriques rather than concrete vats or large foudres in an effort to reach a wider audience. The peppery, spicy, licorice-tinged qualities that I've always loved in l'Espigouette's CDR Villages are strangely absent, replaced by sweeter, more anonymous tones. I'm sure others will appreciate this wine more than I have because it's made in an international style.

Deep and dark with some definite amber forming./ Yes, some peppery, spicy aromas are beginning to emerge--finally! Black fruits, cassis, finely tuned. But where's the garrigue? A nice bouquet is beginning to form; maybe I drank my first five bottles too soon. But on the finish, I smell some oxidation--definitely not a good sign./ On the palate, it's elegant and under-stated with the smooth texture to be expected from a wine aged in barriques. A lush mouthful just reaching its peak but with some oxidation already showing. I'm still disappointed.

Vignerons du Mont Ventoux Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses, 2009

I've enjoyed this inexpensive table wine numerous times over the last 25 years, and this 2009 ranks as my favorite of the bunch. Since it's a coop wine, most of the praise should go to the appellation and the vintage. It's made according to traditional methods, with aging in concrete vats rather than new oak. When I had this wine earlier this year [May 1, 2011], it was my first taste of the 2009 vintage in the Southern Rhone. I was impressed at that time and still am.

Deep ruby, bright and clear./ Very peppery, spicy aromas. Some Cinsault as well as Carignan spicy qualities to go with those of the Grenache and Syrah. Then ripe red fruit. Very Ventoux in its well defined fruit aromas./ Light and lively on the palate with a hint of lemon peel that is not as strong as it was in the bottle I had earlier this year. The aggressive tannins soften rather quickly. The wine seems to be developing rather quickly and is hard to resist right now although it still has some room to grow.

Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses is fairly widely available in Southwest Michigan for $8.99 a bottle. Sawall's Health Foods in Kalamazoo recently lowered its price to $7.99, and I'm ready to add to the small stash I already have.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Larry Mawby's Sparkling Wines

Larry Mawby was my prime source for dry Vignoles in the early-1980s; his 1982 and 1983 were excellent. Today, Mawby doesn't make still wines but uses Vignoles in many of his Bruts. The Cremant Classic is 100% Vignoles. I tasted a flight of four Mawby Bruts on the deck of his tasting room last weekend. Last year, I preferred his Blanc de Blancs; this year, my favorites were the Talismon and the Blanc de Noirs.

The Blanc de Blancs ($18), mostly Chardonnay, is crisp and lively with a long finish. Its sibling the Blanc de Noirs ($18), 100% Pinot Noir, is made in a similar way--hand picked, whole cluster pressed, fermentation in stainless steel, then blended with reserved juice and fermented a second time in the bottle. It's fuller than the Blanc de Blancs on the mid-palate with Pinot earthiness on the finish. I generally prefer Blanc de Noirs and did again this time.

Because it's 100% estate-grown Vignoles, the Cremant Classic ($24) had my full attention. Compared to the Talismon, the nose was a bit tight at first, then opened nicely. I liked the finely focused Vignoles fruit flavors. Medium bodied and well balanced. The juice for the Cremant is fermented in small oak barrels (as opposed to stainless steel for the Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs), and that adds another dimension.

Talismon (at $33 the most expensive wine in the lineup) is billed as a "unique aged blend," and I agree. A blend of Vignoles, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, it's fermented in a solera system in small oak barrels. Older vintages are topped up with newer ones. Incredibly complex aromas of spicy fruit and bread dough. Flavors are even fuller and more Pinot-tinged than the Blanc de Noirs. Very fine. If I see this wine for under $30, I'll be a buyer.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Boskydel: Stalking the Leelanau Vignoles

Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas in Michigan, with the cool, lake-influenced climate, are probably best suited for Rieslings. From my visits in the early 1980s, though, my favorite wines were made from Vignoles--high in acidity but with the full bodied mouth feel of a Chardonnay. I bought a case of the 1982 Vignoles from Bernie Rink at Boskydel. And when I finally got around to opening the final bottle about five years ago, it was by far the best of the lot.

Bernie, 84, the elder statesman of Leelanau wine, was not at all surprised that his wine aged so well; nor was his son, who now handles much of the winemaking duties. Vignoles has the acid needed to carry on; and the Rinks believe in good old-fashioned wine-making with no tricks to make the wine show well early and then fall apart prematurely. When I went last year to buy a case of Boskydel's Vignoles from the excellent 2008 vintage, I was disappointed that it was all gone. At that time, Bernie warned me that the 2009 Vignoles would be "light," but that didn't deter me one bit once I tasted it last week. Good, lively citrus aromas and flavors with a full range of flavors on the mid-palate and finish. I'm looking forward to drinking it over the next 5 to 10 years.

