Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Basket Pressed Cabernet Merlot, 1994

For a New Year's Eve dinner of grilled beef tenderloin on smoked tomato demi-glace, this 17-year-0ld Australian Cabernet Merlot was a perfect match. It is Aussie Cab at its finest: mint, black raspberries and chocolate with very fine tannins, an intense mid-palate and a long, ripe finish. With age, the wine has taken on amber tones and has lost all of the oaky qualities it showed as a young wine. It has enough acidity to pick up the smoked tomato flavors. A very enjoyable wine, with or without food.

I enjoyed the 1993 Reynella Basket Pressed Cabernet Merlot in February of 2010, but I think I like this 1994 even better. The 1993 had aromas and flavors of blackcurrants and cherries with hints of herbaceousness; this 1994 seems riper, fuller and more to my liking.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fred Loimer Lois Gruner Veltliner, 1999

I get a great deal of pleasure from a good Austrian Gruner Veltliner such as Fred Loimer's Lois. It's lively enough to match up with spicy Asian fusion dishes and yet subtle enough to make you sit back and contemplate. From everything I have read, Gruner ages well, maybe even better than white Burgundy, but since this wine is a relatively new find for me, I have never had the chance to see how a good bottle holds up in the cellar. As a result, I was intrigued by this 1999 Lois when I was bottom fishing for bargains in a recent WineBid auction. It was clear from the auction photo that the color had deepened considerably, and that may have been why the wine had no takers--even at $5 a bottle. I thought it was worth the chance and won a three-bottle lot.

Very deep color but it doesn't deepen any more when opened, as some over-the-hill whites do. There is a definite stale, oxidized smell on top--not to my liking. But it's possible to get past that to some deeper smells and flavors--nuts, spices, white pepper (maybe). Full bodied and well balanced for fruit and acidity. It's not what I expected from an aged Gruner, but then again, I don't know what I expected. I'm not sure it's typical, either for its age or the Lois label. The wine is definitely not corked; the green closure is a cork substitute. The wine may have been exposed to heat or light damage (due to the clear bottle). Another possibility is that the smell I dislike is merely part of the normal maturation of Gruner Veltliner that takes some getting used to. I'd be happy to hear from readers who have more experience than I have with mature Gruner.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Domaine du Cayron Gigondas, 1988

Even though it's a year older and from a lesser appellation, this Cayron Gigondas actually had more life and fruit than the Lucien Barrot Chateauneuf du Pape beside it. That's saying a lot.

Darker and deeper than the Barrot in color; also darker and deeper bouquet. Deep, deep scents and flavors of cherries along with some spice and pepper. Everything has come together nicely. Still has some amazingly fresh cherry/berry acidity to accompany the powerful Gigondas presence. Layers and layers of flavors. When it was young and even in the late 1990s, this wine seemed to have some kind of funky flaw. But I can find nothing wrong tonight. Although Gigondas does not have a great reputation for long aging, Cayron is apparently a keeper. I have had vintages all the way back to 1980 in recent years--all aging beautifully.

Domaine Lucien Barrot Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

This was one of two excellent Southern Rhones that we enjoyed with our 2011 Christmas dinner featuring roast lamb and vegetables. Two different views of mature Southern Rhone.

Lucien Barrot is one of the most traditional Chateauneuf estates and one that is often overlooked. Previous bottles of the 1989 and 1988 (opened from 2003 to 2006) have been outstanding. At this stage of its development, the 1989 does not attract attention to itself in the same way, but I don't think it's necessarily past its prime. The color is medium light, about what you'd expect from a 22-year-old Chateauneuf du Pape. The nose is slow to open but has lots to offer when it does--fresh and dried berries on a bed of spices and dried flowers. Lovely ripe Grenache flavors with no hard edges. This wine is showing a calm, reserved personality at the moment, but it's a fine accompaniment to roast lamb.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Domaine Sainte Anne Saint Gervais, 2000

When I google Domaine Sainte Anne, I keep getting my own blog posts. I must be this domaine's biggest fan in the whole wide world. But I'm certainly not ashamed of that. I love everything Domaine Sainte Anne produces, and this Saint Gervais in particular.

