Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mud House Marlborough Pinot Noir, 2009 and Mudhouse Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2010

Nadine Worley, the Mudhouse winemaker, is an Australian who says she moved to New Zealand in part because she loves to make cool climate wines. After tasting each of these wines, I would say she knows what she's doing.

The Sauvignon Blanc is bursting with aromas and flavors of passion fruit, guava and other tropical fruits. Very brisk and refreshing.

The Pinot is served to me chilled, but no worry--the fruit and floral smells and flavors are all the more intense. As it warms to a room temperature, the wine takes on more weight, depth and complexity. Very finely focused Pinot fruit that is typical of Marlborough but also in line with classic varietal traits.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Domaine Mittnacht-Klack Alsace Grand Cru Riesling Rosacker, 1993

From a half bottle, this wine is clearly past its prime but still offers some glimpses of its past glory.

The color is very deep, copper colored, and the bouquet also has an oxidized note. When you get past that over-maturity, there are also deep scents and flavors of dried apricots, honey, and minerals. After a few minutes, the roses start emerging. Wow--this is Rosacker, indeed. The vineyards are just outside the walled medieval village of Riquewihr, and there are roses planted at the end of every row.

The vineyards, in fact, surround a guest house where I stayed with my family in 1994. I smelled those roses on my daily run in the early 1990s, and I smell them again. The vineyards that produced this wine are lovely, and they still leave a haunting memory in the glass.

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cairanne Prestige, 1998

This wine is a continuing confirmation of my high regard for the 1998 vintage in the Southern Rhone. I've enjoyed Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin nearly every vintage since the early 1990s and found that in most vintages the wine has seen its best by age six to eight. The 1998 continues to improve.

The color is a deep ruby. It's been a couple of years since I've visited this wine, and the bouquet is deeper and broader than I remember. More black fruit tones and more Syrah and Mourvedre qualities are now present. Vibrant cherries on a broad foundation of spices and Provencal herbs. Very deep. Deep berry fruit, cassis, a slight tingle of volatility but no alcoholic heat (13.5%). Remarkable depth. A good example of the domaine and the vintage.

Chateau Patache d'Aux Medoc Cru Bourgeois, 1983

Wine critics love to hand pick a few inexpensive Cru Bourgeois wines and recommend them for early drinking. It's probably because they have never bothered to cellar inexpensive wines and have no idea how well they age. I bought this wine partly on the recommendation of Robert Parker who proclaimed it was a wine for early drinking--in the first five to eight years after the vintage date. Unfortunately, I took his advice and drank five of my six bottles within that time frame. Nearly 20 years later, I drank the final bottle and found that it is by far the best of the bunch.

Medium deep ruby with only a bit of bricking around the edges./ The bouquet is typical of mature Bordeaux--cherries, currants, cassis blended nicely. Very aromatic and intense./ There is more of the same on the palate with notes of leather. Loads of fresh acidity for a 28-year-old wine and clean tart cherry after taste. The blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Domaine Lou Frejau Chateauneuf du Pape, 1998

1998 was one of the last vintages for bargain-priced Chateaneuf du Papes; due to increased recognition of the high quality of these wines, prices have escalated rapidly since that time. Fortunately, I bought and cellared quite a few 1998s and have high expectations for them.

A find of Rhone expert Robert Mayberry of Grand Haven, MI, Domaine Lou Frejau is not very well known...and priced accordingly--about $15 when I bought this bottle. I was impressed when I first tried it at an Ann Arbor Wine Club tasting in 2000 or 2001; it stood out for its light color, delicate body and remarkably intense aromas and flavors. I haven't tasted it since, but for tonight's Valentine's Day dinner of filet mignon and mushroom/Swiss chard gratinee, it was all that I expected and more.

Light crimson color, as I remember. Medium intensity./ A nose of ripe strawberries, red cherries, spice and peppercorn. Very compact, intense dried and fresh fruit aromas. As I remember plus plus./ It's on the palate that the development of the wine is most apparent. Cherries more than strawberries here; considerably more structure and acid than the bouquet suggests. The wine seems to take on weight with each glass poured. The tannins are deep but very fine, and the finish is long, intense and aromatic. Lou Frejau 1998 is drinking beautifully now, and I suspect it will probably improve or at least stay at this level for quite some time.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Wolf Blass President's Selection South Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000

Wolf Blass wines are usually a bit oaky for my taste, but I couldn't resist this President's Selection Cabernet at a closeout price of $6.99 at Harding's Markets in Kalamazoo. The President's Selection is a step up in quality from the widely available Yellow Label that sells for about $10 a bottle. The fruit comes from well located vineyards in McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Barossa.

Medium deep ruby, very good color for an 11-year-old Cabernet./ The bouquet is classic Aussie Cabernet--black currants, coffee oak, very ripe. Big and powerful but not clumsy./ Sweet upfront, then some wood tannins on mid-palate and ripe curranty fruit on the finish. The oak is well integrated, creating a very appealing coffee/chocolate impression. I get a very slight herbaceous streak that might become more noticeble with a few more years in the cellar; I'd prefer what it offers right now.

