Friday, December 27, 2013

Clos Baudoin Vouvray Re-Visited

What a difference a day makes. Re-corked for 24 hours, this wine has lost its stinky sulfur smells. Since it is demi-sec rather than moelleux, as I previously believed, it goes much better with spicy Asian fusion dishes from Chin Chin restaurant in Mattawan, Michigan.

Rich minerally bouquet. Honey and flowers. Plenty of botrytis. Very smooth on the palate, clings and teases. I started drinking this just as I finished my meal, Indonesian beef curry spices still on my tongue. The wine cuts through them beautifully and adds another dimension. It's hard to stop sniffing and sipping. Forget my negative comments of yesterday. This Vouvray merely needed patience and the right context. Best just after a meal but before dessert.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Prince Poniatowski Clos Baudoin Vouvray, 1982

My biggest mistake was thinking this would be a dessert wine. Many of Prince Poniatowski's Vouvrays are Moelleux--rich and sweet enough to serve at the end of the meal. The Prince, however, does not put labels such as sec, demi-sec and moelleux on his wines, choosing instead to make a wine that's suitable for the vintage. And the rains in 1982, I discovered, made it difficult to produce sweet wines that year, although the vintage was otherwise very good. Okay, tomorrow night, maybe I will serve it with the main course, although the wine is too idiosyncratic to match up with any dish I can imagine.

The color is a deep gold, and there are some stinky sulfur dioxide odors at first. With time, though, some intriguing Chenin Blanc smells and flavors emerge--quite a bit of botrytis honey, plus flowers and lemon. The lemon is very dominant, and the wine is actually tart. The term "nervy" is often applied to Clos Baudoin Vouvrays, and I can see why. Clos Baudoin is reputed to be one of the top vineyards in Vouvray, but this wine is not nearly as interesting as the 1982 Savennieres of Domaine Baumard I had a few years ago. Both are 100 percent Chenin Blanc; maybe I just prefer Savennieres to Vouvray.

Prince, by the way, is a legitimate moniker; Poniatowski's great-great uncle was the last king of Poland

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Le Sang de Caillou Vacqueyras, 1998

No Chateauneuf du Pape this year for Christmas dinner, but the 1998 Le Sang de Caillou Vacqueyras is a worthy stand-in. Compared to the Italian Nebbiolos on the table beside it, it has a somewhat rustic, earthy demeanor that is typical of its appellation.

Dark crimson. Cherries, berries, and spice with a touch of black pepper. Creamy smooth and somewhat fat on the palate, but that's in comparison to the Piedmont wines on the table. This is really a pretty spectacular wine and a perfect match for the New Zealand leg of lamb. Flavors get deeper and more enjoyable with every sip. It's really hard to quit sniffing and sipping.

This is probably the best Vacqueyras I've had and it competes favorably with many Chateauneufs du Pape.

Damilano Nebbiolo d'Alba, 2008

Some at the Christmas dinner table preferred this wine to the 1999 Barbaresco (below). And it has much to recommend it. It is a bigger, cleaner wine with more forceful flavors. For my taste, I would like to come back to this Nebbiolo in four or five years when the blossoms start to open.

Deep color and deep aromas and flavors. Dark cherries, flowers and maybe some cassis. This wine, too, improves after being open for a couple of hours. Fuller bodied than the Barbaresco and flavors that are well defined and intense. Damilano also produces a couple of Barolos and a Barbera. Like this wine, they offer an excellent price/quality ratio.

i tre merli Gigi Rosso Barbaresco, 1999

This 1999 Barbaresco was the highlight of my Christmas dinner, although it had tough competition from a 1998 Le Sang de Caillou Vacqueyras and a 2008 Damilano Nebbiolo d'Alba (see above). The Vacqueyras was probably the best match for roast lamb, but I don't believe there is ever a bad time to open and enjoy a Nebbiolo from the Piedmont area of Italy.

The color has tints of orange or amber, but that is common with Nebbiolo, even in middle stages of maturity. At first, the nose is a bit ordinary--some old wood and dark fruit smells, somewhat muted. After a couple of hours, though, it begins to unfold. Light body but loads of flavor. Just let the wine glide down your tongue and the flavors start to dance. Very long faceted finish. Has many of the qualities that I like in a good Pinot Noir--deep, deep fruit that peeks out from behind a wall of ripe tannins and lively acid.

I tre merli was the name of a now defunct Italian restaurant in New York City, and this Barbaresco was apparently offered by the establishment as a wine by the glass. Because the wine is not very well known and 14 years old, auction buyers avoided it and I picked up three bottles for $10 apiece--only a fraction of the former wine-by-the-glass price. I lucked out.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rabasse Charavin Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne, 2004

I bought this wine at auction for a very good price ($10) two years ago, presumably because other buyers were wary of a seven-year-old Cotes du Rhone Villages. But even at nine years of age, the wine is actually just now beginning to show a beautiful maturity.

Color has turned a bit--from deep crimson to garnet. Some leathery, earthy tones but also dark cherries and black pepper. Acidic grip in the mid-palate that shades into compact peppery Grenache fruit. Reminds me a bit of Bois de Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape. More bottles, more pleasure to come.

Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila Haut, Cotes du Roussillon Villages, 2011

This wine is a Southern Rhone blend, but I sense a relatively high percentage of Syrah and Mourvedre rather than Grenache.

Color, smells and flavors are all dark. Dark cherries, blue plums, cassis, black pepper. Smells more tannic than it tastes. Very smooth texture and ripe flavors. My first impression pegged it as a pleasurable, though somewhat one-dimensional wine, for early drink. On the second and third nights, though, some extra dimensions started to appear. It's a well made wine worth following.

Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir, 2004

My son, who has a good sense of smell and taste, has declared this relatively inexpensive Louis Latour Pinot Noir as one of his favorite wines. When he was home for a few days, I opened a bottle of the mature 2004 for him, and he was delighted. So was I.

The color, as usual for Valmoissine, is very light--almost transparent around the rim. Ordinarily, I would not consider this a good sign, but the bouquet of the wine made it clear that there is nothing at all lacking. Pinot earth at first, then a burst of wild berries and just the right amount of Pinot spice. Ethereal and lovely. The palate feel is similarly delicate but, again, bursting with complex flavors of ripe red berries. Hints of black pepper on the silky finish. If I were scoring, I would give this wine 93 points. My son thinks it should be higher.

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1994

This wine did not smell corked or over the hill, but it's much more muted than should be expected from a Domaine Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage. Smoke, dark fruit and spice emerge with time but without the intensity that I have found in other bottles, even from the same vintage. And there is no other sign of excessive age. Smooth mouth feel and ripe fruit flavors on the finish, but the nose is not quite right. I'll open another bottle soon.

Umamu Margaret River Shiraz, 2005

This wine is not at all typical of Australian Shiraz. In fact, it reminds me of a Monterey County (California) Pinot Noir.

Spicy, lavender, floral notes; now some dark chocolate. Black fruits and cassis but mostly cinnamon, cloves and baking spices. Very different from the spiciness of the CDR Villages (below). Not much oak and not very tannic, but the wine has complexity and staying power. Consumed over three nights, the wine offered a little bit more each night.

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages Notre Dame des Cellettes, 2000

Domaine Sainte-Anne is an old favorite of mine, and this 2000 Notre Dame is showing particularly well right now.

Bright, deep crimson--high quality Grenache, just beginning to show shades of maturity. Intense red berry spiciness--a whole different spice cabinet compared to the Margaret River Shiraz (above). Cranberry, red raspberry, lavender. Very ripe but also fine, lively fruit acids. Very grippy on the palate; concentrated flavors. Warm, satisfying finish.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Epicuro Salice Salentino, 2005

Every time I get to a Trader Joe's store, I head straight to the Italian section where I have found numerous unbelievable values. The Epicuro wines sell for $5.99, and I am fond of both the Salice Salentino and the Aglianico (haven't tried any of the others). My previous blog posts have suggested that these wines might age well, and I have put several vintages back just to see. This 2005 is showing much better than when I bought it in 2007 or 2008 and there is no sign that the wine is going to go over the hill anytime soon. For a $5.99 wine, that is impressive.

Deep, dark ruby. Dark cherries, black licorice, raisins. Compact dried and fresh fruit. Southern Italian ripeness but no alcoholic heat. A classy well balanced wine. Probably at its peak but should hold there for some time.

Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone, 2009

Perrin family wines always stick closely to Southern Rhone traditions, and this is a Cotes du Rhone classic, although maybe with a wee bit of oak seasoning. Deep ruby color. Black and red fruits. Has lost its red berry youthfulness and is becoming deeper and more concentrated. Dark berries/cherries with cassis and black pepper. Reminds me a lot of  Vinsobres or maybe even a young Bois du Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape. Has tannic structure to allow it to age even more.

This wine is fairly widely available for about $10 a bottle.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel, 2006

If you're a reader of Robert Parker, you know about the Old Hill Ranch and the expensive, highly ranked wines that come from there. This wine from Bucklin ordinarily sells for $35 to $40, but Village Corner in Ann Arbor was selling it for $12.99 this past summer following a large Zinfandel tasting. I didn't attend the tasting but, according to reports, this was one of the favorites. It's a field blend from a vineyard planted in 1880, and the old vine character is hard to miss.

Deep and dark, especially compared to the Pinot that preceded it at the table. Wild, brambly aromas and flavors. Concentrated black and red fruits with a black licorice twist. Very powerful wine, refuses to be ignored or taken lightly. Almost too intense and big. I'd like to come back to this wine in 5 to 10 years when it's had time to settle down a bit.

Louro do Bolo Valdeorras Godello, 2007

With apple-brined Thanksgiving turkey, this Spanish white was a perfect match (although not as exciting as the Couloir Pinot described below. Louro do Bolo is one of several excellent Godellos that I've tasted from the Eric Solomon portfolio.

For a six-year-old white, the color is a remarkably light gold in color. The aromas are bursting with the wonderful generosity of Godello--yellow fruits, minerals, flowers. Citric acidity on the palate but the texture and body of a Chardonnay. I suspect that if you tasted blindfolded, you might even mistake this for a red wine. Long finish.

Of the Godellos I've tasted, this ranks high along with Val de Sil and the Sabrego. Ironically, the only failure is the heavily oaked and and lavishly price As Sorte. I would say that, for whatever reason, the 2007 As Sorte I have in my cellar is oxidized and ready to be buried.

Couloir Roma's Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2007

We had three very satisfying wines with our Thanksgiving dinner. This Anderson Valley Pinot was my favorite. Three hours later, I still have vivid memories of the enchanting aromas and flavors.

The color is a medium light ruby, clear and brilliant. Spice is probably my initial impression--similar to the baking spices that I get with a good Santa  Barbara Pinot but much more focused and not as overtly sweet. Now it's the spice of cranberries and red raspberries. There are plenty of tannins in this wine (just as there are in a good Barbera), but they are very ripe, and the wine dances oh so easily across the palate. More red berries, ripe but with a slight balancing bitterness. I could keep smelling and tasting this wine all night. Although I don't have extensive experience with Pinot Noir, this has to rank with the best I've tasted.