DSA's Saint Gervais is 60 percent Mourvedre, and the wonderful spiciness of mature Mourvedre is just beginning to show. The dominant trait, though, is the classic Sainte Anne blueberries and full cream trait--almost too fruity and too sweet for its own good but beginning to give way to the punget spiciness of Mourvedre. As I taste it alongside the Bergadano Langhe Nebbiolo, it's hard for me to believe two wines could be so different. But like two of my own children, I love both equally. The tannins are beginning to melt, and paradoxically the wine seems to be getting less ripe and more spicy with each sip. It's at a good stage and I see no sign that it's beginning to fade.

Bergadano Langhe Nebbiolo, 2008

I love Nebbiolo. Some of the best wines I have ever had were Nebbiolos from the Piedmont area of northern Italy--not just the well known Barolo and Barbaresco but lesser known Nebbiolo-based wines from the Novara hills such as Gattinara, Spanna, Caramino, Fara and Ghemme. Prices for Barolos and Barbarescos have escalated beyond my budget but how about the Nebbiolo wines for every day enjoyment that were so plentiful a few decades ago? I remember a 1982 Dessilani Spanna purchased for $4.99 a magnum that continued to give immense pleasure until at least the late 1990s. Today, Spanna, Gattinara and even generic Nebbiolo from Langhe and Alba usually cost $20 or more--not my version of every day. When I saw this 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo for $10 at Binny's in Chicago a few months ago, I jumped at the chance to try it. And now I wish I had bought more; this is good old-fashioned Nebbiolo at its best.

The color is deep and dark, and the classic Nebbiolo aromas burst from the glass--cherries, cherries and more cherries and now some dark licorice and the fragrance of freshly cut roses. There is really nothing quite like the smell of Nebbiolo! All those qualities carry over to the palate. Big, big wine. Acid and tannin fighting for control. This wine is so dry it almost makes you thirsty. There is plenty of fruit but the fierce tannins are keeping it tightly surrounded. This wine is, after all, only three years old. It needs time and air to show its best. But that doesn't mean there is not enough to enjoy now. The nose, in fact, is worth the price of admission. There were other Nebbiolos on the shelf beside this Bergadano, some costing three times as much. When I asked the clerk, he shrugged his shoulders as if nothing significant would be selling for only $10. If you see that clerk, don't tell him how good this wine is. Just sneak what you want away and leave some behind for me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chateau Bel-Air Sainte Croix du Mont, 1986

Sainte Croix du Mont is a satellite appellation with wines similar to those made in Sauternes and Barsac. Bel-Air is recognized as one of the top two or three wines produced in Sainte Croix du Mont. As Sauternes prices have escalated, these satellite appellations have become recognized as offering good value, but their prices have risen too. More than 20 years ago, I paid $35 for a full case of Bel-Air; today, one bottle of the current vintage would cost $28 to $30. Oh, the joys of having a cellar!

The color is a medium deep gold, and the smells are exactly what you would expect from a good Sauternes: apricots, almonds and honey. Rich on the palate but not sticky sweet. Good fruit acidity; even a little tartness when tasted alongside ice cream and chocolate. This 25-year-0ld Sainte Croix du Mont is not at all old; even on the second and third night, it is fresh and lively. It's showing much, much younger than a 1983 Filhot and a 1983 Guirard I had in September. And I still have most of my $35 case!

Vignerons du Mont Ventoux Altitude 500 Parcelles Saint Nicolas Ventoux, 2009

If you miss out on the 94-point Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux (and you probably won't since there seem to be ample supplies, at least in Michigan), you might want to give this Ventoux a try. Like Pesquie Terrasses, it comes from stony south-facing vineyards 500 meters above sea level. It's similar to Pesquie in many other ways as well, and I think I prefer the lesser known Altitude 500.

The color is a deep crimson, not as dark and bluish as the Pesquie but with good saturation. The aromas are equally impressive--less aggressive pepper but finer tannins and more spicy red and black Ventoux fruit. Raspberries, currants, cinnamon and black pepper. Like the 2007 Altitude 500 I reported on earlier, this is a very impressive Ventoux. It glides easily across the palate leaving not only the obvious charms but many secrets and hints of more to come.

Sawall's health food store in Kalamazoo still has stocks of the excellent 2007 Altitude 500 for $9.99. D&W Market across the street carries both the 2007 and 2009 for about the same price. Again, I prefer this wine to the highly touted Pesquie Terrasses selling for $12.99.

