Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone, 2005

Domaine de la Janasse is a top producer of Chateauneuf du Pape, but I'm perfectly satisfied tonight with this simple Cotes du Rhone from the estate. The bouquet has developed nicely with scents of red berries, spices and flowers. Just a bit of garrigue. As the Vinsobres is dark and haunting, this CDR is bright and extraverted. Very classy. The flavors are ripe and round but not at all simple. Trips lightly across the tongue. Reminds me a bit of a good lower tier red
Burgundy. I had one or two bad bottles of Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone from a case, but this bottle is not among them. It's singing right now.

Perrin & Fils Cotes du Rhone Villages Vinsobres Les Cornuds, 2004

You don't read or hear much about Vinsobres; and you don't see many Vinsobres wines on the shelves. But from my somewhat limited experience, I would say that it's probably the most underrated appellation in the Southern Rhone. This wine, from the Perrin brothers who produce Chateau Beaucastel and La Vieille Ferme, is a prime example. The bouquet is immediately appealing: black pepper, spice, black fruits and minerals. On the palate, it's much more accessible than the Chaume-Arnaud Vinsobres from the same vintage that I have reported on before. Pepper, licorice and minerals; dark tones that are typical of Vinsobres. According to the label, 35% of the cuvee was aged in new French oak, but the oak has integrated nicely. Smells and tastes like a traditional Southern Rhone. And it has the qualities that attract me to Vinsobres.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Olivier Leflaive Saint-Aubin Premier Cru en Remilly, 1995

I had my last bottle of this in December of 2008, and the color has deepened considerably since then. It's now a very deep old gold, but there is nothing else about this wine that suggests advanced age. The bouquet is beautiful--clarified butter with lemon plus pears, minerals and a slight hint of nutmeg. This is undoubtedly the kind of wine that gave New World winemakers the urge to make big, buttery Chardonnays. But oh what a difference! There is nothing big about this wine, and the butter is refined; rich in flavor, not fat. A very elegant mouthful of wine, billowy on the mid-palate and very long on the finish. There is enough acidity to keep it fresh. I've been slowly working my way through a case of this Saint-Aubine purchased on release, and this is probably the best bottle, at least for my taste. It makes a good case for aging white Burgundy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, Saint Gervais, 1999

Coming away from the large Southern Rhone tasting with warm feelings for the 2005 Domaine Sainte Anne Saint Gervais, I couldn't wait to get home and open a bottle of an older vintage, such as the 1999. Have I been waiting too long on these wines?

My first impression told me that might be the case. The 1999 has lost its youthful crimson glow, and the aromas were a bit closed and the flavors a bit muted for a short time after the cork was pulled. The bottle was still a bit cool, though, from its stay in the cellar. Once the wine warmed a bit and swallowed some air, it started showing the deep Mourvedre qualities I love in this wine. Aged Mourvedre has a unique kind of spiciness, and, in this wine, it's tempered by the ripe wild berries of Grenache. The creamy texture that is typical of Domaine Sainte Anne is there on the mid-palate and finish. I love it.

I wouldn't say this 1999 is better than the 2005; the 2005 seems like a special vintage for this cuvee. Neither is going to fade away any time soon, but both are ready for the table.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Large Tasting of Southern Rhones, 2009 and 2010

The tasting, sponsored by Ann Arbor Tasters' Guild, was billed as "Gold Dust Twins: Southern Rhone Wines from 2009 and 2010." And although the tasting confirmed for me that these two vintages are indeed very good, some of my favorite wines were from other vintages.

As should be expected, a few Cotes du Rhone Villages wines from 2005 and 2007 were showing very well as a result of some extra time in the bottle. I was particularly impressed by the 2005 Domaine Sainte Anne CDR Villages Saint Gervais. It has long been one of my favorite wines, and this 2005 was revealing the same deep, spicy Mourvedre aromas and flavors that I've been finding recently in bottles from 1998, 1999 and 2000. I ordinarily prefer this wine with at least 10 to 12 years of bottle age, but there is no question in my mind that this 2005 is ready to go. Right beside the Domaine Sainte Anne was a wine I hadn't had before, the 2005 CDR Villages Seguret from Domaine du Mouchon. This too was showing a very pleasing array of aromas and flavors.