I should note that Couloir Roma's Vineyard is hardly a budget wine. It ordinarily sells for $40+. But I was able to snare several of the 2007 at a WineBid auction last year for a budget price.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cameron Hughes Lot 324 Napa Valley Atlas Peak Chardonnay, 2010

Cameron Hughes is a California-based negociant that buys up excess wine and juice from producers anywhere in the world. Partners in life as well as in business, Cameron Hughes and Jessica Kogan have impeccable tastes. When the product meets their standards, they bottle it under the Cameron Hughes label and sell it for a fraction of what the original producer might have asked. Particularly in Napa, many top-name wineries are leery about selling leftover wine at discount for fear that doing so might damage their reputation and pricing structure. The Atlas Peak appellation on a bottle is prestigious...and pricey. This Cameron Hughes bottling cost me $12 at World Market.

Medium deep yellow. Aromatics are WOW--citrus, citrus peel, flowers and spice. Lots of oak. In fact, I really can't find any smell or taste that I connect with Chardonnay. No complaints, though; the hedonistic pleasures are undeniable. Rich satiny finish. Glides right down the palate.The fruit finally becomes apparent in the long finish. "Euphoric," Cam writes. And it's hard to disagree.

This is not my style of wine, but there is no denying its dramatic appeal. It's something you might hope to find in a $30 to $35 bottle of Chardonnay. For $12.99, you can enjoy it all the more often. And it's likely to get better as the oak integrates more into the fruit.

Domaine de Font-Sane Gigondas, 1998

Most Cotes du Rhone Villages wines drink beautifully right from the start and continue at that level for 5 to 10 years or longer, depending on the wine and the appellation. In the best wines, there is some development of bouquet and flavor, of course, but the wines are accessible and enjoyable through most of their lifespan. Gigondas seems to me an exception. A good Gigondas shows beautifully in youth and then goes through a dumb period when tannins apparently hide the best qualities of aroma and flavor. Opening a bottle during this period is always frustrating because it's sometimes hard to tell if the wine has died or is merely slumbering.

Many tasters who should know better declared this 1998 Font-Sane Gigondas dead several years ago, and I had my own doubts. Over the past year, however, it has opened beautifully. Even this bottle, however, was a bit reticent on the first night and showed its best only when I brought out the Rabbit aerator.

The color has changed--more garnet now compared to the ruby of youth. But no amber that I can detect. Ripe black fruits--plums and berries--with herbs and a dash of pepper. Has that lifted aroma that is characteristic of Gigondas. Ripe flavors all the way back. Medium-long finish with good flavor interest.

There is no question in my mind that Cayron is the best and most ageworthy of all Gigondas wines. Font-Sane (the traditional cuvee) is not in the same class but is a good inexpensive option, usually selling for $18 to $20 right now. This 1998, which cost $12 on release, has held up well for 15 years.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Papin-Chevalier Clos du Coulaine Savennieres, 1996: Premox in the Loire?

I have been drinking and enjoying Savennieres since the early 1980s and consider it one of the greatest dry white wines of the world. I bought mostly what was available--Chateau d'Epire and Domaine Baumard; in the early 1980s; some excellent bottles could be had for $6 to $8 from Village Corner in Ann Arbor. I went through about two cases of the 1982 d'Epire as a delightful every day white when it was young and as a far more serious wine when it was 15 to 20 years of age. I still have several bottles, but it has matured past the point that I can truly enjoy it or put it on the family table. Within the last five years, though, I have had amazing bottles of the 1979, 1982 and 1985 Clos du Papillon of Baumard--fresh, lively and incredibly complex. A bottle of the 1997 Chateau Plaisance was less complex but very, very good.

With that said, I know that Savennieres is capable of long aging, and I am leery of opening bottles too soon for fear of losing the wonderful experience of mature Savennieres. So what is wrong with this bottle?????

The color is a deep copper--a bad sign. And, yes, the oxidized smells hit you smack in the face. True, there are some decent flavors--ripe quince and melon. But I find nothing to compare with the much older bottles of Clos du Papillon. And within a short time the flavors become too pungent to really enjoy.

Clos de Coulaine is recognized by nearly everybody as one of the best vineyards in Savennieres. Claude Papin is known as an excellent winemaker. My own experience with this wine is limited to bottles from 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 that I bought and put away. All have had varying degrees of oxidation and overly pungent flavors. I know that it sounds silly to call a 17-year-old white wine "prematurely oxidized," but the reputation of Savennieres and my own experience told me that this is the time to start opening these Chenin Blanc wines.

Two of the Loire experts I respect the most--Chris Kissick and Richard Kelly--have online reviews of these vintages of Clos de Coulaine that give no indication of premature oxidation. And Papin's Anjou Blanc from the same era that I bought at the same time for about $4 a bottle have aged beautifully. These are made from the same grape (Chenin Blanc) from vines just across the river belonging to Papin. (He rents the more prestigious Clos de Coulaine vineyard).

I can find no signs of poor storage or transportation of these wines (corks are sound, no ullage, no staining of capsules). But that is the best explanation I can come up with at this time--maybe a low level of heat or cold that did not cause the wine to leak from the bottle. It's sad; I had been looking forward to enjoying these bottles of Clos de Coulaine.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ergo Temperanillo Rioja, 2010

This wine is nothing like the traditional Riojas of the early 1980s, but it has much to recommend it. The traditional Riojas were well aged before bottling with prominent aromas of American oak. And they cost $2 to $5 a bottle--a perfect combination for me when I was just getting interested  in wine. I still have a few in the cellar, and they never fail to please me, even though they are now pushing 30 to 35 years of age. This is a modern take on Temperanillo--plums, flowers, herbs and white pepper. Smooth and easy to drink, but it is not without tannins. In fact, these tannins become more apparent on the second night when the fresh fruit aromas and flavors have toned down a bit. Very pleasant balance of ripe fruit and savory spices.

Domaines Schlumberger Les Prince Abbes Pinot Blanc, 2009

Some of the very first Alsatian wines I tasted were from Schlumberger, and this estate is still one of my favorites--good land, good vineyards and skilled winemaking.

Medium gold color with good brilliance. Strong, fresh Pinot Blanc fruit aromas--the estate describes them as yellow fruits, fresh bread crumbs and acacia flower. All the tannins here are skins and pips; no new oak. That's why it might taste a bit sweet to those who favor New World Chardonnays. I like the acidity and freshness. And the taste of authentic fruit. The Prince Abbes line is for every day wines but with some fruit from Grand Cru vineyards added. At $11.99 from Bacchus in Kalamazoo, it's an excellent value.

Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti, 2010

Here is another Barbera. I had it a week ago, but it is still fresh in my memory. I brought it out for a special gourmet dinner, and I still think of it as a special occasion rather than an every day wine. It's different from the Rocca dell' Olmo (below) but really not significantly better, although it cost twice as much ($12.99) and was #46 on the Wine Spectator's list of the 100 Best Wines of 2012.

Same medium deep ruby color. Deep, deep, deep scents of cherries, licorice and black pepper. I love the tension between ripe fruit and dark spices. It's on full display on the palate as well as the nose. Now some roses--very much like a good Nebbiolo. More weight than the Rocco dell' Olmo and the tannins are maybe more noticeable. That may be the vintage talking. Very long finish and it gets better with every sip.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rocca dell' Olmo Barbera d'Asti, 2011

I have become a fan of Barbera. It is the every day wine of choice in Piedmont, home of very classy, very pricey Barolos and Barbarescos. Like a good Pinot Noir or Cotes du Rhone Villages, Barbera goes with almost any dish you put on the table. And it nearly always pleases me as much as a wine costing two or three times as much.

Actually, Barberas are not all that inexpensive these days. I saw one in a shop yesterday for $32 and others for $20 to $25. But there are many very good Barberas for $10 to $12 a bottle. And this Barbera d'Asti cost only $5.99 at Trader Joe's.

Medium deep color. 2011 was a very fine vintage in Piedmont, and this wine shows its class from the beginning. Beautiful smells of dark cherries and red berries offset nicely by black licorice. Has some of the qualities I expect from a good Nebbiolo from the Piedmont. Same fruit and spice on the tongue. The cherry flavors are ripe and lovely; the darker licorice tones give it substance. Very dry but also very satisfying. Silky smooth texture and a long, ripe finish.

Beautiful for drinking now, but I suspect this wine will keep for five to seven years. I intend to buy more the next time I get to a Trader Joe's store; hope there is some left. I also saw a Rocca dell' Olmo Barbaresco for $10 that should be well worth trying.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 1999

This wine is a good example of the ageworthy quality of Domaine Sainte-Anne wines, even those at the lower level such as the Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages.

Crushed raspberries, herbs and flowers--very well defined and classy. Silky smooth on the tongue. Sweet berry flavors. Powdery fruit tannins give structure and a full bodied feel.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet, 2008

The first vintage of Koonunga Hill Claret was 1976, and we drank many, many bottles of this in 1977-78 when we spent the year in Australia. The wine was about $1.79 a bottle at that time, making it particularly easy to drink. And I have read reports that the same 1976 is still drinking well.

The vintages of Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet on the market today sell for about $8 to $10, and they are equally good values although I doubt that any of them will be going strong even a decade from now. No worry; they're good drinking right now.

Deep and bluish, plenty of new American oak here. Very berry. Blackberry, currants, chocolate and coffee--very appealing. Smooth and friendly on the palate. Chocolate--yes. Also black currant. Typical Australian Shiraz Cabernet style--not much varietal character from either Cab or Shiraz but good in its own right.

Thorn-Clark Terra Barossa Shiraz, 2009

This Barossa Shiraz was served with the main course (coriander braised short ribs, demi reduction) at a Tasters' Guild wine dinner at La Cantina in Paw Paw, MI. It was much better than I expected--good enough to prompt a purchase a couple of days later.

Beautiful nose: plums, black olives, flowers. Very full bodied, as you would expect from a Barossa Shiraz but not overly ripe and it carries its 14% alcohol well. Very smooth, not too tannic with a ripe, spicy finish. Comes in a full liter bottle.

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This wine is evolving for the better and still one of my favorite Southern Rhones from 2007.

Deep, dark ruby. Blue plums, spice, flowers and a hint of black pepper. Fuller bodied than the 2011 San Silvestri Barbera beside it and equally full flavored. I taste more Syrah than Grenache but also some violet-toned Mourvedre creeping in. Good length.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Good Harbor Vineyards, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan

The wines from Leelanau and nearby Old Mission Peninsula are now beginning to get the recognition they deserve. Not merely wines made in Michigan, they have a distinct personality deriving from the soil and the relatively cool micro-climate of the area. New wineries are being established every year, but it's the old vineyards that produce the special wines. Good Harbor, just south of Leland, was established more than 30 years ago and has always been one of my favorites.

Good Harbor Tribute Chardonnay, 2008: I've tasted this several times at the winery and am impressed  by the positive changes that seem to take place with each passing year. It was made as a tribute to Bruce Simpson, founder of Good Harbor and winemaker until his untimely death in 2008. It was fermented in stainless steel to preserve the freshness of the fruit, then aged for a year in French oak for complexity. The oak has integrated nicely. Scents and flavors of apple and lime. Light and refreshing with a long, tingly finish. I've had several bottles of the regular 2008, and it too is still going strong albeit with a personality less influenced by oak.

Good Harbor Chardonnay, 2012: Memories of the regular 2008 Chardonnay come back to me as I taste this wine. Apples and Meyer lemon, good mouth feel. This Chardonnay is aged in three-year-old barrels that impart little or no oak traits.

