Friday, January 31, 2014

El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa Navarra Old Vines Garnacha, 2010

As you have probably discovered, I am a sucker for Old Vines and traditionally made wines. And this wine has the right story: vines averaging 60 years of age, some more than 100 years from an area that is being threatened by new vineyards devoted to more profitable commercial wines. A young New York city chef loves the wine so much she has a glass every day while planning her menus. When she goes to Spain, she meets the winemaker and they form a mother-daughter type bond, cooking together and sharing ideas about food and wine. I fell in love with this wine, and its story, before I bought it. Now, I'm thinking, the story is only half true.

The color is very deep and bluish for Grenache. Looks like a product of barriques (small French oak barrels). At first, I get the funkiness of old vines but this blows away quickly. Blue plums, spice box, black pepper. But again not like the traditionally made Grenache wines of the Southern Rhone that I love so much. Thick and rich on the palate--almost like a Vintage Character Port but without the sweetness. Hmmmm.

A Google search reveals that, yes, the wine has been aged in French oak barriques and left five months on its lees--a process more commonly used for white than for red wines. Other red wines with this leesy quality are Monserrans Garnacha and St. Hallett's Barossa Valley Gamekeeper's Red. That's what produces the thick, raisiny palate feel. Although it's made from old vines, this wine comes with a few new tricks.

Vietti Tre Vigne Barbera d'Asti, 2010

As a top-notch Barbera d'Asti, this is a good wine to try beside the Franco Serra Barbaresco (below). Barbera has a similar profile to Nebbiolo--cherries, flowers and a hint of licorice. Both Barbera and Nebbiolo are high acid, but Barbera has very little tannin and the fruit is right up front from the beginning.

Even darker in color compared to the Barbaresco. And the smells and flavors are even more striking, although not as complex. Not a simple wine, though. Reminds me a lot of a Pinot Noir from the foggy North Coast of California. The dryness that became apparent with the Barbaresco late in the meal never appears with this Barbera. But the flavors never approach the complexity of that wine.

The Tre Vigne sells for $10 a glass at Zazio's, $14.99 a bottle at Bacchus. It too is an excellent value.

Franco Serra Barbaresco, 2008

By the glass, this is rather expensive--$14--at Zazio's Italian Restaurant in Kalamazoo. But I rarely find a Barbaresco as a wine-by-the-glass. And I wanted a chance to try this Franco Serra because it is available right now for $23 at Bacchus Wine and Spirits on Oakland Boulevard. One of the Nebbiolo aristocrats of Italian wine, Barbaresco usually sells for $30 and up. My judgment is that this wine is a good value, whether you buy it by the glass at Zazio's or by the bottle at Bacchus.

Deep, dark robe. Even when young, Nebbiolo often has some orange tones. Deep scents of dark cherries, licorice and hints of flowers--again very Nebbiolo. Warm, luxurious mouth feel with well defined flavors. Nothing overstated but everything in place for graceful aging. Perfect with braised short ribs and opens up over the course of the meal. Tannins don't become noticeable until late in the meal. As I've heard so many times from guests drinking Barolo or Barbaresco for the first time: this wine is very dry. Yes, it's dry, but it's certainly not flat nor devoid of fruit. A dryness that just makes you want another glass.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cameron-Hughes Lot 324 Atlas Peak (Napa Valley) Chardonnay, 2010

Cameron-Hughes is a California-based negociant. Since the wine comes from Atlas Peak (a decidedly high-rent area), this wine undoubtedly represents excess production from a premium label that is reluctant to mark down its own wines. At World Market right now, it is being sold for $11.99, a true bargain.

Medium yellow. Very forward and appealing. Nutmeg, butter, flowers. The label mentions orange blossom, and, yes, I agree. The buttery flavors are perfect with crab cakes. Yum. But it's not the "big, buttery" quality that has been applied to many highly oaked New World Chardonnay. Medium to light body and lemon curd acidity

Domaine de la Tourade Vacqueyras, 2008

I've enjoyed the Tourade Gigondas; it's one of my favorites. This is my first try of a Tourade Vacqueyras.

Medium color, light for Vacqueyras but that may be related to the 2008 vintage which was a bit light and early maturing. Southern Rhone pepperiness is apparent from the first sniff, but it's relatively elegant and blends nicely with red plums, berries and garrigue. Understated but intense. There is more of the same on the palate. Medium bodied, without the aggressive black licorice that comes across in many Vacqueyras wines. Not at all rustic. In fact, it's almost Pinot-like with peppery/berry flavors that tease and linger. I approve and will come back for more Tourade Vacqueyras when the price is right.

