Saturday, May 31, 2014

Domaine Loew Tokay Pinot Gris Cormier, 2004

This Alsace Pinot Gris is sweeter and fuller than most of us expect from a dry white table wine. But it has excellent acidity and shines with Alsace smells and flavors. It's too sweet for my wife, so she is drinking an Italian Pinot Grigio (MezzaCorona) while I enjoy this mature beauty. Same grape, totally different experiences.

The color is a deep gold compared to the Pinot Grigio. The wine is not overly mature, at least for my taste, but it has a fully developed bouquet. Spice, honey, apples. On the palate, it's full bodied with a very appealing fruit sweetness. Tingly, crystallized finish. I had this with whitefish Grenoble, and it was a bit rich for the dish; it would be better with a good soft Brie cheese.

I would prefer this wine (and most Alsace wines) to be a bit drier, but I have nothing against a bit of fruit sweetness when the wine is this good.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Olivares Altos de la Hoya Santa Ana Vineyard Jumilla Monastrell, 2008

Like many of the $10 and under Spanish wines on the market today, Altos de la Hoya represents a blend of the old and the new. The gnarled old tree-like vines produce exceptional fruit that is fermented in stainless steel tanks with wild yeasts. Yet the wine is aged for six months in French oak, a combination of large and small barrels. Although only a few of these barrels are new, they do impart some character to the wine that could be called "modern" or "international."

I have found Jumilla to be a good source for Monastrell wines, and Altos de la Hoya is one of the most impressive examples I have come across. I held these bottles back a couple of years to see how they would age, but I didn't learn much. The wine still comes across as young rather than mature Monastrell.

Deep, dark ruby. Rather powerful aromas of candied cherries, flowers and spices. It's not the spiciness I love in Mourvedre wines from Southern France, however. Ripe and rich on the palate with distinctive flavors of dark more than red fruits. A bit warm (14% alcohol) and a bit ripe for my taste, but still very enjoyable.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Copain Tous Ensemble Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2011

I was delighted to find an $8 glass of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir on the list at Every Day People Cafe in Douglas, MI. By the bottle, this wine is $32 at Every Day People--only $3 more than I have seen it on retail shelves. And, most importantly, the wine met all of my expectations for Anderson Valley Pinot.

Medium to light ruby; even some hints of amber at the edges but that's a good sign that the wine has not been over-manipulated. The aromas are immediately identifiable as Anderson Valley or, at least, North Coast--wild berries, flowers, herbs. So are the flavors--the tartness of cranberry vs the sweetness of red raspberry. As the wine airs, the up-front sweetness becomes ever more apparent and attractive, but there is still the cranberry acidity at the back end that makes you realize this is not just a pretty face. The finish really becomes expansive.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wine Critics vs Wine Bloggers

In retrieving information about the Clos de Coulaine Savennieres (below), I noted that Chris Kissack, the English Wine Doctor ( now charges admission to his house of tasting notes. An English physician, Kissack apparently spends a good part of his time vising French domaines in Bordeaux and the Loire and has an impressive collection of tasting notes going back many years. He has an excellent palate, and his site is clearly worth the price of admission...and more.

Other critics who charge for their websites include Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator, Jancis Robinson and John Livingstone-Learmonth (who has published several books on Rhone wines). As the latter has pointed out, there is not much money to be made from writing wine books; online subscribers help pay the bills. As much as I admire and respect their expertise, I have not subscribed to the sites of any of these critics. Two or three decades ago, I would be avidly following all of them, but at this stage of my wine life I have barely enough time to explore my own discoveries--both those on the store shelves and those in my cellar.

I am not a critic but a blogger. I don't judge the quality of the wines I describe; what I offer is simply my personal experiences with them, my nightly wine diary. I don't pretend to have a special palate, and I don't see anything to be gained from reading the notes of those who do. When I seek information about wine, I go to others like myself--bloggers or contributors to the Cellar Tracker community. Some notes are better than others, but so be it. I can usually read between the lines to find out if a wine is drinking well, over the hill or needs more time.

Papin-Chevalier Clos de Coulaine Savennieres, 2000

Chris Kissack, the Wine doctor (, who tastes a wide range of Loire wines every year, likes this wine, and I do too. It's not a wine, though, that I would serve to guests who have only moderate interest in wine. And it does not have the obvious greatness of some of the Baumard and Chateau d'Epire Savennieres from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Those older Chenin Blancs were undoubtedly given copious amounts of sulfur dioxide as a preservative because they are still light and bright in color after all those years.

The 2000 Clos de Coulaine, made by Claude Papin of Chateau Pierre-Bise, is a medium to deep gold in color with good brilliance. The bouquet is subtle but deep, taking awhile to unfold. Flowers, straw and a touch of honey. The flavors are also nicely focused, nothing over-done. Very dry texture on mid-palate and a long finish of honey and minerals. I have a stock of Clos de Coulaine from 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999. This 2000, I think, is the best of the bunch.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Marchesi di Barolo Barbera del Monferrato Maraia Barbera, 2011

Oh wow! This is a beautiful wine for almost any occasion. The name "Maraia" means "little rascal," and the label states that it's appropriate to describe the wine's "freshness, personality, and charm." Yes, it has all three of those qualities...and a lot more.

