Monday, December 31, 2012

Clifford Bay Marlborough Pinot Noir, 2009

As the label suggests, this wine offers up smells and flavors of dark cherries and plums. The dominant theme, though, is black pepper--the kind of pepper you would expect from a Southern Rhone wine. I like it, of course, but it doesn't fit my preconceived notions of either New World or Old World Pinot Noir.

The 2010 Clifford Bay is now on the market, also selling for about $10 a bottle. Is it equally peppery? I'll have to pick up a bottle and check it out.

As for the 2009 Clifford Bay, it's a nice enough Pinot for the price but clearly not in the same league as the Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast Pinots I've been drinking. Where are the wild berries?

Jean Descombes Morgon Revisited

The 2005 Jean Descombes Morgon I reported on a few days ago was a very pleasant wine but more one dimensional than I expected compared to my recent experiences with older vintages (1995, 1998, 2000) of the same wine. Because it was served with other wines, only about half of the bottle was consumed that first night and it was recorked and put back on the counter. Every day for the past week, I have had a small glass of the leftover bottle, and each day it got better. Tonight, as I finally finished the bottle, it had the depth that I expect from Jean Descombes Morgon. An excellent wine.

Seven years may seem like a long time to age a Cru Beaujolais wine, but, at least for my taste, it is not enough.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vincent Girardin Emotion de Terroirs Chardonnay, 2005

This is Vincent Girardin's low-end white Burgundy, but it's plenty fine for me. The grapes come from vineyards in Mersault and Puligny Montrachet, and the quality shows.

The wine offers up smells and flavors of citrus, apple, minerals, a hint of almonds and very fine grained French oak. It has a rather fat texture that identifies it as Chardonnay but silky acids that keep it out of the "big and buttery" camp. The finish has a racy tang that keeps me coming back for more. One taster, philhamelin, on Cellar Tracker wrote that Vincent Girardin "plays Chardonnay like a violin; delicate, serious, and often beautiful...With Emotion, he proves he can fiddle as well, and it can be just as pretty." Well stated, philhamelin; and well stated, Vincent Girardin. More fiddle music, maestro, please!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chateau La Tour Saint Bonnet Medoc Crus Bourgeois, 1990

This is one of my favorite budget Bordeaux wines. I bought a case of the 1990 soon after it was released for a little more than $100, and recent vintages are not much more expensive. I saw the 2009 offered as futures for $139/case. The wine is reliable, good in nearly every vintage and pretty special in top vintages such as 1990 and 1995. But it needs to be kept for at least a decade or two before it really starts to show its best.

The 1990 is a deep ruby color, and it has a well-formed, rather powerful bouquet. Only 12% alcohol so the power comes from the fruit rather than the alcohol. Dark cherries, purple flowers, herbs and pencil shavings. Same on the palate. Medium bodied, still a bit firm even. Will still be giving pleasure for another decade or more.

The blend for Tour Saint Bonnet is 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. A couple of years ago, the Malbec cherry traits were showing the strongest, but the Cabernet is now emerging. The wine is fermented in cement tanks and matured in old oak foudres rather than small barriques. It's an old fashioned approach that still works well, and let's hope that the estate doesn't decide to change things.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ici/La-Bas "Les Reveles" Medoncino Pinot Noir Elke Vineyard Anderson Valley, 1997

How well do Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs age? I bought this wine at auction (at a good price) in order to find out, and the answer was unambiguous: beautifully. At least, that's the case for Ici/La-Bas, which is made by Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, a winemaker known for making ageworthy wines.

The color is a medium deep ruby, no noticeable amber or browning. Beautiful scents of wild berries and spices, mostly cinnamon. The spices are very bright and elegantly stated, as is the fruit. This is a wine I could sniff all night. In the mouth, the wine has silky Pinot texture, and the wild berries carry over in a long, persistent finish. Not much of the earthy quality of Pinot Noir, but I think that is part of the Anderson Valley profile. I have younger vintages of this wine to try, but, right now, it's hard to believe they could be better than this 1997.

Huber Obere Steigen Gruner Veltliner, 2008

I have previously served Huber's Hugo Gruner Veltliner with the Asian Fusion dishes of Chinn Chinn Asian Restaurant of Mattawan, MI. And the match was close to perfect. I haven't seen Hugo on the shelves recently, but this Huber wine from the Obere Steigen vineyard is an even better Gruner and also a perfect match for the excellent Chinn Chinn food.

It's a medium deep yellow with green tints. The aromas are intense and full of yellow fruits, spices, herbs and flowers. The wine has been fermented in stainless steel to preserve its fresh fruit attractions. Three months of lees contact has added body and complexity. This is a serious wine worth putting away for a few years. But there is nothing wrong with the way it is showing right now.

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2005

Compared to older vintages of Jean Descombes (1995, 2000, 2002) I've been drinking recently, this wine seems a bit one-dimensional. It has nice crushed raspberry fruit but the early blush that was so enjoyable in 1996 or 1997 has faded, and it has not yet been replaced by the complexities of a mature Morgon. The wine is ripe and soft and easy to enjoy. And, as an accompaniment to spicy Asian fusion food, it's perfect. But compared to the Domaine Diochon I had last week and older Jean Descombes Morgons I've had over the past year, it lacks dimension.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Chateau Coulinat Saint Croix du Mont, 1983

Saint Croix du Mont is a satellite appellation to Sauternes, and this wine provides a good foil to the Clos Labere beside it on the table, both in 375 milliliter bottles. Saint Croix du Mont generally gets less botrytis than Sauternes, but I think roles are reversed with these wines.

The color might be a shade darker than the Clos Labere but both are well aged. On the nose and palate, though, they are worlds apart. The Coulinat is not as sweet and doesn't have the racy acids that are keeping the Labere going, but it has considerably more depth, probably because of higher levels of botrytis. Honey mixed in with the apricots. Very different wines; both enjoyable.

D'Arenberg McLaren Vale Old Vine Shiraz, 1995

This wine was overshadowed by the Bois de Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape beside it at the table, but it is a very good Shiraz made in the old style of Australian winemaking--aged in large old foudres similar to those used in Chateauneuf du Pape.

The color is medium deep, holding up well for its age. Black and red fruits with some yeasty smells. Nothing showy here; just good wine. Medium bodied on the palate with good fruit and acid. Nothing wrong with this wine and a lot that's right.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Clos Labere Sauternes, 1983

This wine's very deep old gold color suggests that it may be a bit past its prime. And it is. Nevertheless, it's a delightfully sweet dessert wine with smells and flavors of apricots, peaches and coconut. As a second wine of Chateau Rieussec (one of the top Sauternes in 1983), it probably was made from some of the estate's less botrytized grapes. But, at least at this stage, that may be a plus for the wine. It has none of the bitter, honeycomb flavors that even the best Sauterne wines often develop in their old age and lots of sweet fruit flavors that make it a delightful dessert wine.

I paid $4.99 for a half bottle of this in the mid-1980s and am getting several times that much pleasure tonight.

Bois de Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

This wine was drinking well when it was young--during the late 1990s--and I had several very enjoyable bottles at that time. Re-visiting the wine on Christmas day 2012, I found the same classic Bois de Boursan elements plus plus. This is a very fine Chateauneuf du Pape that shows no sign of fading.

Medium deep color. Warm, spicy bouquet. Garrigue and dark cherries. The spiciness of Mourvedre blended with the ripe berries of Grenache. Everything that I remember from a decade ago but now with additional depth and complexity. It is on the palate that this wine sings--silky smooth with sweet fruit flavors and a finish that doesn't want to quit. This is Chateauneuf du Pape at its best. Compared to the powerful, funky personality of Pegau, also near the top of my list, Bois de Boursan always seems delicate. Very different styles; I'll take both although at this point in time, Bois du Boursan clearly offers a better QPR--quality/price ratio.

I should mention that I have tasted several vintages of Bois de Boursan's better known prestige bottling, Cuvee Felix. There is no denying that it's a good wine, but I prefer the regular cuvee.

Monday, December 24, 2012

El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa Navarra Old Vines Garnacha, 2010

There is a story about this wine, from Food and Wine Magazine, that I have recounted before. About a New York City chef who loves the wine and the Spanish winemaker who showed her new ways of cooking. I'm a romantic and, having read the article, had to have a few bottles of the wine.

The color is deeper than to be expected from a Grenache wine. And there are other indications that it may have spent some time in French oak barriques. Very spicy nose with an emphasis on nutmeg. Also cherries and red berries. The label uses the term "extravagant," and I think that's a good descriptor for this wine. Rich and smooth, same spicy flavors come through on palate. Extravagant, yes. But having finished my third bottle, I'm less impressed than I was after the first bottle.

Domaine Vieux Chene Vin de Pays Vaucluse Cuvee Friande, 2009

Vieux Chene makes some excellent Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages wines, but I usually buy the less expensive Vin de Pays bottlings that come from vineyards right near the winery. Cuvee Friande is 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah.

Medium deep crimson. Delightfully open nose of fresh cherries, berries and black pepper. Not as simple as price ($7.49) implies. The 2007 Cuvee Friande became a bit flabby after about two years in the bottle, but this 2009 has much more structure. Peppery, spicy flavors with a bowl of fresh cherries on the finish. I'd go back for more of this.

Helfrich Alsace Pinot Gris, 2007

I like Pinot Gris; my wife likes Pinot Grigio, which is usually a much, much different wine even though the two are made from the same grape. This Helfrich Pinot Gris from Alsace suits me to a T even if it does have some residual sugar as many wines from Alsace do these days.

It's a medium deep gold color, just about right for its age. Blossoming smells of ripe pears, flowers and minerals. Pinot Gris strength and size. On the palate, it's rich with those hard to describe flavors that are typical of Pinot Gris...but not Pinot Grigio. Too sweet, she says. Just right, I say.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Domaine Diochon Moulin a Vent, 2000

Many who consider themselves serious wine drinkers show little respect for wines made from the Gamay grape. Perhaps because Beaujolais Nouveau has become such a cultural phenomenon, they tend to think of any wine from Beaujolais as being light, trivial and unworthy of serious attention. That's unfortunate for them but good for the rest of us because it leaves behind wines such as Domaine Diochon to pick up at reasonable price--usually between $12 and $15 a bottle. Made traditionally and aged in large old barrels, this is a wine that will age and continue to give pleasure for years and years.

Very light cherry red. The smells are also light but very intense--red berries, wild cherries and flowers. Lovely. Dances lightly on the tongue, but there are strong tannins and acids--as persistent as those of a wild raspberry. The essence of elegance--tensile tannins, intense smells and flavors. A wine that grows on you with sip after sip. Very Pinot-like but better than most Pinots I have tasted.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rabasse Charavin Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne, 2004

There was a time--many years ago--when Cairanne wines were considered better than those of Chateauneuf du Pape. A few years ago, when I tried a 2000 Clos l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cairanne Reserve head-to-head against a 1995 Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape, there was no question in my mind: both wines were very good but the Cairanne was superior.

