Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Wines They Are a Changing

One of the great things about wine is that it changes. Of course, there are changes that take place in a fine Bordeaux or Napa Cabernet over two or three decades--changes that can turn a good wine into a great experience. But there are also changes that take place in simple wines like the Vin de Pays from Vieux Chene reported on below. While the aging curve may be five years rather 30 years as in the 1985 Sociando Mallet, it is important nonetheless when you decide whether you want to buy the wine and when you should best drink it.

When I'm through drinking a wine for the evening, I use the VacuVin to remove as much air as I can from the bottle. There's always some left, of course, and exposure to air over 24 to 48 hours causes the wine to go through an aging process that probably mirrors what it undergoes over a longer span in the unopened bottle. That's my theory, at least.

The Cuvee de la Dame Vieille, for example, showed pleasant plummy Syrah characteristics on the first night it was opened--good but not nothing that would send me back for another bottle. On the second night, those aromas and flavors had deepened considerably; and on the third night, it was showing peppery, spicy smells and similar to those in the lovely 2007 Delas Saint Esprit (a wine with a comparable blend of Syrah and Grenache). Surprise: the Delas is three years older and exactly what I'm looking for in a good Southern Rhone. It's too simple, of course, to assume that La Dame Vieille will be showing those same peppery, spice qualities in 2014, but I think it's safe to assume that it will evolve along a similar path, putting on more weight, depth and complexity as time passes. That's why I'm now a buyer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Domaine du Vieux Chene Vin de Pays Vaucluse Cuvee de la Dame Vieille, 2010

This is a sibling of the Vieux Chene Grenache reported on below. This cuvee is 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah from vines on sandy soil immediately surrounding the winery--some of which, I understand, are about 80 years old. It's 100% organic and sells for $9.99 right now at Sawall's Health Food store in Kalamazoo, MI.

The color is much deeper and darker than the Grenache cuvee with the bluish tints that are to be expected from the relatively high percentage of Syrah. It's also a year younger than the Grenache bottling, and, on the first night, it's a bit rough around the edges. With vigorous swirling, some pretty floral/berry/spice notes emerge. Very full and somewhat tannic on the mid-palate. Plummy Syrah flavors with herbal, spicy notes emerging on the finish. For my taste, this wine is still a bit young; even a few months will bring out some of the peppery qualities I like in a Southern Rhone Syrah/Grenache. I doubt, though, that it will ever match its Grenache sibling in complexity.

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2000

At 11 years of age, this CDR Villages has a medium deep color and a beautiful summer pudding nose--red berries, blue berries, black berries and more berries. Also purple flowers and spices. It has the characteristic Domaine Sainte Anne ripeness and a glycerined feel on the mid-palate. Very little of the pepper that you find in Rhone wines from Vaucluse but more elegance and grace. The wine has just shed its baby fat and has reached a nice stage of maturity for my taste. Compared to other wines from this estate, however, this 2000 CDR Villages is not particularly complex and could use just a bit more acidity.

Justin Monmousseau Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, 2009

This is a wine to drink with your breakfast grapefruit. I'm kidding, of course. It's a nice, low-priced Loire Sauvignon Blanc but more than a bit on the tangy side. Grapefruit and slightly ripe pineapple. Not the kind of tropical fruit you might get from a Monterey County Chardonnay. Strong mineral presence and also a touch of sea salt. Gooseberries and canteloupe. Very tangy, almost to the point of being non-food-friendly--makes a pork with tomatillo and peppers dish taste downright sweet.