Don't take your credit card to Boskydel; but if you're ready to buy wine by the case (40% discount), you may not need it. For $69.90 (tax included), I got a case of 2009 Boskydel Vignoles. This is the best wine buy on the planet, I said as I wrote out the check. But please don't change your prices...or your wine, I was thinking.

Other wines worth considering at Boskydel are the white Soleil Blanc (made mostly from Seibel) and the red and rose deChaunac. I bought a case of the Soleil Blanc last year when the Vignoles was not available.

Good Harbor: Tribute to Bruce Simpson

Donna and I visit Leelanau at least once or twice every year, and Good Harbor is always on my short list of wineries to visit. The tasting room and vineyards are located between Lake Michigan and Lake Leelanau, just south of Leland. There always seems to be a cool breeze blowing but rays of sun to warm your skin and that of the maturing grapes on the vine.

Bruce Simpson, who started the winery in 1980, had a special winemaking touch that I appreciated. Unfortunately, he died--way too soon--a couple of years ago, leaving his wife Debbie and his children to carry on. The 2008 vintage was the last vintage Bruce oversaw, and the 2008 Good Harbor Tribute Chardonnay is a fitting tribute indeed. It's developed beautifully since I tasted it last September. French oak aromas have integrated well with the many splendored Chardonnay fruit; complex white peach, melon and green apple flavors dance across the palate, leaving a very long after taste. Strong fruit and plenty of acid for aging. The 2008 vintage in Leelanau was an excellent one, and the winery believes this is one of the best Chardonnays produced at Good Harbor, and I agree. Whereas nearly all of the other Good Harbor wines are priced in the $10 to $12 range, this Tribute Chardonnay sells for $25 ($21.25 with the 15% case discount). Even by Artisan Wine on a Budget standards, this is an excellent value.

Other Good Harbor wines I tasted:

2008 Leelanau Chardonnay: a bit less elegant and complex than the Tribute, this regular Chardonnay also displays the great fruit from the 2008 vintage. It was aged for three months in neutral French oak (older barrels). Bright fruit flavors with a full mid-palate and developing complexity. For $12.50 a bottle, it's an even more amazing value.

2006 Good Harbor Pinot Grigio Reserve: I still have a bottle of this I bought on last year's visit, and I'm pleased to find that it's become deeper and broader over that period. Great Pinot Gris aromas with some added richness from 20% barrel fermented Chardonnary.

2010 Good Harbor Riesling: I finished my tasting with this Late Harvest Riesling. Lots of sweet upfront fruit--white peaches, apples plus some of the mineral element that I found in the Pinot Grigio. Nicely focused flavors on the finish, dry enough to go with a spicy meal as well as dessert.

The 45th Parallel of Michigan

The 45th parallel--roughly halfway between the equator and the North Pole--cuts across the famed Hermitage Hill in the Northern Rhone and some similarly high-powered Barolo vineyards in the Piedmonte region of Italy. In North America, that latitude marks the Willamette Valley in Oregon...and the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas in Michigan.

While lacking the prestige of these other wine-growing areas, Leelanau and Old Mission are certainly capable of producing world-class wines. When I first started visiting the area and tasting wines in the early 1980s, there were only a handful of wineries--L. Mawby, Good Harbor, Boskydel, Leelanau Cellars and Chateau Grand Traverse. New wineries are cropping up nearly every year, but these five early pioneers are still my favorites. Because they bought land when it was relatively inexpensive, their prices are reasonable, and their vines have reached a good state of maturity. More important, for me, the winemakers clearly share my view of wine as a beverage to be enjoyed with meals every day.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chateau du Trignon Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This is another fine example of the quality of the 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone. I still insist that it's not the vintage of my lifetime (nor of Robert Parker's) but it apparently offered conditions for complete ripening of the Grenache and Syrah grapes.

Deep garnet./ Oh yes, traditional Cotes du Rhone at its best with black pepper, garrigue, red and black fruits. Dark and serious; more like Rasteau than Cairanne. Peppery, spicy Carignan along with all of the best facets of Grenache and Syrah.

