Thursday, February 28, 2013

Castillo de Monseran Carinena Garnacha, 2010

This wine is still available at World Market for $6.99, a remarkable value. I can't believe I haven't bought and consumed more of it. It's sourced from mountainside vineyards located in the center of the Aragon region, apparently a good climate for Grenache.

The color is an attractive deep ruby. Very pleasant fruit aromas and flavors--dark cherry, red plums and flowers. An unusually broad range of spicy aromas, soft but intense and lively. Not at all sweet but a finish that brings you back for more. Reminds me of old fashioned Cotes du Rhone wines from the early 1980s.

Backhouse California Pinot Noir, 2010

The wine list at Food Dance CafĂ© in Kalamazoo described this as a Sonoma Pinot Noir, and that's why I ordered it. But when the waitress showed me the bottle, the appellation was California. She knew the difference, and when I mentioned it to her she offered to take the bottle back. I'm glad I decided to give it a try anyway.

Backhouse Pinot Noir is very light in color and also in texture. Good sign. Cranberries, red berries, spice--has the qualities of a northern coast Pinot from Sonoma. Finely structured with bright acidity. Holds up and even gets better through the meal. Much better than your typical restaurant Pinot Noir. I suspect it does have some Sonoma or Mendocino fruit.

I should have known better than to expect a Sonoma Coast, or even a simple Sonoma Pinot Noir for $32. In fact, this wine sells for $7.99 retail. I'm going to keep an eye out for it.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone, 2009

The Perrin family produces a complete range of southern Rhone wines--from La Vieille Ferme Ventoux at $6 to $8 to Chateau Beaucastel Chateneuf du Pape at $60 to $80 a bottle. For any wine in this portfolio, you can pretty much count on getting a carefully made wine, true to its appellation and wine-making traditions. And, except for Beaucastel, the wine is nearly always priced a few dollars less than comparable wines from the same appellation. 2010 is the current vintage for the Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone, and it is fairly widely available, as the 2009 was, for under $10 a bottle. World Market was my source for this bottle.

Deep ruby. No signs of new oak or small barrels. Good fruit and spice from front to back. Dark cherries, lavender, a hint of black pepper and  black licorice. Full bodied but elegant with good fruit definition. This is a wine I could be happy drinking every night.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Louis Jadot Macon Villages, 2010

Apple is the descriptor that comes most readily to mind when describing Chardonnay. That is, if the wine hasn't been slathered with aromas of buttered toast, vanilla or lime, as it often is with heavily oaked New World Chardonnays. Like many Chardonnays today, Louis Jadot's Macon Villages proudly proclaims that it is made from 100% unoaked Chardonnay grapes matured in stainless steel to preserve the freshness of the fruit. And it's all the better for that, in my opinion. The apple-like smells and flavors of this wine are beautifully ripe, fresh and well defined. This 2010 Macon has excellent acidity that keeps it lively. But probably the most distinguishing feature is the silky smooth mouth feel.

I don't like to spend much more than $10 for a Macon Villages, and I was able to buy this wine on sale for about that price. I will be looking for a similar deal with the 2011 that is now hitting the market.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Clos Saint Jean Vin de Pays Vaucluse Les Calades, 2001

Prior to 2003, when Clos Saint Jean hired a consultant and started getting rave reviews from Robert Parker, the domaine had a local reputation for being "not very commercial." The Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape, which had been labeled old fashioned by Mr. Parker prior to 2003, was sold at the very low end of the price scale ($10 to $12), and the Vin de Pays Les Calades for only $5 to $6 a bottle.

I have gone through numerous cases of Les Calades since the late 1980s and consumed the wines at all stages of their development. In youth, they are good. In middle age (6 to 8 years), they are often funky. When fully mature (10 years of age or older), they often show the qualities of a smaller scaled Chateauneuf du Pape. And that should not be a surprise because the vineyards (calades = stones) are old and only a stone's throw from the Chateauneuf appellation.

I've worked my way through two cases of this 2001, and it has always met all my expectations--only a bit of funk during middle age and very good tonight at 12 years of age. Deep, deep cherries. Spice, tobacco and sea salt. The winemaking may have been a bit backward and imperfect before 2003, but with time, the the rocky old vineyards eventually show their quality.

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Soleil Blanc, 2008

Wines made from French hybrid grapes are not trendy right now in the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan. But this Soleil Blanc produced by Leelanau pioneer Bernie Rink has a more complete aroma and flavor profile than the majority of Chardonnays and Pinot Grigios now being made on the peninsula. Bernie told me it would age well, and so far I have found each bottle to significantly better than the last.