L'Oratoire Saint Martin ranks near the top of Cairanne producers, but Rabasse Charavin is right there too or not far behind. Unfortunately, Rabasse Charavin has not been available in my marketing area since the mid-1980s. That's why I was so excited when I saw this 2004 and the 1999 Cuvee Estevenas of Rabasse Charavin available by auction on For a ridiculously low price of $10, I scored eight bottles of the 2004 and four of the 1999. My first taste tonight confirms that I was indeed a winner.

A beautiful bouquet is just forming, and it's classic Cairanne: dark cherries, lavender, spice and black pepper. Very concentrated and very yummy. Still smells and tastes young. I think some of the grapes (probably the Syrah) were picked earlier than is typical for Cairanne because there is some tart acidity on the mid-palate. But that's no problem; it just accentuates the deep pepper traits. Good acid, good tannic grip and lovely, lovely fruit. Some of the Grenache vines at Rabasse Charavin are pushing 100 years. I love it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay, 2010

This, in my view, is what Macon-Villages is all about--a fine unoaked Chardonnay with personality and character. It's been fairly widely available for about $12 a bottle.

The color is medium deep and youthful, but the wine has changed since I tasted it a few months ago. Then it was brisk and lively; tonight, it is mellow with broad Chardonnay smells and flavors. Apple, peach and minerals. Smells and tastes like an unoaked Chardonnay should. Best for drinking right now with just about any light meat or vegetable dish.

Gran Sasso Terre de Chiete Sangiovese, 2008

I had a glass of this Sangiovese at Salt of the Earth Restaurant in Fennville, MI several years ago and liked it so much that I kept my eye out for it at local wine shops. The bottle I found cost less than $10. And with a couple years of aging, it's even better than it was at Salt of the Earth.

Deep ruby. Dark cherry, peels, plums, nice floral notes. Smells and tastes like a Chianti but much smoother on the palate. Plenty of tannins but they are ripe and velvety. At a good stage of maturity. Would buy more.

Pierre Bise Clos de Coulaine Savennieres, 1998

This is a very unusual wine--one for connoisseurs of Loire Chenin Blanc. The color is a very deep old gold--almost like a 20- to 30-year-old Sauternes. But while the wine may look dead, it very definitely is not. Pungent smells, very hard to pin down and describe. Minerals, honey, botrytis but no oxidation as you would expect from the color. And on the palate, it shines. Smooth and rich like a Vouvray but much drier. Botrytis tones and some pleasant bitterness on the finish. This Savennieres requires your full attention--definitely not for casual drinking as an aperitif. And it drinks better when the bottle has been open, aerated for several hours and warmed. At room temperature, the bitterness fades into a rich, ripe Vouvray taste. I'm not sure I've ever encountered such strong skin tannins in a white wine, and that's one reason it is unusual.

1998 was not a good vintage for Savennieres or at least for Clos de Coulaine. I'm looking forward to trying the 1997, 1999 and 2000. But I feel I have learned something about Chenin Blanc and about Clos de Coulaine for having this wine at this stage of its maturity. If you search for my previous notes, you will probably find they were not this positive.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Prince of Pinot Rules

During my recent fling with North Coast Pinot Noir, I keep running into tasting notes by the Prince of Pinot. Nearly any wine I seek information about, I can find it from the Prince of Pinot. Who is this masked rider?

Although his writing style strikes me as that of a younger man, the Prince of Pinot is actually another retired ophthalmologist, William "Rusty" Gaffney, M.D.,  who has decided to devote his life to writing about fine Pinot Noir. That's slightly less expensive than buying a vineyard in the Anderson Valley, as Dr. Larry Londer, another retired ophthalmologist, did.

Dr. Gaffney's web site,, has almost anything you might want to know about Pinot Noir, and he produces a monthly newsletter, PinotFile, that is one of the most informative I have ever read. What's more it is FREE! At the web site, you can download all the past issues and get on the mailing list to be notified when a new issue comes out. For the commercial newsletters--Burghound, The Wine Advocate, International Wine Cellar--PinotFile has to be a major headache. The Prince of Pinot clearly has beaucoup tasting experience, and his reviews seem to me to be right on target. I highly recommend the site and the publication.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Domaine Sante Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages Saint-Gervais, 1999

This is my favorite of all the Domaine Sainte Anne bottlings. It has a high percentage of old vine Mourvedre in the blend, and that shows up in beautiful spicy tones after about 10 to 12 years in the bottle. This 1999 is showing well right now.

Medium deep ruby. Warm, round, spicy Mourvedre with Grenache berries at the edges. Also some subtle floral scents. Very typical of Sainte-Anne style. On the palate, even more developed Mourvedre spice and black plums. Broad flavors. Mature and relaxed Saint-Gervais.

Mendocino Vineyards Mendocino County Chardonnay, 2009

I've searched all over the internet and can't find a reference to Mendocino Vineyards except for this 2009 Chardonnay. The label says the grapes are 100% organic and that the wine was bottled and cellared by Mendocino Vineyards (wherever that might be). The appellation, though, is Mendocino County. It's a large appellation with both cool and hot areas, but this wine is showing the acidity you would expect from a relatively cool climate.

Medium deep gold. Green apples, lime. There is a vanillin, lime oak presence but it doesn't get in the way of Chardonnay smells and flavors. Brisk acidity and some pleasing ripeness on the finish. I like this. More like a Macon than a typical New World Chardonnay.

I doubt that I'll ever track down Mendocino Vineyards; it's probably a second label of a better known winery. The wine, though, is being closed out at Harding's Markets in Kalamazoo for $5.99 and, for that ;price, I'm going back for more.

Domaine du Val des Roise Signature Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas, 2004

Pinot is always exciting, but now I'm back in the arms of my true love, and Emannuel Bouchard's Valreas is one of my all-time favorites from the Southern Rhone. I remember well this same cuvee made by Emmanuel's father, Romain Bouchard, back in the mid-1980s (was it 1983, 1985 or 1988?). It just kept getting better and better, and I think he taught his children well. The younger Bouchard spent 15 years in bio-medicine before taking over the winery that has been in the family for nine generations. But he has clearly adapted well to a different kind of biology and a different kind of medicine. This 2004 Val des Rois has always been good but tonight it's sensational.

The color is a very deep crimson/ruby. The age is showing in subtle tints, and there's none of the artificial darkness that comes from small barrels. Deep, deep, deep bouquet. Black pepper (both the Grenache and Syrah variety) plus black fruits, herbs and spices. Dark, deep and intriguing. Very compact and concentrated on the palate. Flavors burst out from all directions and levels. This is a special wine--not similar to Chateauneuf du Pape nor Gigondas but maybe better in its own way. Old vines, yes. And low yields. Traditional winemaking at its best.

This may be my last bottle of the 2004, but I still have several of the 2007 Val des Rois Signature which should be even better when it reaches full maturity.

Painted Gate Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 2008

You may have noticed that I'm in the middle of a little fling with North Coast California Pinot Noir. My first love is still Southern Rhone, but my trip to the Anderson Valley last spring has kindled a little interest that has introduced me to some very enjoyable Pinots. I saw Painted Gate at World Market for $9.99--an excellent price for a Pinot with a specific Sonoma County (as opposed to California) appellation. Sonoma County is, of course, not as prestigious as Russian River or Sonoma Coast. (The latter, though, is much broader than it appears and the eastern edge is a good 30 miles inland.) And the vintage is the dreaded 2008--the year of the forest fires in northern California. Nevertheless, the wine is worth a try.

The color is a medium ruby, and I'm met immediately with attractive spicy, floral tones. Also dark cherries and, yes, a hint of smoke but not too much. The silky Pinot texture is on the palate along with some more smoke that is actually very pleasant. Adds some dimension. For $10, yes.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Repeal of Prohibition--Yea!

The repeal of Prohibition fortunately happened several years before I was born--on December 5, 1933. for my parents, unfortunately, repeal meant nothing; they remained teetotalers until the day they died.

I'm not planning anything special on December 5, but I did accept a generous wine-buying opportunity from Yorkville Cellars. To celebrate the Repeal Anniversary, the winery is offering wine by the case at half price. Phone orders are taken only on December 5, but online orders may be made earlier--50% percent discount plus free shipping! Case orders only--12, 24, 36 bottles, etc.--but the cases can be mixed.

I tasted through the whole range of Yorkville wines when we were in California last Spring, and I liked everything I tasted. It's a good old-fashioned tasting room, not unlike many of those in Michigan, with no pressure and no tasting fees. My favorites were the Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot so I put together a mixed case of those along with a few of the versatile Hi-Rollr Red, a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Probably because I signed the winery guest book, I received a flyer announcing the sale, but I'm sure Yorkville would not turn away buyers who did not receive the offer. You'll probably need the discount code: BUGSY. Say the secret word, and the speakeasy door will open.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Yorkville Cellars Yorkville Highlands (Redwood Valley) Sauvignon Blanc, 2010

We stopped to taste at Yorkville Cellars last April on our way to Mendocino and the Anderson Valley. Sheep were grazing among the vines in front of the tasting room at that time, but we were told they were just there temporarily to thin out the grass. If left to graze too long, sheep have a way of eating right to the roots of the vines. Yorkville is a friendly little winery, 100% organic. And their wines are sold at my local health food store.

The Randle Vineyard from which this wine comes has a reputation among the locals for producing good Sauvignon Blanc. Bink Cellars, down the road, buys grapes from this vineyard for their own Sauvignon Blanc, which is popular among the locals but which I found leaning a bit much toward the jalapeno pepper side of Sauvignon Blanc. Yorkville chooses to barrel ferment its version--not my favorite approach for Sauvignon Blanc but it succeeds in erasing any hint of jalapeno pepper.

Medium gold, bright. Classy nose of lime, white peaches and pears. Has a creamy mouthfeel, more like a Bordeaux Blanc than a Loire Sauvignon. The winery is oriented toward Bordeaux style wines, and they do a good job. This wine reminds me a bit of Graville Lacoste--a very good Bordeaux Blanc that sells for $15 to $20. I suspect it will improve over the next couple of years.

Clos du Caillou Vieilles Vignes Cotes du Rhone, 1998

I bought this wine when it was still priced like a Cotes du Rhone ($10) rather than a "cuvee unique." I opened one bottle right away, finding an interesting funky wine but only hints of its true potential. Ten to twelve years later, it has developed into a wine that is worth the $25 that is being asked for the current vintage. Clos du Caillou is a good producer of Chateauneuf du Pape, and this wine clearly comes from old vineyards not far from the appellation. North Berkeley Imports had the opportunity to select the barrels it  purchased and had them bottled without filtering. So there is a funkiness now, as there was a decade ago, and those who don't like old vine funk should leave this alone so there is more of it for those of us who appreciate it.

