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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone, 2005

Simple Cotes du Rhones are generally made for drinking within four to five years after the vintage date. So theoretically I should have no complaint about a 2005 that is no longer showing its best. But considering how beautifully the 2005 Domaine de la Janasse was drinking at this time two years ago, this bottle is a distinct disappointment. Smells and flavors are not oxidized, thin or raisined; just lacking the balance it once had, Maybe it's just in an awkward stage, but I doubt it.

The color is a deep ruby; no sign of age there. Aromas are still centered around herbes de Provence (garrigue) along with spice and berries...but without the intensity it had two years ago. Flavors are the same, and there is some annoying heat around the edges. It's six years old. But I have 2005 Cotes du Rhones from other producers that are still drinking beautifully.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Melini Borghi d'Elsa Chianti, 2009

This is an old fashioned wine with an old fashioned label selling for an old fashioned price. It's precisely the kind of wine I seek out. Yet this excellent Chianti sits unnoticed by those seeking out the latest, most trendy, international-style wines.

When I popped the cork and poured a glass at an outdoor gathering, someone nearby asked, "What's that beautiful smell?" "No, not the flowers," I answered, "It's the wine." Floral/cherry/red berry aromas are overwhelming. And the flavors are the same. It's medium bodied with the lively acid and skin tones I expect from a good, traditionally made Italian wine. There are plenty of tannins in this wine, but they are skin tannins, and the acid level keeps them from blocking out those wonderful flavors. The wine is as soft as velvet on the palate, and the finish is long and fruit oriented.

Melini Borghi d'Elsa is made basically the same as it was when it was first imported into the United States right after World War II. The grapes are the traditional Chianti blend--80% Sangiovese plus 10% Canaiolo Nero, 7% Malvasia and 3% Trebbiano--from vineyards near San Gimignano. Super Tuscan winemakers scorned this blend when they started using more noble grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and their wines are highly regarded in the international wine world. This is not a Super Tuscan, and the winemaker has not been canonized as a Super Hero by Robert Parker or Steve Tanzer. There is nothing at all Super about this wine, but it's damn good. And it sells for $6.99.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Chardonnary, 2009

The label presents this as a "Burgundian style wine" made from California grapes. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I like the result.

I smell Granny Smith apple, lemon and mineral, fresh and bright. If there has been any oak used, the influence is clearly in the background. Very aromatic but without butter or tropical fruit. On the palate, the wine is medium to light bodied with a crisp, citric edge. It dances rather than plods across the palate. Reminds me of the 2006 Faively Montagny I enjoyed a few weeks ago. Now being sold for $9.99 at my local D&W Market, Votre Sante is a wine I could happily re-visit many times over the coming months.

As for being Burgundian, a little research revealed that the wine is made from the Dijon clone of Chardonnay. A whole cluster press is used followed by mainly stainless steel fermentation to minimize extraction and maintain the freshness of the fruit. Only a small part is fermented and aged in French oak to add complexity.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This is still my favorite Cotes du Rhone from the highly touted 2007 vintage. Contrary to Robert Parker's pronouncement, I do not consider 2007 to be the best Southern Rhone vintage of my lifetime, nor even of the past three years. But this simple CDR is plenty good enough.

Made from a blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Grenache, the wine has a deep ruby color. Smells are typical of what you might expect from a Northern rather than Southern Rhone Syrah--dark plums, pepper, lavender and cassis. Very ripe and enticing. On the palate, it's medium bodied and ripe from front to back. Pepper and spice and everything nice. The wine has opened up considerably since my last bottle several months ago, but there is still plenty of tannin and flavor interest to carry it for several more years.

The 2009 vintage of Saint Esprit is on the shelf of my local D&W Market right now. And it's on my buy list.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Val de Sil Valdeorras Godello, 2008

You probably haven't heard of Godello; I hadn't either when I bought my first bottle of this wine. A few sniffs and sips were enough to send me back for a case. This is a seriously undervalued wine that is very good now and has the potential to become even better with a few years in the bottle.

The wine takes a few minutes to open, but then the aromas start flowing: ripe pears, white peaches, minerals and flowers. It's Viognier-like in its prettiness but has considerably more depth and complexity. In the mouth, the wine has the body and concentration of a Puligny Montrachet. Enticing mineral tones. There is a slight walnut husk bitterness on the finish at first, but this gives way to very ripe fruit flavors after a few minutes in the glass.