Medium yellow. Pineapples, peaches and a slight leesy, yeasty quality. Has the body of a Chardonnay, the acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc. Reminds me a lot of Vignoles, probably my favorite French hybrid but now used mainly for sweet and sparkling wines in Leelanau. 2008 was a good vintage on the Leelanau Peninsula, so I have high expectations for the rest of my case.

Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet, 1990

Inglenook is a storied name in California wine history, but this is probably the last really good Cabernet produced with the legendary diamond label. This bottle may not earn the raves I passed out with the last bottle, but it is a very good traditional Napa Cabernet--none of the high alcohol plushness that is trendy right now but classic Napa Cabernet smells and flavors. Black currants, plums, a hint of herbs and tea. You could almost believe there is some Merlot in the blend. Medium bodied with a long, ripe finish.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Londer Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2008

I knew this wine was going to be smokey. Forest fires hit the north Pacific coast in 2008 during the growing season, and Londer was so disappointed by the smoke taint in their wines that year that they sold them out at deep discount. The wine ordinarily sells for $35 to $40 a bottle; I bought a case for $72.

I was pleasantly surprised by the drinkability of the first three bottles, but the smoke taint clearly showed on this bottle--a somewhat pleasant smokiness on the first sniff and an unpleasant charred after taste. In between, the wine was still quite pleasant...but not as good as the previous three bottles. Regarding the increased smokiness, I have three theories:

1) As I've had more northern coast Pinots over the past two months, my taste has become more discriminating.

2) As the wine ages, the smokey quality is becoming more prominent. The winery warned this could happen; hence, the deep discount.

3) Bottle variation.

I'm leaning toward #3. Unless a wine is manufactured, there is bound to be variation between different bottles in a lot or even a case. I don't intend to hold the wine long term but I'm counting on some more pleasant experiences.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Olivier Leflaive Saint-Aubin Premier Cru en Remilly, 1995

I don't pretend to be an expert on white Burgundy; I've never felt rich enough to buy the best wines of the appellation. But at tastings I have sampled enough Puligny Montrachet, Chassagne Montrachet and Mersault to know what I like. And to know that Olivier Leflaive's Saint Aubin is an excellent value that was once in my price range. This was my favorite wine at a big Frederick Wildman tasting in the late 1990s, and I bought a case for less than $150, which was a good buy even then. The current vintage of the same wine would likely cost me $350 to $400 today.

The vineyard for Saint-Aubin en Remilly is just west of the Grand Cru vineyards of Puligny Montrachet and higher on the slope. So it has the acidity and intensity that I prefer in Chardonnay. Nearing its 18th birthday, the wine is appropriately showing its age with a deep gold color. Even since my last bottle a couple of years ago, it has changed--greater maturity, less fresh fruit but more of the wonderful secondary characteristics of a fine wine. The winemaker, Frank Grux, writes that "one finds hints of almonds, cinnamon, spices and beeswax," and I agree (although I admit that I wouldn't have noticed the cinnamon and beeswax without his suggestion). What really excites me about this wine tonight is the beautiful silky texture and the long, long, long finish. This bottle, in its maturity, tastes much sweeter than any of the others from the case, but in a positive way. It's a layered sweetness, not at all cloying or one-dimensional. It remember it distinctly even the next morning.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya Jumilla Monastrell, 2008

There are many good Spanish Monastrell (Mourvedre) wines such as Castano, Luzon Verde and Tarima on the market selling for $6 to $8. I could happily drink these inexpensive wines virtually every night, but I am more than willing to pay a 50% premium to buy this Altos de la Hoya from Bodegas Olivares.

Monastrell has been used by winemakers in Jumilla since at least the 15th century, and some of the vines used for Altos de la Hoya date back to 1872. Jumilla is a warm (some would say hot) area, but Mourvedre thrives in warm climates, and the vineyards are at an elevation of 1,500 feet where night temperatures dip low, allowing the grapes to maintain their acidity even at optimal ripeness. I have never tasted a Jumilla Monastrell that I would call fat or flabby but there is always a powerful wild berry fruit presence.