Chateau du Trignon, a long time favorite of Kermit Lynch, has old vines well situated at the foot of the Dentelles mountains near Gigondas, Rasteau and Ventoux. The estate has recently been purchased by the Quiot family, owners of Vieux Lazaret in Chateauneuf du Pape, and I would say it is in good hands. The 2003 Trignon Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau that I reported on several times over the last few years was a distinct disappointment, but that may have been because of bad storage or transport before the wine reached me. It may also have been a result of transitional problems before the estate was sold.

Chateau du Trignon was one of the least expensive Cotes du Rhone wines at Binny's in Chicago. For recent Southern Rhones, particularly those from 2007, I would say that cheaper is usually better--at least for my taste. It means the winemaker has not purchased expensive barriques to join the trend toward an international style.

Domaine du Vieux Chene Viognier, 2009

Like all Viogniers, this wine smells sweet but tastes dry. Not too dry, though. Medium light. Delicate floral and musky aromas typical of Viognier. Pears and peaches. Lacks the cassis finish that characterizes more expensive Viogniers. But for $6.99 (Sawall's Health Foods in Kalamazoo), who can complain. A delightful summer wine.

Louis Latour Domaine Valmoissine Pinot Noir, 2007

Winemakers and other knowledgeable wine people have told me that a wine, once it's in the bottle, never adds fruit, only loses it, with aging. Of course, that's true, but the perception of fruitiness can change over time as a result of tannins, acid and the overall balance of the wine.

This 2007 Valmoissine was particularly aromatic when first opened, but the prominent scents were of flowers and spices more than fresh fruits. Not as typically Pinot as in past vintages such as 2004 and 2005. The wine is certainly not short on acid; it's almost like a Barbera in its attack. On the second night, though, after the wine has had a chance to breathe in some oxygen, the fruit emerges beautfully--dark cherries, blueberries and pomegranates to go along with cinnamon and paprika. Wow! The wine is also riper and fuller with more body and flavor. Really coming alive.

Domaine Valmoissine always ages much better than you'd expect (check out the Louis Latour website for advice on past vintages). And this 2007 is one for keeping.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Domaine de la Bastide Les Figues Cotes du Rhone, 2009

A blend of 60% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 20% Carignane, this Cotes du Rhone lacks the peppery, spicy charm that I expect from a Southern Rhone, but it's a very good dinner wine. Subtle scents of cherries, flowers and a hint of vanilla. I suspect some of the wine has been aged in barriques, and that is covering up some of the pepper and spice. Compared to the d'Arenberg Stump Jump Shiraz beside it, however, this is a traditionally made wine. Tannins are much softer; smells and flavors are all fruit oriented (as opposed to the coconut of the Stump Jump). I detect a slight oxidized note on the finish. Even so, I think the wine is likely to improve over the next couple of years.

Finca Luzon Jumilla Monastrell, 2009

A couple of years, I bought an inexpensive Spanish wine with an unusual label--some green blades of grass or weeds, eyed by a couple of flying insects. That was Finca Luzon Verde Jumilla Monastrell 2005, and for $6.99 I found range and precision of flavors that are usually found in wines costing several times that much. Alas, I bought only one bottle and have been searching for more ever since. Last month, I discovered the wine's sibling, Finca Luzon Jumilla Monstrell 2009 for a similar price at Binny's Beverage Depot in Chicago. This apparently is the non-organic version of the "Verde."

Like the Luzon Verde I remember from two years ago, this wine has a deep, bluish Mourvedre color (Monastrell is Spanish for Mourvedre). The aromas are fresh and forward--blueberries, blue plums, licorice and lavender. Very ripe and supple on the mid-palate and very enjoyable, but it's not as focused nor as complex as the Luzon Verde of my memory. It reminds me a lot of the Tarima Jumilla Monastrell I reported on a couple of weeks ago, although not as powerful nor tannic.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Barbadillo Palomino Fino Vino de la Tierra de Cadiz, 2008

Penny Ross of D&W Market's wine department brought this wine to my attention. For $8.59 a bottle, it's a bargain, and I plan to go back for more. Palomino is the grape variety used to produce Sherry, but this is a white table wine from a modest Spanish appellation that will match up well with just about any summer meal.

Medium yellow./ Green apples, minerals, flowers--not your typical oaky Chardonnay but not like Sauvignon Blanc nor Pinot Grigio either./ Same on the palate. Medium bodied, fresh and lively. It's hard to find descriptors for the range of bright fruit flavors, and that may be what I like most about this wine. I suspect that it will get even better with a couple of years in the bottle.