The color is a deep crimson turning to brown. "Non-filtre" means there is plenty of sediment on the side of the bottle. Smells old viney--deeply concentrated cherries--dried and fresh--with spice and tobacco. This is a Chateauneuf du Pape in everything but name. Slightly warm on the palate but mellow. Dark cherries and spice. Beautiful. At $10 a bottle, too bad I didn't buy more.

Laurenz Sunny Niederosterreich (Austria) Gruner Veltliner, 2009

The deep gold color of this wine makes it appear more mature than it really is. It's really drinking nicely right now with good acid zip. Very perfumed--flowers, white fruits, nutmeg and mint. Citric zest but slightly sweet on finish. Would be a good match for Asian food.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Londer Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2008

This is a wine I bought at deep discount because it was perceived to be smoke-damaged. Forest fires hit the area during the 2008 growing season, and many producers, including Londer, felt that the smoke tainted the skins of the Pinot grapes. Rather than damage its reputation by selling a wine that did not meet the winery's  standards, Londer sold what is ordinarily a $35 wine at substantially lower prices...and far outside its marketing area. Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is highly regarded and, as a result, most of the better wines never make it far outside of a limited marketing area. If you see a northern coast California Pinot on the shelf of your wine store, it will most likely be from the 2008 vintage.

This is my third bottle from a case of 2008 Londer, and I have served it to several experienced drinkers of Pinot Noir--none of whom was turned off by--or even noted--the smokey traits. The well regarded Meiomi Pinot Noir beside it on the table tonight has been open for a couple of days and may not be showing its best, but it is no match at all for the lovely aromas and flavors that are coming from the Londer.

True Pinot ruby color, much lighter than the Meiomi./ Beautifully fragrant nose of wild berries, flowers and spice. Again, lighter and prettier than the Meiomi./ Tender mouthfeel. Intense flavors, only a hint of smoke if you look for it very intently. Some Anderson Valley winemakers believe that the smoke taint will only get worse as the wine ages, but I'm not so sure.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bastor Lamontagne Sauternes, 1983

I'll admit that I shouldn't have kept this wine so long, but it is still alive and well at 29 years of age. Robert Parker always gave Bastor Lamontagne decent scores for an inexpensive, lesser known Sauternes. But he suggested drinking at 10 to 15 years of age, and the wine is overachieving to continue giving so much pleasure.

It's a deep, mature old gold color--quickly turning to salmon color after initial exposure to air. I smell apricots, pineapple and figs. Rich and sweet on the tongue as well; none of the sharp edges that show up in a wine that has reached and passed its prime. The finish is actually quite nice but without the depth and complexity that you would expect from a top-ranked Sauternes.

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1991

As good as the 1998 Fortia Chateauneuf is, this 1991 Domaine Thalabert Crozes is even better. I would say that it is drinking at its peak right now, but I've been wrong before about Domaine Thalabert. These Crozes never seem to stop going and growing.

The 1991 is a medium deep color with hints of amber forming. As is typical of Domaine Thalabert, the bouquet features black currants and berries with deep undertones of spices, herbs and leather. Green olive tones are beginning to emerge--a very attractive side of Syrah, in my opinion. Again typical of Thalabert, there is nothing in this wine that jumps out at you to say, "look at me." Not a show wine. Just keep drinking and paying attention and you will be rewarded with layer after layer of concentrated smells and flavors. Dances all the way down the tongue, leaving an impression that lasts and lasts. This is a very fine wine.

The 1990 Domaine Thalabert is the one that gets all the attention, and I'm sure it has probably lived up to its Parker hype. I haven't tried it yet but will soon. Until then, though, I am perfectly happy with this 1991. It's much better, for my taste, than the more heavily oaked 1989 and is probably on a par with the excellent 1988.

Chateau Fortia Chateaneuf du Pape, 1998

I remember my first experience with this wine at a large Ann Arbor Wine Club tasting of 1998 and 1999 Rhone wines. Among those gathered around the Chateauneuf table, there was pretty clear agreement that Fortia was showing the best at that early age--among some pretty heavy competition. Now at 14 years of age, it is fully mature and is still showing come hither qualities.

The color is a medium light crimson, and the aromas and flavors could be described as pretty rather than powerful or big. In many ways, this wine reminds me of a good red Burgundy.. Cherry, spice and leather with a savory, sea salt note that counters the ripeness. I'm not sure I like it any better than I did at the tasting more than a decade ago, but that was a hard act to follow. It's Thanksgiving, and I'm thankful I have several more bottles of 1998 Fortia.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir, 2011

Meiomi is a Wappo Indian word for "shore," and the grapes for this wine come from vineyards along the Pacific coast from three areas--Santa Barbara, Sonoma Coast and Monterey County. According to the winemaker, "the wines are carefully crafted so that (the characteristics of these appellations)...enhance and build on each other for an evocative and memorable Pinot Noir."

The Monterey County part of the cuvee (51%) provides the darker color and fuller body that most drinkers of New World wines expect. At the moment, though, the dark cherry, cinnamon traits of Santa Barbara (23%) seem to dominate the bright wild berry notes of the Sonoma Coast (26%). It's a very enjoyable wine, and I'd like to see how it develops over the next several years.

Meiomi Pinot Noir was highly recommended to me by a couple of wine enthusiasts. When the wine was discounted from $25 to $15 by Meijer Supermarket in Kalamazoo, I decided to give it a try, and I was not disappointed, although I still prefer the Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations.

Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses Ventoux Blanc, 2011

I usually don't buy white Rhones, but I'm beginning to think that's a mistake. The VMV coop does an excellent job of preserving the fresh fruit qualities of this white Ventoux. Beautiful light gold color that shines through the clear glass bottle. Twinkles with lively floral and peach scents and flavors. Very open and expressive and a good match for spinach pasta or vegetarian meals.

Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses Ventoux Rouge, 2009

Some Ventoux wines are getting downright pricey these days, but my favorites are all at the low end. Ventoux is the ultimate every day wine, and I'm not about to pay $15 to $20 for a trophy bottle that gets high Parker points. Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses is made by a cooperative, Vignerons du Mont Ventoux. They proudly engrave their initials--VMV--on the bottle, and they have every right to be proud.

Medium deep crimson. Cherries, pepper, Carignan (20%) spice and herbes de Provence. The peppery, spicy flavors are aggressive enough to add interest, but the wine really has an understated elegance that goes very well with every day meals centered on roasted vegetables. Classic Ventoux

Epicuro Benevantana Aglianico, 2009

This wine is one of my old favorites from Trader Joe's--imported for TJs by Gaetano d'Aquino. You'll be hard pressed to find a better wine for $5.99 anywhere. Very deep, dark color and lush aromas and flavors of dark cherries and blackberries. Velvety mouthfeel, almost like a Napa Cabernet. This is a big wine but has more acidity than your typical New World red. Very smooth and easy to drink even though the wine is full of ripe tannins. I have some older vintages stashed away but this wine gives plenty of pleasure right now. Very deep. Has it all.

BearBoat Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 2008

Here is BearBoat No. 2. It's certainly different, and I think I prefer it over the Russian River. It has more intense wild berry fruit but also undertones of vanilla, cinnamon and other spices. More zing and brightness on both the nose and the palate. Lovely Pinot texture and well defined fruit flavors from front to back. The wild berry intensity takes over on the mid-palate and carries over into the finish.

French oak--25% new, 25% one year old, 25% two years old, and 25% three years old--adds much of the complexity and personality of this wine. But the Russian River is made exactly the same. The difference is the grapes, but I'm not sure I would say the Sonoma Coast appellation is superior in this case. It all depends on what you like. Both are very good, and the $14.99 price is about as low as you can expect for high quality Pinot Noir from anywhere in the world. Meijer Supermarket, in fact, has the Sonoma Coast on sale now for $13.99.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bearboat Pinot Noir: Russian River vs Sonoma Coast

I reported below on my tasting of the 2008 Bearboat Russian River Pinot Noir, which is on sale right now for $14.99 at D&W FreshMarket in Kalamazoo. Across town at World Market, you can buy the 2008 Bearboat Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir for the same price. The label looks the same, the vintage is the same, but they are not the same wine.

Generally, Sonoma Coast is considered the superior appellation for Pinot Noir. It is the area south of the Anderson Valley, near the north Pacific coast--known for its cool, foggy conditions. The Russian River Valley is a bit to the east, farther inland, but also cool climate and highly respected for Pinot Noir.

Bearboat's Sonoma Coast is 100% Pinot but only 25% from the Sonoma Coast, 50% from Russian River and 25% from Carneros (another fine Pinot appellation). Bearboat's Russian River is 75% Pinot and 25% old vine Gamay, all from cool areas of the Russian River Valley.

At 14.99, both wines are excellent values. I was impressed with the Russian River and am eager to try the Sonoma Coast in the weeks ahead. As I've mentioned before, wine is all about real estate.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Paolo Scavino Vino de Tavola Rosso, 2009

Paolo Scavino is a producer of very good, and expensive Barolos which take many years to show their best. Priced at about $15, Scavino's Rosso table wine is made as an every day, drink now wine, a blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and Cabernet Sauvignon from younger vines on the estate.

My first impression is that this is a fruity, straightforward wine. There are the aromas of roses and red cherries that you expect from Nebbiolo plus the elegance of Barbera and Cabernet and the raciness of Dolcetto. I like it. And as I continue drinking, I like it more and more. The aromas and flavors are subtle, persistent and very expressive. This is not a wine for the cellar but much more than a simple every day wine.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2005

I've been drinking and enjoying Domaine Sainte Anne's Cotes du Rhone wines from 1998, 1999 and 2000 and still have a good supply. For a change of pace, I decided to dip into one of the "younger" vintages--2005. For Domaine Sainte-Anne, 2005 is young; for other Cotes du Rhones, of course, it is an "older" vintage.

Deep ruby color. Both the aromas and flavors are less ripe and more complex than the 1998s and 2000s--very nice. Berries, garrigue, spice. Good fruit concentration but elegant on the mid-palate and finish. Tannins are present but not obtrusive; 13% alcohol is just right.

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Blanc, 2008

You won't find this wine in many stores, and that's a shame. If you're anywhere near the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan, your best bet is to go directly to the source--the Boskydel Winery tasting room on Otto Road near Lake Leelanau. If you're lucky, you'll also get a chance to chat with Bernie Rink, 85, who started Boskydel when everyone else was thinking of the Leelanau Peninsula as a place for growing cherries and peaches rather than wine grapes. Today, Leelanau is recognized as a premium, cool-climate vineyard area, and Boskydel remains one of my two or three favorite wineries.

I ordinarily go to Boskydel for the dry Vignoles, but the 2008 vintage sold out before I got there. Bernie sold me on the Soleil Blanc, and I'm glad he did. It tasted a bit muted and anonymous when I tried it in Bernie's rustic shed/tasting room. Two years later, it has started strutting its stuff. Bright and lively color and aromas. Exciting aromas of green apples, citrus, cilantro. Medium body with clean, well defined flavors. A perfect match for green pork stew (made with tomatillos, poblano peppers and cilantro). No one would mistake this wine for a Chardonnay nor even a Sauvignon Blanc. It's a refreshing alternative to these old standards.