Good Harbor Pinot Gris, 2012: This wine was also aged in used oak barrels but spent some time on its spent yeast cells and, as a result, presents a fuller body and a more oak-influenced presence than the Pinot Grigio below. I like it.

Good Harbor Pinot Grigio, 2012: Same fruit, same vineyard, different style. The grapes were harvested earlier, and the wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel. The heat of the 2012 growing season is apparent in the extravagant pear and citrus fruit smells and flavors. Very fresh and zesty. Hard to resist right now.

San Silvestro Ottone I Piemonte DOC Barbera, 2011

This Barbera was consumed at home with carry out pizza, and it was neither so simple that it went unnoticed nor so complex that it showed up the pizza. San Silvestro Barbera is readily available for about $8--one of the best values on the market today.

It has that medium deep ruby color that is typical of Barbera. Cherries rather than raspberries here. Cherries with a twist of black licorice and some flowers. Beautiful smells and flavors that remind me of the best of Piedmont. Bright, fresh and ready to drink, but I suspect there is more to come.

Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti, 2010

I've become a fan of Barbera, primarily because it's so versatile with food. Like Pinot Noir and Grenache-based wines that I love, it goes with just about anything and is particularly well suited for the vegetable-intensive meals that we usually have at home or on the road.

I ordered a small carafe of this Michele Chiarlo Barbera to go with Bolognese pasta at the excellent Cafe Sante in Boyne City, Michigan. Even though the wine was named (46th) one the Wine Spectator's list of Best Wines of the Year for 2012, it is still relatively inexpensive, selling at retail for $12 to $14. And it is beautiful. Crushed red raspberries with floral and mineral undertones. Very fruit-forward for drinking right now, but I have no doubt that it will become even better with a few years in the bottle. Clean, well defined flavors and a long finish.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Chateau Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone, 2011

I've read good things about Saint Cosme wines; I know the Gigondas is particularly well regarded among Robert Parker disciples. But I was disappointed by this Cotes du Rhone.

Southern Rhone aromas are there--ripe berries and spice--but not as intense as I expect from a Cotes du Rhone. Where's the pepper? Also some sweet toffee scents that tell me this wine has seen some new oak and aspires to an international style. Smooth and pleasant on the palate but overly ripe and fat for my taste. Very little acid structure.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Nerelo del Bastardo, NV

Nerello del Bastardo is one of my all-time favorite wines from Trader Joe's. Bottles from 1999, 2000 and 2002 were, I am sure, mostly Nebbiolo, probably blended with Sangiovese. I still have some bottles of those vintages, and they are drinking well. This Nerelo (one l rather than two l's and no vintage date but same label and packaging) is likely not Nebbiolo and probably from vines in Southern rather than Northern Italy. But it is still a very enjoyable wine and good value at $8.99 from either Trader Joe's or World Market.

Deep ruby. Cherries and licorice but more restrained and one dimensional than in earlier vintages. Also lacks the floral scents. The wine has good concentration, though, for a wine at this price point. Rich mid-palate fruit and oak. Spicy cherry notes on the finish.

Umamu Margaret River Shiraz, 2005

This is a pleasant, fruity wine but it doesn't fit my image of either Shiraz or the Margaret River appellation of Western Australia.

Medium deep. cloves, cinnamon, dark cherries. Reminds me of a Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara or Monterey County of California. Where is the Shiraz?

Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay, 2011

Zesty apple and citrus notes with some intriguing mineral and floral scents and flavors. Very clean and crisp.

The label states that this is 100% unoaked Chardonnay, but it's not sweet tasting at all, as some new world unoaked Chardonnays seem. An opportunity to savor all the great smells and flavors of Chardonnay.

A. Clape Cornas, 1983

The last bottle of this I opened two years ago was corked, but this bottle is a fine example of the old vine fruit and traditional winemaking of the highly regarded Auguste Clape.

Dark, some amber at rim and a great deal of crust on one side of the bottle. It has been well stored (by me) for nearly three decades. Clean Northern Rhone Syrah scents: cherries, berries, anise, lavender and minerals. Probably more minerals than anything else. Tannins have faded for easy drinking. Savory, red meat, sea salt. Very smooth and very long.

For my son's 30th birthday, I chose this 1983 Clape Cornas over the 1983 Domaine Thalabert Crozes Hermitage of Paul Jaboulet. It worked well but, based on previous tastings, I suspect the Thalabert might have been even better. While the Cornas was impressive, at this age it does not have the complexity that I have come to expect from older Thalaberts, particularly the very fine 1983.

Castillo de Monseran Carinena Garnacha, 2010

I've had some bottle variation with this inexpensive Garnacha, and this bottle does not measure up to my memory of my last bottle. It is, nevertheless, very enjoyable.

The color is deep and dark. It has spent several months in new American oak, but I find very little sign of the oak or international style in the aromas and flavors. Strawberries and cherries baked on the crust of a pie and flowing over onto the pan. Very ripe--moreso than I remember from previous bottles. Also very ripe flavors. Ripe berries crushed into black pepper. This wine was a real hit at the table, particularly when I revealed the price: $6.99 to $8.99.

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

A blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah, this Valreas is a perfect example of the traditional Southern Rhone wine that I love.

It's fully mature right now with mellow scents of cherries, pepper and spice. Has developed into a special wine. Savory maturity on the palate. Cherries, not too ripe, and peppery complexity. The power comes from beautiful old vine fruit.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Domaine Berthet Rayne Cuvee Vieilles Vignes Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This old vines cuvee Cotes du Rhone from Berthet Rayne has many of the qualities to be expected from a Villages wine. From the very good 2007 vintage, it is drinking very well right now.

Beautiful deep crimson color. Grenache spices, cherries and anise on the nose. Fruit comes across nicely on the palate. Slightly tannic, just enough to make the flavors interesting. Grenache cherry ripeness on the long finish. This may have seen some new oak, but the wine still preserves its Southern Rhone traditions.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cave de Lugny Macon-Lugny Les Charmes Chardonnay, 2010

I remember going to a wine tasting in the early 1980s--one of my first ever wine tastings--and being charmed by a Macon-Lugny Les Charmes. Tonight, many vintages later, I am equally charmed.

As the name suggests, Cave de Lugny is a cooperative that accounts for a large percentage of the total production of Maconnais wines. That is nothing to shy away from because I have found some of my favorite wines from French coops. And the price is always several dollars less than a comparable wine that is estate bottled. In this case, the wine comes from a single vineyard, Les Charmes, where the vines are old and planted with the Musk clone of Chardonnay, which undoubtedly accounts for the wonderfully complex aroma and flavor profile.

Pears, almonds, white flowers and minerals with a nice citrus edge. Flavors open up on the palate and just keep humming. A nice almond touch on the long finish. This is a wine I could drink before, during and after the meal.

For $10 to $12 at World Market, this is one of the best Chardonnay values around.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Jean Descombes Morgon, 1997

I used to worry about my Jean Descombes Morgons slipping over the hill. Now I worry about whether I've given them enough patience to allow full maturity.

Medium deep cherry red color. The bouquet is not showy, but it's there, clean and well focused. Cherries and red berries with a touch of licorice. Same on the palate: an undercurrent of strong fruit, well developed. Ripe but not overly so. Again, this is not a showy wine, but it has a classic beauty. Good balance of fruit and acidity. A long, lingering finish of ripe red cherry. Perfect with grilled salmon.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mount Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz, 1989

This cool climate Shiraz from the mountain slopes near Ararat in eastern Victoria (Australia) was a good companion to the St. Hugo Coonawarra Cab reported on below.

I remember this wine as being very peppery in its youth, but that quality has integrated into the overall personality of the wine. Coffee, oak, dark berries, lavender and spice. Very much like a Paul Jaboulet Hermitage from the 1980s, although with a bit more oak. Smooth on the palate, although not as much so as the St. Hugo Cab. Gets deeper and more complex through the meal. Savory flavors, deep and compact. Fruit well balanced against acidity. Good stuff that lingers. Very enjoyable.

Alcohol level is 12.5%; how times have changed!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Orlando St. Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, 1997

My wife gave me this St. Hugo Cabernet, along with some other bottles, for a Christmas present many years ago. Tonight, we're drinking it together for her 65th birthday and enjoying the perfect beauty of maturity. The gift that keeps on giving.

The bouquet is what I would consider, from my limited experience, classic Coonawarra Cabernet. Very forward scents of berries, currants, cherries and mint. Ripe fruit and oak up front and all the way back. Very smooth; beautiful texture. This wine is clearly from another era: 13.5% alcohol content. I find some slight green hints, closer to mint than bell pepper, though. Oak is a major part of the wine's personality, but the fruit is showing beautifully right now.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2000: Comparing the Villages and the Notre Dame des Cellettes

All of the Domaine Sainte-Anne wines are Villages quality, even the simple Cotes du Rhone. All will age well for at least a decade. As you ascend the ladder, however, from CDR to Villages to Notre Dame des Cellettes, the vines get progressively older and the wines progressively more complex and interesting. This can be seen from my notes on two wines from the 2000 vintage, one opened last week and the other, last night.

Cotes du Rhone Villages Notre Dame des Cellettes, 2000: Medium ruby. Very berry--crushed raspberries and strawberries, ripe and lovely. Not much pepper, spice or dark elements. Very enticing on the mid-palate and very long finish. Gets better on the second night after being opened and re-corked with a VacuVin, but not as good on the third night.

Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2000: Medium ruby again but not as clear and bright as the Notre Dame. The berry quality in this wine is much more subdued and takes a back seat to Southern Rhone spices--lavender, cinnamon, nutmet. More austere but still ripe, fruity and slightly tonic.

Surprisingly, as you climb the ladder, the price differential is not that great: $10 for the CDR, $12 for the CDR Villages and $14 to $16 for the Notre Dame. The Saint Gervais (even older vines and a higher percentage of Mourvedre) is selling for about $18 to $20 these days and is definitely my favorite.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Rafael Palacios Sabrego Valdeorras Godello, 2010

If you're looking for an alternative to the old Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc axis, Godello from the Valdeorras region of Spain is a good choice. It offers the medium body of Chardonnay and the crisp edge of a good Sauvignon Blanc.

Medium gold color, bright and clear. Minerals galore with citrus, pears and a hint of flowers. Lush and full. Some almond notes. Medium bodied with racy acids and a long finish. Most Godellos on the market sell for about $15 but can compete favorably with French, Italian and California wines costing twice as much.

Domaine de la Bastide Cotes du Rhone Villages Visan, 2009

Domaine de la Bastide produces a simple Cotes du Rhone (fig label) that can be found in many shops for about $12. This Villages wine from Visan is a step or two up and ordinarily sells for $15.99 and up. When I saw some bottles on close-out sale for $5.99 at Harding's Market, I jumped with both feet.

Very deep and dark. Maybe some new oak? If so, it's nicely understated. Smells young too but with nice fruit and spice aromas. Dark cherries and red berries in a brandy sauce. Firm for a Southern Rhone and even a bit tannic on the finish, but it has a nice mouth feel. Although the wine is quite pleasant right now, I think it will drink well and improve for another four or five years.

Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso, 2008

Most Sicilian wines you see on the market are inexpensive and unremarkable. Those from the volcanic soils and higher altitude around Mount Etna tend to be expensive. This Rosso from Tenuta delle Terre Nere, which can be found in a few shops for $12 to $16, provides an intriguing entry point.