2007 has never impressed me as much as it has other lovers of Southern Rhone. I generally findwines from this vintage a bit ripe and one dimensional. Not so for the 2007 Valreas CDR Villages of Domaine du Val des Rois. Ripe yes but also a lot of subtlty and a good dash of acid. Also very good were the 2007 Cotes du Rhone wines from E. Guigal and Chateau des Tours. It seems Guigal always makes a very good Cotes du Rhone, but this 2007 ranks with some of the best I've had (such as the 1983). Like the Val des Rois, ripe in the best way with no flabbiness. At more than $20 a bottle, Chateau des Tours has never been on my radar. I know it's a great estate for Chateauneuf (Chateau Rayas), but the CDR has never tempted me to shell out that kind of money. While the 2007 I tasted was very good, with ripe, burnished tones, it was by no means the best CDR on the table.

One wine that I am willing to go outside my budget to buy on a fairly regular basis is the Cairanne of Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin. The Reserve des Seigneurs usually sells for more than $20 a bottle, but I found the 2008 for less than $15 last summer and bought enthusiastically. When I opened my first bottle last summer, though, I was disappointed; the wine seemed disjointed and a bit stingy. Four or five months later, this Cairanne has had time to pull itself together; and I'm very pleased. Like the 2005 Saint Gervais, it needs to go on my "drink sooner" list.

The other 2008 that was showing well was no surprise: Domaine Pegau Cuvee Reservee Chateauneuf du Pape. Now $60 to $100 a bottle (depending on the vintage) Pegau is no longer on my radar, but it was interesting to get a sip of even an off vintage. It seemed funkier than usual to me and had some brett-like smells. Funk is part of the Pegau personality, though, and even a sip was absolutely gorgeous as it passed down the throat. Luscious flavors even at this early age. The 2009 Grand Tinel Chateauneuf could use a bit more of the funkiness that it showed in older vintages (such as 1990 and 1993), as far as I'm concerned. Or maybe it's just a little restrained in youth. The 2004 Mont Redon Chateauneuf was developing nice aromas and flavors.

Now to the Gold Dust Twins: 2009 and 2010. There were frankly few, if any, disappointments. Tasted against their peers, the Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages confirmed what I already believed. The deep raspberries, blueberries and cream aromas and the finely wrought texture stand out in a crowd. Other old favorites that continued to impress were offerings from Domaine du Vieux Chene: Cuvee de la Dame Vieille, Cuvee Beatrice and Cuvee le la Haie aux Grives. Considering the price ($9.99), Cuvee de la Dame Vieille was particularly vigorous and impressive, perhaps in part because it's a 2010. (In this case, youth is a virtue.) A discovery, for me, was the 2010 Domaine de la Tourade Cotes do Rhone. Traditionally made but with style and elegance. This goes on my Southern Rhone buying list. 2010 d'Andezon was also impressive, although it's made in a more modern style that usually turns me away.

Domaine la Monardiere's Vacqueyras Les Calades impressed me a lot, but after tasting through the other Vacqueyras wines, I decided that the Domaine du Grand Prieur met my expectations for the appellation--for $5 a bottle less. I've always liked the Font-Sane Gigondas, and still do, but at this tasting I preferred the 2009 Les Mas de Colline Gigondas. Ahh, the Font-Sane was from 2008, a lesser vintage. The tasting included only one Rasteau: Domaine Grand Nicolet. I liked it, perhaps because the black mineral elements of Rasteau are a bit understated compared to other Rasteaus I've had. Another winner for me was the 2009 Les Queyrades Lirac. At $16 a bottle, I thought it blew away the wine beside it: Domaine de la Mordoree's La Reine des Bois. Mordoree is a fine estate, and La Reine des Bois is its top-of-the-line label--old vines and new oak treatment. But the styling is just too international for my taste. And so is the $40 price tag. I'd be happier with four bottles of Vieux Chene's Cuvee de la Dame Vieille.

