Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Monte Degli Angeli Piemonte Pinot Noir, 2013

The label tells me this is Pinot Noir, but the smells and flavors say Piemonte. Dark cherries, rose petals and smoke--has many of the qualities of a good Nebbiolo or Barbera wine. The longer it sits in the glass and is exposed to air, the better it gets. Again, Piemonte. Lots of black pepper and grip on the finish. This is what I expect from a top Cotes du Rhone. And at $10.99, it's $5.00 cheaper than the less impressive Cotes du Rhone below. I like this wine.

Domaine de Creve Coeur Cotes du Rhone, 2011

As a long-time fan of Cotes du Rhone, I find this wine to be very good but not quite up to the highest standards of the appellation. I get the smells of black pepper and spice that I expect, but they are somewhat subdued compared to wines of the Plan de Dieu such as Vieux Chene and l'Espigouette. Maybe that's the appellation, and I'm not as familiar with wines from the Sablet/Seguret area where Creve Coeur is located. Or it could  be because of an unusually high percentage of Grenache in the blend. After an extended period of aeration in the glass, the wine shows some deep black raspberry scents, typical of Grenache. While the aromas offer potential, I find the flavors to be just a bit facile for my taste, without the grip that I expect. Maybe it needs some time.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1985

Same grape, same year as the Langi Shiraz below. And an equally fantastic wine.

The color is almost identical to the Langi Shiraz, but the bouquet is much more forthcoming and dramatic. Black fruits, cassis, olives and juniper berries. Again, the fruit is so lively and fresh that it is hard to believe these wines are 29 years old. The 1985 Delas Hermitage (from Christmas day) is a beautiful wine but smells and tastes at least 10 to 15 years older. The Thalabert is definitely more acidic than the Langi Shiraz, and that trait is probably a factor in determining preferences at the table.

I am a long-time fan of Domaine Thalabert--bought at least a case every year from 1979 through 1990. (The quality started falling off in the mid-1990s, though, and the wine is no longer on my shopping list.) At one time, I believed Robert Parker's views that this wine, like others from Crozes-Hermitage, were for drinking at six to eight years of age. Fortunately, I bought enough to be able to experience the transformation from good to very good to excellent...and beyond.

Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz, 1985

This wine was made by Trevor Mast but before he owned the vineyard, when he was consulting for the Frattin brothers. Trevor brought this Shiraz to Chicago to show distributors and try to attract interest in the Shiraz vineyards he considered special. He then spent several days with us in Kalamazoo and left a few bottles of the 1985 for us to enjoy. For all of us at the table tonight, this fantastic bottle served as a fitting tribute to a gifted winemaker who left us all too early.

I've tasted many older Langi Shiraz wines--notably the 1989, 1992 and 1997--but this has to rank at or near the top of the list. The color is deep and dark with minimal browning. Looks, smells and tastes like a much younger wine. The smell and taste of freshly ground black pepper is there--a trademark of Langi Shiraz. It's subtle, of course, part of the overall elegance and class. Black fruits, Syrah spice--not thick but strong and persistent. Trevor apparently liked it enough that he bought the vineyard. And wine lovers are all better off because he did.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Chateau du Puch Monbazillac, 1990

Monbazillac is a neighbor of Sauternes. And because it comes from a lower rent district, there are those who claim that it should be drunk much sooner. Don't believe it. At 24 years, this wine is just coming of age.

Medium to deep gold. More of the botrytis honey that I smelled in the Anjou Blanc. Sweeter here, of course. Also some apricots and pie spices. More Semillon than Sauvignon--full bodied and rich but with a slight grassy tang. Apricot fruit on the finish. Fresh and lively.

Pierre Bise Anjou Blanc, 2001

This middle-aged Chenin Blanc from the Loire did not embarrass itself as a companion to the 1978 Trimbach Riesling (see below). These are both wines that reward close attention.

Medium deep gold. The smells capture the heavenly side of Chenin Blanc--honey, flowers, white fruit. There is clearly some botrytis here that adds depth and complexity. Same on the palate but with a soft, satiny edge. For a simple Anjou Blanc, this wine is incredible. It is really better than some of Pierre Bise's Savennieres. Unique qualities that stay with you for a long time.

I bought several cases of this (less than $50 a case) for my daughter's wedding, and it served that purpose well--fresh, lively and far superior to any cheap oak-chip-tinged Chardonnay on the market at the time. I still have one more bottle but will be in no hurry to drink it.

Trimbach, Alsace Riesling, 1978

This is not the 1978 Trimbach Close Ste. Hune Riesling, which is now selling for upwards of $650 a bottle--if you can find it. Nor is it the Trimbach Frederic Emile, another highly acclaimed Riesling. This is the regular Alsace Riesling, which the estate recommends drinking within the first five years. I am probably the only person in the world who has kept this wine for so long, but I swear that it was not a mistake.

