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!