At the tasting room, Soleil Blanc sells for a little more than $9 a bottle. But don't buy just a bottle; buy a case and get a 40% (!!!!) discount. And don't worry about having time to drink it before it turns to vinegar. Soleil Blanc will last (and probably get better) for at least a decade after the vintage date. That's the way wine--white or red--should be made, and that's the way it's done at Boskydel.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Domaine de la Janasse, Cotes du Rhone, 2005

This is the last bottle of a case I purchased about five years ago. Deep and dark color. Plummy fruit, dark and more tannic than I remember. But it softens a bit as it warms from its cellar temperature. Not as bright and enjoyable as it was a few years ago but has generally held up well.

I saw the 2009 Janasse CDR yesterday on the shelves at Tiffany's Wine and Spirits in Kalamazoo and was tempted to spring for another case. The price was $18.99, though, considerably higher than the $11.99 I paid for the 2005. Even with the 25% discount now being offered at Tiffany's the Janasse is pricier than my other Southern Rhone favorites, such as Delas Saint Esprit, Perrin Reserve and the VDP wines of Vieux Chene.

Bearboat Russian River Pinot Noir, 2008

I'm becoming intrigued by the Pinot Noir appellations of northern California. The north coast from the village of Mendocino south, along the coast and inland a few miles, is beautiful country and apparently excellent for Pinot Noir--sunny days, cool nights, morning fog, good soil. The best appellations--Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley--are hard to find in Michigan and very expensive when they do show up. I was shocked to see a Russian River Pinot discounted for $14.99 (from $28) at D&W Market.

Medium light Pinot color. Laid back aromas of cherries, berries, light spice and earth. Pure and clean fruit presence--still young. The cherries and berries have a bit of that special quality that comes from wild fruit. Gets better with every sip with a sweet rather than earthy turn on the finish. There is also a hint of smoke. Oh yes, 2008 vintage. Forest fires along the coast. Maybe that's the reason for the discount, but the smoke is not enough to turn me away. I'll go back for more.

Domaine du Vieux Chene Vin de Pays Vaucluse Syrah, 2009

Jean-Claude and Beatrice Bouche at Domaine du Vieux Chene are committed to organic farming and wine-making. So it's no surprise that their wines are always on display at a very good price ($7.49 to $8.99) at Sawall's, my local health food store. There is a Vin de Pays Grenache as well as the VDP Syrah plus a 50/50 blend, Cuvee la Dame Vieille. I love all of them and could drink them every night were there not other wines waiting in the cellar. The Bouches also produce several cuvees of Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages, which are, of course, even better.

This Syrah needs a bit more time. Deep Syrah color and tight, reduced smells and flavors at first. With aeration (the Rabbit works well), it opens up nicely, though. Black fruits, lavender and peppercorns. Very peppery--the Syrah kind, freshly ground black pepper. In Australia, this would be a cool climate Syrah and would rank with some of the best. In the Rhone, that black pepper trait is more common in the warmer Southern Rhone. Firm, even with aeration but still pleasant to drink and will only get better. 13.5% alcohol is just right. So is the price.

Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Basket Pressed Cabernet Merlot, 1994

Bright ruby color and bright fruity presence for an 18-year-old wine. Blackberries, currants, oak and a hint of green herbs. Intensely fruity, as the label suggests, even in its old age. Slightly warm, though; the alcohol is 14%, and it's beginning to show a bit. For a wine purchased for about $10, this wine has held up remarkably well. I don't know what the current vintage would sell for...or even if the wine is still made.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa Navarra Old Vines Garnacha, 2010

I've noticed several wines claiming to be the "best Spanish Grenache for less than $10"; and most of the claims are valid. My candidate is this wine, which admittedly sells for a bit more (I paid $12.99). It has definite old vine qualities that you ordinarily find only in wines selling for much more.

The color is deeper and darker than you might expect from Grenache. That could be a sign that some of the wine was aged in barriques, but I doubt it. Everything else about this wine speaks of traditional winemaking. Powerful old viney aromas--dark cherries, nutmeg, cinnamon, black fruits. A bit gamey but that is part of the package. Falls into a pattern established by the Cairanne and Chateauneuf du Pape described below. Full and meaty on the palate. Steers a little too far toward raisins on the finish, but that doesn't turn me away.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cuvee Prestige, 1998

As Chateauneuf du Pape prices have escalated, I find myself looking more and more toward Cairanne as a source of fine Southern Rhone wines. Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin is my favorite Cairanne, and every time I have tasted this wine alongside a Chateauneuf du Pape I have preferred the wine from the lesser appellation.

Bright crimson./ Gamey old vine quality that reminds me a lot of the Clos Mont Olivet I had two nights ago. But may be even better. Red cherries, cinnamon, Provencal spices. Deep and concentrated, as always. Now some red licorice. Silky smooth on the palate.

The price tag reads $12.99, but the current vintage of the Cuvee Prestige usually sells for $28 to $30. For a wine of this quality, made traditionally from vineyards more than 100 years old, that's still a bargain. The Reserve des Seigneurs bottling, which I buy more frequently today, sells for $18 to $20. Coming from vineyards 50 years of age and older, it is very good but lacks the special qualities of the Cuvee Prestige.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Clos du Mont Olivet Chateauneuf du Pape, 2000

One of the favorite Chateauneufs in my cellar is the 1988 Clos du Mont Olivet. It is a BPC. (before prestige cuvee) wine.  Two years later, with the 1990 vintage, Clos du Mont Olivet started producing Cuvee du Papet, presumably using grapes from the estate's oldest and best vineyards. I'm not a fan of prestige cuvees because they are 1) expensive, 2) usually made in an international style using new oak or barriques and 3)  dilute the quality of the regular, traditionally made bottling.

I haven't tasted the 2000 Cuvee du Papet, but this regular bottling measures up well to what the estate produced prior to 1990. It's deep and dark with a powerful bouquet of cherries, black fruits and Provencal herbs. Somewhat funky but in the best tradition of Chateauneuf du Pape. When the wine was released, Stephen Tanzer of the International Wine Cellar found "little sign of the animal side of Chateauneuf." That is certainly not the case tonight. From the "charming, fruit-driven" style that Tanzer found, I smell and taste a big, traditional Chateauneuf, full of the depth and complexity that derive from old vines and traditional winemaking. There are still some tannins, I think, but they don't block the savory, sea salt nuances.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux, 2006

Ventoux is a modest appellation, and La Vieille Ferme, at $6 to $8, is a wine to buy and drink often. I ordinarily try to drink my bottles within the first year, but if any are left over, as they often are, I don't worry because the wine is also capable of aging for at least five to seven years.

The color is a deep crimson, very bright. Deep cherry/blueberry smells with pepper, spice and garrigue. The bouquet has filled out nicely. Grenache and Syrah have blended together with the supporting cast of Carignan and Cinsault. Cherries and blueberries again on the palate--big and fruit-filled. Ripe mid-palate and finish. Much more expansive than I remember this wine from a few years ago. Could be mistaken for a Cotes du Rhone Villages.

Screw Top versus Cork

No one questions that screw top wine closures are handy, particularly when you're at a picnic and forgot to pack a corkscrew. But many wine drinkers do not take them seriously, and I have heard sommeliers (who should know better) claim that wines in screw top bottles are not serious or capable of aging. Stuart Blackwell, senior winemaker at St. Hallett's Barossa winery, takes exception with this view and is very happy that all of his wines--even the highly regarded Old Block Shiraz--are now protected by screw tops.

Blackwell pointed out that 24 percent of the bottles of his excellent 1991 Old Block Shiraz were tainted by bad corks--a very distressing situation for the winemaker as well as the consumer. Most wine drinkers recognize the damp cardboard smell and off flavors of a badly corked wine, but the signs in many corked wines are not that obvious. Some have a vague woody quality; others merely smell and taste stunted, failing to show their expected aromas and flavors. Reputable merchants and wineries will, of course, replace corked bottles, and the problem was so bad in 1991 that Blackwell had to hold back about a third of his production back in order to provide replacement bottles to his customers. He's still searching for bottles, in fact, and buys back bottles whenever he can find them at auction.

The advantage of the screw top closure, according to Blackwell, is not just to protect the wine from bad cork smells and flavors but to allow the winemaker more control over the finished product. Good wine always involves an interaction with a small amount of oxygen that is in the space between the wine and the cork or fights it way through the cork, Blackwell said. (The matter of air getting through the cork is a controversial matter, by the way.) In a screw top, no air gets through so Blackwell adds more oxygen to each bottle, and the result is a wine that shows better when it's young but is still capable of aging. He's been using screw tops long enough to be confident of the long-term as well as the short-term results.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Shiraz, 2003

Coonawarra is Cabernet country, but the relatively cool climate is also good for Shiraz, particularly from producers like Wynn's and Bowen Estate.

Very deep and dark but sediment is beginning to form. Nice aromas of red fruits, oak and herbs. Also some anise. On the palate, it's just beginning to shed its tannins. Thick and plummy black fruits with a moderately long finish. I don't think you could mistake this for a Syrah from the northern Rhone, but it's a very enjoyable Australian Shiraz.

La Cote Blanche Chardonnay Macon-Villages,2010

If you like unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay, as I do, this is an excellent inexpensive choice. Pears, vanilla cream and lemon twist aromas and a creamy texture on the palate. Has probably rested on its lees for awhile to give it that creamy mouthfeel. Very fresh and light with lots of flavor. This Macon-Villages stacks up well against the 2009 Duboeuf I reported on last week.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Barossa Gets a Bad Rap

Among American wine enthusiasts, Australia's Barossa Valley, near Adelaide, often gets stereotyped as a warm to hot climate area incapable of producing anything but anonymous jammy, high alcohol wines. There is, of course, no shortage of such wines on the market, many of them produced specifically for the American market and never sold in Australia. In most cases, these wines carry a broad appellation such as "southeastern Australia" and come from inferior, high-yielding vineyards.

In fact, some of Australia's very best Shiraz wines--Henschke's Mount Edelstone and Hill of Grade and Penfold's Grange Hermitage come from Barossa vineyards. And respected wineries such as St. Hallett's, Peter Lehmann and Wolf Blass are all located there.

Yes, Barossa has warm to hot weather but within the broad appellation are diverse micro-climates that include several cooler areas on sloping hillsides or the southern part of the valley. And the whole area is very dry--a plus for good winemaking. Barossa is also the site of some of Australia's oldest vines, planted in the 1840s by German immigrants from the Prussian province of Silesia.

Stuart Blackwell, chief winemaker at St. Hallett's, talks lovingly of the gnarled, treelike vines that go into his Shiraz wines. At the low end is the St. Hallett's Faith Shiraz from vines up to 50 years of age. The Faith Shiraz I tasted at the Oakwood Bistro was red fruited and lively--a trait many would associate with cooler climate Shiraz. Blackwell says this is a trait of the "younger vines"--up to 50 years of age and with yields under 4 tons an acre.

