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.