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.