Saturday, November 26, 2011

Domaine Chante Perdrix Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

Tasted alongside the excellent 1998 Clos Saint Jean, this 1989 Chateauneuf du Pape was the favorite of most at the table. All agreed that both wines are excellent.

Chante Perdrix was one of the most highly rated wines of the 1989 vintage, garnering 94 points from Parker (in the days before point inflation). And it's always been one of my favorite Chateauneufs. I've had the wine numerous times over the past five years, and each time it gets a bit lighter in color and body but stronger in flavor and personality. It seems to be the essence of great old vine Grenache--wild red raspberries and cherries on a bed of exotic Asian spices and dried flowers. Flavors quietly unfold on the finish, then turn into an explosion of pleasure. Chante Perdrix has a high level of Grenache (75%) in its blend; but then so does Clos Saint Jean (85%). This wine is lighter in color and texture primarily because it is nine years older. I'm looking forward to tasting both again three or four years down the road.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape, 1998

This 1998 wine was produced five years before Clos Saint Jean hired a wine-making consultant and started drawing rave reviews from Robert Parker. Yet there were many Rhone wine lovers in Michigan and elsewhere who were already enjoying immensely the old style Chateauneufs of Clos Saint Jean. I vividly remember the 1989, 1990 and 1995--flamboyant and exciting wines. Then the 1998 arrived, and it was clearly the best of the lot--better even than 1989. Even though the previous vintages had not shown great longevity, my early tasting told me 1998 was a vintage not to approach too soon...and this tasting confirmed that I was right.

The 1998 Clos Saint Jean is moderately deep and dark for a Grenache-based wine--considerably deeper than the 1989 Chante Perdrix beside it. The bouquet is forming nicely--Grenache red berry but mostly darker fruits, a bit of black licorice and some leather and animal tones. Slightly roasted like the crust on a well cooked leg of lamb. Very deep and promising. On the palate, there is substantial body and power for a Grenache-based wine. And more fruit-driven complexity--dark plums, black currants and just a hint of garrigue. The finish is very ripe and long.

The vines at Clos Saint Jean are very old and some of the best in the appellation. An acquaintance who visited Chateauneuf du Pape about this time was referred to Clos Saint Jean by Laurence Feraud of Domaine Pegau and was blown away by the quality he found there. The owners are not very commercial, Laurence reportedly told him, but they produce some of the best wine of the appellation. In 2003 the big change at Clos Saint Jean came. The estate now produces several prestige cuvees from the oldest and best vines, selling for $60 to $80 a bottle and busting Robert Parker's 95-point barrier. Even the low priced stripped down regular Chateauneuf is beyond my budget. The wines are less rustic now, I am told. I was quite happy with the rusticity myself and will cling happily to my remaining bottles of the 1998. It is a very fine wine.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Chateau La Tour Carnet Haut Medoc, 1979

As a companion to the 1980 Conn Creek Cab (below), this 1979 La Tour Carnet illustrated well the differences in New World and Old World styles.

The light brickish color is the first indication of the difference, and the wine is clearly thinner in texture...but not in flavors. The bouquet is definitely herbaceous (rosemary and thyme?) but not vegetal (which I define as celery and green bell pepper). Merlot and Cab Franc are clearly in the blend. Aromas are as fresh and well defined as the flavors. And over the course of an hour, these deepen and bring out scents of red currants and cranberries. No raisins here, though. Silky and svelte on the palate with racy flavors that cling to the tongue and bring you back for more. Almost like a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc.

I paid about $10 for this wine some 30 years ago, as I did for the Conn Creek. Roughly half of those at the table preferred the Conn Creek; the rest, the La Tour Carnet. All agreed they were both very fine wines.

Conn Creek Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, 1980

Through the late 1970s and early 1980s, Conn Creek Cabernets received consistently good reviews from the Wine Advocate, the California Grapevine and other wine newsletters. Yet the wine was always modestly priced, much less expensive than Caymus, Jordan, Diamond Creek, Stag's Leap, Heitz, Inglenook Reserve or Mondavi Reserve. I bought the wine regularly (about $10 a bottle) and have been rewarded ever since. This 1980 was brought up from the cellar to help celebrate my daughter's 31st birthday.

Very deep and dark, almost opaque. Really looks and smells like a young Cabernet. The nose is classic Napa Cabernet--black currants, dark plums and cassis. Many at the table say "raisins" because the wine is ripe, but no riper than to be expected from from a Napa Cab. Full bodied and very New World in style, but the oak has integrated nicely and the wine is still showing plenty of well defined fruit flavors. Well balanced, complex finish.

You won't find many Napa Cabs on the market today that will provide as much pleasure--even those selling for $100 or more. Yet 1980 Conn Creek still goes for about $20 a bottle at auction, and KL Wines in California is selling magnums (1500 ml) for $99. At either price, this wine is a bargain. Wish I had bought even more.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Two Good Buys in Rhone Wine

Two recent email alerts from G.B. Russo & Son in Grand Rapids caught my attention. The first announced the close-out sale of 2008 Pesquie La Terrasses Ventoux for $5.99 a bottle or $60 a case. That's an amazing price for an excellent wine that I reviewed on this blog last summer [June 30, 2011]. I didn't like the 2006 and 2007 La Terrasses; there was a tanky smell that I didn't care for. So I was dubious when I saw the 2008 (a lesser vintage) on sale for $9.99 at D&W Market in Kalamazoo. I bought a bottle to try and went back for more. If you don't have any of the 2008 and you're in the vicinity of Grand Rapids, I suggest you load up the trunk--if it's not too late.