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 1999

When it's young, Domaine Sainte Anne's CDR Villages is like crushed berries and cream. I love it. With a decade and more of bottle age, it takes on another dimension.

Medium deep ruby with good saturation./ The bouquet has developed nicely. Not as ripe and fruity as it once was but has taken on nuances of black raspberries, cassis and spice. / Same on the palate. The Syrah has reached a good stage of maturity, and the Grenache and Mourvedre are adding their voices. Has some similarity to a good Crozes Hermitage such as Domaine Thalabert but may be even better. Just the right degree of warmth (13% alcohol) to bring out the subtle fruit flavors. There is nothing flashy about the finish, but it keeps bringing me back for sip after sip, and the memory lingers. I paid about $10 for this wine; the pleasure it's giving me right now is worth several times that much.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas Cuvee Prestige Les Vignerons de l'Enclave des Papes, 2007

I have written some negative things about the highly touted 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone. Tasting this wine, I'm ready to take them all back. The Grenache (75%) and Syrah (25%) grapes for this wine clearly reached a complete stage of ripeness, but I find none of the over-ripeness or flabbiness that characterizes many higher priced wines from 2007.

The color is deep and dark and so are the smells--blue plums, black pepper, black and blue berries and Provencal spices. A big fruit-oriented wine that fills the mouth with flavors. Good depth. This modest Valreas is produced by a cooperative, and I bought it for $5.99 at Trader Joe's. Nothing fancy here--no barriques, no hype, just good old-fashioned Valreas wine. It's filled out a lot since I bought it a couple of years ago. I don't know what vintage is now on the shelves at Trader Joe's, probably the 2009. I greatly enjoyed the 2001 and 2004 vintages, was somewhat disappointed by the 2005. Judging from this wine, I will gladly take a shot at the 2009.

Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc, 2009

I usually shy away from wines with cute names, but there is nothing gimicky about the reputation of Pascal Jolivet. I have enjoyed this Loire estate's Sancerre and Pouilly Fume in the past and knew I could count on a high quality wine (as well as an attitude) when I ordered it as a wine by the glass at C'Est Tout bistro in a southern suburb of Dayton, Ohio.

And yes, the wine does have an attitude--aggressive scents of passion fruit, mint, melon, minerals and all the other good things I expect from a Loire Valley Sauvignon. The "attitude" is actually a bit less aggressive than that of Haut Poitu Sauvignon reported on below, and I consider that a plus rather than a minus. On the palate, the flavors are smooth, subtle and a good match for an excellent entree of sweet potato/goat cheese ravioli. Flavors of the ravioli are warm and broad and benefit from the finely tuned focus of the Sauvignon Blanc.

For $16, this wine is not a great bargain since the grapes come from the broad Loire Valley appellation (rather than Sancerre, Pouilly Fume or Menetou Salon). That's not much less than I pay for my favorite Sancerre, Domaine Daulny. In the grand scheme of things, though, the wine is cheap. Good luck finding a Sauvignon Blanc with this much character and quality from California, New Zealand, South America or anywhere else but the Loire Valley.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Rhoning Stones Cotes du Rhone, 2007

When I see these bottles in the cellar, with the silly label, I always wonder why I bought so many. The Rhoning Stones? Come on. No bad puns needed; I want to know who made the wine and where the vineyards are located. Sure there are large stones in the Southern Rhone, and, as the label suggests, they can result in wines of great mineral depth. But most of these stones are in Chateauneuf du Pape, not the broad Cotes du Rhone appellation.

When I open a bottle and taste the wine, as I did tonight, I remember why I bought it. The color is deep and dark, and intriguing scents come from the glass--the strawberry and black peppercorn of Grenache plus the dark berry and cassis of Syrah. Also a bit of the floral prettiness of Mourvedre. Everything to be expected and in good proportions. On the palate, the wine is ripe upfront with rich flavors that open up nicely on the mid-palate. The finish is long and complex. This is more than an every day Cotes du Rhone, and I would like to know who produced it. Maybe the grapes did come from stoney vineyards after all. It reminds me of the Petit Avril Cotes du Rhone produced by the maker of Clos des Papes that I bought fairly regularly in the late 1990s.