Londer Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2008

A blurb near the masthead of the PinotFile newsletter proclaims that "the line between Pinot Noir and sex is blurred." I could not agree more, and this wine provides ample proof.

The smoky smells and flavors that resulted from the 2008 forest fires near the Anderson Valley are becoming more prominent all the time. But the sexy Pinot qualities are enough to compensate. Satiny, silky texture--so delicate and lovely, yet so powerful. Very cherry, rich and deep. And, of course, smoke. But it adds some structure and blends with the slightly bitter cranberry and pepper edge.

PinotFile, incidentally, is a very good newsletter, written and produced by the "Prince of Pinot" a retired ophthalmologist who, like Dr. Londer (also a retired ophthalmologist), clearly loves Pinot Noir. He sacrifices himself by drinking a lot of Pinot Noir every month and writing about them. I have found the information and reviews to be very reliable. And the newsletter is free! (Wish the Pinots were.)

Unfortunately, the Londers have given up producing Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs so they can spend more of their retirement lives with their children and grandchildren. A good idea for them, a bad idea for Pinotphiles.

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1994

The last bottle of this I opened a few weeks ago was muted and not very interesting. I suspected something was wrong--probably corked but at a lower than usual level. This bottle confirmed my suspicions about the first bottle and strengthened my confidence in Domaine de Thalabert.

The color has lightened a bit, and the bouquet is initially somewhat understated. With aeration, though, it comes forth nicely with scents of currants, red and black, and a hint of cassis. On the palate, there is the usual Thalabert charm and complexity. Red and black fruits, black olives and herbs. Rich mid-palate and a long ripe finish. Reverberates as only a Thalabert can.

This doesn't measure up to the excellent Thalaberts produced in the 1980s, most of which are still drinking well. But it's reached the magic age of 20 years and, for my taste, is one of the best Syrah wines on the market.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Domaine Charvin a Cote VDP Principaute d'Orange, 2006

Charvin Chateauneufs du Pape are very popular these days among Southern Rhone enthusiasts. They are also somewhat pricey, and, as a result, I haven't tried one. This Vin de Pays gave me an affordable look at the Charvin style. And I'm impressed.

Very dark. Black fruits dominate.Spicy and peppery but not your typical Southern Rhone at all. Has some New World qualities and a good bit of Merlot in the blend. Nothing green or mean about this Merlot, though. Dark, ripe and full bodied. No matter what your wine biases might be, there is much for your to like in this wine.

Domaine du Pesquier Gigondas, 1998

My first sniff of this 1998 Gigondas told me it was over the hill. I smelled stale, seemingly oxidized fruit. Luckily, I didn't give up on it because it blossomed over the next several nights into a very good Gigondas.

Deep and dark with lots of crusty sediment. The sediment, I discovered, was giving it its stale, funky odors but these were easily deleted with careful pouring and use of the Rabbit aerator. Powerful, ripe Gigondas flavors. A somewhat old fashioned style of Gigondas, with rustic tannins and no new oak qualities. That's probably why I like it some much.

Chateau Tahbilk Goulbourn Valley Marsanne, 1992

This is one of the most unique wines I've ever had. And after four straight nights of contemplating its virtues, I still cannot say for sure how much I like it.

My wife passed on the wine as soon as she saw the color and tasted what she sensed as "too sweet." Tahbilk's Marsanne comes in a clear bottle, and it has been an old gold color for at least a decade. That is the way it is made. It is a dry table, not a dessert, wine, and it is made to be aged for many years. The estate is selling this wine on its web site for about $30 a bottle.

I admit that it is hard to get past the mature color. I keep expecting bitter, oxidized smells and flavors but don't find them. Honey, flowers and mineral. This is actually the ultimate of a "mineralized" quality in wine--not quite fruit, not quite anything else but interesting. Ripe dried apricot flavors. Rich and ripe; clings to the palate. Very ripe, long finish but definitely not a dessert wine. I like it but wish it had a bit more acid to bring it to life.

