Monday, January 31, 2011

Chateau St. Jean Belle Terre Vineyard Chardonnay, 2003

This is my last bottle of Chateau St. Jean Belle Terre, and my timing was right: the wine is still enjoyable but nearing the end of the line.

The color is a deep, mature gold, but the aromas are still lively--French oak, citrus and peach. On the palate, the wine has developed some rough edges, but it's rich and creamy with some fruit on the finish. A very oak-dominated Chardonnay, but the fruit is strong enough to maintain a sense of identity.

Chateau St. Jean's Belle Terre Chardonnay ordinarily sells for about $30 a bottle. I would not pay that much for it (or any other New World Chardonnay), but I found this bottle on close-out for less than half price, and it has been a useful wine for dishes like fish stew.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2006

There are very few Cotes du Rhone wines that give me as much pleasure as this Domaine du Grand Prieur, which usually sells for less than $10 a bottle. The color is deep and dark. The Syrah in the blend probably deepens the color, but the aromas and flavors have all of the forward charm of ripe Grenache--strawberries, peppercorn, spice and flowers. Also some dark cherries. Very fragrant. Ripe and friendly in the mouth, but not at all jammy. Has a nice peppery touch on the finish. Probably at its best but showing no signs of losing its appeal.

Domaine Chaume-Arnaud Vinsobres, 2004

A Cotes du Rhone Village just north of Vaison la Romaine, Vinsobres is a personal favorite. Vinsobres wines have dark mineral tones reminiscent of wines from Vacqueyras and Rasteau, but with less rusticity and better balance, in my opinion--at least from this producer.

The color is dark and deep, more ruby than crimson. The nose offers up a bouquet of dark cherries, blueberries, black pepper, licorice and also some pretty floral scents. When I first tried this wine a year or two ago, it had some forbidding tannins on the palate, but these have faded, and the wine is fully mature. Again, on the palate, I get black cherries, licorice, peppercorn and spice. Fills the mouth and tantalizes the taste buds with complex flavors and textgures. Much bigger and better than a simple Cotes du Rhone. Has a sweet fruit edge that lingers in my memory long after the bottle is finished. Slightly alcoholic (14%) but carries it well.

Gilbert Picq Chablis, 2000

This is real Chablis: cool climate unoaked Chardonnay--steely and powerful. No butter, no brown sugar.

Medium deep gold./ Fully developed bouquet of Chablis minerals and soil, appropriately flinty./ The same on the palate: unoaked Chardonnay complexity with a citrusy, flinty edge. A very full feeling on the mid-palate. Everything is in place; it's just stepping into its own. At this stage, the 1996 was prematurely oxidized--a distinct disappointment. But whatever the problem was, it apparently has been fixed.

I like all of the Gilbert Picq line of Chablis--good fruit, traditionally made using stainless steel rather than new oak. The Vieilles Vignes is my favorite.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

d'Arenberg The Stump Jump McLaren Vale Shiraz, 2008

I haven't tried any of d'Arenberg's high-end wines; they are out of my price range. However, the medium-priced d'Arenberg wines ($14 to $18) such as d'Arry's Original and The Footbolt Shiraz are some of my favorites from Down Under. The Stump Jump wines (Shiraz, Grenache and Shiraz/Grenache) are all about $10 a bottle, and I like the straightforward, fruit-oriented approach. The fruit is not exceptional; you can't expect that at this price point. But, unlike many inexpensive Australian wines, there is no attempt to hide flaws under a layer of new oak.

Deep and dark, Syrah-like./ Berries, spice and herbs./ Friendly McLaren Vale fruit presence. Not much, if any, oak. 14.5% alcohol but it doesn't show much. Finish is ripe and berried. There is a fairly strong herbaceous streak in this wine that is more like French Syrah with none of the thick, jamminess that's associated with Australian Shiraz

Lindemans Hunter Valley Semillon Bin 9255, 1998

You'll see many high-production commercial wines from Lindemans and Penfold on the shelves. Now owned by big conglomerates, both wineries still produce some very good low production wines made essentially the same as they were 25 or 30 years ago. Be on the lookout for four-digit bin numbers from Lindemans. You won't find many, but most will be very good. And the price will not necessarily reflect the quality in the bottle.

Particularly after 12-plus years in the bottle, most tasters would identify an oak-aged quality in this Hunter Valley Semillon. In fact, all of these wines, once known as Hunter Valley Chablis, are unoaked.