Val de Sil Godello has been priced at about $10 a bottle at D&W Markets in southwest Michigan. It's suggested retail is about double that--and still a bargain.

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2000

Domaine Sainte Anne is one of those rare Cotes du Rhones that is capable of going 10 years or longer in the bottle. While showing its age considerably more than the 1998 that I opened a month or so ago, this 2000 is by no means over the hill.

The color is a deep ruby, showing mature tints. Aromas and flavors have developed nicely--ripe dark cherries with a spicy hint of Mourvedre in the background. The flavors have broadened and deepened. There is a great deal of flavor interest even if the finish is shorter than that of the excellent 1998. This is a wine that far exceeds the expectations of a simple Cotes du Rhone. It's as good as a Gigondas or Cairanne, but the personality is unique to Domaine Sainte Anne CDR.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone, 2007

Even though I know that Guigal's Cotes du Rhone can be purchased for $9.95 a bottle, I was willing to pay $10.50 for only a glass of it at Eddie Merlot's in Fort Wayne, Indiana. As the name implies, Eddie Merlot's is an upscale wine-oriented restaurant with awards from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast posted on the walls. Passing over many big names on the wine list, I chose the Guigal CDR, a wine I have enjoyed over many vintages dating back to 1978. With vineyards in Cote Rotie, Guigal is a negociant for Southern Rhones, but his selection of grapes is excellent. Year after year, E. Guigal offers one of the best and most ageworthy of simple Cotes du Rhone wines.

Knowing all that, and respecting the quality of the 2007 vintage, I was surprised to find that this glass of Guigal CDR offering up only flat, oxidized smells and flavors. The bottle had clearly been opened for several days. My complaint to the waitress was met courteously and promptly and, from the first sip, the glass from the freshly opened bottle was gorgeous: fresh berries, lavender and saddle leather with good depth and concentration, oriented toward Syrah rather than Grenache at this stage of its development. The wine is medium to full bodied with tannins that are noticeable but not obtrusive. This Cotes du Rhone would go very well with a well aged steak from Eddie Merlot's (although my choice from the menu was the pork osso bucco).

Paying $10.50 at a restaurant that prides itself on its wine list, I felt I had a perfect right to complain about being offered a stale glass. I'm glad I did. In the warm vintage of 2003, Guigal produced one of my favorite CDRs. In the slightly less warm vintage of 2007, Guigal has been equally successful. I'll keep an eye out for a few $9.95 bottles.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Les Vignerons du Mont Ventoux Cuvee des Trois Messes Basses, 2009

Following the Altitude 500 and La Vieille Ferme last week, I wanted to throw a third Cotes du Ventoux into the mix. Also made by the cooperative at Bedoin, Cuvee des Trois Messes Basses is another old favorite that I have bought and enjoyed off and on since the early 1980s. It has always been an enjoyable, albeit somewhat rustic, wine. Today, the latter adjective no longer applies. The cooperative has clearly invested in high-tech equipment while maintaining a traditional philosophy and steering away from international trends.

Compared to Altitude 500 and La Vieille Ferme, Cuvee des Trois Messes Basses has its own unique peppery personality, provided primarily by the Carignane grapes in the blend. (The cuvee is 50% Grenache, 30% Carignane, 20% Syrah, compared to 75% Grenache, 25% Syrah for Altitude 500 and a similar blend for LVF.) It's not the spicy pepper you expect from Grenache, nor the black peppercorn that sometimes comes from Syrah but a unique Carignane type of pepper that has a hint of lemon peel mixed in. It creates a nice tingle on the palate that makes this wine very enjoyable when it's young and useful for almost any meal--fish, vegetables, beef or chicken.

At $7.99 a bottle, Trois Messes Basses is priced halfway between La Vieille Ferme and Altitude 500. The Altutide 500 is clearly the superior wine of three, in my opinion, but in some ways I enjoy drinking the Trois Messes Basses even more. A fourth Ventoux choice, that I haven't tasted recently, is Domaine Font-Sane--always bursting with blueberries, Provencal herbs and purple flowers. For a small amount of money, it's possible to pack your cellar with pleasure simply by focusing on the wines of Ventoux, a modest but underrated appellation. It's important to remember, though, that while these wines are not shrinking violets, they are best consumed within about five years of the vintage. Considering how good they smell and taste, that's no problem at all.