I paid $6.88 for the Rhoning Stones at Cost Plus World Market last December. And I'm glad I bought half a case because it's not there any longer.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Delas Cotes du Ventoux, 2008

This Delas Ventoux reminds me a lot of the 2008 Pesquie La Terrasses Ventoux I had recently. That's to be expected: they both come from the 2008 vintage and the same appellation. Ventoux is in the hills just to the east of the Cotes du Rhone, and the blend of grapes is the same as for most Southern Rhones--mostly Grenache and Syrah, sometimes with blending grapes such as Cinsault or Carignane. This Delas Ventoux is 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and it's made by traditional methods with no new oak influence. Most Ventoux are a bit cheaper than Cotes du Rhones, and, as far as I'm concerned, that's all the more reason to buy them. Yields are low in Ventoux, and, because of the higher altitude, the growing season is usually cooler than in the rest of the area. Why the wines are cheaper I've never figured out, but I'm not going to ask too loudly or someone might start raising prices.

The color is a deep, dark ruby, and I get aggressive black pepper and spice aromas from the first sniff. Now some blue plums and berries and the proper amount of Provencal herbs. On the palate, the same aggressive peppery, spicy flavors come through. Like the Pesquie La Terrasse, it's plenty tannic for a Ventoux, but there is no alcoholic heat (the 13.5% alcohol content seems just right). I suspect this wine will get deeper and more complex over the next three years, but there's no need to wait. It drinks well with a vegetable meal or a strip steak (I've tried both). Good acid, ripe tannins and plenty of multi-dimensional fruit flavors. I love it.

I bought the Delas Cotes du Ventoux for $9.99 at D&W Markets in Michigan. It's a few dollars less expensive than the 2009 Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone on the shelf beside it, but the major difference between the two wines is personality rather than quality. The Saint Esprit is 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache. I bought both and may go back for more.

Nine Walks Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2010

Wow! Jalapeno peppers in spades. Green chile peppers are an accepted part of the New Zealand Sauvignon aroma/flavor profile. When I first tried the well regarded Cloudy Bay Sauvignon several years ago, I was overwhelmed by the smell of green bell peppers, but this Nine Walks bottle leans more toward the waxy, hot and spicy aromas of jalapeno and Santa Cruz peppers. It can be quite enjoyable if you like that sort of thing, and, for my taste, this wine is much less offputting than the more prestigious and expensive Cloudy Bay. I also get lime and fresh green berry smells plus a strong minty finish. Zingy, peppery and green. A New Zealand version of Vinho Verde? Donna likes it, and she's the one drinking the white wine tonight. I'll buy more. I strongly suspect the zingy jalapeno smells will become less aggressive with a few months in the bottle.

Michel Picard Macon-Villages Chardonnay, 2007

When I saw this wine for $6.99 (marked down from $16.99) at the huge Jungle Jim's store in Cincinnati, I didn't hesitate to snap up a few bottles. The 2007 vintage in Burgundy was a good one and should be drinking well as long as the wine has had proper storage. I was not disappointed.

The wine was low key--oriented toward fruit rather than oak--as a Macon Villages should be. It's not a wine to turn heads, but as the meal went on, all the fruit qualities of good Chardonnay came forward. Green apples, citrus, pears and white flowers. A very pretty wine and certainly worth $6.99. Wish I had bought more because this wine has a few more years of prime drinking.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Le Bois de la Tour, Haut Poitu Sauvignon, 2009

Not a Sancerre or a Pouilly Fume; just a generic Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc that is available for about $10 a bottle at Tiffany's in Kalamazoo. Actually, Haut Poitu is located a few miles south of the Loire appellation, but this wine has the qualities you would expect from a Touraine or Anjou Sauvignon.

Light yellow with glints of green. Still young and aggressive./ Smells of passion fruit leap from the glass; these, believe it or not, are another facet of the "cat pee" smells traditionally associated with Sauvignon Blanc. I prefer to think of Passion Fruit, myself. Now gooseberries, mint and citrus. /Very tart and aggressive, as generic Loire Sauvignons often are. Don't try drinking this wine with dessert or you will get lockjaw. Crisp, refreshing flavors. Lots of Loire character for a good price.

Bodega Tarima Jumilla Monastrell, 2009

I like Mourvedre (Monastrell in Spain) for many of the same reasons that I go for Pinot Noir. With patience and some coaxing, it is nearly always possible to tease out a beautiful array of subtle smells and flavors. As with Pinot Noir, Mourvedre can give out some funky notes during certain stages of development. As far as I am concerned, these are all part of the beauty of the wine.