The wine was sold to me as a red Burgundy look alike, and I think of fine Pinot Noir every time I try it. Beautiful ruby color, medium deep. Clear and brilliant. Yes, it smells like a fine red Burgundy--Nuits St. George?? Wild berries, Pinot spice, no hard edges. Lovely wild berry flavors. Delicate, not light, with a very long finish. I've had this wine for three years, and it's getting better. I'm not sure about long-term cellaring, though.

Cave St. Verny Le Pinot Noir, 2007

This is a wine that's easy to overlook. But it delivers a lot of what I expect from Pinot Noir at only $7.99 a bottle.

Medium light Pinot color. Cranberries, red raspberries,spice and pepper. Not the sweet pie spice you get from some California Pinot Noir. Lean but not austere. Ripe fruit and perky acid. Nothing showy but a wine to enjoy more and more through the course of a meal.

There may be some bottle  variation with this coop wine. I enjoyed this a lot more than the last bottle I opened a few months ago.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Chateau Grand Traverse Old Mission Peninsula Whole Cluster Riesling, 2012

On a recent tasting pilgrimage to Old Mission Peninsula in northern Michigan, this was my favorite wine, and I brought home a bottle to share with the family and make sure it was not just a passing fancy. And it was not. This Whole Cluster Riesling still ranks as one of my all-time Michigan favorites.

The label states that "we separately fermented three different Riesling lots from our Bailiwick Vineyard in order to articulate flavors ranging from crisp apple to ripe peach." That probably trumps anything I could say to describe the wine. Yes, crisp apple. Yes, ripe peach. Perfectly defined aromas and flavors. Ripe and peachy on the inside framed by crisp acidity. What I like most is the rich mid-palate presence.
When I was tasting a range of well made wines at this estate, this one clearly stood out at the moment and in my memory. I'll go back for more.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Reserve Perrin Cotes du Rhone, 2009

Whatever the appellation, whatever the price point, you can always depend on getting a high quality wine from the Perrin Brothers of Chateau Beaucastel and Le Vieille Ferme. I paid $9.99 at World Market for this very good Cotes du Rhone.

Beautiful deep ruby color. Very fragrant--Southern Rhones spices and herbs galore. Dark cherries more than berries with Mourvedre violets. High-toned acidity right now but this should fade in six months or so. Long, distinguished finish.

Domaine la Monardiere Les Calades Vacqueyras, 2007

This is the least expensive of three cuvees of Vacqueyras produced at Domaine la Monardiere. That's the reason I buy it, and it's always a very good wine for around $20 a bottle. The estate recommends that it be consumed after 3 to 5 years (compared to 4 to 6 for Les 2 Monardes and 8 to 10 for La Vieille Vignes) because that is when the spicy fruit should be showing best.

Very deep and dark./ Ripe, spicy fruit is at the forefront, as it should be. Black plums and berries, coffee and cassis (as opposed to the black licorice that I usually get from Vacqueyras minerals). Plummy sweet fruit tannins on the mid-palate, smooth and approachable. This wine is at a perfect stage for drinking; I have often waited a bit too long with past vintages. The 2007 is a tad ripe for my taste, and leans slightly toward an international style (barriques?), but others at the table like it immensely.

Domaine la Monardiere, I understand, has been using organic farming methods for several years and can take full credit starting with the 2010 vintage. All grapes here are picked by hand.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Costa di Bussia Barbera d'Alba, 2010

I usually think of Barbera as a Pinot Noir type wine--more finesse than power. This Costa di Bussia Barbera d'Alba has both, although I think it's a few years away from showing its best.

Very deep ruby. Even the aromas seem velvety--dark cherries and dark spices. Also some flowers. Very rich and smooth on the palate. Very cherry, deep and intriguing, but flavors not well defined at this point. Tannins are ripe and soft but very apparent. I can sense a lot of flavors just waiting to be uncovered. 

This is a wine that I'd like to follow over the next several years.

Londer Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2008

The forest fires that threatened northern California in 2008 are now threatening the longevity of this Londer Pinot Noir. The smokiness that permeated the grape skins in that vintage have been apparent from the beginning but they seem increasingly more prominent as the wine ages. That was what the winemaker suspected when he sold off the vintage at a steep discount.

Smoke is about all I can smell tonight, but I get delicate Pinot fruit on the palate. Cranberries, pie spices and a hint of pepper. And, of course, some smoke on the finish. I still have a few more bottles I need to drink soon.

NV Scharffenberger Cellars Anderson Valley Brut Excellence

Scharffenberger Cellars established itself as a sparkling wine producer in the Anderson Valley in 1981--several years before Roederer, a top Champagne producer, explored the West Coast and chose a site right next door for its U.S. operations. In order to expand its vineyards, Roederer recently purchased Scharffenberger, but the wine has maintained its distinctive style and is an excellent representative of California sparkling wine.

Very small and very persistent bubbles--a good sign. Apple and citrus, very fresh and refreshing. Dances lightly on the palate but has a creamy texture and some yeasty, bread dough traits. Good flavor depth and a long finish. We tasted this alongside the very good L. Mawby Talismon Brut, but the Scharffenberger was clearly superior for my taste.

I found the Scharffenberger for $16 at World Market, a great value for a sparkler of this quality.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Domaine Rabasse Charavin Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne, 2004

I was lucky enough to acquire nearly a case of this beautiful Cairanne for a song at a auction. It is fully mature and at a beautiful stage for drinking.

Good deep ruby color. Red berries, cherries, lavender and garrigue--eveything you expect from a fine Cairanne. There is a bit of crinkly maturity showing in the bouquet, but, at least for me, it is very pleasant. This wine has always had more tartness or dryness than I expect from Cairanne, that, too, is a positive quality. The grapes clearly did not have the same level of ripeness that most 2003 and 2007 Rhones exhibited. But they also show more precise and focused fruit definition.

Corinne Couturier's Rabasse Charavin Cairanne has earned a place alongside Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin in my personal Cairanne Hall of Fame.

As Sortes Val de Bibei Valdeorras Godello, 2007

I had an almost sexual attraction for this wine when I first saw it on the shelves of D&W FreshMarkets. It is in a big heavy Burgundian bottle with a classy label. It is imported by Eric Solomon (always a good sign). And it is Godello, after all, a Spanish white that I have become quite fond of. But it was priced at $25 a bottle, and I admired it from afar until one day, as if by magic, the price was lowered to $14. I jumped at the opportunity and bought a few bottles.

The first bottle, which I had on July 12 of last year, was quite good, albeit with lots of lime and vanilla suggesting extravagant new oak treatment. I was dubious about the oak but still assumed it would age well and waited a year before opening the next bottle. Big mistake.

The color tonight is a very deep gold, closer to a well aged Sauternes than a bottle of fine white Burgundy. There are some pleasant floral scents at first but they are followed by stale, oxidized notes. Same on the palate. This wine is not undrinkable, but at age six, it has clearly seen its better days. Very disappointing.

I now remember reading an article in the New York Times about a big tasting of Godellos. The As Sortes was the most expensive of the bunch, and it got the lowest rating. Too much oak and too much winemaking manipulation was the assessment. And I agree. Like a beach bunny tan, excessive treatment with new oak can make a young wine appear very sexy. And it can also make this wine age prematurely. Big and buttery? No thanks.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux, 2008

At $12 to $15, the Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux is  a good value, even though it costs significantly more than other equally good wines from this appellation such as La Vieille Ferme, Altitude 500, Font-Sane and Les 3 Messes Basses. Ventoux is one of the best appellations in France for quality/price ratio so I usually buy some bottles from all of these estates. While the Pesquie does not offer a premium in terms of quality, it has a unique personality and style. The 2008 was a bit cheaper than usual, probably because the vintage was less hyped than 2007, 2009 and 2010.  But I have always found the 2008 Pesquie Terrasses to be very good.

Still a deep ruby. Black pepper is very prominent on the nose at this stage, and I like it. Pepper, spice, red berries and garrigue. The wine has taken some interesting turns and is more enjoyable than ever. More Syrah than Grenache traits at this stage; reminds me of Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone. Matches up well with garlicy, spicy Lebanese food.

Epicuro Salice Salentino, 2006

The blend of 80% Negroamara and 20% Malvasia Nera is typical of wines from Salice Salentino, an Italian wine appellation in the boot heel of Apulia. And it delivers the goods quite nicely.

Dark ruby color. Italianate nose of ripe fruit, peels and flowers. Very smooth and rich on the palate. Sweetness of ripe cherries and plums countered by the bitter qualities of black licorice. Leathery, spicy. Long finish. Gets better over the course of half an hour or so at the table. Should improve for at least two or three years.

My experiences with Salice Salentino have always been positive. These wines are always inexpensive--about $10 to $12 a bottle--but this Epicuro bottling was only $5.99 at Trader Joe's--a true steal. After trying the wine, I put a few bottles of the 2006 away to see how it would age. Now, I wish I had put more away. I can't speak for the more recent vintages that are likely on Trader Joe's shelves today, I have always had good luck with Epicuro wines and will be a buyer of both the Salice and the Aglianico whenever I make it to a TJ outlet in the future.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Chateau La Tour de Beraud Costieres de Nimes, 2010

Costieres de Nimes is south of the Cotes du Rhone per se, in the area near Arles on the Mediterranean coast. The blend is Southern Rhone-like (Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre) but with one difference--the addition of Marsalan, a cross blend of Cabernet and Grenache. I have no experience with Marsalan, and that's why I bought this wine.

Deep color. Pretty aromas of pepper, spice, fruit and flowers. Almost too floral and too pretty for my taste. Right now the Marsalan is Gamay-like, and that doesn't mesh with my Southern Rhone expectations. I suspect the wine simply needs more time in the bottle. On the second night, it seems to gain weight and depth. A unique style that is worth re-visiting.

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2001

This has to be my favorite vintage of Domaine Sainte-Anne. Deep and dark with lovely scents of berries and peppery spice. Some floral notes. More pepper and less ripeness than the 1998 or 2000. More fully developed than the 2004 or 2005. Plenty of skin tannins but ripe and accessible. This is worthy of at least CDR Villages status and probably better than most Gigondas.

Pierre Bise Anjou Blanc, 2001

I bought several cases of this wine for about $5 a bottle for my daughter's wedding in 2005. It was the best white wine I could find for $10 a bottle or less. But that was eight years ago, and I had mixed feelings when I found three more bottles while I was doing an inventory of the cellar. Tonight, I popped the cork and WOW! Wish I had more.

A dark gold color reveals its age, and in other respects the wine is unabashedly mature. Mature but not old, and I don't know if this wine will ever taste old. Powerful bouquet--apricots, honey, nutmeg. Any notes of oxidation you can find here are all part of the winemaker's grand plan in order to bring out the complexities of the Chenin Blanc grape. It's not just a pretty face. Full bodied and deep on the palate. Lots of tannin for a white wine--all from the skins. Long, rich finish. Reminds me of the 1969 Coteaux du Layon I had a few weeks ago but dry rather than sweet. I think there is some botrytis here. The simple Anjou Blanc is at least as good as most Savennieres I've had.