St. Hallett's Blackwell Shiraz comes from vineyards up to 80 years of age with yields of 1 to 1.5 tons per acre. This mid-level wine gets more new oak treatment (American oak) but also has a different personality--black rather than red raspberry plus intense layers of licorice, anise, mocha and spice. Some of this derives from the new oak but much comes from the soil--the old vines that dig deeper into the soil for sustenance.

St. Hallett's Old Block Shiraz is the top of the line, coming from vineyards up to 120 years of age and yields of less than a ton an acre. It was not offered at this tasting, but winemaker's notes include descriptors such as nutmeg, cinnamon, menthol, dark chocolate, cherry, plum and eucalyptus--some undoubtedly derived from the French oak in which it is matured but also traits of the even older vines. The excellent 1991 Old Block sometimes shows up at auction, Blackwell says, and he buys all he can get to replenish his stocks at the winery. Other top vintages include 2002 and 2004, and, if you happen to find or own any, you should not be in any hurry to drink them.

Tasting St. Hallett's Barossa Valley Wines

Stuart Blackwell, senior winemaker at St. Hallett's Barossa Valley winery, came to Kalamazoo last night to present his wines at a wine dinner at the Oakwood Bistro. We enjoyed an excellent five-course meal prepared especially to match up with the wines of this high-quality Barossa Valley estate.

I was fortunate to get a seat right across the table from Blackwell, delighting in his stories, good humor and  broad knowledge of Australian wines and vineyards. Americans are accustomed to the cheap commercial Australian wines (such as Yellowtail) made specifically (and somewhat cynically) for the American public. To counter this image, Blackwell and St. Hallett would like to establish a reputation for high quality Shiraz and other wines. They fit the pattern precisely of what I consider "artisan wines"--wines carefully made to express their origin and the varietal traits of the grape.

The 2009 Poacher's Blend Barossa White (Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling) is what Blackwell calls "26 fluid ounces of fun"; it offers up zesty lime and tropical fruit smells and flavors. The Semillon/Sauvignon blend is typical of white Bordeaux. Riesling adds structure and mouth feel. At about $10 a bottle, it is a good choice for frequent drinking.

The 2009 Gamekeeper's Shiraz, Grenache, Touriga was perhaps my favorite of the evening, even though it too can be purchased for about $10 a bottle. For this wine, Blackwell blends well chosen old vine Grenache and Shiraz  grapes with Touriga, a grape ordinarily used in making fortified Port or Portuguese dry wines. It's a fortunate combination, with the Touriga adding what Blackwell describes as a rose petal quality. The Grenache and Syrah grapes sit on their lees for two months, picking up unique and unexpected aromas and flavors. It's a deep crimson color with wonderful spicy, gamey notes. Blackwell delights in telling of the critic who told him "the oak in this wine is really subtle." "Yes, it is really subtle," he answered. "No oak at all." Stuart is also fond of this wine, speaking of its versatility. "It's great with duck but also with pork--anything smokey. And it's a ridiculous price for a wine of this quality." I agree wholeheartedly and plan to add some to my own cellar.

Shiraz, though, is what St. Hallett's is building its reputation around, and Stuart Blackwell knows how to select and use grapes from the best of Barossa's vineyards. Many of these vines--gnarled and tree-like--were planted by German immigrants to Australia around 1840. The oldest and best--some up to 140 years old--go into St. Hallett's Old Block, which is not made in large enough quantity to be presented at a tasting such as this one. I have had it before and agree with Stuart that it belongs in the top ranks of Australian Shiraz.

The 2009 Faith Shiraz is at the low end of the price range, at about $20 a bottle. It comes from vineyards up to 50 years of age, and, as Blackwell explained, it has more of a red fruit quality--red raspberries, cherries, red fruit and spices. He vinifies it as an accessible fruit driven wine. Some new oak is used but it's not at all obtrusive. Much of the wine is aged in seasoned French and American oak--one, two and three years of age. I enjoyed this wine a great deal.

The 2008 Blackwell Shiraz, sourced from vineyards up to 80 years old and with lower yields than the Faith, is aged in American oak, and this is quite apparent on the nose at this point. From vines older than 50 years, Blackwell pointed out, "you get more black fruit qualities" as well as mineral qualities from deep within the soil. Black raspberries and blackberries plus licorice and vanilla. Although the wine is still very young and tannic, it has a soft feel on the palate. For this dinner it was served with a coffee and cocoa rubbed ribeye loin steak--a perfect match. But it's also lush enough to enjoy on its own.

For dessert, we had a dense chocolate torte served with the 2008 Gamekeeper's Shiraz Cabernet. Both were very good, but I'm not a fan of this kind of dry red wine/chocolate dessert combination. Shiraz Cabernet is a unique combination that admittedly has dark chocolate traits. This young Shiraz Cabernet is still tannic, however, and it tasted even more bitter when tasted against the chocolate torte.

If you're a fan of Shiraz/Cabernet wines, you might want to pick up a few bottles of the St. Hallett's right now at a good price. Only four cases were brought into Michigan, and St. Hallett's doesn't plan to bring any more in. At this time, Stuart Blackwell wants to focus sharply on St. Hallett's as a premium maker of excellent Shiraz wines, all produced from well selected old, low-yielding vineyards.

Domaine de Font-Sane Gigondas, 1999

This 1999 Gigondas was tightly closed and not overly enjoyable when I last tasted it about five years ago. Tonight, it is showing everything I like in a Gigondas.

The color has turned a bit but that's the only sign of the wine's age. Big, powerful bouquet--very Gigondas. Dark cherries and berries, cloves, garrigue and black pepper. A meaty, large-framed beauty. I can detect the 14% alcohol on the finish, but it seems appropriate for this wine--alcoholic warmth to counter the cool clove/mint quality. This is showing much better than any of the 1998 Font-Sanes I have tasted. Good to go right now, but I don't expect it to fade anytime soon.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Georges Duboeuf Macon-Villages Chardonnay, 2009

I frequently buy this several bottles of this wine every vintage because it's usually reliable and one of the least expensive Macon Villages wines. I can't remember any, though, better than this 2009.

It's a light gold color, bright and lively. I smell white flowers, green apples and citrus--all the lovely smells of a good unoaked Chardonnay. Same on the palate. Fresh and bursting with life. Hint of almonds on the finish. A very enjoyable wine that is readily available in most markets for under $10.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Matthieu de Brully Bourgogne Pinot Noir, 2005

I've heard it said that if you drink wine long enough, you'll eventually become a fan of Pinot Noir. I don't know about that. After starting with a love for Cabernet and Syrah; I've been hooked on Grenache and Mourvedre based wines from the Southern Rhone for nearly 20 years. Over the past year or two, though, particularly after a trip last Spring to the Anderson Valley of northern California, I have become more and more appreciative of what good Pinot has to offer. Matthieu de Brully's Bourgogne is from an inexpensive, low-end appellation, but 2005 is a particularly good vintage for red Burgundy. A bit acidic and tight when it was young, the wine has matured nicely.

Medium light ruby./ Sweet scents of berries and flowers. The aromas don't jump out at you; you have to pay careful attention, but that is what Pinot Noir is about. Light, lovely perfume. Now some hints of spice and earth. Gets better and better./ On the palate, there is still plenty of acidity and some dry tannins but with  swirling the fruit emerges. You have to love Pinot Noir to get your love returned. Subtle but fine. Spice and pepper on the finish with a touch of spice.

Admittedly, there are many bad Pinot Noirs on the market. It's all about the clones, where the grapes are grown and how the wine is made. And, for many red Burgundies, even those at the low end, it's important not to rush. The maturity is all.

Bodegas Luzon Jumilla, 2009

I am a fan of the wines of this bodega, and even though the Luzon prices have moved up a couple of dollars a bottle, they are still tremendous bargains. I have previously given enthusiastic reports of Luzon Verde, an organically grown Monastrell. This black label Luzon is apparently not organic, and it's a blend of Monastrell and Syrah.

Deep violet color./ I also get a strong whiff of violets on the nose. That's the Monastrell (Mourvedre) speaking. There are also aromas of black licorice, herbs and spices. Very spicy in fact and almost a green  element that is not so much to my liking. This is a big, rustic wine with some of the traits of a Vacqueyras from the Southern Rhone. Blackberries, black licorice, herbs and spices. Lacks the delicacy and subtlety of the Verde, but still very good and an excellent value at $8.99.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Soleil Blanc, 2008

When I tasted and purchased this wine at Boskydel two years ago, Bernie Rink (winemaker/owner) told me to give it at least a year. He was rught. When I tried the 2008 Soleil Blanc a year ago, it had improved significantly. A year later, it is really beginning to sing.

Aromas and flavors are deepening. Pears, flowers, minerals--lots of subtle things going on. Has the freshness and brightness of a Sauvignon Blanc but greater depth. Lively, long finish. This wine is good to go now, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops over the next several years.

Boskydel wines are not very easy to find outside of the Leelanau/Traverse City area. If you're in the area, it's best to go directly to the winery. The experience of tasting with Bernie is worth the trip. But don't go away with just a couple of bottles, as most tourists do. You'll pay $8 or $9 for one bottle but only $65 or $70 for a full case that will allow you to follow a wine that is made the way wine is supposed to be made--to drink now and over the next six or eight years, appreciating the changes that take place as the wine grows.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2000

The label reads "Cotes du Rhone" and the price tag says $7.99. But what's inside the bottle is serious wine. The color is a deep, dark ruby; hasn't changed much in a decade. As for the smells and tastes, the changes are all for the better. Has lost some of its simple blueberries and cream fruitiness; spicy complexity is emerging. Very compact fruit smells--dark cherries, lavender and flowers. On the palate, there is the dryness of a good Barolo in middle age--not drying fruit but the sign of substantial tannins just beginning to show. They are fruit, rather than wood, tannins, though, and they are very ripe. The wine has been forward and beautiful to drink from day one, but after more than a decade in the bottle, it is showing the nuances that maturity can bring.

Because it's a Cotes du Rhone (the price has gone up to $10 to $12 a bottle as buyers recognize the quality), this wine gets consumed way too early in my opinion. It's really a CDR Villages wine and more ageworthy than most Vacqueyras or Rasteau wines.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Best's Great Western Bin 0 Shiraz, 1994

Australians know Great Western as a highly respected wine region near the Grampians in western Victoria. And Best's is one of the oldest and best estates there. While Best's finest Shiraz grapes, some from vineyards more than 100 years old, go into the Thomson Family Vineyard bottling, Bin 0 is only a step or two lower in quality, coming from well-sited vineyards planted mostly in the mid-1960s.