Deep, dark ruby with bluish tones. Part of the wine has been aged for a year in 225-liter French oak barrels; the rest, in traditional large barrels. I can smell the lovely aromas, even at arm's length, the moment the cork pops out of the bottle. And the smells just keep getting  better. Dark cherries, violets along with some dark licorice, black pepper tones. More of the same on the palate. Ripe wild berries. Rich mouth feel but perfectly balanced. It's hard to stop drinking this wine.

Monferrato is a hilly area east of Turin. Wines from this area are typically inexpensive, fresh and meant to drink fairly young, five to seven years after the vintage date. This 2011 Monferrato Barbera was included on the Wine Spectator's list of the Top 100 wines of 2012. And with good reason.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Domaine de la Bastide Cotes du Rhone Villages Visan, 2009

This wine offers a slightly different take on the Southern Rhone profile. The color is deeper and darker; I suspect some small new oak barrels have been used for aging some of the wine. As the label correctly suggests, I smell blackberries, dark cherries and brandy. Not as spicy nor as peppery as most Southern Rhones but intriguing. On the palate, there are some hints of plums and red berries and a warm, slightly alcoholic, slightly tannic feel. I suspect this wine still has some room to grow over the next three to five years.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Seaglass Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, 2010

Outside of Trader Joe's (see below), this wine from Seaglass is what you can expect from a $10 Pinot Noir--not really enough to keep me happy. It has some of the qualities I've found in other Pinots from Santa Barbara County--sweeter fruit along with baking spices such as cinnamon and cloves. This is a style that appeals to many wine drinkers, but I prefer the more intense wild berry fruit and peppery spice of the Pinots from farther north--Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast or Russian River Valley.

On  the first night, we had the Seaglass Pinot with a tomato based dish that was somewhat acidic; the match was not good. On the second night, we had a very spicy, salty pizza from Erbelli's, and the match was perfect--the hot spices of the pizza countering the sweet fruitiness and actually producing some pleasant savory qualities in the wine.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Trader Joe's Reserve Russian River Pinot Noir Lot 85, 2012

This Trader Joe's bottling of Russian River Pinot Noir reminds me of other Pinots I have tasted from Russian River, Sonoma Coast or Anderson Valley. I like the profile, relatively high in acidity with concentrated cherry/cranberry smells and flavors.

Medium to light garnet. Very pomegranate. Also red cherries and cranberries. Licorice and dark spices. Good acidity but also ripe fruit, nicely framed. Tannins are present but pleasant to deal with. Long finish.

Another Trader Joe's value: $9.99. I suspect it won't hang around on the shelves too long.

Rocca del Olmo Barbera, 2011

In many ways, this Barbera is even more impressive than its sibling, the  Barbaresco described  below. It's a darker ruby color with no amber tones; it's fuller bodied and richer in flavor. It is a very good Barbera, but, as to be expected, it lacks the complexity and class of the  Barbaresco.

Dark cherries,blueberries, cassis. Smooth on the palate. Fruity but not simple. Long finish. For $6.99 at Trader Joe's, this is another excellent value. I bought half a case; will probably regret not getting more.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Rocca del Olmo Barbaresco, 2010

There is no Trader Joe's store in my area so I buy their wines infrequently. When I do get to a TJ store, I usually focus on the Italian wines because I rarely find a disappointing bottle even at unbelievably low prices.

Barbaresco for $10??? At that price, you don't expect much, but this wine really delivers. Medium deep ruby with amber brick tones. With Nebbiolo wines that is not necessarily a sign of over maturity. And this wine has not even approached the peak of the hill. With Barolo, you usually think of tar and roses; this Barbaresco has plenty of roses but no tar. What's most impressive is the sleek body and silky texture. Elegant indeed. Layers and layers of dark cherry flavors and an incredibly long finish that dances on the palate.

Barbaresco is ordinarily a long aging wine. I'm not sure about this one, but there is no reason to wait. It's beautiful right now and is likely to stay that way for the next three to five years. There aren't many $10 wines that will deliver this much depth and complexity.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2009

The Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone from 2007 was special; it was my favorite CDR from that heralded vintage. The 2009 is not so exciting, at least at this stage of its development.

Medium deep ruby. Smells and tastes of ripe fruit--blueberries with nuances. Very pretty and pure but not very intense. Friendly,  laid back composure compared to 2007 and very little of the pepperiness that usually comes with both Grenache and Syrah from the Southern Rhone. This wine is a 70/30 Syrah-dominated blend, I  believe, but its personality is closer to that of Grenache. Ready to drink, for sure.

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

My last two bottles of this wine, in May and December of 2012, were rapturously good. This bottle, the last of a half dozen, has faded a bit from that level but is still enjoyable. Not to worry: I learned from the experience and will drink my bottles of 2007 Val des Rois within the next 18 months.

Brick red. Smells and flavors are laid back, not intense. Good Grenache doesn't die; it just fades away. Berries, spice and only a hint of pepper. Mostly red fruits; savory more than sweet. Very smooth on the palate. Some subtle notes of dried berries and flowers and a decent finish.