Domaine du Vieux Chene Vin de Pays Vaucluse Cuvee de la Dame Vieille, 2010

Vin de Pays Vaucluse is a modest appellation but one that I have always found to be very good. And Beatrice and Jean Claude Bouche at Vieux Chene,, located on the road between Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape, produce several of my favorites. I like the 100% Grenache, I like the 100% Syrah and I'm even more fond of this cuvee which is 50% Syrah/50% Grenache.

Good deep color; Syrah showing. Berries galore, spice and pepper; that's the Grenache. Smells inviting, and the flavors offer up the same pleasures. Grenache takes the tannic edge off of the Syrah. Very friendly on the palate but with plenty of ripe skin tannins and room to grow for three or four years.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wine Tasting on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula: Two Lads Winery

The modernistic tasting room at Two Lads Winery is on a striking site among the vineyards near the top of the peninsula. I chose the White Tasting Flight and was impressed with the wines.

2012 Rose of Cabernet Franc ($19): This wine reminds of the rose wines from Tavel and other areas of the Southern Rhone--not too sweet and with some interesting spice and leather aromas and flavors.

2012 Pinot Grigio ($17): A very flamboyant Pinot Grigio with lots of flavor interest. Yes, I do smell the "cantaloupe, lychee fruit, and soft magnolia blossoms" described on the tasting sheet. And I like the wine, although, if I tasted this blind, I would think it was Gewurztraminer rather than Pinot Grigio.

2012 Chardonnay ($24): This is a unique style of Chardonnay, aged six months in neutral 630-gallon tanks. Has the ripe pear, apple and pineapple traits of unoaked Chardonnay but with lush body and complexity of an oaked version. Buttery, silky texture. I like this wine.

2012 Riesling ($16): Another flamboyant Gewurztraminer look-alike. Papaya, pineapple, spices. I can't find even a hint of the petroleum/slate traits that are more typical of Riesling.

2012 Fouch Vineyards Riesling ($20): Now we're talking Riesling. And damn fine Riesling it is. Delicate, fine-boned, floral. Well defined aromas and flavors.\

2011 Fouch Vineyards Riesling ($20): I like this one even better, perhaps because it has matured for an extra year (although, as the server reminds me, there were certainly differences in the growing seasons). A bit fuller and more complex than the 2012. I'd like to come back to both of these wines in another year.

Wine Tasting on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula: Brys Estates

I was taken aback when the server told me that Brys Estates is focused on making high quality red wines. I later read that the owner has chosen red wine as a preferred marketing niche. I have always believed that Michigan, and particularly northern Michigan, is best suited for white wines. And the tasting today did not budge me from that notion.

2012 Pinot Blanc ($24): Ripe pear and apple with a hint of citrus on the finish. This is an enjoyable Pinot Blanc, richer and maybe a bit sweeter than the Pinot Blancs at Peninsula Cellars and Chateau Chantal.

2012 Pinot Grigio ($22): Another Italian-style Pinot Grigio, although a bit pricier than most. Lemon, lime, green herbs. Slightly tonic. Very refreshing for summer drinking.

2011 Pinot Noir ($30): Dark cherry, pepper and smokey oak. An attractive Pinot but a bit sweetish on the finish for my taste.

2011 Cabernet Franc/Merlot ($22): On my first sniff, I got a hint of green bell pepper leaning toward Jalapeno. I'm a bit sensitive to those traits but know many enthusiasts who find them quite attractive. Otherwise, the wine has good fruit-forward smells and flavors. And a good bit of oak.

2011 Merlot ($40): I tend to attribute green bell pepper notes to Merlot, not my favorite wine grape. Unlike the wine above, however, this wine has clear focus on the red rather than green qualities of the grape. Rich dark cherry smells and flavors. Full bodied and, again, a good bit of oak.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wine Tasting on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula: Peninsula Cellars

This is by no means a new winery, but somehow Peninsula Cellars wines have passed me by. Glad I stopped by the tasting room; there are some good wines here, worth trying and buying.

2012 Pinot Blanc ($17.99): Of all the Pinot Blancs I tasted today, this is probably my favorite. Clean lines, good acidity, pear and citrus flavors.

2012 Manigold Gewurztraminer ($19.99): Very dry for a Gewurztraminer and without the hallmark barbershop qualities but very appealing. Full bodied, floral, spicy, very strong grapefruit qualities.

2011 Cabernet Franc: Very oaky--coffee and chocolate. Cherry/berry flavors. Lush and fairly full bodied for a Cab Franc. Not for lovers of Loire Valley Cab Franc but has some appeal.

Wine Tasting on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula: Chateau Grand Traverse

On a visit to Traverse City this week, I had a chance to do some wine tasting on Old Mission Peninsula, a sliver of land that juts into Grand Traverse Bay. It is arguably the best wine appellation in Michigan, ranking slightly ahead of the nearby Leelanau Peninsula. Chateau Grand Traverse was the first winery on Old Mission, and, in my view, it still offers the best wines at the best prices.

2012 Laika Gruner Veltliner ($17): I'm a real fan of Austrian Gruner and very pleased to see the grape introduced to Michigan. The wine is light and crisp with some of the verve of Austrian Gruve. It is a bit disappointing, though, since it doesn't have the range of fruit and herb flavors I expected. Maybe these will come as the vines mature.

2012 Ship of Fools ($15): A blend of Pinot Blanc (70%), Pinot Gris (25%) and Pinot Noir (5%), this is one of my favorites from this estate. It's a powerful, concentrated wine with a good range of aromas and flavors. The cuvee varies with the vintage, and 2012 seems drier than the 2010 I tried here a couple of years ago.

2012 Pinot Grigio ($11): Lots of bright fruit and mineral qualities in this wine. A hint of green herbs on the noise and zesty floral citrus flavors. In the style of Italian Pinot Grigios such as MezzaCorona--which suits me just fine.

2012 Whole Cluster Riesling ($15): Wow! This wine is special. Rich, full mid-palate with a full range of Riesling aromas and flavors. While there is plenty of richness on the mid-palate, the wine has all the crisp, finely tuned qualities of a fine Riesling. The grape is well suited to these cool northern Michigan appellations, and Chateau Grand Traverse has always made very good Rieslings,  both sweet and dry. This Whole Cluster Riesling, though, is something else--ranking with the best Michigan wines I've tasted.

2011 Pinot Noir ($14): I've never been a fan of Michigan reds, but this Pinot is coming close. Medium to light color and body. Cherry/cranberry aromas with a firm, peppery mid-palate and a fruity finish.

More on other wineries later.

Paolo Scavino Langhe Nebbiolo, 2010

Any restaurant offering Langhe Nebbiolo as a wine by the glass has to rank high with me. And Restaurant Stella in Traverse City earns its high marks in many ways. Actually, at Stella you can order a number of high quality Italian wines by the glass, half liter or bottle. Donna and I ordered a half liter, about the equivalent of two glasses each for $30.

Deep, bright crimson. Has all the aromas you expect from a young Nebbiolo--dark cherries, licorice and a hint of roses. Very dry on the mid-palate--a common trait of many young Barolos and Barbarescos. Skin tannins are high but so are the bright fruit acids. Deep, concentrated flavors carry over into a long, fruit-oriented finish. My only complaint is that the wine was served about 5 to 10 degrees too warm for my taste.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Franco Serra Barbera d'Alba, 2010

I was surprised to find this Barbera d'Alba for $12, then $10, at Bud and Elsie's (formerly Bacchus) in Kalamazoo. Most Barbera d'Albas (and Barbera d'Astis) are upwards of $20. At the pricel, I thought this was at least worth a try, but tonight's tasting confirmed that it is worth much more than that. Wish I had bought a case.

Medium deep, saturated color. Vibrant aromas typical of Italian reds. Cherry, licorice--bright and lively but also with deep tannic structure from the peels. The dark licorice tones give it backbone but it's countered by plenty of ripe cherry. Lots of depth and interest right now. Dances on the palate.

SeaGlass Santa Barbara County Pinot Gris, 2011

This is definitely Pinot Gris rather than Pinot Grigio style. It's the same grape, of course, but Pinot Gris wines from Alsace or the Pacific Northwest are usually much richer and less herbal. Deep gold color of Pinot Gris. Ripe pears and vanilla cream. Not as sweet as most Pinot Gris wines from Alsace. Good tannic grip for a white wine.

So far, I like the wines I have tried from SeaGlass. They are all very reasonably priced, but I suspect that is a move to gain market share in this part of the country.

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Vignoles, 2009

I'll be headed up to Leelanau soon. Should I bring back another case of Bernie Rink's Boskydel Vignoles? A case is only about $70, and the wine is very versatile, going well with almost any vegetable or pork dish. Ordinarily, Vignoles ages nicely, although this 2009 seems to have reached a plateau, maybe its peak.

Medium deep gold. Very lemony--maybe too much. I usually get both lemon and pineapple from Vignoles; this vintage seems a bit short on the pineapple. Rich on the palate, though--lemon butter. Has lost some of its freshness and zing, and I'm not sure it's replaced this with anything substantial. Time will tell. Bernie warned me that 2009 was not the best of vintages.

Cave St. Verny Le Pinot Noir, 2007

This is probably the least expensive Pinot Noir on the market, and it's a far cry from being the worst. It comes from a cooperative in the Cotes d'Auvergne in the center of France.

Medium garnet. Subtle red berries, cherries. Taut. Slight pepper on the mid-palate. Light bodied and subtle with a spicy finish with a hint of almonds. Is it subtle or stingy? Some would say the latter but I far prefer over any of the overly sweet, cinnamon tinged Pinots I've had from Monterey County. Over the course of the meal, the flavors start to open. Flowers and cranberries. I think the wine may get better over the next year or so.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Val de Sil Valdeorras Godello, 2008

There are many old vineyards of Godello in this area of northern Spain, but the wines were fading in popularity until interest was revived recently with the help of importer Erik Solomon. This is the first Godello I have tasted so I can't tell you how true it is to its traditions. But it is a special wine, better than the As Sortes I have tried and at least as good as the Sabrego I have reported on several times.

Medium to deep gold. Lovely floral, herbal, mineral bouquet. Hints of almonds and grains. Almost like a fine white Burgundy. With 13.5% alcohol, the wine is full bodied with flavors that are almost buttery in their concentration. I say that with hesitation because this wine has no resemblance whatsoever to the "big, buttery" New World Chardonnays that were once popular and still have their advocates. More like a Puligny-Montrachet or Mersault. Great depth of flavor.Clings to the palate and dances. Undoubtedly at its peak right now. Drink and enjoy.

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2004

2004 is becoming one of my favorite vintages for Sainte-Anne. The 1998s and 2000s are a bit too ripe for my taste and the 1999 lacks the fruit power that 2004 is showing right now.

Beautiful deep crimson color. Subtle scents of wild berries and flowers. Grenache raspberry with firm, spicy Mourvedre giving it backbone. There is still some tannin on the mid-palate but I don't think it's shutting out any fruit flavors. A beauty to drink right now. Has the elegance and charm of a good Pinot Noir and matches up well with salmon or rainbow trout.

Domaine Loew Cormier Tokay Pinot Gris, 2004

This wine is fully mature now and a good example of Alsace Pinot Gris. Alsace wines have become a tad sweet in recent years--too sweet for my wife's tastes. I'm reluctant to open a bottle, but when I do, I always enjoy what I find.