Generic Touraine Sauvignon Blancs are often this shrill. They lack the elegance of Sancerre or Pouilly Fume but can be very enjoyable in the proper context. I bought this bottle for less than $10 at the huge Jungle Jim's store near Cincinnati, OH.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Donna Laura Bramosia Chianti Classico, 2006

This is about as perfect a restaurant wine as you'll find. And that's where I found it, at Martell's Pub (formerly the Black Swan Inn) in Kalamazoo. The ruby red color is as bright and lively as the aromas and flavors: cherries, red fruit and aromatic spices. About 30% of the wine has been aged in new oak, but it's not enough oak to intrude on the fresh Sangiovese fruit. A little Merlot (20%) is probably responsible for the pleasantly aromatic herbal qualities and the soft finish. The wine goes down very smoothly, either with the Italian beef entree at Martell's or on its own. But it lacks that something extra that would bring me to pay more than $8 to $10 for it from a wine store shelf.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

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

You probably know by now that I'm a big fan of Grenache...but mostly those from the Southern Rhone and certain areas of Spain. What I like most about Grenache is that it's capable of showing very early the subtle nuances that take decades to develop with Cabernet-based wines. The grape is not very tannic and any attempt to beef up the tannin through new oak or small barrel aging is a fatal flaw, as far as I'm concerned, because the oak tends to mask or destroy the spicy, peppery, herbaceous nuances that I love most.

Domaine du Vieux Chene, located on the Plan de Dieu just west of Gigondas and Vacqueyras, has some very good Grenache vines that are used in varying proportions in their Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages wines. This 100% Grenache is a simple Vin de Pays de Vaucluse from vines close to the winery itself, but even some of these Grenache vines are 70 years old. The color is the deep crimson to be expected from Grenache--not as bluish or dark as the Syrah-dominant Saint Esprit from Delas described below. As to be expected from Grenache, the nose is lush--ripe peppery, briary, strawberries. There is Grenache ripeness on the palate as well...but not too ripe. Vieux Chene's Cuvee Friande from 2007 (still on the shelves) is a bit ripe for my taste, but this 2009 Grenache has a sense of restraint that keeps you sniffing and tasting all the corners and crevices. And there is ample reward for your effort. Has the subtlety of Pinot Noir but with more power. The pepper and spice add structure, and the finish gets better with each sip.

All of Vieux Chene's wines are 100% organic, and they are billed as such at Sawall's Health Food store in Kalamazoo. For $8.99, this wine offers more depth and personality than Grenache wines from California or Australia selling for several times that much. And it's less fiery than the similarly priced Grenache wines from Spain. On the shelf beside it, for $9.99, is the 2010 Domaine du Vieux Chene La Dame Vieille, a blend of Grenache and Syrah that I'm anxious to try.

Bodkydel Leelanau Peninsula Soleil Blanc, 2008

Like the Loire Valley in France, the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan was once below water, and I believe that has resulted in a soil capable of producing fine white wines. With proper age, well made wines from this area are capable of developing a unique minerality. And the cool 45th parallel climate gives them the acidity to age well.

Bernie Rink at Boskydel Vineyards considers Soleil Blanc to be his finest dry white wine. I still prefer his dry Vignoles, but since that wine sold out early in the fine 2008 vintage, I decided to give the Soleil Blanc a try. It's just now beginning to show some of the subtlety and complexity that Leelanau grapes are capable of producing. Medium gold color. Slightly musky nose. Now some green apples, flowers, almonds. Nuances emerge slowly and require some attention at first but are well worth the effort. This is on the way to becoming a very good wine. Brisk acidity, a little saltiness on the mid-palate and a touch of foxiness on the finish. This is not Chardonnay nor Sauvignon Blanc, but it's a good alternative when you're looking for something different. Soleil Blanc is made with a French hybrid grape with a name you probably wouldn't recognize. But it still reminds me of Savennieres, the dry white Chenin Blanc from the Loire.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This wine still ranks high on my list of favored 2007 Southern Rhones. It's very dark when poured; Syrah comprises 75% of the blend. Pepper and spice and everything nice. Bold peppery Syrah smells and flavors. Black fruit and more gushing from the glass but sprinkled with a hearty dose of freshly ground peppercorn. Also black plums, violets, lavender and cassis. Hard to resist. The wine has a strong tannic presence but there is nothing to keep you from coming back for sip after sip. The fruit tannins are very ripe, accessible and oh so flavorful. Pepper on the tip of the tongue; lush, peppery fruit in the middle; and a slightly warm peppery finish. Some tobacco/herb Grenache pepper but mostly the crushed peppercorn of ripe Syrah.