Sorry I couldn't give tasting notes, but, with 73 wines on the table, there just wasn't time or space. I noticed Tasters Guild Director/Village Corner owner Dick Scheer dictating his detailed notes into a tape recorder, and I'm looking forward to reading them. They'll undoubtedly appear soon on the VC web site: http://www.villagecorner.com/.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

L. Mawby Leelanau Peninsula Vignoles, 1983

When I mentioned dry Vignoles, Larry Mawby laughed. When I asked if he would consider making dry Vignoles again, he said, "I would consider it." And then he laughed louder. Mawby is now a maker of top quality sparkling wines, and he has no good reason to go back to making dry wines. But in the early 1980s, he was making some excellent dry Vignoles, and this 1983 was probably my favorite of the bunch. In reference to the quality of this wine (or possibly another vintage of it), a staff member at Village Corner in Ann Arbor wrote: "Why buy white Burgundy?"

As with many of my favorite wines, I couldn't bring myself to open the last bottle of 1983 L. Mawby Vignoles until it rested on the shelf so long that I assumed it was now past drinking. But finally, with a backup bottle of white in the refrigerator, I pulled the cork.

It's a very, very deep old gold color when first poured, and the color deepens even more in the glass until it's almost a copper color. The bouquet, though, is pretty nice--apricots, fresh and dried, pineapples, grapefruit. It's amazingly well preserved for its age with none of the flat, ugly, oxidized smell I've experienced with much younger whites. On the palate, it's more of the same, with crisp acidity. It's the acidity, actually, that's holding the wine together.

After about 15 minutes, though, the citrus aromas and flavors seem to take over and dominate. I now smell and taste mostly toasted grapefruit, a hallmark of one type of French oak barrel (Seguin Moreau). And the memory returns: I served this 1983 Vignoles many years ago to Trevor Mast, a highly respected Australian winemaker who was a guest in our house at the time. Trevor's first comment was "Seguin Moreau." It had too much Seguin Moreau, he thought, "but it also has a lot of wonderful fruit that can stand up to it."

Alas, 29 years after the vintage date, the wonderful Vignoles fruit is ready to collapse soon after getting a breath of fresh air. The Seguin Morea is still standing upright. But it's not a bad drink. Larry Mawby, would you consider making dry Vignoles again?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Shiraz, 2001

Coonawarra is recognized as arguably Australia's best appellation for Cabernet Sauvignon. But Shiraz grows pretty well there too. Wynn's regular cuvee is always a pretty good value about $10 to $12 a bottle.

Deep, dark ruby. Black raspberries, mocha oak, anise seed--very fruit forward and attractive. On the palate, the wine is ripe and ready--berried fruit with some spicy nuances. Probably at its peak and drinking very nicely. My only complaint is the high level of new oak, which, in my view, is unnecessary for good Shiraz. Then again, it's less oaky than the majority of Aussie Shiraz wines, and the wood tannins do not get in the way of the lushly fruity flavors.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Francoise et Denis Clair Hautes Cotes de Beaune, 2002

What a perfect wine for Valentine's Day! I chose a red Burgundy to go with the meal of Filet Mignon with roasted root vegetables, and the wine was a good match. It was also as lovely and inviting as my lover of the past 39 plus years.

Light to medium garnet. The smells are immediately captivating--ripe strawberries. Wild strawberries; wild and wonderful. So ripe, so seductive but nothing superficial or simple. Weaves a spell like Carlos Santana's Black Magic Woman. Same on the palate. Delicate mouth feel and so silky. Blushingly sweet with flavors that last forever. Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Soleil Blanc, 2008

I used the words "musky" and "foxy" to describe this Leelanau Peninsula wine last October, but the terms no longer apply. Tonight I smell pears, green apples and flowers. Medium to light bodied on the palate with a pleasing finish; if there is any new oak, it is in the background, and I like that. Has enough mineral character to go well with a vegetable-oriented meal. Evolving nicely; I'm looking forward to following this wine over the months and years ahead.