A more recent email alert reported that Russo had purchased the entire Michigan allocation for 2010 Cercius Cotes du Rhone Villages, a wine highly praised and rated 93 points by Robert Parker. From 70- to 80-year-old Grenache and Syrah vineyards near Domazon, just south of Chateauneuf du Pape, Cercius is produced by Michel Gassier and imported by Eric Solomon of European Cellars. Parker and Russo compare it to a Chateauneuf du Pape in everything but price. At $15.99 a bottle, it will probably go fast.

I haven't tasted Cercius but am not planning a special trip to try it. Parker's highest points these days usually go to Rhone wines that are more international in style, with at least some use of new oak and/or small barrels. I prefer a more traditional style and know there are plenty of good choices available for $8 to $10 in my market--such as the 2010 Vieux Chene VDP Vaucluse Grenache and the 2009 Vieux Chene VDP La Dame Vieille.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone, 2005

I paid a premium for this 2005 Cotes du Rhone because Domaine de la Janasse is a well known producer of very good Chateauneuf du Pape. While it's always been a very enjoyable wine, it has not aged as gracefully as the 2005 Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone described below.

It's a medium deep ruby--darker than the Grand Prieur but with considerably more bricking. The rich fruit is still front and center--blueberries, blackberries and dark cherries plus a hint of smoke. A mellow Cotes du Rhone blend, but the Syrah (35%) and Carignan (10%) seem to be dominating the Grenache (55%), Cinsault (5%) and Mourvedre (5%) at this point in time. All dark fruits, ripe and lovely, but without the complex, subtle elements that the Grand Prieur has attained with maturity. No secrets here. And on the second night, the fruit flavors start to break up, and the alcohol (14%) becomes more apparent. Still good but not a wine for keeping.

Boskydel Vineyards Leelanau Peninsula Vignoles, 2009

In the 1980s, when wineries first started to pop up on Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula, Vignoles was a workhorse grape, and I regularly bought dry Vignoles from Larry Mawby, Bernie Rink at Boskydel and Bruce Simpson at Good Harbor. For my taste, it had less sweetness and more personality than Seyval Blanc, the other popular white wine grape. (Riesling, of course, has always been well suited to the climate of Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas.)

Today, Vignoles is the forgotten grape as new vineyards have veered toward better known varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Larry Mawby now uses his Vignoles grapes for a sparkling wine, and Good Harbor uses it in several proprietary blends. For authentic dry Vignoles, Boskydel is now my only source, and I make a yearly pilgrimage to chat with Bernie Rink and bring home a case of the liquid gold. I am a fan.

While 2009 may not have been the greatest vintage for Leelanau whites, this Vignoles still measures up to my standards. It's a medium deep color; looks like Chardonnay in the glass. And it also has the full bodied mouth feel of Chardonnay...but accompanied by the brisk acidity of Sauvignon Blanc or Gruner Veltliner. It's a great combination. I smell grapefruit and later red berries and Red Haven peaches. Flavors are round and ripe, but again with a bracing acidity and a pleasantly bitter note on the finish.

Bernie Rink tells me this Vignoles will only get better with age. And I believe him.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Domaine Wachau Gruner Veltliner, 2010

Austrian Gruner Veltliner wines are a perfect match for Asian food, and this Gruve from Domaine Wachau was a fortunate find on the wine list at Chinn Chinn Asian fusion restaurant in Mattawan, Michigan. It's brisk enough to rise above the Asian spices and add its own aromas and flavors.

Green is the theme with this Gruner Veltliner, but it's not the green bell pepper that is so often found in Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot wines. It's the more subtle green of a meadow in spring or a freshly sliced Granny Smith apple. Lilting aromas and flavors that keep peeking through the aggressive Asian spices. Lovely.

Montaribaldi Langhe Nebbiolo, 2008

I had a glass of this Langhe Nebbiolo at Vio Stato Osterio in Chicago and was quite impressed. For me, Nebbiolo is one of the best wine grapes in the world, and I have been priced out of buying Barolo and Barbaresco. Inexpensive every day Nebbiolo is on my radar, and this wine is precisely what I'm looking for. It's tannic, as you would expect from young Nebbiolo, but not enough to keep the beautiful aromas and flavors of Nebbiolo from blossoming forth--roses, dark cherries and minerals. The acidity keeps you coming back for more, and there is more to find with every sip. I don't know the retail price, but at $10 to $15, I'm a buyer.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2005

This wine has changed considerably since I opened my first bottle four or five years ago. The color has lightened, and some bricky tones are appearing. The lush berry smells and flavors have also faded slightly, but that's not all bad. Still some pretty berry scents with licorice and spice--very typical of Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone but now with subtle qualities from aging. Grenache complexity keeps unfolding--berries, spice, minerals and a hint of pepper--and the fruit is still plenty strong. Very much like a Vacqueyras, and that's not surprising since the grapes come from that appellation. Bertin Gras, the owner, chose the lower appellation to take advantage of the slightly higher yields permitted, and I have never been disappointed by the results.

Grand Prieur, selling for about $8 a bottle, is a wine I have enjoyed through many vintages, and this is my 11th bottle of a very enjoyable case.