I found Tarima for about $8 a bottle at Cost Plus World Market. The gorgeous passion flower label called out to me, and I have had good experience with Jumilla Monastrell and with wines from this importer, Jorge Ordonez. I was not disappointed.

The color is deep, dark and bluish; that's the natural appearance of Monastrell and not a sign of barrique aging. The label promises "licorice, chocolate and a hint of purple violets," and I found all of those, along with strong blueberry fruit. A bit of toughness up front fades nicely into sweet floral subtleties. Has all the power and beauty of a fine Gigondas. The only problem is the 15% alcohol, which becomes noticeable only after the wine has been opened for a day or more. For near-term drinking that is no problem.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir, 2007

The medium light garnet color pegs this wine as a Pinot Noir; otherwise, the peppery, spicy aromas and flavors might lead me to think I'm drinking a very good Grenache/Syrah wine from the Southern Rhone. I buy Domaine de Valmoissine nearly every vintage, but this is the first time I've encountered this much pepper and spice. No complaints; I love it.

After a few sips, the old Valmoissine traits make their appearance--red berries, cherries, fruit leather and a sleek texture typical of Pinot Noir made by a Burgundian. Riper than usual but also seemingly more tannins and acids. With aeration, the nose opens beautifully with floral scents to join the pepper and spice. Pinot earth in spades on the finish. This is a very good Valmoissine; fortunately, I have a few more bottles.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

La Vieille Ferme Ventoux, 2007

You can find La Vieille Ferme, with the rooster on the label, almost anywhere for $7 or less. How can a wine so inexpensive and so readily available be taken seriously? How can it be called "an artisan wine"? Actually, by my definition, La Vieille Ferme is probably the ultimate artisan wine; as one writer put it, "it's comfortable in crystal or a jelly glass." The Perrin brothers, owners of the prestigious Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape, distribute larger quantities of this wine than they did when they introduced the label 20-some years ago, but they still take care in purchasing the grapes and overseeing the production. They want the wine to be made in a traditional Southern Rhone style; or as the writer quoted above (Andrea Middleton, put it: "a wine (that) does not peer at your dinner disapprovingly." No snob appeal wanted or needed.

The 2007 is right in line with previous vintages (I buy at least six bottles nearly every year and would buy more if I had more room in the cellar and more years left in my life). Deep, dark ruby, bright and clear. Black raspberries with Southern Rhone spice and pepper. I find a little less pepper than in most vintages and a few more berries. That's the nature of the vintage. And, in my view, the extra ripeness in 2007 also made the wine a bit less multi-dimensional. But no less enjoyable. I'm not ashamed to open a bottle for a picnic or a fancy dinner, for carry-out pizza or beef Wellington. But I'd never show one to a wine snob.

Paul Jaboulet Domaine Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1989

I have had negative things to say about this vintage of Domaine Thalabert. It is, in my opinion, the weakest Thalabert produced during the 1980s. But tasted tonight, side-by-side with two much younger wines from lesser appellations, the quality of this Crozes-Hermitage stood out. The younger wines, both from the excellent 2007 vintage, were Louis Latour's Domaine Valmoissine Pinot Noir and the Perrin brothers' La Vieille Ferme Ventoux. Although these lesser wines were very, very good, they clearly lacked the depth of fruit and flavor interest of the Domaine Thalabert.

Thalaberts from the 1980s were, in my estimation, among some of the finest Rhone wines made, better, in many instances, than the estate's prestigious Hermitage la Chapelle. The 1983, 1985 and 1988 are all drinking a notch above this 1989. The Jaboulets started experimenting with new oak on this cuvee in 1988, and the amount of wine aged in new oak peaked in 1989, probably contributing to its relatively early demise.

The highlight of the wine is its beautiful bouquet--dark berries, black olives, currants, cassis, lavender and a hint of juniper berries. The concentrated fragrance lingers even after the bottle has been emptied. On the palate, though, there are some dry tannins that are a bit less apparent when the sediment has been carefully filtered out. There is also a metallic hint on the finish, probably also related in part to the sediment. At this stage, the wine has some flaws. But make no mistake about it: Domaine Thalabert from the 1980s is great stuff.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Domaine d'Andezon Cotes du Rhone Syrah, 2009; Domaine Mathieu Cotes du Rhone Syrah, 2009

Most Cotes du Rhone wines are Grenache-based; these two are both 90% Syrah, 10% Grenache. I encountered them on the wine lists of two Chicago restaurants.

