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.