Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, 2003

Unlike the Terra Barossa Shiraz (below), which seemed to get sweeter and soupier with even short-term aging, this Bin 128 Shiraz from Penfolds has gained depth and complexity with bottle age.

Medium deep color, amber at the rim. The bouquet and flavors also show that it has definitely reached the drink now stage. Flowers, spice, red and black fruits. Oak has integrated nicely.  Even better on the palate. Savory as well as sweet. Some lead pencil hints that I usually associate with Cabernet. Has that friendly up-front Coonawarra personality that is difficult to miss...or dislike. Full flavors on mid-palate and ripe finish that lingers. Gets better through the meal. For my taste, this wine is at a perfect stage of maturity, but if you have some bottles in the cellar, I wouldn't wait too long.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thorn-Clarke Terra Barossa Winemaker's Selection Shiraz, 2009

When I had this wine at a tasting last year, it seemed a little tannic to me so I put this bottle away for a few months. I think that was a mistake. Although this is now a pleasant fruity Shiraz, it lacks structure now that the tannin has faded a bit.

Deep bluish. Beautiful scents and flavors of red raspberries and blue plums. Very ripe, very forward. Plush on the palate. Too plush, actually, and a bit plodding. Not enough  acid to make it lively and enticing. This is the kind of wine that gives Australia a bad name.

Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches Chateauneuf du Pape, 1994

Easter dinner with roast lamb: what better occasion for a mature Chateauneuf du Pape?

The brownish amber color suggests that this 1994 might be overly mature, but one sip dismisses that idea. This is a beautiful wine. Cherries, strawberries, lots of Grenache ripeness. Now some spices and herbs. Good bouquet, but it's on the palate that this wine really shines. Savory sea salt counters the wild berry ripeness. Layers and layers of flavor with perfect balance. This wine is really shining. No hard edges or off flavors.

Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches is not very widely marketed in the United States, and all of the bottles I bought in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor during the mid- to late-1990s were very well priced. Yet the vineyards are well situated, just to the west of Domaine Pegau, and this bottle certainly shows its class. It is head and shoulders above the very good 1993 Pegau Cuvee Reservee I had three weeks ago for my birthday.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Domaine de la Tourade Vacqueyras, 2008

I have come to really appreciate off vintages. 1) My favorite wines from these vintages are nearly always available, usually at a lower price than usual. 2) They are more likely to be closed out early by merchants at even deeper discounts. And 3) the cooler weather in these vintages can sometimes result in wines with greater fruit definition, particularly if you open a bottle on the early rather than the late side. All of these advantages hold true for this Domaine de la Tourade Vacqueyras, an excellent wine that usually sells for about $20 that I picked up for $8.10 on closeout.

The color is a bit lighter than usual for Vacqueyras, and the wine is a bit smaller framed. The relatively cool 2008 vintage, though, has given it great fruit definition with none of the flabbiness that I found in a few wines from riper years such as 2007 and 2003. Initial aromas and flavors are of black pepper, then Vacqueyras dark minerals and licorice. Has everything I expect from Vacqueyras and Tourade but very finely tuned as well. Now I get lively bursts of dark cherries, red plums and spice. All nicely framed with a long after taste. I'm going to enjoy this wine frequently over the  next six months or so.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Domaine Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape, 1990

Like the Elke Pinot (below), this wine too seemed disappointing at first. A slight musty smell made me think it might be corked, but there were too many other good things going on for that and it gradually faded away.

Marcoux produced very good Chateauneufs in 1990, and, in that vintage, the regular bottling that came to the United States was almost as good as the old vines cuvee. I've had this wine several times in the past, and I rank it among the very best Chateauneufs I have tasted. It's been several years since I last tried it, though, and, from a 375 ml bottle, I was worried that it might be starting to show its age. If so, there is still plenty of power, concentration...and pleasure to last for many years.

Large crust of sediment on one side of the bottle; it has been well stored with minimal movement. The color is still deep and dark for 24-year-old Chateauneuf du Pape. Dried and fresh cherries, thyme, rosemary. Old vine concentration and personality. 1990 is a superior vintage, of course, and that's why this wine has more strength and substance than the 1993 Pegau

Elke Donnelly Creek Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 1998

For a repeat birthday #75 dinner a week later with our son, I had a chance to try a couple of wines that didn't quite make the cut the first time. These two wines may have been even better than the 1993 Pegau and the 2010 Perbacco.

Even though there was no sign of leaking or ullage, the cork crumbled pretty badly on this 1998 Anderson Valley Pinot. While taking a few small pours to get rid of the cork remnants, I thought it was going to be a disappointing bottle. The color was light and the aromas and flavors were shy. A half hour later, with a full glass pour, the wine was beginning to show beautifully and it continued to improve over the next 40 minutes or so.

Very bright ruby. Dark cherries, flowers on the nose. Same on the palate with cranberry, dark spice and fruit tannins. This is my type of Pinot--savory rather than sweet spices. Very concentrated, and the acidity makes it dance on the finish. No signs of fading; this wine will go on for at least another year or two.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Le Clos du Caillou Vieilles Vignes Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Unique, 1998

When I first saw this wine on the shelf at Sam's (now Binny's) in Chicago, it was priced as a Cotes du Rhone--about $10 a bottle. I tried a bottle first, then quickly went back for more. Apparently, other consumers did the same because the price quickly escalated, and current vintages of this old vine CDR sell for $25 and up. The vineyards lie just outside the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation and have virtually the same soil and micro-climate. North Berkeley Imports sees that the best lots are delivered to them, produced traditionally and without fining or filtering. Even at $25, it is a good value, and this bottle demonstrates that it ages at least as well as most Chateauneufs.

The color is a medium deep crimson. Very traditional Southern  Rhone smells and flavors--dark cherries, thyme, black pepper and, initially, some barnyard. I don't think this is brett; it is much more pleasant and soon becomes integrated with the fruit. It is rather part of the warm, spicy flavor profile of old vine Mourvedre and Carignan. Strong, persistent flavors; savory rather than sweet. This could easily be mistaken for a Bois du Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape--a high compliment indeed.