The d'Andezon, offered by Mexique on West Chicago Strees, was my favorite of the two. It had qualities that I associated with Northern Rhone Syrahs such as Crozes-Hermitage and Saint Joseph: berries, cassis and a proper amount of Syrah herbaceousness. It had supple fruit flavors and enough substance to stand up to an excellent pork with mole poblano sauce.

Domaine Mathieu was my choice at Bistro 110 just off of North Michigan near Water Tower Place. It too was very good--riper and less herbaceous than the d'Andezon. It had less acidity than the d'Andezon and would probably appeal to someone who prefers Australian Shiraz over French Syrah. It was a good match for a flavorful flank steak sandwich.

Chateau Pesquie la Terrasses Ventoux, 2008

Since I've had other 2008 Southern Rhones that have disappointed me (see my note on the Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin), I almost passed up this wine, even though it was being offered at a good price. That would have been a mistake as this 2008 Ventoux pleases me immensely.

It's a deep, bright ruby/crimson and has all the signs of a traditionally made Southern Rhone. Black peppercorn galore with black plums and berries, spices and garrigue. None of the unripe greenness that I found in the finish of the Oratoire Saint Martin. This is a wine that is drinking very well right now, but it also has the fruit stuffing to keep it going and growing for at least four or five more years.

Pesquie Ventoux is now selling for $9.99 at D&W in southwest Michigan (I've seen it in other stores for $10.99 to $14.99). Even at the higher prices, it's a good value.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Domaine Sainte Anne, Cotes du Rhone Villages Cuvee Notre Dame des Cellettes, 2000

Alain Steinmaier, the winemaker at Domaine Sainte Anne, raises his wines in a very reductive environment of cement tanks. And those familiar with the estate know that all of his wines, from the simple Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages, age beautifully over at least a decade. Soren Gudiksen, a Southern Rhone "wine lover from Denmark" who publishes the excellent website points out that vintages of the Notre Dame and Saint Gervais cuvees going back to 1986 are available at the winery.

Notre Dame des Cellettes is a blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre--the same as the regular Cotes du Rhone Villages but from some of the estate's oldest and best vines. When I tasted it alongside the 1994 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape it was clearly not a Chateauneuf (although a similar blend) but a wine of comparable quality. The color was a deep, deep crimson with almost no bricking, and the aromas were intensely fruity and still youthful. All of the Sainte Anne wines have a unique honey/resin quality when they are young that would be hard to miss in a blind tasting. This starts to integrate at about age 10 or 12, and this wine shows a hint of honey/resin that is just beginning to fold into the deeper smells and flavors of Grenache and Syrah. Red and blue berries, spice and a hint of tobacco (as opposed to the black pepper that is more typical of most Southern Rhones). The pungent spiciness of Mourvedre is just starting to peek its head out, and it gives the wine a ripe, laid back quality similar to a Volnay or a well aged cru Beaujolais. The wine has good concentration, but the tannins are ripe and unobtrusive. A very good wine that will only get better in the decade ahead.

When this 2000 was released, the Notre Dame cuvee sold for about $12; today it's $18 to $20 and I am still a buyer.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape, 1994

As most of you probably already know, my choice of a wine for Father's Day or any special day is nearly always the same, a Chateauneuf du Pape. From the appellation, I have several favorites: Pegau, Bois de Boursan, Clos des Papes, Vieux Donjon, Clos Mont Olivet, Lucien Barrot. A tough list from which to choose, but I remember some very favorable comments about this 1994 Clos des Papes a few years ago. As a match for boeuf bourgignon, the wine did not disappoint.

The color is a brilliant deep crimson with minimal bricking around the edges--very impressive for a 17-year-old. The nose has good intensity--cool spices, cherries, berries, leather and a hint of garrigue. On the palate, I get the same along with some notes of sea salt. Although this is a Grenache-based wine, Mourvedre spiciness is very much apparent. Just the right amount of warmth. This is a wine of finesse rather than power with clearly delineated smells and flavors. The silky mouth feel reminds me of a good vintage of Clos Mont Olivet. It doesn't reverberate, as the 1981 and 1983 did on previous Father's Days, but it's a very good wine at a good stage for drinking.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Georges DuBoeuf Macon-Villages Chardonnay, 2009

This is my style of Chardonnay--bright, straightforward and lovely. The color is medium yellow, several shades lighter than the Edna Valley (below). Intense scents and flavors of green apples, citrus and spring flowers. Much more floral than the Edna Valley. Also lighter and prettier. Two very different styles. Drink this one with vegetable or fish dishes; save the Edna Valley for shellfish, creamy pastas and sauces.