Full gold color. Rich, honeyed Pinot Gris scents. Ripe apples, butterscotch. Unctuous on palate. Goes well with roast pork or bratwurst sausages.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Domaine de la Motte Coteaux du Layon Rochefort, 1969

For a wine that's been in the bottle for 40-some years, this is amazing. It's billed as demi-sec on the label, but it has enough botrytis and sweetness to make it an extremely enjoyable dessert wine.

Medium gold. Unbelievably youthful appearance considering its age. Some immediately tanky smells are apparent from the first sniff--probably stale sulfur dioxide. Undoubtedly, the same SO2 that has helped it maintain that youthful appearance. These blow away rather quickly though or at least blend in nicely with deep scents of almonds, apricots, coconut, peach pits and honey. Very, very concentrated on palate with  flavors that just keep bringing out nuance after nuance. The more I drink, the more impressed I become. A real treat.

After being opened and re-corked, the wine holds up beautifully over nearly a week. In fact, it seems to get better every night. The off notes are definitely gone, and the sparkling intricacies of mature Chenin Blanc keep emerging in brief, exciting glimpses. A great wine.

Domaine du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf du Pape, 1995

Grand Tinel now makes a semi-modern style Chateauneuf under the guidance of well regarded wine consultant Phillippe Cambie. And the best grapes of the estate, from the oldest vineyards, now go into a prestige bottling, Alexis Establit, that always gets very high ratings from the Wine Advocate.

Back in 1995, though, Grand Tinel made only one bottling from all of its vineyards, and the wine was still a bit less expensive than most of its peers and rarely got 90 plus scores from Parker. As a result, it was often overlooked, and some reviews from consumers I found online were negative. Some people simply can't believe that a $25 wine can be better than one selling for three or four times that much. Tasted alongside the Raymond Usseglio, however, this wine performed quite nicely. Guests at the table were split evenly as to which wine is more enjoyable at this stage.

Slightly lighter color than Usseglio. Probably more Grenache in the blend. Also notably less intense in aromas and flavors. Dried rather than fresh fruits, sweetish rather than savory tones. Both wines have 14% alcohol content, but the Grand Tinel shows as a bit warmer but it's also more powerful. Eventually, this power becomes quite exciting. Excellent accompaniment to roast lamb. I'm glad I have a few more bottles of this to enjoy over the next six to eight years.

Domaine Raymond Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Girard, 1998

Hachette's Guide to French Wines (2002) consider this one of the top Chateauneufs of the 1998 vintage, and that was the major reason I bought a few bottles. A decade and a bit later, I am not disappointed.

The bouquet is intense and deep--everything I expect from a traditionally made Chateauneuf du Pape. Spice, cherries, garrigue and black pepper. A little bit of barnyard funk, but it's the funk that I love in old-style Chateauneuf du Pape. Smells and flavors are high toned and intense. Heady and full bodied with savory well defined fruit on the finish.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Domaine de Font-Sane Gigondas, 1998

After years of frustration with this wine, a bottle I opened in early May finally produced the enjoyment I expected when I bought a case more than a decade ago. I vowed not to wait too long for the next bottle, as I often do. And I was rewarded once again.

Muted crimson tones. Mature scents of berries, flowers, garrigue. The power has been tamed a bit, but the beauty of Gigondas is now shining. Lifted smells of violets--maturing Mourvedre. Some dryness on mid-palate but good range of ripe fruit flavors on the finish. Not a great Gigondas but very good.

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2007

The last bottle of this I opened had flavors that danced on the tongue; this bottle, not so much. That's a problem I have with wine; when I catch one in its shining moment, I cling to the few that I have, hoping they'll get even better. Inevitably, I wait too long. This bottle is by no means bad; it's just not as exciting as it could have been had I opened it a few months earlier.

The color has lightened up a bit; looks mature. Syrah scents of blackberries and cassis. Some black pepper on the palate. All good, but a bit more muted than last bottle. Good fruit charm but I would call it mellow now rather intense. This was the 10th bottle of a case so all is not lost. I now know this wine's maturity curve.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sabrego Valdeorras Godello, 2010

This wine is all about minerality. The wine has a good fruit presence but I have a hard time identifying any particular fruit or type of fruit. What stands out in the wonderfully complex aroma/flavor profile are minerals, flowers, spices, tree nuts...and more minerals. Minerality is a popular word these days, and some wine writers say there is no such thing. Maybe I'm just referring  to something I like very much but cannot find a word to describe. So be it.

The color is a medium gold, and the wine has a viscosity similar to that of a big Chardonnay or an Alsace Pinot Gris. For 13.5% alcohol, it has considerable power and bite but without sacrificing any of its, yes, mineral charms. We really like this wine--enough to pay the original $14.99 asking price at World Market. When the price came down to $7.49 and then to $6.79, we liked it even more.

Incidentally, the Spanish word, Sabrego means "granite," and the vines are planted on granitic soil. The wine is produced as a joint venture by Bodega Rafael Palacios of Valdeorras and his American importer, Eric Solomon.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Nerelo del Bastardo, 2006

This is a Trader Joe's wine I've been buying and  enjoying for several years now. With its gaudy red and black label and its low price tag (usually $5.99), it's a wine that often gets overlooked. And that's unfortunate because it's one of the best values available anywhere.

The label suggests that the grapes for this Italian wine come from declassified  Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards, where appellation rules are strict and excess grapes must go into table wine. My first taste of the 1999 Nerello del Bastardo years ago confirmed that this is indeed high quality Nebbiolo. I still have some of the 1999 as well as the 2000 and 2002, and they are aging nicely with all the varietal traits of Nebbiolo, perhaps blended with some Cabernet or Sangiovese. This 2006 is my least favorite Bastardo so far and the one that is less obviously Nebbiolo. The label has also changed: "Marchesi de Monte Cristo" (clearly a bogus estate) has been removed from the label, and "Nerello" is now spelled with only one "l." But the style of the label and the message on the back implying the use of Nebbiolo grapes indicate that this is the same wine.

Dark, purplish robe; could be mistaken for a Napa Cab as it is poured. Smells and flavors are similarly large scaled but very tannic at this stage. So tannic that the Nebbiolo heritage is not so obvious as in other vintages. Dark cherries and maybe some roses. The blend may have changed, incorporating more Sangiovese (although the back label still suggests excess Barolo grapes). The 2006 has undoubtedly been exposed to considerable new oak, probably barriques. It's more impressive, perhaps, but not as immediately charming as past vintages. But with some time, I think it will start releasing its usual subtle charms.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Henry Fessy Crus du Beaujolais Brouilly, 2009

This is exactly the type of wine I like with a vegetable-oriented meal on a spring or summer evening. It's crunchy and fresh with an array of intense aromas and flavors.

Medium light in color and body. Very pretty smells--lavender, flowers, cranberries. Racy presence on palate; nothing sweet or fat about this wine. Intriguing flavors dance on the finish.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pietra Santa Cienega Valley Pinot Noir, 2009

This winery, located in the Cienega Valley of San Benito County, makes a range of wines from Italian varietals such as Sangiovese. This is the first Pietra Santa Pinot Noir I've run across.

Light garnet color. Also light in body, and it takes some time to recognize the intensity of the aromas and flavors. Lavender and spice. Now I smell some wild berries and cherries. French oak acidity and intensity but it really doesn't come across as an oaky wine. A good measure of complexity on the long finish. For me, it doesn't measure up to Pinots from Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast--lacks the depth of fruit and concentration. But I like it and, at the right price, would come back for more.

The property, I learn, is part of what was once Almaden Winery, a low price favorite in the 1980s. This wine is definitely several steps up from anything I ever had from Almaden.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape, 1993

With braised lamb shanks for a Father's Day dinner: very enjoyable. 1993 was not a great vintage, and this bottle is less powerful and spicy than the last bottle I had a couple of years ago. But there is still plenty of pleasure to be gained.

Medium deep crimson. Bouquet of dark cherries, cassis, iodine and spices. Compact fresh and dried fruit. True to its appellation. Savory and sweet with a slightly warm finish.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rabasse Charavin Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne, 2004

The bouquet of this wine is fully formed and delightful. Dark cherries, strawberry compote and nuances of black pepper and tobacco. Although Syrah is only 15% of the blend, the grape makes its presence felt with scents of juniper berries and herbs. Much of the same on the palate. This Cairanne has more tartness than most Southern Rhones, but that is a plus as far as I'm concerned. There is still plenty of Cairanne-style sweetness on the finish.

Corinne Couturier, who took over the estate from her father in 1985, fashions the wine from 70% Grenache (40- to 70-year-old vines), 15% Syrah (10 to 30 years), 10% Counoise (30 years) and 5% Cinsault (15 to 20 years). All of her wines are made traditionally--unfined, unfiltered and aged in concrete.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages Saint Gervais, 1999

This 1999 Saint Gervais from Domaine Sainte-Anne is about as mellow and table-worthy as a wine can get. But I suspect that it still has some room to grow. Compared to the other Saint-Anne cuvees, Saint Gervais has a high percentage of Mourvedre and a good track record for aging.

A deep crimson color. Clean, well focused smells of dark berries, violets and Mourvedre spice. Deep and dark with a long, ripe finish. Not terribly complex at this stage of development but very enjoyable.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Domaine du Vieux Chene, Vin de Pays Vaucluse Grenache, 2010

This is the perfect match for the MezzaCorona Pinot Grigio described below. It's fresh, lively and honest; doesn't pretend to be a show wine but is capable of grabbing your interest and holding it through a meal. Vieux Chene, one of my favorite Southern Rhone estates, makes a VDP Grenache, a VDP Syrah and a couple of blends (Cuvee Friande and Cuve de la Dame Vieille). I like them all. The choice depends on what you're eating.

Medium crimson color. Low key scents of spices, herbs, berries and black pepper that get gradually more assertive as the wine airs and warms. Has the sweet fruit of Grenache to liven up a vegetable-oriented meal but lots of intricacies to enjoy at the table after the meal is over. The price tag on this bottle, purchased at Sawall's Health Foods in Kalamazoo, reads $7.49.

MezzaCorono Vignetti delle Dolomiti Pinot Grigio, 2011

This is always one of my favorite Spring and Summer wines--fresh, light but never simple. The usual price is about $8.99, but I can nearly always find it at some time during the warm months for a couple of dollars less. For an estate bottled wine from cool climate vineyards--the oldest winegrowing area in Europe, it is a steal.

Very floral. There are lilacs outside our kitchen window, and the smell wafting in is a perfect match for the wine. Also fresh herbs on top of vibrant pear-like fruit. Nothing at all simple or ordinary about this wine. Pinot Grigio/Gris has many faces; this one is fresh and lively, and I always drink it during the first year.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Londer Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2008

I have served this wine to guests several times, and the response has always been positive with no mention of smokiness until I bring up the subject. Once brought to your attention, the smokiness cannot be denied; it is a major component of the wine's aroma and flavor profile. But there are so many other things to notice--all good--that there is no reason to dwell on the smokiness.

As I've mentioned before here, this 2008 failed to measure up to the owner's standards because of the smoky quality that resulted from forest fires in the area that summer. When the wine sold off at a deep discount, I bought a case for $72, less than the cost of two bottles at regular retail price.

Medium light cherry. Smoke, yes, but also wild cherries, cranberries, flowers and cinnamon. Much more elegant in its spiciness than Pinots from Santa Barbara and Monterey. This wine is definitely north coast Pinot--racy acidity and silky tannins.