The 2008 Altos de la Hoya is deep, dark and purplish. Aromas and flavors are similar--purple fruits and purple flowers, not unlike a young Gigondas. The wine has seen new French oak, and the fruit flavors and aromas take a while to fully open. By the second night, though, the fruit is really singing. Wild blueberries and blue plums. Ripe, full bodied but also lively and fresh. Has the depth and complexity of wines costing several times as much. Worth $12.99? Of course.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Vignerons du Mont Ventoux Altitude 500 Ventoux, 2007

In writing about the 2011 Chateau Pesquie La Terrasse Ventoux, David Russo of G.B. Russo & Son of Grand Rapids, Michigan, says that Ventoux "drinks like a fuller bodied version of Pinot Noir." I like the comparison. And I particularly like the fact that Ventoux generally sells at a discount to the market while Pinot sells at a premium. Compared to red Burgundy or the best West Coast Pinot Noirs, Pesquie La Terrasses (at $12.99) is a great bargain. Compared to Pesquie, Altitude 500 (produced by the cooperative at Bedoin in Ventoux) is an even greater bargain, generally selling for about $8 to $10 a bottle.

Medium deep ruby. Oh, this wine is really blossoming. Lots of pepper and spice, but with the emphasis on spice. Juniper berries, lavender and also some black pepper and tobacco. Very fragrant. On the palate, yes, as silky smooth as a good Pinot Noir. Fruity but not flimsy. Full bodied elegance.

I've tried the 2009 Altitude 500 and was not so impressed. But then the wine may need a year or so to show its best. I know that I've been a critic of the 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone, but mostly because of the excess hype. For Ventoux wines and lesser Cotes du Rhones, it is definitely an outstanding vintage.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mendocino Vineyards Mendocino County Chardonnay, 2009

When I first started getting interested in wine in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I bought a lot of wines from Mendocino County--Fetzer and Edmeades are the names that come to mind. I bought them because they were cheaper than wines from Napa and Sonoma and offered a lot of pleasure for the money. I still have a bottle of the 1979 Edmeades Anderson Valley Cabernet, purchased for $8. The last bottle I tasted a few years ago was excellent and holding up well. Now, of course, Anderson Valley has forged a high-end reputation, particularly for Pinot Noir and Alsace-type whites.

Mendocino Vineyards, as far as I can tell, must be a second label of another winery; I can find no mention of it online except for this particular wine. It's made from 100% organically grown grapes, which might link it to Yorkville Cellars or Frei. The grapes did not come from the Anderson Valley but from nearby areas of Mendocino that probably have higher average temperatures during the growing season but are still cool enough to produce a fresh, zesty Chardonnay. Medium deep gold. Smells of citrus and apple. Bright and cool. Some tropical fruit on the palate. Chablis-like in style, and I suspect the wine will get even better in the coming months.

Rhoning Stones Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This was a World Market January close-out special from a few years ago--marked down from $12.99 to $6.99. My only complaint about the wine is its cheesy pun on the Rolling Stones name while failing to reveal to me who grew these lovely grapes and where. I suspect that it probably came from the area between Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape, near or on the Plan de Dieu.

Very deep and dark. Probably new wood or small barrels. I'm a traditionalist, but I'm not about to kick out this wine for being too modern. Red berry scents: strawberries. Ripe, deep and concentrated. Now the dark berries of Syrah and just a hint of Mourvedre spice and pepper. As the Syrah and Mourvedre come forward, Rhoning Stones will continue to grow. A big mouthful for a Cotes du Rhone--almost like a Gigondas. Ripe red berries on the front of the palate, deeper black and blue berries on the long finish. This wine has improved a lot since the last bottle, and I think it's best days are yet to come.

Sabrego Valdeorras Godello, 2010

The last time I wrote about this wine I was bragging about the excellent price I got on an exceptional wine: $14.99 at World Market compared to $17 to $18 at other shops across the country. Well, the price just came down as World Market closed out Sabrego at $7.49. I left one bottle on the shelf for some other lucky person.

This really is a very good wine no matter what the price. Bright golden color. Enticing leesy scents of citrus, green apples and flowers with a hint of almond paste. Medium bodied with mouth watering acidity and a long sharply focused finish. If this were a Chardonnay, I think I would be comparing it to a good Puligny Montrachet.

Godello is a traditional white wine grape for this area of northwestern Spain, and some of the old vineyards   that were once threatened are now being restored. Sabrego is the Spanish word for granite, and I would suspect that the granitic mountain soil is not much good for raising anything...except for low yields of very fine wine grapes.

Friday, February 1, 2013

SeaGlass Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, 2010

One of the best things about Pinot Noir is that, like Riesling, it truly does reflect the place from which it's grown. Santa Barbara is recognized as a good appellation for California Pinot Noir, but there is an enormous difference between these wines and those grown farther north in the Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast, Russian River and Carneros.

The 2010 SeaGlass Pinot has smells and flavors of dark cherries, cinnamon and other sweet spices--broader, riper and without the red berries and flowers that are more typical of wines from the northern coast. I prefer the latter, but this is a good wine at a good price.