Louis Latour Saint Aubin, 1996

The vineyards of Saint Aubin, located in a side valley just to the west of Chassagne-Montrachet, offer, in my estimation, some of the best values in white Burgundy. They have the liveliness and minerality that I like in Puligny-Montrachet...but at about half the price. I paid less than $15 for this wine when it was released, but most comparable Saint Aubins today sell for $20 to $30--still a bargain compared to any New World Chardonnays in the same price range.

At 15 years of age, the wine is still a medium deep gold with good brilliance. The bouquet has developed beautifully and in line with what I expect from Saint Aubin: green apples, pears, citrus, minerals--sweet and lovely. Medium bodied with a good acid lift. Lots of life; dances on the tongue. Classy white Burgundy not showing any signs of advancing age.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chateau Pesquie Terrasses, 2010 Revisited

Oops, I thought the alcohol level of this wine was 13.5%; and it did indeed taste like 13.5% on the first night--warm and peppery but well balanced. On the second and third nights after being opened, alcohol emerged more prominently, bringing out a little too much heat on the back end. And a look at the label revealed that ABV is actually 14%. That alcohol level makes the wine very showy when first opened, with aggressive aromas and flavors. Compared to other Rhones from 2009 and 2010 I've had recently, though, (such as the 2009 Vieux Chene VDP Grenache, the 2010 Vieux Chene VDP Cuvee de la Dame Vieille and the 2009 Cuvee Les Trois Messes Basses Ventoux), this 2010 Pesquie did not develop as much complexity and subtlety with continued exposure to oxygen. I may even prefer the 2008 Pesquie, even though it's from a lesser vintage. Pesquie 2010 is a nice wine, no doubt about it. But I'm not running out to buy a case as I might have a decade ago for a 94 point Parker wine selling for $12.99.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux, 2010

I went through a stage, a few decades ago, when Robert Parker points had a significant influence on my wine buying. I've changed, and so has Robert Parker. Today, when I'm told that Parker awarded a wine 94 points (as he did this Ventoux), my first thought is that someone must think a hard sell is necessary. I really liked the 2008 Pesquie Terrasses, though, so I thought the 2010 (a much better vintage) was worth a try. Glad I did.

Ventoux is ordinarily a smaller scaled wine--full bodied but fruity and charming from day one. This 2010 Terrasses (like the 2008) is a much bigger, more tannic wine...but still in the Ventoux tradition and very accessible. Deep, dark and bluish tints but no sign of new oak in color, texture or aroma. Very peppery and spicy, reminds me of the 2007 Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone. La Terrasses is 70% Grenache, 30% Syrah, but it comes across as much heavier on the Syrah. That is likely to change, of course, but I like what the wine is showing now as well as what it promises in a year or two. Spicy, peppery, dark berry fruit. None of the tanky odors I got from the 2o07 Terrasses. 13.5% alcohol is just about right. I wouldn't give it 94 points. But maybe 91 or 92.

Georges DuBoeuf Macon-Villages Chardonnay, 2009

George DuBoeuf's bottling is nearly always the least expensive Macon-Villages on the market. But then Macon should be an inexpensive every day drinking wine, and, at $8 to $10 a bottle, DuBoeuf Macon-Villages is nearly always worth buying. It is particularly good in the 2009 vintage.

Medium yellow. Bright apply fruit, with a delightful fragrance that you expect more from Riesling or Pinot Blanc. Brisk acidity, ripe fruit, a long finish. Good value; buy more.

Echelon Vin de Pays de l'Isle de Beaute Pinot Noir, 2009

Wonder why a California label is selling a wine from the "Isle of Beauty"? Because Pinot Noir is now such a popular wine, some California vintages, such as 2009, simply do not produce enough grapes to meet demand. So large-production wineries such as Echelon go to the cheapest source of Pinot they can find--the island of Corsica in France. This is the same appellation that produces Pinot Evil, generally the least expensive wine you'll see in any wine store. (And well worth the money, in my opinion.)

Yes, this wine reminds me a lot of Pinot Evil: cherries, red plums, cinnamon and just a touch of Pinot earthiness. Fragrant, ripe, medium bodied and fruity. The only thing this wine lacks is the complexity you expect from a $25 red Burgundy. But then it sells for $7.99.