Umamu Margaret River Shiraz, 2005

This is not your typical Aussie Shiraz, but it has received some nice complimernts from reviewers such as Jancis Robinson and James Halliday. The color is a bright cherry red; no inky monster. And there are some good Syrah varietal traits--black fruit, cassis, spice and peppercorn. In my last posting of this wine, I compared it to a good Southern Rhone, but, tasting it tonight alongside Altitude 500 Ventoux, I see no real similarities. I like the style, though, and my only complaint is a bit of greenness in the aromas and flavors. (Were the grapes picked before complete ripeness?) At $12.99, it is well priced for a Margaret River wine.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Altitude 500 Ventoux, 2007

This is only a simple, inexpensive Ventoux made by a cooperative. Yet tasted side by side with the Clos de l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cairanne, it shows its class. The Grenache/Syrah flavors and smells are brighter and fresher, as should be expected for the wine's age and appellation. In the right context, though, a pizza party on the porch, it is every bit as enjoyable. Ventoux is a very under-rated appellation--either for the porch or the dinner table. And this is one of my favorite Ventoux.

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint-Martin Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs, 2000

This may be my favorite vintage for this Cairanne. A previous bottle I tried a couple of years was paired against a very good Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape. And the Cairanne, in my view, was the better wine. Cairanne generally does not age as well as Chateauneuf du Pape, though, and this bottle is probably not quite up to its sibling tasted in 2009. Still excellent though and capable of going several more years.

Deep cherry red, has turned color just a bit. Beautiful bouquet of dark cherries, flowers and black pepper. Flavors run deep. The longer it sits in the glass the better it smells and tastes. This is definitely better than the 1998 l'Oratoire Saint Martin Reserve and better than most of the vintages from the 1990s

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

Someone posting a note on the internet declared this wine "over the hill," but without any explanation. Based on my experience with this bottle, I disagree. The color is a deep crimson, and it has strong fruit qualities (dark cherries, blackberries) as well as secondary characteristics of black licorice, dark Rasteau minerals, spice and peppercorn. Has a very smooth finish and is at least as good as the last bottle of Perrin & Fils Rasteau I had a couple of years ago.

I generally feel that the dark traits are a bit aggressive in a young Rasteau but become more complex and enjoyable when the wine has some bottle age, as this one has. In fact, some of the best Rasteau I have tasted have been more than 10 years of age.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Olivier Leflaive Saint-Aubin Premier Cru en Remilly, 1999

This wine is somewhat of a disappointment compared to the 1995 Saint-Aubin en Remilly that we enjoyed tremendously over the past 15 years. I posted a note on my last bottle of the 1995 a couple of months ago.

Even though this wine is four years younger by biological age, it is much deeper gold in color and more advanced in its development than the other wine. Despite the prematurely deep gold color, which is probably due to some changes in winemaking, the wine does not have the oxidized smells and flavors of many other white Burgundies of the late 1990s that have been identified as "pre-moxed." Honey, yes, but it's elegant, rich honey. Also white flowers, peaches and minerals. The silky texture is probably what makes this wine special. But it still lacks the depth and complexity of the 1995.

I'm a believer in Saint-Aubin and Olivier Leflaive's en Remilly vineyard.  It's very close to Puligny-Montrachet, one of my favorite white Burgundy appellations, and it offers many of the same elegant qualities found in a good Puligny at what was once a poor man's price. Slightly over $10 a bottle back in the mid-1990s, the wine now sells for close to $40.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Domaine les Rouesses Reuilly, 2008

Reuilly, a small Sauvignon Blanc appellation in the Loire Valley, has been known as the poor man's Sancerre but I paid more for this Reuilly than I usually pay for Sancerre. It's a unique face of Loire Sauvignon, and I believe it was worth the premium.

Golden color. Fresh aromas of gooseberry, melon and mint--mellow but still well defined and focused. On the palate, it's particularly rich and round. That seems to be defining trait of Reuilly. There are some drinkers who just do not like the aggressiveness of Sauvignons from Sancerre, and I think they would appreciate Reuilly.

As for price, I always like the poor man idea. At $10 or $12, rather than $23, I would buy a lot of Reuilly.

Friday, May 10, 2013

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

There's Cairanne, and there's Cairanne. If you're looking for the best of the appellation, there are three good choices: 1) Domaine l'Oratoire Saint-Martin, produced by Frederic and Francois Alary, 2) Rabasse-Charavin, produced by Corinne Couturier, and 3) the Cairanne of Daniel and Denis Alary (uncle and cousin respectively of Frederic and  Francois). The vineyards of these three estates are located on the St. Andeol hills; they are old, well situated and capable of producing wines comparable in quality to those of Chateauneuf du Pape (but at a fraction of the price).

This 2008 Reserve from l'Oratoire Saint-Martin was a bit cheaper than usual, presumably because the 2008 vintage was not as good as 2007, 2009 and 2010. But it is still a very good wine. Dark, saturated color. Blackberries, cassis and black pepper.The pepper gives it structure but doesn't detract from the ripe fruit flavors. Good intensity and a satisfying finish. Doesn't measure up to the 1998 or 1995 (nor the outstanding 2000) but still very good.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Domaine de Font-Sane Tradition Gigondas, 1998

I was almost ready to declare this wine dead three or four years ago. It was hard and disjointed, seemed like it had lost its fruit. "Drink up" said some tasters on the internet, but why drink up a wine that is giving you little or no pleasure? I've been down this road before, and I know that what seems like "drying up" or "loss of fruit" is actually an awkward stage the wine is going through. I can't explain it, but I know it happens.

Tonight, I'm glad I had the patience to wait. This 1998 is beautiful, and I still have four or five bottles waiting to be opened and enjoyed. Deep crimson with some tawny tones. Blueberries and violets--Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah in full bloom. Also garrigue and black pepper, but these traits are understated at this stage and come out more prominently on the second night.

I remain convinced that Gigondas is a wine to drink early. My favorite Font-Sane was the 1997 (not a great vintage) consumed a year or two after release. Once the wine goes into its awkward stage, it's hard to know when it's going to come out of its shell. For this wine, the time is right now.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Mendocino Vineyards Mendocino County Chardonnay, 2009

When you buy a wine at closeout, you expect to maybe catch some moments of fading glory. With this 2009
Chardonnay (regularly priced $12.99, sale priced $5.99), I've seen many changes over the past several months, but they've all been positive. Initially, I thought the wine was a bit oaky, and it was aged in some new French oak. But whatever oak there was initially has been integrated nicely into the wine, and it's now showing a good range of the Chardonnay fruit salad traits--apple, lime, melon and canned pears. At the price, I bought several; wish I had bought more.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone, 2010

For one reason or another, I rarely give this Cotes du Rhone the attention it deserves. It can usually be found on one of the lower shelves of the shop, and it's always one of the least expensive. Yet it has never disappointed me, and this 2010 is particularly good.

Deep, saturated crimson. And aromas and flavors to match: blackberries, black pepper and spice. Beautifully aggressive but it's all fruit driven. Not nearly as ripe as the 2007, and that's a plus as far as I'm concerned. A more complete wine and probably a good representative of the excellent 2010 vintage. At $8.99, why not buy and drink more? It may be too late to get more of the 2010, but the 2011, I'm sure, also has lots to offer.

Nine Stones Hilltops Shiraz, 2006

I've enjoyed the Barossa and McLaren Vale bottlings from Nine Stones, a winery owned by Australian wine writer Len Evans. They are very good and typical of Barossa and McLaren Vale Shiraz. This is my first try of the Hilltops cuvee, from vineyards in the hills near Canberra in southern New South Wales. And I may never go back to the other two. This is cool climate Shiraz, the way I like it.

Deep ruby red with some purple tones; looks New World but smells and tastes more like an Old World wine. Black fruits, cassis and black pepper. Very well presented. Light on oak tannins but lots of grip and substance from the peels. Not at all sweet, alcoholic or thick. A well balanced wine with aromas and flavors that keep coming from all directions.

Domaine Daulny Sancerre, 2007

Sauvignon Blanc, even relatively expensive Sancerre, wines are generally best when consumed young. That said, I always hold back a few bottles of my favorite Sancerre, Domaine Daulny, for a few years because I like the nuances that develop. Yes, crisp gooseberry/cat pee quality that is an important part of Sauvignon Blanc is gone, but Domaine Daulny's vines produce something underneath that is worth waiting for--still finely  tuned but complex fruit and mineral flavors that seem to be at their best when the wine warms to room temperature.

This 2007 is a deep gold color now, and I wouldn't want to wait any longer. Still plenty of gooseberry with fresh mint and musk melon. Tamed just a bit from its younger days but with plenty to offer.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chateau d'Angles La Clape Languedoc Classique, 2007

After spending eight years as the winemaker at Chateau Lafitte Rothschild, Eric Fabre chased a dream by buying his own vineyards on the Mediterranean coast. The romantic attraction of the landscape was undoubtedly part of the attraction but, on the chateau's web site, he cites the "potential of the soil, the climate and the grape varieties favoured locally." He clearly has serious intentions about the Languedoc wine that he will be producing there.

Languedoc reds use the same grapes used in the Southern Rhone. For this wine, it's 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre, and the wine definitely has more structure than the typical Grenache-heavy Cotes du Rhone. Deep, fairly dark ruby. Mostly black fruit tones with purple flowers. Has gamey smells that remind me a bit of a young Bois du Boursan (Chateauneuf du Pape) but without the elegance, of course. Tannins are a bit rough  at this stage, but the label advises drinking within the first years. I don't find anything promising enough to reward keeping.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Chateau Pierre Bise Haute de la Garde Anjou Blanc, 1996

I bought one or two cases of this Loire Chenin Blanc every year between 1996 and 2001, and it was one of the wines I bought for my daughter's wedding. We loved it, and, at $4-$8 a bottle, it was one of the least expensive wines on the market. Labeled as a simple Anjou Blanc, it is made by one of the top Savennieres producers, who now recognizes this vineyard (Haute de la Garde) as special and deserving of higher pricing.

The wine was perfectly enjoyable in its youth, but I put a few bottles of the 1996 and 1997 away just to see how long they would go. The last time I visited it was 2005 or 2006, and it had gained incredible complexity by that time. This bottle is past its prime, but you never know how long a wine will last until you try.

The color is now a copper color, almost like a blush wine,  but that's the most mature facet of this wine. The vineyard is special because of a high level of botrytis, and that honeyed character has taken over the wine. Now almost like a good Sauternes but without the residual sugar. Very smooth and rich. There is a lot to like in this wine, although the twinkling complexity that was there in 2005 has vanished. I still have one bottle of the 2007 which I will try soon.

Villa Giada Suri Barbera d'Asti, 2010

I served this wine alongside the Bearboat Pinot Noir (below), and they were a good match. Although Barbera has plenty of tannins, they are accessible and barely noticeable. And, with this wine, the aromas and flavors just keep coming at you from different angles.

Medium ruby. Roses, cherries--almost like a Nebbiolo but racier. Tannins come from the peels and pits, and they are ripe and lovely. Aromas and flavors are tightly packed in this wine, and it's a delight to have them emerge one by one on the nose and palate. Every time I drink this Barbera, I am impressed and ask myself why I don't buy more. Regular price is only $12 to $15, and it's worth an extra search.