Edna Valley Vineyard San Luis Obispo County Paragon Chardonnary, 2008

This 2008 Edna Valley is right in line with bottles I've had from the 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 vintages; no changes in style or approach. The label speaks of the terroir and micro-climate of Edna Valley, but what I find is a fairly typical oaky but good quality California Chardonnay with citrus and brown butter notes. Good acidity and freshness. My taste leans toward the Duboeuf Macon-Villages reported next, but others will disagree. They are comparably priced every day whites.

Melini Orvieto Classico, 2009

This is a sibling to the Melini Chianti I reported on a few weeks ago. Both are selling at my local D&W market for $6.99 a bottle. And both are incredible values.

The color is a medium deep straw, and the nose is full of herbal/fruit complexity--pears, citrus and delightful spcy notes. Medium bodied with a racy acidity and a touch of almond on the finish. Much more than anyone should expect from a $6.99 wine. Like the Chianti, it's traditionally made and honest with good fruit; no winemaker tricks to make it seem worth more than it really is.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin Reserve des Seigneurs Cairanne, 2008

2008 is not nearly as good a vintage as 1998, but this wine is 10 years younger than its sibling reported on below. It's very good and worth a purchase of a few bottles...but not as good as the 1998.

The color is deep and dark, but the aromas are much more muted than those of the 1998. With some time, they open up. Now it smells like a fruit bomb: dark cherries and red and blue berries. All of the spice and pepper are clearly in the background now but they will emerge in a year or two, giving the wine more depth and interest. Plenty of fruit aromas and flavors. Complexity will follow, but this will never approach the quality of the 1998. On the finish, there is a green quality that tells me the grapes never ripened fully. Will be good over three or four years but, in my opinion, not a wine to keep.

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cuvee Prestige Cairanne, 1998

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin's Cairanne is one of my favorite Cotes du Rhone Villages wines. Although it's usually best for drinking between ages five and seven, this 1998 is still showing very well.

The color is a deep ruby, somewhat burnished. The bouquet is nicely developed--very fragrant and fresh with smells of blueberries, garrigue and spice. Has '98 ripeness. On the palate, there is cherry/berry fruit appeal but with significant depth and concentration. This is Cairanne at its best, but the alcohol is beginning to intrude a bit on the finish so it's time to drink up.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2005

My recent disappointment with the 2005 Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone highlights my respect for Bertin Gras' Domaine du Grand Prieur. Six years after the vintage, Janasse is showing its age, Grand Prieur is just beginning to show its stuff.

The color has lost its dark, bluish tints and the nose no longer offers up gushy scents of blueberries and cream. There is still strong fruit, however, backed by herbes de Provence, and the finish has taken on subtle notes of black pepper and minerals. The grapes for this Cotes du Rhone come from vineyards in Vacqueyras, but the yields are too high to qualify for that appellation. At this stage of its development, the Vacqueyras heritage is becoming more apparent. It's not as showy a wine as it was in its youth, but it's now showing more subtlety and depth

Monday, May 30, 2011

Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone, 2007

Now fully developed and perfect for drinking, Les Trois Couronnes is still widely available for about $6 or $7 a bottle. It is a straightforward Cotes du Rhone with spicy blueberry fruit, ripe but not overly so. Very traditional style, somewhat rustic, probably produced with whole cluster fermentation. I like this wine but for a few dollars more, I would go for the Delas Saint Esprit or the Altitude 500 Cotes du Ventoux.

Chateau Fourcas Hosten Listrac Medoc, 1981

I remember this as a lush Cabernet-dominant Bordeaux in the early- to mid-1990s. But the bottle I opened a couple of months ago indicated to me that it is now a wine to drink up.

The color is a medium ruby with bricking at the rim; showing its age but not decrepit. I smell currants, cherries, cassis, dried flowers and a medicinal whiff that quickly blows away. On the palate, it's the same. Medium bodied, no hard edges and a focus on Merlot tea and cherries rather than Cabernet currant. It's good mature Bordeaux with decent concentration and a medium long finish. The price tag says $9.95, pretty good value for a wine capable of holding on for 30 years. Even better: the current vintage (2010) of Fourcas Hosten sells for only about $20.