Good bright color, medium deep./ The aromas are expansive but fresh and bright for a wine of this age--lime and honey. There is a racy, grassy acidity but with an incredibly full bodied mouth feel. That is Hunter Valley Semillon speaking, and, in this wine, it reminds me of a Montagny from France. The grapes must have been picked rather unripe because the Hunter Valley is a relatively warm area, and the alcohol level in this wine is a low 11.0%. Not a great wine but a very good one, and an Aussie classic.

Domaine Loew Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris Cormier, 2004

Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio--same grape but very different wines. My wife, who is a Pinot Grigio fan, finds this wine a bit "too sweet." As a Pinot Gris fan, I find it just right, showcasing the broad, fruit flavors of Alsace Pinot Gris.

Medium deep yellow./ Ripe pear with some apple, honey and flowers--very pretty./ Yes, there is some slight sweetness but I think it comes from the ripe fruit flavors rather than residual sugar. I like the full bodied, glycerined texture and the broad, pungent flavors. There is also a pleasantly bitter note on the finish that is typical of Alsace Pinot Gris. It counters the ripeness and keeps me interested in exploring all the nooks and crannies. Definitely Gris rather than Grigio. And I love it.

Domaine du Val des Rois Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas Signature, 2004

Cotes du Ventoux wines, like La Vieille Ferme and 3 Messes Basses below, are made to drink young, within four or five years of the vintage date. Although some wines may keep longer, they will rarely show anything beyond what you've already discovered. There's nothing wrong with that; I like fresh, vibrant fruit. On the other hand, I'm willing to pay a little more for a wine that will offer subtle nuances with some time in the bottle. This Valreas from Bouchard fits that role perfectly.

Deep serious ruby./ Dark and spicy--licorice, black fruits, dark and deep. Ripe entry followed by mineral-laden fruit flavors on the mid-palate and a powerful, complex finish. The power derives from strong, concentrated fruit rather than alcohol (13.5%). Open and expansive with lovely, pure fruit on the finish. Is there some Gamay in the blend?

Sleek and satisfying right now, this Valreas is significantly better than it was a year ago, and I suspect that it will get better for at least two or three more years. For $12 to $14, this is one of the best values on the market today.

Louis Latour Saint Aubin, 1996

Saint Aubin is one of my favorite white Burgundy appellations, mainly because the price is within my budget--$12 to $15 at the time I bought this bottle. I have visited there and was told by growers that the vineyards are well situated and capable of producing wines comparable to those of its neighbor, Puligny Montrachet.

Medium deep gold./ Lemon, minerals, subtle flowers--very classy./ Silky texture. Racy flavors do indeed remind me of Puligny Montrachet. High strung, delicate, lovely. Some 1996 white Burgundies were affected by premature oxidation, but not this one, It has aged beautifully.

Pierre Andre bourgogne Chardonnay Reserve, 2005

This has been an excellent generic white Burgundy, now nearing the end of its useful life. At least, I keep telling myself that since this is my last bottle.

The color has deepened, and mineral smells now dominate with pear and apple in the background. But isn't that what white Burgundy is all about? It's all about the quality of the minerals, and this wine strives toward the higher appellations such as Puligny, Mersault and Saint Aubin. The texture is sleek, and complex flavors eventually emerge and start to reverberate. There is a mineral, spicy bite that gets better with every sip.

Oh well, it's the last bottle.

Epicuro Salice Salentino, 2003

I like the exciting flavors and texture of Salice Salentino, a southern Italian red, and was delighted to find this Epicuro as a regular offering for only $5.99 at Trader Joe's in Ann Arbor. I have several vintages in the cellar and held this 2003 back a few years to see how it would age. It's made from 80% Negro Amaro, 20% Malvasia Nera.

The color has a very deep, bluish tint, but it's all fruit and peel; I find no hint of new oak in this traditionally made wine. True to Salice Salentino, it's literally gushing with scents and flavors of red and black berries, licorice and flowers. Some slight volatility is not a negative; it's all part of the style and personality. More and more licorice, black fruit and minerals. The wine is ripe and full bodied--Southern Italian rustic power.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux, 2007

This Ventoux is a blend similar to the Trois Messes Basses (below) but with 30% Cinsault replacing the 30% Carignane. It's a more typical Southern Rhone personality.

Deep brilliant ruby, medium to light./ The fragrance of Ventoux and the Provencal countryside are apparent from the first sniff--fresh raspberries, red spices and flowers. This wine is very ripe in the 2007 mode but not at all over done. It's like a bowl of fresh berries with flavors that coat the palate leaving no hard edges. Medium bodied, ripe, long finish. Very typical of Ventoux and of La Vieille Ferme, although a bit riper and more forward than either the 2005 or 2006.