I remember buying a case of this Riesling from Pop's in New York City and having it shipped to Michigan for a grand total of about $40. I had more than my share of enjoyment when the wine was young and vibrant. But as often happens with me, the last bottle gets saved and then ignored and forgotten. When my son-in-law got interested  in Riesling, I thought "ah ha!" And I was right. He and my son enjoyed it as much as I did.

When first poured, the wine is bright medium gold but within 10 minutes of being exposed to air it turns to an equally bright but deep old gold. That is really the only sign of maturity, though, for this 36-year-old white wine. The bouquet is somewhat understated for a wine that has been in the bottle for this long, but it is quite attractive: apricots, honey, almonds and a hint of flowers. On the palate, there is all that and more. Alsace Riesling at its best--lively acidity with a decidedly dry finish.

I wouldn't pay $650 for it, but the quality of this low-end Trimbach Riesling tells me that the Clos Ste Hune is  by no means over-priced. It is clearly one of top wines in the world. What's even better is that the current vintage of this simple Alsace Riesling from Trimbach is available in shops for $15 to $20 a  bottle. Trimbach has been making wines since 1626, and I would not expect any major change in quality or style in the next hundred years or so. As the Reverse Wine Snob puts it, Trimbach Riesling, at under $20 a bottle, is a "bulk buy."

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Graham's Vintage Port, 1980

This Vintage Port from 1980 provided a nice conclusion to our Christmas dinner. Graham's 1980 has received good reviews from experts and from casual drinkers. I was a bit disappointed on the first night, suspecting that the bottle might be slightly corked. But on the second night, it was showing its best qualities. Blackberry fruit, elegant and smooth with a nice alcoholic kick at the end. A good accompaniment to Christmas pudding. I'm looking forward to drinking more of this 1980 in the future.

Chateau Fortia Chateauneuf du Pape, 1998

This Chateauneuf du Pape was one of the standouts at a big Rhone tasting put on by the Ann Arbor Wine Club about 15 years ago. There were many Chateauneufs on the table--Pegau, Bois de Boursan, Domaine du Hautes des Terres Blanches--but this Foria was attracting the most attention. At that time, it was big, dark and powerful; tonight, it is much lighter in color and body...but a far superior wine.

For a 1998, I must admit that it is showing its age. More secondary than primary fruit smells and flavors. High toned. Red cherries, kirsch, spice and herbs. Herbs, in fact, probably dominate. I like the 1998 vintage in the Southern Rhone but have to admit that most Chateauneufs from this vintage are at least as advanced as those from 1988, 1989 and 1990. How will they age from here? Given the chamelion-like development of wines from this appellation, I don't think you can say. On Cellar Tracker, one taster said he had written this wine off several years ago but now sees it suddenly getting better. That's not generally the way wines go, but Chateauneuf du Pape is a blend of several varietals, each with its own aging window. If the Grenache fades into the background, the Syrah and Mourvedre may take over and fill the holes. And the combination of aging Grenache and youthful Mourvedre can be quite exciting.

Delas Hermitage Marquise de la Tourette, 1985

This was not a particularly expensive Hermitage back in the day. It never garnered the scores and the accolades given to Chave Hermitage or Jaboulet's Hermitage la Chapelle, but I suspect it would do very well against those wines right now.

The color has turned to  a mature brick red, and there is nothing dramatic or powerful in the smells and flavors. Raspberries, currants, cassis--all very elegant and well stated. Silky smooth on the palate. More savory than sweet. Actually, it could easily be mistaken for a fine old red Burgundy. Definitely mature but not at risk of falling apart. A perfect accompaniment to the roast lamb Christmas dinner.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Trimbach Alsace Pinot Blanc, 2011

Trimbach ranks at the very top of my Alsace hierarchy. I have fond memories of the Chicago Wine Society auction/tasting back in the early 90s when Jean Trimbach showed up to chat with buyers and pass around full glasses of his Clos St. Hune Riesling. This reasonably priced Pinot Blanc is not Clos St. Hune, but it still shows the Trimbach class.

Medium deep gold. Pears, flowers, apples. Big and dry with a spicy bite on the finish. There is some Pinot Auxerrois in the blend, which probably accounts for the nutty, spicy smells and flavors. A very refreshing wine that has substantial flavor interest. For about $15 at Bacchus in Kalamazoo, I will go back for more.

Rosa dell'Olmo Barbera d'Asti, 2011

This wine makes a wonderful first impression--dark cherries, licorice, flowers. Very much in the big and beautiful Piedmont mode. But after a few sips, I detect an unpleasant (for me) herbal element on the finish. This wine is cheap enough ($5.99 at Trader Joe's) and it makes a good every day red. But I suspect that herbal note will become more rather than less apparent with the passing of time.

Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Coonawarra Shiraz, 2004

My experience with Wynn's wines goes back several decades, and I'm still a buyer any time I see the familiar label. The Michael Shiraz and the John Riddich Cabernet now command a price that is out of my budget, but I am always happy with the quality and price of the regular bottlings.

At 10 years of age, this Shiraz seems to be at its peak and showing no signs of decline. Deep scents of blackberries,  mocha, chocolate and a hint of peppercorn. Aussie fullness on the palate with highlights of black raspberries and chocolate. My preference is for Northern Rhone Syrah, but there is nothing not to like about this style. Well balanced and long on the finish.

Buehler Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1987

Buehler Vineyards has a prime Napa location near St. Helena at the foot, but its wines are always reasonably priced. I paid $11 plus for this Cabernet in the late 1980s, and the current vintage sells for about $20. Maybe because of the low price, the high quality often gets overlooked.

Considering the wine's age, I didn't open it ahead of time to let it breathe. And that was probably a mistake; this wine is not old in any way. At first, the bouquet is not as forthcoming as I expected, but it opens slowly over the next half hour. The flavors are fresh and lively from the beginning, and they too expand considerably. Red fruits and a hint of black currants. Definitely a Napa Cab rather than a Bordeaux in style. It is not at all heavy, alcoholic or fat as many New World Cabernets are. The structure keeps it lively and leaves a long, lovely finish.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Castillo de Monseran Carinena Garnacha, 2009

I buy a few of these every year and drink them rather promptly. This 2009 was hidden under other bottles in the cellar--a fortunate mishap. It's still fresh and lively but has taken on additional nuances. Deep ruby. Fresh scents and flavors of sweet cherries--definitely Spanish rather than Southern Rhone Grenache in style. A distinctive texture--somewhat rustic--that probably comes from leaving the wine on its spent yeast cells for awhile. This is a practice that is more common with white than red wines but works well with Monseran and with St. Hallett's Gamekeeper's Red. Fruity but not at all simple.

Castillo de Monseran is an excellent value, selling for as little as $6.99 at World Market. And the importer often offers rebates of as much as $12 for the purchase of six bottles. It's a wine to buy in quantity and drink leisurely over three or four years.

Gilbert Picq Chablis, 2005

This is what Chablis is all about. It reeks of flint, salt, minerals and citric fruit. You can almost taste the ancient sea that once covered this limestone soil. The mature smells are beautiful, and there is even more to like in the flavors. Grabs the tongue and wraps its flavors around and around. Give me more.

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2001

This wine has definitely reached full maturity and drinking nicely right now. There is considerable crusty sediment on one side of the bottle, the bouquet is well formed and the flavors are complex and haunting. The spicy fragrance reminds me of mature Mourvedre more than the Grenache and Syrah that make up this Cotes du Rhone. It's a smell that I love. Red berries on the mid-palate. Burnished texture. And a ripe, spicyt red fruit finish. This is not an ordinary Cotes du Rhone.

Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir, 2008

Louis Latour goes outside the Burgundy area for Valmoissine's Pinot grapes, and the price, as a result, is relatively low for a Pinot Noir of this quality.

Deep ruby. Vibrant fruit--cherries, spice, vanilla. More fruit and less earth than I remember from previous vintages. The 2007 was also fruity so maybe the winemaker is taking a slightly different approach. Bright red fruit at a good stage for drinking. Just enough tannin to give it backbone. Probably not for cellaring.

Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux, 2011

I like Ventoux wines, in part because they offer dramatic fruit smells and flavors for less than $10 a bottle. I don't buy much Pesquie because it typically sells for more than $10 and differs from other Ventoux wines (like Altitude 500 and La Vieille Ferme) in style more than in quality. Nevertheless, I have never been disappointed by Pesquie Terrasses.

Dark, bluish purple. Really fragrant--black and red berries, pepper, blue plums and garrigue. Same on the palate with a good peppercorn flavor on the mid-palate. Fills the mouth, and the 14.5% alcohol provides body and texture more than heat. Very pleasantly dry on the finish. I really love the impression this wine leaves on the finish.

Chateau Grand Traverse Old Mission Peninsula Pinot Grigio, 2013

Old Mission Peninsula--that little finger of land that juts out into Lake Michigan north of  Traverse City--is a special place for growing Riesling. As this bottle demonstrates, Old Mission is also a good source of Pinot Gris grapes. Chateau Grand Traverse's Pinot Grigio follows the Italian model, I guess, but there are still some hints of the fuller bodied, richer flavored Alsace approach.

 Very bright yellow. Strong scents of ripe pear and honeydew melon. Same on the tongue. Medium bodied, as you might expect from a Pinot Gris; acidity and freshness of a Northern Italian Pinot Grigio. What I like most is the pear-like finish that hangs on and tempts you back for more.

This is usually available for about $10 to $12 and a good value.