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.