Bearboat Russian River Pinot Noir, 2008

My preferences in wine have changed a lot over the past 30 years--from big, tannic Napa Valley Cabernets such as Keenan and Conn Creek to Grenache-based Southern Rhones. My tastes have evolved and prices for Napa Cabs have grown faster than my income. A big part of it, though, has to do with changes in my diet. A big, oaky Napa Cab is a great companion for a grilled NY strip or T-bone, but our meals today are more oriented toward vegetables, highly flavored, aromatic and spicy. For this type of diet, Mediterranean wines are perfect. Other wines that match up are Pinot Noir and Barbera--medium to light bodied but very flavorful.

This Bearboat Pinot from the Russian River Valley is a good example. Medium to light ruby. Red cherry, cranberries, flowers and spices--tightly constructed. Nuances of cloves and cinnamon. It goes well with cheesy appetizers but is even better with a main course of pork loin braised in milk. Opens up over the course of the evening.

The $14.99 price I have seen over the past six months at my local grocery store is probably intended to introduce the wine and build a market. It's worth that and more.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Yorkville Cellars Rennie Vineyard Hi Rollr Red, 2010

On the dramatic stretch of Highway 128 as it cuts through the Anderson Valley on the way to the giant Redwoods and then the angry Pacific Ocean, Yorkville Cellars is one of the first wineries you pass. On our trip there last year, we saw sheep grazing between the vines in front of the winery and couldn't resist going in for a tasting.

Yorkville Cellars offers a different experience from the rest of the Anderson Valley; you'll find no Pinots and no Alsace varieties on the tasting list. And, in fact, the vineyards do not qualify as Anderson Valley, lying instead in the Yorkville Highlands appellation of Mendocino County. Yorkville is several degrees warmer than the upper Anderson Valley but still significantly cooler than the Alexander Valley farther south. Perhaps because of the climate but probably also due to the tastes of the owner and winemaker, Yorkville makes mostly Bordeaux wines--more finely textured and less flamboyant, though, than the Cabernets and Merlots that come out of Napa. Hi Rollr Red, made for early and more casual drinking, is a blend of 44% Malbec, 35% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. It's not my favorite Yorkville wine (I prefer the Cab Franc and the Petit Verdot), but it's very good and less expensive than those wines.

The color is a vibrant ruby, medium deep. Smells and flavors are intense and lively. Dark cherries, cranberries, spices and a hint of flowers. Has a lot of Cab Franc traits but they are toned down a bit by the more accessible Malbec and Merlot. I don't get any of the green vegetable qualities that I sometimes get (and dislike) from New World Merlot. A special twinkling charm that probably comes from the Petit Verdot. It's really hard to put down the glass, and that's what a good "Tuesday night" wine is all about. But I wouldn't be embarrassed to serve it over the weekend, either.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Domaine Sainte Anne, Cotes du Rhone, 2004

This 2004 Domaine Sainte Anne is less ripe than the 1998, 1999 and 2000 from the estate that I've been drinking. And I like that quality.

Deep ruby. Smells of plums, dark cherries, spice and earth rather than the usual blueberries and cream. Plenty of garrigue too. Firm, dry--even a little tart--on the palate. Reminds me of the 2004 Rabasse Charavin Cairanne--high praise. I like the 2004 Southern Rhone vintage; it's a welcome change from the ripe and riper vintages that have been coming at us year after year--1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007 and so on.. Ripeness is fine...but not as a steady diet.

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Soleil Blanc, 2008

This Soleil Blanc from the Leelanau Peninsula diverges pleasantly from the usual routine of Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio. The color has deepened considerably, and I think the wine has reached a plateau of maturity. Floral, spicy scents. Very intriguing. Medium bodied, not as full as Boskydel's very fine Vignoles but with similar acidity and verve. Reminds me a bit of a good Muscadet.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cave St. Verny Cotes d'Auvergne Le Pinot Noir, 2007

I love Pinot Noir but have never been a Burghound (my apologies to Allan Meadows, author of the authoritative newsletter that covers Burgundian wines). Compared to wines of similar quality from the Rhone, Loire, Alsace or even Bordeaux, red and white Burgundy wines have always been at least 50 percent more expensive. Whereas there are always many excellent Rhones on the market for $10 or less, that price point will generally not buy even a "decent" red Burgundy. That's why I nearly passed up this wine, labeled only "Le Pinot Noir" and priced at $8.99.

Again, I am not a Burghound and have not tasted my way through some of the best Burgundy has to offer. But I am quite happy drinking this little $8.99 Pinot from the Cotes d'Auvergne (a backwoods area near the Loire Valley.) The color is a medium light, typical of Pinot Noir, and there are no smells reminiscent of new oak or oak chips. Pure fruit here from what is clearly a cool climate. Cranberries, spice and pepper. More black pepper than I expect from Pinot Noir, but it's very pleasant. Gives the wine backbone and plays nicely against food (Tuscan vegetable stew at the moment). At this price, I can drink this Pinot frequently. And I intend to do just that.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Domaine du Vieux Chene Cuvee de la Haie aux Grives Cotes du Rhone, 2007

Domaine du Vieux Chene has always been one of my favorite wines. With prime property and old  vineyards on the road between Gigondas and Orange, Beatrice and Jean Claude Bouche are committed to organic vineyards and traditional winemaking. And their wines are always very distinctive and flavorful.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when Cotes du Rhones sold for $5 to $7 a bottle, Cuvee de la Haie aux Grives was on my yearly shopping list. Now that CDR prices have gone up a bit, I tend more to buy the less expensive Vin de Pays offerings from Vieux Chene and have reported on them frequently. They are so good that I am rarely tempted to dig into my pocket a little deeper for the more expensive Cotes du Rhones. I paid  $12.99 for this bottle. And, yes, it is at least 50% better than the excellent $8 Vin de Pays I've been buying.

Deep violet ruby. Smells and tastes tannic but it opens nicely and is at its best on the third night. This is a serious wine that will continue to age well. Black fruits, dark spices and flowers with a dash of black licorice.  On the second and third nights, I can find more of the black pepper that I love in Southern Rhones. Haie aux Grives, I believe, has more Syrah in the blend than its sibling, Cuvee des Capucines. Both are very good. And sometimes, it pays to dig a little deeper in the pocket and drink wine that is even better.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Manzanita Creek Chalk Hill Chardonnay Foothill Vineyards, 2010

This Chalk Hill Chardonnay was opened nearly a week ago and the remaining portion has been sitting, re-corked, in the refrigerator. Tonight, for curiosity, I tried it side-by-side with the excellent Gilbert Picq Vaucopin (see below) and was impressed. It's not nearly as good as the Premier Cru Chablis, of course, and it's a very different wine. But it has a similar steely minerality and has held up remarkably well over the past week. It is one of the few New World Chardonnays I would feel comfortable cellaring.

Medium straw. Nothing stale or oxidized about this wine; still going strong. Flowers, lime and minerals. Earlier, I had suspected a heavy dose of new French oak contributed to the limey quality. Now, I feel it is the nature of the grape raised on the white, ashy soils of Chalk Hill. Fresh, well defined flavors.

World Market has been selling this wine for $9.99, and I am very happy to be buying it at that price.

Gilbert Picq Premier Cru Chablis Vaucopin, 1998

I had high hopes for the 1996 and 1997 Gilbert Picq wines I bought. Aged in stainless steel to preserve the traditional qualities of Chablis, they were excellent in their youth and showed the potential to go several decades. Alas, most of them started developing overly deep colors and oxidized smells and flavors at about age 10. They fit the pattern of "premox" or prematurely oxidized white Burgundies from the late 1990s. Based on that experience, I have been reluctant to visit the handful of Gilbert Picq Chablis from 1998 and 1999 that are still in my cellar. And that apparently was a fortunate delay because this 15-year-old Premier Cru has developed precisely what I expected from the 1996 and 1997 wines.

Medium deep gold--several shades lighter than the 1996 and 1997 wines at age 10. From the first sniff, I know we have something special. Very flinty, as good Chablis should be, but clean as a whistle. Limey smells and flavors, as in limestone soil, but also the citrus fruit. Also some green apples and flowers. The beauty of this wine, though, is not in the number of different smells and flavors but the quality of the grapes and the perfect balance and proportion of the wine. Whether you are a student of Chablis or are drinking it for the first time, this is a wine that keeps you coming back for more. It has aged beautifully over 15 years and has many more years to go.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Domaine du Haute des Terres Blanches Chateauneuf du Pape, 1993

Domaine du Hautes des Terres Blanches produces a traditionally made Chateauneuf du Pape that does not get a lot of attention from Parker or Tanzer but is always very good when given enough time in the cellar. Although 1993 was only a so-so vintage, this wine is showing very nicely right now. It was a worthy companion to Domaine de Thalabert at the dinner table (see below).

Lovely compact smells of a mature Chateauneuf du Pape--dried cherries, red berries, spice and sea salt. An appealing  combination of sweet and savory. Very full on the mid-palate with a long, smooth finish.

Domaine du Hautes des Terres Blanches was widely available in my area during the 1990s for $10 to $12 a bottle. I bought quite a few and am glad I did. Even the oldest--this 1993--still has many years of life ahead of it.

Paul Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, 1990

This was my wine of choice for my 74th birthday, and a good choice it was. I've always been a big fan of Domaine Thalabert, particularly those from the 1980s. Critics tagged this as perhaps the best Thalabert ever, with the possible exception of the 1978, and online reviews on Cellar Tracker rate it very highly for current drinking. I can't disagree.

Deep ruby red. The bouquet is absolutely gorgeous. Black raspberries, lavender, sage. Has the fresh fruit smell of youth but with a leathery maturity emerging. Same on the palate. Very smooth texture with a lovely Syrah finish. Has the power of a good Cornas plus the finesse of a Cote Rotie. 12.7% alcohol is amazingly low for a wine with this much dramatic flair.

I agree that it's probably the best Thalabert ever made (I didn't get to taste the 1978), and it is one of the best Syrahs I've encountered. The wonderful secondary characteristics that I love so much in the 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1988 Thalaberts have not yet emerged; so, as good as it is now, it will get even better, at least for my taste.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Domaine des Baumard (Clos St. Yves) Savennieres, 1990

As I near and pass my 74th birthday, I intend to bring out some of my more mature bottles just to see what age is all about in wine and life. If I mature as well as this wine has, I will be very happy.

It's a deep old gold color, very mature to the eye. At first, I thought I might have a corked bottle since there is a slight cardboard-like aroma. This fades away, though, and what accompanies it is sheer beauty. Peach pits, nuts, quince and a bouquet of flowers. Maybe what I smell is damp straw, a common descriptor for Savennieres. Chenin Blanc is not always a sweet, smiling peach as many New World producers like to make it. It also has a dour element that underlies and accents its classic beauty. As I have read, Florent Baumard, refuses to use new oak or any other means of softening his wine, and that is for the better, as far as I'm concerned. The more I sniff, the more I like. And the palate: wow! Deep and complex with a rich texture (Rabelais used the word "taffeta" to describe Chenin Blanc, and I think it's appropriate here. What I like best, though, is the after taste. It just refuses to finish.

I may have kept this wine a bit long, thinking, before I removed the paper wrapper, that it was the more prestigious and ageworthy Clos du Papillon. It's not perfect and it may indeed be slightly affected by cork taint, but there is so much to like. It's really hard to quit drinking.