The color is dark and deep, but with a mature burnished tone. The first sniff, even before it's poured, is beautiful--red and black raspberries and oak, high toned and fragrant. Also blue plums, cassis and rosemary. The French oak background seems more prominent to me than it did with the last bottle in November, 2009. But it is very well integrated into the fruit. This wine is kept lively by a strong backbone of acid. The fruit is there, but the acid keeps it lively and intense. Plush, plummy flavors keep coming on the lush mid-palate and finish. Has the rich mouth feel of Australian Shiraz but with the acid structure of a French Hermitage. For my taste, this belongs in the top rank of Australian wines.

Best's apparently has no American importer. I bought this wine at auction in the late 1990s.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This is one of my favorite Cotes du Rhone wines at this time, and, for my taste, the 2007 is drinking a bit better than the 2009 right now. That is likely to change over the next six months or so as the wines age..

Deep, dark, bluish--Syrah-like. Unlike your typical Cotes du Rhone, Delas Saint Esprit is strongly oriented toward Syrah (80% Syrah, 20% Grenache). The smells are deep and appealing--dark cherries, blue plums,  cassis. Reminds me of a good Crozes-Hermitage. Spices come through slowly--lavender, rosemary. Now I get the red cherry, floral qualities of a Cairanne from the Southern Rhone. Ripe fruit on the mid-palate and finish but also good acidity to keep it fresh.

The vintage on the shelves at the moment is the 2009; 2010 will follow soon. It sells for $10 to $12 at D&W and at Cost Plus World Market.

Tresor de la Riviere Cotes du Rhone, 2010

As Cotes du Rhone wines have inched up in price, more and more of the low priced offerings that reach the market seem to come from cooperatives. That's not necessarily a bad thing since many of the Southern Rhone coops produce very good wines. Tresor de la Riviere, available for $8 to $10 at D&W Fresh Market and Sawall Health Foods in Kalamazoo, comes from the Vignerons Suze la Rousse. Its rustic, spicy personality derives in part from a fairly high percentage of Carignan in the blend.

Interesting spicy smells. Also dark cherries and black fruits. At this stage, the spicy Carignan seems to take center stage away from the Grenache and Syrah. Not much pepper nor red berries to be found. Seems a bit old fashioned in its approach, but that may be a stage it's going through. On the second night, it's much smoother on the palate, offering up ripe fruit flavors.

Joseph Mellot Destinea Sauvignon Blanc, 2008

Joseph Mellot is one of my favorite producers of Sancerre. This wine, though, is a Vin de Pays from less respected vineyards in the Val de Loire.

I find a lot more subtlety than I expected. Mint, melon, lemon peel and gooseberry--a softer, less shrill side of Sauvignon Blanc. It's fresh and lively, though, with good acidity. My biggest surprise comes when the wine sits in the glass for 15 to 20 minutes and gets closer to room temperature. This is ordinarily enough to make a cheap white wine show its true colors. But Destinea shows quality! The wine just keeps getting better and better. This is not Sancerre, but for $9.99, it's very good Loire Valley Sauvignon.

Londer Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2008

The summer of 2008 brought brush fires in northern California, and Anderson Valley winemakers were distressed to learn that smoke had permeated the grape skins and tainted the aromas and flavors of their  Pinot Noir wines. Some wineries were more affected than others, but Londer Vineyards' owners and winemakers were particularly unhappy about the smoke taint in their wines--unhappy enough to sell the wines at deep discount. And that decision has made me very happy.

The second bottle of a case I bought from Russo and Sons in Grand Rapids seems to have less of the smokey quality than the first bottle. Or maybe I have just gotten used to it. I smell pomegranates, cherries, dark plums, flowers, anise...and smoke. Smoke is still there, but it doesn't hide the charm of a high-quality Pinot Noir. The mouthfeel is special--velvety yet firm. Classic Pinot. Great balance of fruit and acidity. Dark cherry flavors open up on the mid-palate and carry through into a long, complex finish. Unless you're looking for it, the smoke becomes a minor issue.

For a $40 wine discounted to $5.99, I can take a little smoke. And because the sellers were honest about the problem, I am anxious to try Londer Pinot Noir in another vintage...without smoke.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bodegas Rafael Palacios "Sabrego" Valdeorras Godello, 2010

Go for Godello. You won't be disappointed. I must admit that I had never tasted a Godello wine until a year or two ago, but I am now convinced it is a premium white wine grape of the highest order. Over the past year, I've written posts about Val de Sil and As Sortes--other Godello wines from the Valdeorras region of Spain. They are both very fine wines, but this Sabrego may trump both.

It's a beautiful, brilliant gold color and very aromatic: white peaches, pears, minerals and flowers. Rich and creamy on the palate; nice texture. The finish is very ripe and very long but with a pleasing citrus edge. Has the complexity and zing of a fine white Burgundy but with the freshness and fruit presence that come from stainless steel aging.

Godello is a traditional varietal of Valdeorras in Galicia in northwest Spain. Many of the old Godello vineyards are now being re-claimed by producers such as Rafael Palacios, sometimes with the help of savvy importers such as Eric Solomon. The vineyards for Sabrego are at 1,800 to 2,160 feet on granite soils. (Sabrego is the local name for granite).

Sabrego Valdeorras Godello ordinarily sells for $17 to $18, but I found this bottle for less than $15 at Cost Plus World Market. It's declicious now and will only get better with a few years in the bottle. Even at $18, it's a smashing value.

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs, 2008

This is not a good vintage for Oratoire Saint Martin, but it's still a very attractive wine. And the retail price was lowered from $20 to about $15 a bottle. So who's to complain?

This bottle is a bit slow to open. I get some green, stemmy scents at first. Yes, that's the vintage. But the quality fruit quickly starts to dominate: peppery, spicy black fruit (blue plums?). Now, finally, the red cherry traits that are the hallmark of a good Cairanne. Good concentration on the mid-palate. And the finish has enough interest to keep me coming back for sip after sip.

Tenute Folonari Toscana Santa Martina Rosso, 2009

An Italian restaurant that produces a good marinara sauce ranks high on my list, and the marinara on the Pescatore Linguine I had last week at Lucrezia Cafe in Chesterton, IN was one of the best I've ever had. So it should come as no surprise that this little restaurant just off I-94 between Chicago and Kalamazoo has an excellent wine list as well as an innovative, ever-changing menu.

You'd hardly call Toscana Santa Martina Rosso a "super Tuscan" since it sells for about $10 a bottle. But, with 40% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet and 20% Syrah, it varies from the traditional, prescribed Tuscan blend and, as a result, can't be labeled "Chianti." "It's earthier than Chianti," the waiter told me, and I agree. It's also more complex and enjoyable than most Chiantis of the same price range. It reminds me of a good Cotes du Rhone Villages (such as a Rasteau), which is usually my choice for drinking with a good marinara sauce.

Dark color, almost impenetrable; has probably spent some time in new oak but the smells and flavors are all centered around the strong fruit. Pepper, red and black fruits, an appropriate degree of earthiness. Full bodied feel that is just perfect for the rich, rich, wonderful marinara sauce. I'll look for this wine on the retail shelves. The marinara sauce? I'll just have to come back to Lucrezia Cafe.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Domaine du Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2005

This, I believe, is my final bottle of a case of the 2005 Grand Prieur. In the past, I've always consumed the wine during the first year or two, but this 2005 has held up well with the extra cellar time. The color is deeper and darker than the Londer Pinot Noir (not unexpected due to the Syrah in the blend), and the wine is pleasantly fragrant--berries, plums, cherries and only a hint of smoke. (In this case, the smoke probably derives from barrel aging and not from forest fires). Flavors are beautiful as they download on the palate--ripe strawberries and red licorice, followed by a hint of pepper and spice. I wouldn't push this wine any longer, but it's drinking quite well tonight for a mature Cotes du Rhone.

Londer Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2008

The Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, California is gaining a reputation for producing some of the West Coast's finest Pinot Noir wines, even better than those of Oregon, some say. Unfortunately, though, prices have not been lagging, and most Anderson Valley Pinots sell for $40 to $60 a bottle (besides being hard to find in the Midwest). I was overjoyed when I found this 2008 Londer Vineyards Pinot on sale for $5.99 at G.B. Russo & Son in Grand Rapids. Dave Russo was straightforward in his explanation of the lower price. Bush fires had raged through the area early in the summer of 2008, and winemakers were dismayed to find that the smoke had affected the grapes from that vintage. Some vineyards were more affected than others, but Londer admitted struggling to produce the high quality wine that was expected from the estate. Heavy filtering removed the smoke qualities but also much of what attracts wine lovers to Londer Pinot Noir. Dr. Londer, a retired San Francisco ophthalmologist, wisely refused to take that road. The price for the 2008 has been dropped repeatedly, but now apparently it's time to sell off what's left at a loss and move on. As Dave Russo put it, if you like the smell and taste of smoked salmon and don't want to spend lots of money, this wine is for you. And I bought.

The wine is a good deep ruby color. Smoke is apparent from the first sniff, and it sort of takes over the finish, but neither Donna nor I find it unpleasant. On the first night, it's virtually impossible to find any other descriptors; smoke, smoke and smoke. But there is good concentration with excellent acid/fruit balance. Except for the one-dimensional smoke, this wine has all the markings of a fine $50 Pinot Noir. In other words, the quality shows, and I like this wine far better than any other $5.99 Pinot Noir I could buy (such as Pinot Evil, which is overly sweet, and the 2009 Echelon, which is one dimensional without the smoke).

On the second night, the smoke is less dominant, and I pick up some of the fruit and floral aromas and flavors. This might suggest that the smoke will fade with aging, but nothing I have read indicates that this could be true. Winemakers believe that this kind of trait, like brett, only gets more dominant with each passing year. I will be drinking my case of Londer 2008 over the next year or so...and enjoying it for what it is.

Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone, 2009

I have found the Perrin family to be one of the most consistent producers of Southern Rhone wines. From the inexpensive La Vieille Ferme Ventoux ($6 to $8) to the top-of=line Chateau Beaucastel Chateuneuf du Pape ($60 to $80), Perrin wines always rank near the top in quality and, of course, flavor. Pierre Perrin knows how to find great overlooked vineyards (there are actually many of these in the Southern Rhone). The wines that result are always full of bold fruit-oriented flavors and aromas, true to their origins and traditions. What's even better is that the price is always relatively low. I paid only $7.99 for this at Cost Plus World Market. Bravo! and thank you, Perrin family.

Just as its 2007 sibling was at this stage, the 2009 Cotes du Rhone is bursting with pepper, spice and lively fruit--cherries and red raspberries. It has the aggressive  peppery qualities that I love in a good Cotes du Rhone. There is excellent fruit concentration on the mid-palate followed by an elegant finish. I barely notice the tannins, although they are obviously substantial. The wine is beautiful to drink now, but I suspect it will get even better over the next year or two.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Pinot Noir, 2009

Tasted alongside the Jean Descombes Morgon, the nine-year age difference is apparent. But, if I tasted the wines blind, I would probable guess they were made from the same grape, Pinot Noir. The Coppola wine is much, much lighter in color; it looks and smells delicate, maybe even thin and washed out. But not so! Intense aromas--spice box, wild cherries, flowers. Lots going on here. On the palate, the wine has all of the above plus more. Dry on the palate with a ripe, cinnamon-tinged finish. Also some cocoa and crushed flowers. For $10 to $12 and a simple California appellation, this Pinot is quite nice (but the Jean Descombes Morgon is still the superior wine).