Cost Plus World Market now has the the 2009 Saint Esprit on sale for $9.99, but the wonderful 2007 is still on the shelves for a few dollars more. I have bought both in ample quantities.

Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Chardonnay, 2009

Francis Ford Coppola pays tribute to his paternal grandmother with this Chardonnay, which the winery says is "styled after the graceful white wines of Burgundy." And the style does seem French although I'm not sure why. It's easy to stereotype California and Australian Chardonnays as big and buttery, drenched in new American oak, but that is a style that has become unpopular and is rapidly disappearing. Votre Sante Chardonnay, in fact, can hardly claim to be unoaked; 50% of the fruit was aged in new French oak. Because the other 50% was fermented in stainless steel, however, the vibrant fruit takes center stage and the finished product comes across as graceful and old world in style.

Medium yellow. Slightly unripe pears, nutmeg, melons and flowers. On the palate there is crisp lemon/lime acidity rather than sweet oak. Medium bodied and a spicy finish. Yes, this Chardonnay does remind me of many Macon Villages wines on the market today, and I like it for that reason. When it's priced at $10 or less, I buy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What Happened to My Budget?

What happened to my budget? you're probably asking. I have been drinking and reporting on a series of high-powered wines from the 1980s and early 1990s, none of which fall into the budget category. That's because we've had a couple of family birthdays plus house guests who love fine wine. The few younger bottles I've had during this period have confirmed to me the value of having a cellar. While a well chosen young wine may go down smoothly enough, it can never match the subtlety, complexity and sheer beauty of the 1981 Cos d'Estournel, the 1985 Clos du Papillon or the 1985 Robert Mondavi Cabernet.

I should point out, though, that none of these wines cost more than $20 when I purchased them. And I followed the same principles in selecting them that I use today: I avoided the highest priced, most highly sought after wines and chose an alternative that I considered a good quality/price ratio.

The Mondavi Cabernet is a good example. At that time, Mondavi produced a Reserve Cabernet that sold for about 50% more than the regular bottling. I was urged to buy the Reserve "unless you're planning to drink the wine right away." I rejected that advice, and I am pretty smug about the result. According to online reviews I have read, the 1985 Reserve is still drinking well, but these reviews are no more positive than the ones for the regular bottling--a beautiful wine that will probably last another decade. I rarely buy Reserve or Show bottlings, partly because I'm cheap but mainly because I know that winemakers are tempted to use a bit more new oak and a bit more pre-aging in their special bottlings in order to make the wine show better young and justify the higher price. This often results in a less ageworthy wine.

Cos d'Estournel and Leoville Barton are now recognized as top second growths, but the hype in the 1980s tended to fall more on wines such as Pichon Lalande and Gruaud Larose. I don't think I missed anything by going for the lower priced offerings. 1981 and 1993 were not highly regarded vintages, but some good wines were made in those years, and they cost less than the same wines from top vintages such as 1982, 1986 and 1990. There are many excellent, ageworthy wines at all price levels, and it's almost as much fun picking a winner as it is drinking the prize.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chateau Leoville Barton Saint Julien, 1993

1993 was not considered a very good vintage in Bordeaux; Parker rates it 78 (compared to 85 for the mediocre 1981). As a result, prices were reasonable, even for this Leoville Barton which was considered by many to be one of the top wines of the vintage. At 18 years of age, the wine is drinking beautifully.

As to be expected, the color is deeper and darker, with more crimson tones, than the 1981 Cos beside it. And the bouquet is firmer and more intense. This clearly has a high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon; I smell cassis, currants, cedar and a hint of aromatic herbs. Red cherries and berries take over on the palate. Very deep and very ripe with a lush finish that recalls the Henschke Shiraz as well as the Cos d'Estournel (see below). As good as those two wines were, this is even better. And I suspect it still has room to grow.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chateau Cos d'Estournel Sainte-Estephe, 1981

In his Bordeaux book, Robert Parker damned this 1981 Cos d'Estournel with faint praise, a score of 84 and an admonition to drink it within four to five years. I thank RMP very much; had he given the wine the score it deserves I would not be enjoying it tonight on my artisan wine budget.