Chateau Graville-Lacoste Graves Blanc, 2002

Try Graville Lacoste in its youth, and you'll find a lovely white Graves with impressive complexity and depth. Keep it a few years, and you'll find even more to like.

Good deep color but not overly mature./ Nicely understated scents of Sauvignon Blanc--mint, melon, quince and flowers. Now come the rich, figgy aromas of Semillon./ Silky smooth, light to medium bodied and very classy. There is nothing overstated, but the figgy, minty floral flavors just keep coming at you. A perfect match for whitefish Grenoble.

At $15 to $18 a bottle, Graville Lacoste is, in my opinion, one of the very best white wine values.

Chateau de Plaisance Savennieres,1999

At a recent wine sale at Tiffany's Wine Cellar in Kalamazoo, this wine stood out to me as a special bargain. But then Savennieres is nearly always a bargain because so few American wine drinkers really appreciate the beauty of a traditionally made dry Chenin Blanc.

Loire Valley Chenin Blanc ages beautifully, so I was delighted to find a white wine that, at 12 years of age, is just coming into its own. The color is a medium deep yellow, and the aromas and flavors show maturity but not age. Peach, melon, honey, walnuts--very complex and full, as I expected. Very honeyed, leaves a trail of lovely Chenin Blanc flowers all the way from front to back with a proper amount of walnut hull bitterness on the finish to counter the sweet, peachy fruit. More honey, minerals, loads of depth and flavor interest. This is a wine to spend an evening with--so much to discover. If you're looking for a sweet, buttery, vanilla-laced cocktail wine, this wine is not for you. But I'm heading back for more, and I'll put a few away for future enjoyment.

Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes du Rhone, 2006

Walking the line between traditional and modern Cotes du Rhone styles, this makes a very good restaurant wine. I get fresh aromas of dark cherries and red berries with hints of spice and pepper. In the mouth, it's medium bodied with plenty of substance but minimal tannins. Drinking very well right now. The wine has probably seen some new oak but only enough to broaden its appeal. I still find most of the qualities I expect from a Cotes du Rhone. The blend is 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah from grapes grown in the vicinity of Seguret.

Monday, February 7, 2011

San Silvestri Ottone I Barbera Piemonte, 2007

A dinner guest immediately picked up the volatility in this wine. "It's a little prickly on the tongue; like a sparkling wine," she said. In some wines, that might be considered a flaw; in this one, it's part of the charm. And charming this wine is.

It's a very deep, bluish color, bringing to mind a barrel sample. Just bursting with fresh Barbera fruit--fresh berries, purple flowers, macerated skins. Ripe aromas and flavors that refuse to be contained. No one's going to complain about this wine's sweetness because it's so appealing and countered so nicely by vibrant acidity. As in many traditionally made Italian wines, there is a high level of volatility But my experience is this is not a sign that the wine is falling apart. I've had the 2007 San Silvestri Barbera several times over the past two years, and it's definitely on the upswing.

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

I like Viognier but am not a connoisseur. I've tried many of the pricey labels from Condrieu in the Northern Rhone but found all of them less appealing to my taste than inexpensive country Viogniers such as this one. The 2009 Vieux Chene VDP Viognier can be obtained for $6.99 right now at Sawall's Health Foods in Kalamazoo. I'm not pretending that it's a ringer for a $50 Condrieu. But I like it.

Bright medium yellow./ Peaches and flowers, delicate and pretty./ Same on the palate. Round and ripe. Ripe pears, then more flowers and a ripe, musky finish. This reminds of the inexpensive Georges duBoeuf Viogniers I bought regularly in the 1980s. It's probably not as overpoweringly fragrant as a Condrieu. Nor does it have the bitter note on the finish that apparently is a hallmark of good Viognier. I'll admit that I don't completely understand Viognier. But I like this wine. And its price.

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

Mordoree is a very good source of Lirac wines, and the estate produces two cuvees: a regular Lirac (now known as la Dame Rousse) and a premium bottling, Cuvee de la Reine des Bois. In the 1998 vintage, the regular bottling sold for $9.75, the Cuvee de la Reine des Bois, $17.50. (For current vintages, those prices would be $25 and $40 respectively.) Considering the 1998 vintage to be a good one for my taste, I bought some of each, assuming, as most wine drinkers would, that the more expensive cuvee would be the better and most ageworthy of the two. My assumption was clearly wrong. The $9.75 bottling was showing beautifully a few months ago; this premium bottling is over-the-hill.

It's a medium deep ruby with definite browning around the edges. /The bouquet gives me complex spicy notes, dark tones, fading fruit...and some oxidation. To give the wine its due, there are hints of exciting depth but also some stale notes. / In the mouth, I get much of the same, but it's fresher and better. Some plummy fruit in the middle but it leads to iodine and oxidized flavors. There is decent complexity on the finish, enough to keep me looking for more. But this is definitely a wine on the downward curve and not nearly as good as the less expensive cuvee.

The major difference is that some of the grapes la Reine des Bois are aged in new oak while the regular cuvee is made according to traditional methods. Let me state my bias clearly: I favor the traditional approach. Others may disagree. But if you own some of the more expensive Reine des Bois wines, either Lirac or Chateauneuf du Pape, I suggest you drink them sooner rather than later.