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2000

It's tomato season in Michigan, and I'm reveling in the flavors of the fresh heiloom tomatoes we picked up at the Eastern Market in Detroit. And for tomato-based dishes, cooked or raw, there are few wines better than Beaujolais. For my taste, Nouveau is too one dimensional and sharp, and most Beaujolais Villages are just a shade better. My favorite cru Beaujolais, and one of the most ageworthy of the appellation, is this Morgon from Jean Descombes. As an accompaniment to a tomato/Swiss Chard/gruyere cheese casserole we enjoyed this week, this 2002 Jean Descombes was perfect.

The color is a medium deep ruby, still bright and lively. Beautiful bouquet that just keeps getting better--reminds me of fine Pinot Noir. Strong cherry/berry fruit touched with spice. Oh, yes, this wine is heavenly on the palate. Velvety texture, ripe fruit flavors, depth and complexity. Mature but not showing any negative signs of age at all. Mmmmm, one of my favorite vintages of an old favorite.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Castano Yecla Monastrell, 2010

As I've said before, you don't have to spend a lot of money to drink good wine every night. Widely available for $6 to $8 a bottle, this 100% Monastrell from the Yecla region of southeastern Spain is a prime example of what I consider artisan wine on a budget. Although some modern technology has undoubtedly been introduced in the winemaking, Castano Monastrell is made from grapes that are grown on moutain-side vineyards and vinified according to traditional practices. The Castano family has been making wine for three generations.

Monastrell is the Spanish name for Mourvedre, an important grape for many fine wines of southern France, including those of Bandol and the southern Rhone. While Mourvedre sometimes requires aging or blending with Grenache to show its best, Castano already offers many of the most appealing qualities of one of my favorite wine grapes.

The color is a bright red with purple tones; it looks and feels lush and expensive. The aromas feature wild raspberries and blueberries with violets and spice. There is a beautiful peppery element on the mid-palate and the tannins are ripe and lovely. This is the kind of wine I could drink happily every night. And with all the good selections available from Spain and southern France, I usually do.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Domaine de Font-Sane Vieilles Vignes Ventoux, 2009

There are so many fine Ventoux wines on the market that I have a hard time keeping up with them. Font-Sane's Vieilles Vignes is a long-term favorite that has been crowded out in recent vintages by other wines (such as Altitude 500 and Cuvee les 3 Messes Basses) that have become available in my market at good prices. While Veronique Peysson-Cunty always makes an excellent Ventoux, big and fruity, the tannins are sometimes a bit cranky at certain stages of the wine's development. The wine is made from 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah grapes picked by hand, cultivated by traditional methods and aged in cement tanks.

This bottle needs a little air to start showing its best. Dark cherries, cassis and Provencal herbs. Old vine depth is apparent in the aromas, but there are some rough edges on the palate at this stage. Although the label recommends drinking within one to three years, I think I'll like this 2009 better in another years or so.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 1999

I've raved on many times about the ageworthy qualities of Domaine Sainte Anne. And here is another example.

The color is a deep youthful crimson, and only the sediment on one side of the bottle betrays its age. From the first sniff, there is a great fruit presence--crushed red raspberries on a background of Provencal herbs. Beautiful. Summer pudding richness on the palate. Great depth for a fruit-oriented wine. Typical of the estate, it's never showed much tannin but always good size and strength.

Domaine Daulny Sancerre, 2007

Everyone agrees that Sauvignon Blanc is for early drinking, but I have a hard time following that philosophy with a good Sancerre like Domaine Daulny. I'm always hanging on to a few bottles for a special occasion and then finding that I have too many older vintages waiting to be drunk. This wine may have been better two or three years ago, but it also has some pleasant qualities I might otherwise have missed.

The color is an overly deep gold, but the smells are fresh enough--grapefruit, gooseberries and melon. Lacks the sharp definition and briskness of a young Sancerre but there is nothing stale or offputting. It's medium bodied with an intriguing texture and mouth feel that gets better with every sip. Domaine Daulny's personality begins to shine on the finish. Even on the second and third nights, this wine still has plenty to offer.

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2009

The Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone is still my favorite of the 2007 vintage. This is my first look at the 2009, another very good vintage. As with the 2007, it is made from a relatively high percentage (70%) of Syrah, and most of the grapes come from the vicinity of Cairanne, one of my favorite Cotes do Rhone Villages.

Deep purplish color. The aroma profile is a big step up from Castillo de Monseran--blueberries, cassis, currants and flowers. I'm a big lover of Grenache, but Syrah is what makes this wine special. It's medium bodied and rather large in structure but certainly accessible for current drinking. Has a broad plummy finish. At this stage, I don't think the 2009 has as much depth or complexity as my last bottle of the 2007 showed. But it gets better with air, and I suspect it may eventually surpass the excellent 2007.

Boskydel Vineyards Leelanau Peninsula Vignoles, 2009

This is another look at an old favorite: Bernie Rink's dry Vignoles from the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan. It's probably not quite as brisk or enjoyable as the previous bottle, but Vignoles is a keeper, and I'm confident this wine's best years are ahead of it. Vignoles grapefruit and apples, brisk but with a full Chardonnay-like body. Needs some coaxing but has a full range of smells and flavors.

Castillo de Monseran Carinena Garnacha, 2010

In many ways, this wine is a good match for the El Chaparral Garnacha described below. According to the label, the vineyards are located in cooler regions of the mountains of Aragon.

Castillo de Monseran is very fruit forward with ripe dark cherries, strawberries and a hint of flowers and spice. It's probably as enjoyable right now as El Chaparral, but it's not nearly as deep or concentrated in its flavors. It's even less expensive, though: $6.99 for Explorer Club members at World Market. There are a number of good, inexpensive Spanish Garnachas on the market right now, but Castillo de Monseran ranks high on my list.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa Navarra Old Vines Garnacha, 2010

I became intrigued by this wine after reading the excellent article, "A Chef and a Winemakekr's Basque Feast," by Robert V. Camuto in the July, 2012 issue of Food and Wine. New York city chef Alex Raij loves this wine so much that she drinks a glass almost every day. When El Chaparral's winemaker, Concha Vecino, came to New York for a wine dinner, Alex sat beside her, and the two women formed a close mother/daughter type bond, with Alex traveling with her family to Spain so the two could cook together and share culinary and wine knowledge. As Alex put it, "we like the same things. Things that are natural--not made up or too sophisticated."

"Intrigued" is actually too soft a word to describe my interest. I became obsessed by the wine, as Alex did. I had to have it! After visiting every wine outlet in my home town of Kalamazoo and striking out, I finally located and purchased six bottles of El Chaparral from my old standby, Village Corner in Ann Arbor. Tonight is my first experience with "Chappy" (as Alex refers to the wine).

The color is fairly deep for a Grenache wine. As the article explains, the fruit comes from some of the estate's oldest vines--most 60 years of age and over--and Concha has worked hard to preserve these vines against those seeking higher yields and profits. She has also insisted on making the wine n a traditional manner, and one sniff is all I need to thank Concha profusely for her efforts. Haunting scents of cherries and spice, deep and concentrated. The smell of nutmeg is powerful--something I haven't experienced before in a Grenache but very much in keeping with the wine's unique personality. On the palate, the concentration and power of the old vines becomes even more apparent. Deep, deep cherries and spice along with red raspberries and black currants. While the wine is very accessible (actually "irresistible" is a better word) right now, it has the stuffing to go and grow for many years. If this were a $50 bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, I would not be disappointed.

For less than $15 a bottle, El Chaparral is a special occasion as well as an every day delight. In my view, this is what artisan wine is all about. I want more! And I want to eat in Alex's Manhattan restaurant, Txikito!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Marchesi di Montecristo Nerello del Bastardo, 2002

Although Nebbiolo does not appear anywhere on the label, this wine clearly offers up a huge dose of it. Like the Lange Nebbiolos from Bergadano and Vietti, Bastardo apparently comes from excess grapes from Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards blended with a "secret ingredient," according to the label. I'm not sure what this secret ingredient is (Sangiovese? Cabernet?), but the Nebbiolo traits are front and center--cherries, roses, cinnamon and spice. Red fruits dominate the nose but there are darker notes, maybe some licorice, on the palate. As with any Nebbiolo, there is a rare combination of dry, chewy tannins and racy acidity. At 10 years of age, this wine shows no signs of fading.

Nerello del Bastardo is a Trader Joe's special, purchased several years ago for $5.99. The current vintage is now selling for about $10 and may or may not contain as much high-quality Nebbiolo produce. But this 2002 (like 1999 and 2000 before it) ranks high on my list of good values. If tasted blind against the $25 Vietti and the $12 Bergadano (I haven't tried that yet), I suspect that Bastardo could be my favorite.

Burnet Ridge Pinot Noir, 2007

I believe in drinking local wines whenever possible, but local Pinot Noir from a winery in northeast Cincinnati may be pushing the issue. I took the chance because Wildlflower Cafe in Mason, Ohio is a locovore place, and I trust these people to come up with good wines to match up with their excellent food.

Actually, I found out, the locovore angle is in name only. Burnet Ridge is a small garagist winery in Cincinnati, but the Pinot grapes were brought in from the Forchini Vineyard in California's Russian River Valley. Winemaker Chip Emmerich claims on the label that these were best Pinot grapes he ever had to work with. And I agree that the product is worthy of high marks whatever the appellation. It's not typical though: the wine is dark in color and in aromas and flavors--more like a Syrah than a Pinot, in some ways. Dark cherries, cedar, dark spices, skin tannins--very concentrated. I smell some vanilla from new oak and the dark color probably reflects use of barriques. Otherwise, everything derives from strong fruit with lots of flavor interest. Piques my interest in wines not only from Burnet Ridge but from Forchini Vineyards.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Powers Columbia Valley (Washington) Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008

When ordering a glass of wine in a restaurant, I rarely choose a Cabernet and am nearly always disappointed when I do. This Powers Cabernet from Washington's Columbia Valley, however, seemed like the ideal wine to go with the Wagyu Beef Sirloin steak I ordered at Every Day People Cafe in Douglas, MI. The steak was good, and so was the wine.

