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.