Although the "l'Isle de Beaute" appellation represents "the sticks," even to French wine drinkers, it's a very good micro-climate for growing Pinot Noir--better, I think, than nearly any area of California. The 2010 Echelon has been released, and it's made from California grapes. I'd rather have the Corsican version...and it's at least a few dollars cheaper.

Domaine le Couroulu Vacqueyras, 1998

Hard and offputting when it was young, this wine has gone through a beautiful evolution. The heavy crust on the side of the bottle shows how much tannin has been shed over the past decade plus. A couple of years ago, bright raspberry notes were front and center but these have given way to mature, somewhat funky, Vacqueyras traits--dark fruits, licorice, spice, black minerals and leather. It's medium bodied and savory with a long, ripe finish. It's not as funky on the palate as it is on the nose. But, as far as I'm concerned, a bit of funkiness is necessary to define Vacqueyras. This is good old fashioned stuff, one of my favorites of the appellation. I believe this is my last bottle, and, if so, I timed it nicely.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1990

Inglenook is a legendary name in Napa Valley wines, but the reputation had dimmed considerably by 1990. Most of the property had been purchased by Heublein, and only the Inglenook Cask label continued to maintain a semblance of the quality established by Inglenook in the 1960s. This 1990 I bought mainly on the recommendation of Dick Scheer, owner of Village Corner in Ann Arbor. According to Dick, this 1990 regular bottling, selling for about $8 to $10 a bottle, displayed qualities hailing back to the Inglenook Cabs of old. I know of no one whose opinion I would trust more. So I bought the wine, and tonight I'm thanking Dick one million times for the good advice.

Deep ruby with good brilliance and clarity and minimal browning. Plums, currants, mint, cedar--classic and beautiful. At 21 years of age, this wine may be just coming into its own. On the palate, there is more of the same. Smooth, elegant and slightly warm. The flavors are exactly what you expect from a good Napa Cab, and they are so beautifully defined. Very long finish. This is a special wine, and I see no reason to hurry to drink it.

Luzon Verde Jumilla Monastrell, 2010

The last Luzon Verde I had was the 2005. The wine cost about $6 and had a very unpretentious label--a simple drawing of bugs buzzing through green weeds. The wine was fantastic, and I had an immediate urge to go back and buy several cases. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember where I bought it, and every clue I followed led to a dead end: the wine apparently was no longer brought into the country.

Finally, nearly five years later, Luzon Verde appears on the shelf of my local supermarket, D&W Markets in Kalamazoo. It has the same weedy label (and the Verde, I understand, indicates that the wine is produced from organically grown fruit). Beside it on the shelf is the non-organic version in a flashier black label. Both sell for $8.99. Will they be as good as the 2005 that grabbed me in 2008? Probably so.

Luzon Verde 2010 Jumilla Monastrell is impressively deep, dark and bluish when it's poured. This is young Mourvedre (known in Spain as Monastrell). And there is absolutely nothing green about this wine except its label. It smells thick and tannic, like a barrel sample. The young Mourvedre is gasping for air, but as it gets it, it unfolds like a flower--violets, lavender, black fruits. Now some black pepper and spice emerge. Now some ripe blueberries and plums. With time and air, it loses some of the furry tannins and becomes ripe and smooth on the palate. Yes, this is a wine to buy in quantity and sample frequently over the next two to three years and maybe longer.

Domaine de Font Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2006

Domaine de Font Sane produces one of my favorite Gigondas wines, and the estate also owns property in the nearby Cotes du Ventoux. Styled with less power than the Gigondas, the Ventoux is a wine to drink while you're waiting for the Gigondas to mature, so I usually buy at least a half case in most good vintages. This 2006 is an orphan bottle that got overlooked in the cellar, but it is still drinking beautifully.

Deep, dark crimson. Has not lightened much at all. This wine smells more tannic than La Vieille Ferme or similar Ventoux wines, and it's more tannic on the palate as well. But with a little time, it opens up to scents of dark berries, cherries, lavender and herbs. Relatively full bodied for a Ventoux; a bigger wine than most Ventoux, but not as bright and friendly. Plenty of ripe cherry fruit, though. Reminds me of a good Cairanne. Ripe and smooth on the finish. Probably at its peak right now. Drink, drink, drink.