The cork comes out very nicely for a 30-year-old wine, and the color is amazingly dark and saturated. Minimal bricking. On first opening, smells were muted and tarry, but they opened slowly and beautifully over the next hour. Dark cherries, black fruit, spice and a hint of tobacco. On the palate, the wine is also a slow starter but gets better every minute. Now the flavors are expanding on mid-palate and finish. This is a mature beauty. The texture is smooth and smoother. A satiny soft but very long finish. It's hard to stop drinking this wine.

I should add that British wine critic Clive Coates gave this 1981 Cos a much better review than did Parker. Reviews can help, but it's wise to read several and then make your own judgment based on your tasting of the wine.

Henschke Mount Edelstone Keyneton Vineyard Shiraz, 1986

When the Wine Spectator did a feature on Australian Shiraz in June of 1996, three aristocrats of Australian Shiraz were featured on the cover: Penfold's Grange Hermitage, Mount Langi Ghiran's Langi Shiraz and Henschke's Mount Edelstone. Based on my limited experience, I would agree with that these three wines rank at the top of the hierarchy. The Grange has always been an esteemed (and expensive) wine; the wines of Mount Langi Ghiran and Henschke were largely undervalued, except by insiders, until the publication of that article.

My last bottle of 1986 Mount Edelstone was in the summer of 2004, and it was drinking beautifully. Changes, mostly positive, have taken place over that seven-year period, but the big, rich flavors of true Australian Shiraz are still front and center. As he points out in the Wine Spectator article, Stephen Henschke thinks of Australian Shiraz as a "big" version of Pinot Noir. He aims for intense fruit flavors, soft tannins and what he calls a "slipperiness" on the finish. Henschke achieved all that and more in this wine.

The color is deep and dark, even a bit purplish still. When first opened, the nose reeked of sulfur. "I always like a good boiled egg," said one taster. This quickly blew away, yielding to scents of violets, vanilla and aromatic spices. But the bouquet still doesn't measure up to that of the bottle opened in 2004. It's on the palate that the wine shines--the flavors are even better than anything I remember from 2004. Flavors of mature red and black raspberries explode on the mid-palate leading to an incredibly plush finish. Soft and satiny yet so intense. This is Australian Shiraz at its best.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Prince Florent de Merode Corton les Marechaudes, 1993

This 1993 from les Marechaudes vineyard on the hill of Corton was a classy elegant wine with lots of complexity when I first tasted it in 2004. As good it was then, it's even better tonight. Although perhaps less showy than the earlier bottle, this 1993 now has incredible subtlety and depth. Dark color. Scents of dark cherries, charred wood and minerals; less earthy than some Pinots but traditional in its style. The wine is so smooth on the palate that it takes awhile to notice how tannic it really is. They are very fine tannins, however, that provide a sense of reserve and restraint while the fruit flavors open and expand on the palate. This is a special wine. Less than $20 when I purchased it, the 1993 les Marechaudes now sells for about $180 a bottle retail. With good reason. I'd love to see it seven years from now.

The hill of Corton, located near the village of Ladoix-Serrigny in the Cotes de Beaune, is the source of some highly regarded red Burgundy wines. Les Marechaudes vineyard lies relatively low on the slope, and the wines are more accessible at an early age than les Bressandes, les Renardes or Clos du Roi from higher on the slope. The winemaker in 1993 at Prince Florent de Merode's estate had a laid back traditional approach both in winemaking and vineyard management that I appreciate. Now under a new winemaker, the current vintage of Corton les Marechaudes might be more intense and elegant, but I would expect it to have the same great fruit quality and aging ability.

Domaine Leroy Bourgogne Blanc, 1996

Oak dominates the bouquet and flavors of this Bourgogne Blanc produced by the esteemed estate of Madame Bize-Leroy. But it's very fine and well selected oak that has integrated nicely into the fruit and mineral qualities of the Chardonnay. Medium deep gold. Powerfully aromatic nose of brown butter and minerals. Good acidity and length. Fully mature but not ready to drop off the edge, even at 15 years of age.