Friday, February 10, 2012

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

Although Echelon is a California winery, this Pinot Noir is made from grapes grown in Corsica, an island off the coast of France. And it's all the better for that. Inexpensive Pinot Noirs from California can be quite bad, but Corsica has a good micro-climate for growing this finicky grape. And Corsican wine grapes are almost embarrassingly inexpensive.

This Echelon Pinot is one of the best bargains right now in the Kalamazoo area. I saw it recently for $4.99 at World Market, and D&W has it for $7.99. But if you see the 2010 Echelon vintage (already on the market), don't buy until you try it. It will probably cost $12 and be made from inferior California grapes.

The wine is deep, dark and lushly fruity on the nose and palate. I smell cherries, plums and a strong note of cinnamon and other spices. Has correct Pinot Noir varietal characteristics with a bit of earthiness but much more lush in texturre than most Pinot Noirs. It's not very tannic and goes down easily. Not a lot of complexity, either, but a good match for mushroom and vegetable soup.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2000

Gamay and Beaujolais don't get much respect from self appointed wine experts. As a result, some very fine wines, such as this Jean Descombes Morgon, are easy to find on wine store shelves for $12 to $15 a bottle. I've been buying Jean Descombes for more than 20 years and have yet to be disappointed--either for early drinking or aging. A great number of changes take place in this Gamay from youth to maturity so I always buy enough so that I can enjoy it at various stages of development.

The color is medium to light garnet. Some funky smells come out immediately, but they blow away quickly. Wild strawberries, sweet cherries and black currants. Very ripe on the palate, almost too ripe for me. But that's the vintage speaking. Not quite as much subtlty as some vintages of Descombes such as 1995. Good concentration and a long, pleasing finish. Seems fully mature but capable of going a few more years.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas Cuvee Prestige (Vignerons de l'Enclave des Papes), 2007

The Valreas Cuvee Prestige on the shelves at Trader Joe's right now is probably the 2009 or 2010 vintage. Whatever it is, I would be a buyer based on my past experiences with this cooperative wine. The 2001 and 2004 were excellent, and this 2007 continues to impress me. (The 2005 was a bit of a disappointment, but I have may have consumed my bottles a bit too early).

The color is a deep crimson, now beginning to turn a bit. The wine has matured nicely. It has lost some of its ripe plum fruit but has added secondary characteristics that I like. Blueberries, spice and black pepper. Has taken on some extra dimension. Not at all aggressive on the palate but not simple or washed out either.

Like many of my favorite Southern Rhone wines today, this is produced by a cooperative. Most of these coops have significantly upgraded their ability to control temperature during fermentation while sticking to traditional principles that some estates have lost sight of. And, of course, the quality/price ratio is very good. I paid $5.99 for this 2007 Valreas; even if the price has gone up a dollar or two, it is an outstanding value.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chateau Beauchene Cotes du Rhone Premier Terroir, 2006

This wine is a real find. The Premier Terroir vineyards are located between Orange and Chateauneuf du Pape and were once considered part of the Chateauneuf appellation. According to the estate, the Grenache (70%) vines are nearly 100 years old. Syrah (25%) and Mourvedre (5%) complete the cuvee; both come from vines about 30 years of age. Much more than a simple Cotes du Rhone, Premier Terroir is not up to the level of a Chateauneuf du Pape, in my estimation, but it has some of the same intrigue.

This 2006 seems to be to be at a good state of maturity for drinking. The color is deep crimson, slightly burnished. Strong scents of dark cherries and currants, slightly smoky. Now some subtle spice tones. Grenache all the way, but very classy Grenache. The appellation and the old vines are apparent. On the palate, the wine is like silk; beautifully textured. Like the aromas, the flavors take subtle little twists and turns. Not a lot of intensity but very classy with a long, harmonious finish. Some portion of this cuvee was aged in oak barriques, a practicre I ordinarily dislike, but I find nothing that detracts from the traditional qualities of a fine Southern Rhone.

I bought this bottle from Tiffany's in Kalamazoo for $15.99--an excellent value.