From the first sniff, I get a unique herbal note (taragon?) that's worth exploring. The wine has far more depth and complexity than the house Cabernet beside it. It's medium bodied with tart cherry/red fruit acidity. Not as much black currant as the house Cabernet but a far more intriguing flavor profile. It's perfect with the chargrilled beef, but it would also drink well on its own.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bergadano Langhe Nebbiolo, 2008

There is nothing quite like wines made from the Nebbiolo grape--Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Spanna. In the early 1980s when I was first getting interested in wine, affordable Nebbiolo wines were readily available in my market. Today, they are still around, but, at $20 to $40 a bottle, a bit outside my comfort level. This Langhe Nebbiolo purchased at Binny's in Chicago for $11.99, is a welcome exception.

Bergadano has the deep, dark and lovely qualities that define Nebbiolo. Cherries, dried and fresh, plus black licorice and red roses. Sniff it again and again and you'll find something new each time. Aromas and flavors that seem to get bolder and brighter every minute. Chewy tannins but a racy acidity that will keep the wine going and growing for years to come. Bergadano seems to me to be a traditionally made Nebbiolo with very little, if any, new oak influence. In that sense, it differs from the Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo that I had recently at Rustica Cafe in Kalamazoo. It's a bit rougher on the finish than the Vietti but probably more authentic and certainly no less enjoyable.

SeaGlass Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, 2010

If this is what Santa Barbara Pinot Noir is all about, I'm ready to hop on the Sideways bandwagon. It's not as complex as red Burgundy or Anderson Valley Pinot, nor as flamboyant as its Oregon cousins. But the Pinot qualities are unmistakable.

The fruit is very bright--ripe cherries plus Pinot spice and pepper. Has that haunting wild berry quality that makes Pinot Noir unique. More peppery than your typical Pinot Noir, but I like this trait. Very ripe, very clean on the palate. Invites another glass. It's difficult to find Pinot Noir this good for under $15. At $10.99 (D&W Markets in Kalamazoo), it's a very good buy.

SeaGlass Santa Barbara County Chardonnay, 2010

SeaGlass is a secondary label for Trinchero Family Vineyards that has shown up recently at discounted prices in southwest Michigan. Thinking of the movie, Sideways, which was filmed there, I was curious to see what Santa Barbara County has to offer as an appellation for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

The color is a very deep lemon yellow. On the nose and palate, I get pineapple, white peaches and a well defined lemon peel acidity. There are some signs of new oak in the slight bitterness on the mid-palate, but generally this wine has the flavors of an unoaked Chardonnay from New Zealand. Good fruit intensity on the finish. At $10.99, this wine is a good value.

Cooralook Heathcote Shiraz, 2008

The late Trevor Mast, who knew a good Shiraz when he tasted one, had a great respect for Heathcote Shiraz. Aside from his own excellent vineyards at Mount Langi Ghiran, Trevor thought of Heathcote as one of the best sources for top quality Australian Shiraz. Following Trevor's advice, I am constantly on the lookout for Heathcote Shiraz, but, unfortunately, other wine lovers have already discovered Heathcote Shiraz and raised the bidding beyond my comfort level. When I saw this offering from Cooralook on the shelf at Bacchus in Kalamazoo, the $17 price tag looked like a screaming bargain. The proof is in the tasting, of course.

Deep and dark, as you might expect from a young Shiraz./ Very fruit forward style; this is apparently an emerging trend that is not always wholeheartedly welcomed by more traditionally oriented Australian wine drinkers. Black raspberries, blue plums, cassis and spice. Very few, if any, oak tannins in sight. 14.5% alcohol works well with this style. Full bodied and rich with crushed boysenberry fruit on the palate. Not a French Syrah, but not really an Aussie Shiraz either. Delightful right now but in a style similar to that of a current vintage of Jean Descombes Morgon, a cru Beaujolais. Jean Descombes ages beautifully, and this wine may too. But I know many Australian drinkers who probably wouldn't give this wine a second look.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Perrin et Fils Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau L'Andeol, 2004

Rasteau and Cairanne are close on the map but far apart in their aroma/flavor profiles. Cairanne bursts with ripe cherries and berries; Rasteau is darker and more brooding with minerals and black fruits. As most of you here know, I am partial to Cairanne but am always anxious to see what Rasteau has to offer.

There is no question that the Perrin family (who also produce Beaucastel and La Vieille Ferme) know how to choose the grapes that are needed to make great wine, and the small L'Andeol vineyard they own is one of the best in Rasteau. I smell smoke, coffee and, of course, Rasteau black fruits and minerals. Now some spicy, peppery Grenache notes. On the palate, the warm spices are lovely; 14% alcohol is a bit on the high side, but just right for this wine. Even though the Perrins use traditional winemaking methods, they aged 10% of this Rasteau in French oak barrels, and I defer to their judgment. I think the new oak makes the finish a bit smoother and maybe a little less funky wirhout destroying the traditional Rasteau traits.

Altitude 500 Ventoux, 2007

Ventoux is an excellent wine for every day service, and this Altitude 500, imported by J et R Selections, has become one of my favorites. The 2009 Altitude 500 is now on the shelves, but I prefer the 2007--at least at this stage.

The aroma profile includes blueberries, violets and lavender. The peppery spicy qualities of Grenache and Syrah are more apparent on the palate. It's medium full bodied but everything is well proportioned, and there are no hard edges. A very good 2007, without the overly soft qualities of some Southern Rhones from this vintage.

As Sortes Val de Bibei Valdeorras Godello, 2007

Based on my positive experiences with the 2008 Val de Sil Godello from the Valdeorras region of Spain, I have admired this wine from afar for several months. When the price at D&W Market in Kalamazoo came down from $25 to $14 a bottle, I jumped at the opportunity.

Unlike the Val de Sil, this wine has clearly been aged in new oak, and I'm ambivalent about that. The limey vanilla smells blend nicely with the musky fruit and minerals. As the wine warms, it gets better by the moment--a good sign for a white wine. The mineral, floral spicy notes that make Godello an exciting wine begin to unfold. Like the Val de Sil, it's big and full bodied on the palate. I'm sure both of these Godellos will age very nicely over the next 5 to 10 years or longer. I'd like to have enough in the cellar that I can track their progress.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco, 2008

The waitress at Rustica in Kalamazoo wisely decanted and aerated this for us at the table. And it was still hiding behind a wall of tannins for nearly a half hour. Oh, the tannins were not hard, and the fruit was shining through all the while, but it was still deceptively tannic. My mouth  felt dry several hours later.

Eventuallythe unique Nebbiolo qualities start to come forth: dark cherries, licorice, roses--those are the smells and flavors I expect from good Nebbiolo. Deep and concentrated. This wine merely needs time; it's made from excess grapes from some very good Barolo vineyards and the quality of fruit is apparent. At this stage, however, it is not as forward nor as pleasurable as the Bergadano Langhe Nebbiolo I reported on last December--a wine that sells for $12 compared to $25 for the Vietti. I bought a case of the Bergadano and will look for a good deal on a few bottles of the Vietti Perbacco.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz, 2006 and Wolf Blass Yellow Label Riesling, 2005

I ordinarily pass on Wolf Blass wines, although the label has many advocates in Australia. There are several levels of Wolf Blass, with Yellow Label in the middle usually selling for about $12.99 a bottle. When I saw the 2005 Shiraz on sale for $3.99 at Harding's Markets and the 2006 Riesling for $2.99 at Sawall's Health Foods, I couldn't resist buying a few bottles. At that price, it's hard to go wrong.

I took a bottle of the Shiraz to a July 4 picnic. It smelled fresh and tasted ripe and plummy. But it's hard to be too discriminating at a picnic. The next night, I noted a slight cooked quality, but that could be expected from a bottle that sat in 100+ degree temperature for several hours.

The Riesling, opened the next night, was typical of Australian Rieslings--dryer than most German or Alsace Rieslings and with a strong note of petroleum. Medium to full bodied and oily in texture. Not much of the floral delicacy that is a hallmark of the best German Rieslings. There was also a slight spritziness, something I usually associate with very young wines.

When wines are closed out at such low prices, there are several possible reasons. Usually, there is merely a change in distributorship or the need for more shelf space as newer vintages arrive. Some times, there is a storage problem such as overheating. Even so, at these prices, the Wolf Blass Yellow Label wines offer little risk if you intend to drink them over the near term.

New Mexican Wines?

New Mexico has never been on my wine map, and a late-June visit to Albuquerque and Santa Fe in 100+ degree heat confirmed that this is hardly a cool climate area. There are high desert areas of the state, however, and lack of rain is a definite plus for growing wine grapes. As vines dig deep into the rocky soil, they bring up distinctive mineral smells and flavors that are the stuff of fine wine. New Mexico, in fact, produced the earliest wines in North America, dating from 1629. And more recently, the Gruet family, owners of vineyards in the Champagne appellation of France for many years, chose New Mexico as an appropriate site for their U.S. operations. In Albuquerque last week, I was impressed by the wines I tasted at St. Clair Winery and Bistro.

2007 DH Lescombes Chenin Blanc: This wine was a pleasant surprise and one of my favorites of the tasting. I expected a sweetish, heavily oaked version of Chenin Blanc but found instead a wine more similar to a fine Savennieres from the Loire Valley. Nice apple and citrus tones, much drier than New World Chenins or most Vouvrays. Has the slightly funky aspects of Savennieres or Anjou Blanc, and I suspect this wine will get even better over the next five years.

2009 Blue Teal Chardonnay: This wine was aged in stainless steel with some oak chips. As a rule, I can live without oak chips, but I don't detect any of the cheap oakiness that usually comes with their use in inexpensive California and Australia Chardonnays. I smell and taste lime, nutmeg and a hint of vanilla. No tropical fruit and not at all heavy or blowsy. Refreshing acidity and nice citric tones on the finish.

2010 DH Lescombes  Pinot Noir: Medium deep ruby color. Pinot earth, smoke, pomegranate, cherry. I get lots of black pepper on the palate--a very nice touch. Medium to light bodied but good concentration. Better than the majority of New World Pinots I have tried.

2009 Blue Teal Shiraz: I was warned that this wine might be too sweet for me, and it was. Inky color and jammy smells of sweet berries and vanilla. Blueberries, blackberries--good fruit but way too much sweetness. Made in an Aussie Barossa Valley style, but an Australian winemaker would be embarrassed by the comparison. Would make a popular wine for cocktail drinking without food.

2009 DH Lescombes Syrah: Same grape, different style. And oh what a difference! Deep and serious. Berries, cassis, black pepper and the herbal notes (juniper berries?) of a fine Northern Rhone Syrah. Also some coffee oak. Full bodied and multidimensional. This is special. More like a St. Joseph than a Hermitage, and very pleasant to drink now or later.

2008 DH Lescombes Cabernet Sauvignon: Still young and dominated by coffee oak aromas plus dark chocolate and black currants. Too oaky for me, right now. On the palate, the fruit is much more apparent. Currants and dark cherries. Full bodied and a nice combination of fruit and oak. As I was commenting that the wine was too oaky, I noticed that the flavors were still hanging in there on the back of my palate. I think this wine will be a real winner after a few years in the cellar.

These wines are not expensive. If you happen to see them in a shop or on a wine list, they are worth a try.