Cinsault and Carignane are both blending grapes, adding color, body, tannins and additional flavor dimensions to Grenache-based wines. For me, the spiciness of Cinsault is reminiscent of cinnamon and white pepper compared to the lemon peel of Carignane.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cuvee des Trois Messes Basses Ventoux, 2009

Oh, yes! Now this wine has the Carignane qualities I was looking for (and failed to find) in the Domaine de Fabregues. Carignane is 30% of the blend along with 50% Grenache and 20% Syrah.

Still a youthful 2009, Cuvee des Trois Messes Basses has a medium to light crimson color. I expect the color (as well as the aromas and flavors) to deepen and fill out over the next year or two. The spicy Carignane gives this wine a raciness that distinguishes it from Altitude 500, another excellent Ventoux produced by the same cooperative--Vignerons de Mont Ventoux. Earthy, citrusy spice of Carignane plus peppery strawberry spice of Grenache--a great combination. Carignane adds a lemon peel quality, a pleasantly bitter twist to the ripe Grenache flavors. Light on the tongue but not at all trivial or simple. Still very young, fresh and lively; you can almost smell the yeast. And an excellent match for a thick Tuscan stew. At $8.99, this wine is a dollar cheaper than the Altitude 500. I'll take a case of each, please.

Domaine de Fabregues Languedoc Carignane, 2007

This wine caught my attention on the wine list at Rustica restaurant in downtown Kalamazoo. Sionce I love the earthy, spicy notes that Carignane contributes as part of the blend of many traditional Southern Rhone wines, I was anxious to see how the grape would perform in a leading role. That was what I was looking for; what I found was a very good international-styled wine that went quite well with my entree of braised lamb shanks...but very little of the varietal character I expected.

The wine is dark and full bodied with a silky texture but the aromas and flavors of Carignane are pretty much subdued by the oak. A nice wine but not the Carignane of my dreams, at least at this time.

Warre's Warrior Vintage Character Port

This was a companion to the Coteaux du Layon to accompany a variety of desserts at the New Year's party. It was a good accompaniment for chocolate-oriented desserts.

The color is an impressively deep ruby, and there are vigorous smells and flavors--wild red berries, spice, raisins, nuts. The wine is thick and rich but easy going on tannins. You can smell the alcohol (20%) but it doesn't cause much heat on the finish. Hints of nuts and toffee but this is a Vintage Character rather than a Tawny Port. This is a wine that would appeal to most drinkers and is an excellent value at less than $20 a bottle. In fact, D&W Market in Kalamazoo has the wine on special for $15.99.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vincent Saincrit Coteaux du Layon, 1999

For a New Year's Day gathering, this Chenin Blanc wine from the Loire was a good match for a variety of desserts on the buffet table. Luckily, there was more than half a bottle left over for me to savor over the next week. With every passing day, it showed new facets and increasing complexity.

Deep gold color./From the first pour, I get powerful and pungent Chenin Blanc aromas of peaches, honey and bitter lemon./There is an unctuous mouth feel; it clings but does not cloy, and that Chenin Blanc pungency takes over full throttle on the finish. Even after a week in the bottle, the powerful fruit is still in charge, with nuances of flowers and white spices emerging.

Good Harbor Leelanau Peninsula Pinot Grigio, 2008

Bruce Simpson, one of the pioneers of Leelanau Peninsula wine, has passed away, but his family is still producing very good wines, some of the best values of the area.

Medium yellow./Lovely aromas and flavors of citrus, peaches and flowers./Fresh and lively but with yeasty, leesy qualities. For me, this is more like an Alsace Pinot Gris than an Italian Pinot Grigio because it has depth and body. But there is also good acidity to quench the thirst and highlight the lively fresh fruit flavors. As I remember, I paid less than $10 for this at the winery tasting room. Wish I had bought more.

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone, 1998

I consider 1998 an outstanding vintage for Southern Rhone wines. Some on wine forums who disagree with me have cited some 1998 Chateauneufs that they feel have gone badly over the hill. I haven't encountered any myself, but I have found several age-worthy 1998 Rhones from much less prestigious appellations, such as this simple Cotes du Rhone from Domaine Sainte Anne, a $6 wine when it came on the market).

The color is a deep, deep crimson with no signs of advancing age. A beautiful bouquet is just now forming with the depth that you might expect from a Chateauneuf du Pape. Deep, deep strawberries and cherries on a layer of garrigue. This wine seems to have more acidity and structure than it had even a couple of years ago. It's lost its baby fat and has matured into a deeper and more complex wine. Reminds me of the 1988 Clos du Mont Olivet Chateauneuf du Pape.

Sainte Anne's CDR Villages, CDR Villages Notre Dame des Cellettes and CDR Villages Saint Gervais are even better, although somewhat less advanced at this point.