Seaglass Santa Barbara Chardonnay, 2010

There is an unoaked Seaglass Santa Barbara Chardonnay on the market. This one is "lightly oaked," as they state on the label, and very attractive. Hints of lime that often come from French oak barrels are prominent in the smells and flavors along with a slight bit of lemon butter. Not at all the big, buttery style of Chardonnay but uses those elements to their best advantage. Goes very well with broiled salmon.

Henry Fessy Cru Beaujolais Brouilly, 2009

There is a tendency among some who profess an interest in wine to speak of  Beaujolais as if it's trivial and unworthy of serious consideration. That may be because of the hype that surrounds the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau every year. I must admit that I have very little interest in Beaujolais Nouveau, but I love the potential of the Gamay grape and have had many fine Cru Beaujolais wines. This 2009 Brouilly from Henry Fessy is one of them.

Medium garnet. Bouquet of red berries, ginger and flowers--subtle and intriguing. More of the same on the palate. Ripe red  berries, finely focused. Pinot-like in delicacy. Perfect stage of ripeness and maturity. Dances lightly on the tongue. I could drink a lot of this.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Les Baux de Provence Mas de Gourgonnier, 2009

I had this wine a couple of years ago at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, and it was a heavenly match for the Provencal entree that I ordered. I've been dreaming about that wine and that meal ever since.

At home, alas, the wine did not have the same charm, but it is still very good. Medium deep color, darker than a typical Southern Rhone. Assertive gamey, earthy scents to go along with the Southern Rhone profile. Dark berries and spice but also a touch of dark chocolate in the middle, similar to a Cabernet/Shiraz blend. Maybe that's because there is 23% Cabernet along with Syrah (18%), Grenache (23%) and Carignan (24%) in this Mas de Gourgonnier.

Re-corked and sitting on the shelf, this wine gets even better over the next several days. Side by side with the Delas Cotes du Rhone, it seems like a much more mature wine, even though they are both from the 2000 vintage. I paid $13.99 for this at Binny's in Chicago on the trip home from Chez Panisse.

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2009

This wine is made from 70% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre and Carignan from vineyards in Cairanne. It's a great combination that has given me a good deal of pleasure since the 2007 vintage.

Clean, focused smells of dark fruits and herbs. Nicely understated but strong undercurrents of Syrah/Grenache. Could be mistaken for a Saint Joseph or Crozes-Hermitage from the northern Rhone...except for the price tag. Delas Saint Esprit and the Delas Ventoux (also a beautiful wine) are always available for about $10 at World Market.

Gilbert Picq Chablis, 2000

Gilbert Picq Chablis was well priced during the late 1990s, and I bought several cases of the village Chablis, the Vieux Vignes and the Premier Cru Vaucoupin and Vosgros. The wines were wonderful in their youth and seemed to have what it takes to age at least 10 to 15 years. Unfortunately, a good number of these wines, even the Premier Crus, started to show signs of oxidation at about 9 to 10 years of age, eventually becoming virtually undrinkable. I chalked it up to the "premox" phenomenon that spoiled a large number of highly regarded white Burgundy wines.

Whether the premature oxidation was caused by corks, poor storage or whatever, it did not extend into the 21st century. This 2000 Chablis is precisely what I expected the 1996 to become--a beautiful unoaked version of Chardonnay that typifies the Chablis appellation. Flinty is the usual term applied to Chablis; drink this wine, and you'll know why. Distinctive mineral, wet stone bouquet and flavors--I love it. Lemon, green apple--plenty of acid--but also the sweetness of hard candy. You can find new facets in this wine with every sip.

Gilbert Picq wines can no longer be obtained for $10 to $12 a bottle as they were in the late 1990s, but they are well worth the $20+ now being charged. This is wonderful old-style Chablis. Whatever happened to the wines from 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 is a crying shame. I suspect now that it was poor storage and transportation.

2 Lads Old Mission Peninsula (Michigan) Pinot Grigio, 2012

If were doing the labeling for 2 Lads, I would have called this wine Pinot Gris. Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same group, of course, but the latter name is more associated with rich, broad-flavored wines from Alsace as opposed to the higher acid, herbal tinged Pinot Grigios of northeastern Italy.

The wine is young, and the color is still light, the smells and flavors, fresh and vibrant. Aromas of canteloupe, lychee and spring flowers; these remind me more of Gewurztraminer. But there is also a broad spicy, smokey quality that I often smell in a good Alsace Pinot Gris. Medium bodied. Persistent flavors and a racy finish.