Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Les Vignerons de l'Enclave des Papes Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas Prestige, 2012

As I drink this wine tonight, I am embarrassed to say that I opened it for cooking. After all, at $5.99, it's the least expensive red I could put my hands on. But it is certainly better than your every day cooking wine.

Fairly deep and dark ruby. The cuvee is 75% Grenache, 25% Syrah--perfect for my taste. Lavender, cassis and black fruits of Syrah with a friendly Grenache finish. Lots of black pepper and a touch of Provencal herbs. Just keeps getting better, even on the third and fourth night.

Even at Trader Joe's, this wine is a fantastic bargain that is easy to overlook. The label mentions candied fruit aromas and flavors, and when it's young, the flavors are ripe and upfront. It's unpretentious but by no means simple. It is a CDR Villages, after all, from a very good appellation.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Gilbert Picq et Fils Premier Cru Chablis Vaucopin, 1999

This is exactly what I expect from a mature Chablis--earthy, flinty, brisk and not at all like a buttery New World Chardonnay. It was a perfect match for a rich Coquilles St. Jacques.

Deep gold. No premature oxidation, as I have found in a few other bottles from this batch. Solid earthy smells, lots of mineral attraction. At first, I taste a slight bitterness on the finish, but this fades away after I let the wine breathe and warm. No refrigeration needed for this wine; cellar temperature is plenty cool enough. Some at the table taste honey; I get mainly the flinty tastes of properly aged Chablis. Very satisfying.

Domaine Baumard Clos du Papillon Savennieres, 2003

I have had astounding Chenin Blanc wines from Domaine Baumard and its Clos du Papillon that have aged beautifully over two to three decades, but 2003 was a warm year in the Loire Valley (and in all of Europe) and not ideal for aging wines. Twelve years from the vintage date, this wine has probably reached its peak...or maybe gone past it.

The color is a beautiful, medium deep straw. Scents of peaches, flowers and white pepper. Medium bodied and elegant on the palate. Much better at just a few degrees above room temperature and with plenty of aeration. Some Chenin Blanc earthiness on the finish. Very good, but not great, Savennieres.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Fatalone Gioia del Colle Primitivo Riserva, 2006

This is a pretty good wine and unfairly matched against the excellent Ridge Geyserville (below). Rich and sweet smells and flavors. Prunes, raisins and fruit cake. 15% alcohol but carries it well.

Primitivo is considered to be the Italian cousin of Zinfandel, and the similarity is apparent. In fact, the young Ridge Geyserville had many of the same qualities. This wine should be better in three or four years, but I don't think it will ever achieve the elegance that the Geyserville has.

Ridge Geyserville Red, 1992

It's a field blend of 65% Zinfandel, 20% Carignan, 15% Petite Sirah in the 1992 vintage. And, as always, it ranks among the best the New World has to offer in the way of wine. It's been several years since I have had this Geyserville, and it still has all the qualities I loved then plus some more that have developed since.

Deep red. The vanilla and dill of New American oak still dominate the bouquet, but that's all part of the package. At first, there are some slight medicinal hints, but these blow away within half an hour. Rich, rich, rich. Chocolate, dark cherries, anise. As it ages, it becomes hard to distinguish it from a fine Cabernet blend. Smooth and rich on the palate. Uplifting herbaceousness on the finish.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Graham's Vintage Port, 1980

This 1980 from Graham's has received very good reviews, both from professional and amateur tasters. When I opened a half bottle last year, I was impressed but suspected the bottle might have been slightly corked. So I opened another bottle this Christmas, and the result was the same: great flavor profile but a damp cardboard aroma that is similar to that of a corked wine. Two others at the table detected these same scents; others found nothing not to like.

Although 1980 is not considered on a par with great vintages such as 1990, the wine is youthful and pleasant. Ripe blackcurrant, glides down easily and is a good match for Bouche de Noel. But still that troubling damp cardboard smell. Oh well, just enjoy the wine.

Domaine Jean Deydier et Fils Les Clefs d'Or Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

I am always surprised that Les Clefs d'Or doesn't attract more attention among Chateauneuf du Pape drinkers. I have been enjoying the wine since the 1981 vintage and have never had a disappointing bottle. When I visited the area back in the early 1990s, it was one of the wineries I chose to visit, along with Domaine Pegau and Beaucastel. Since that time, Pegau and Beaucastel have gained considerable fame and now sell for $60 to $80 a bottle while Les Clefs d'Or can usually be found on close-out shelves--if at all. It's never flashy but always solid.

Deep crimson, considerably darker than the younger Chante le Merle (below). This is clearly a different style of wine--more structure, more depth and more complexity. Strawberries but also black raspberries and violets. One difference is that Les Clefs d'Or has 15% Mourvedre, and that gives it good structure and staying power. Some will prefer the old vines Grenache, but I still like Jean Deydier's wine--at less than half the price.

Bosquet des Papes Chante le Merle Vieilles Vignaes Chateauneuf du Pape, 1999

I ordinarily don't buy prestige bottlings of Chateauneuf du Pape, but this 1999 Chante le Merle of Bosquet des Papes presented itself as a good buy many years ago. It is 85% Grenache from vines more than 100 years old and is made with only a small amount of new oak.

Medium deep crimson, bright with good clarity. The nose is a bit one-dimensional: strawberries, strawberries and strawberries. Ripe and very pleasant. And over the course of the meal it gained depth and complexity. Same on the palate. Friendly, ripe red berry fruit. My view is that the wine will gain a lot of depth and complexity over the next five to seven years. I am glad I have another bottle or two .

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Eric Ross Saralee's Vineyard Russian River Pinot Noir, 2001

Another top-end Russian River Pinot Noir, this one at full maturity and, as a result, significantly more complex and enjoyable than the Trader Joe's Reserve (below).

Deep ruby with mature garnet/brown tones. The smells and flavors of this wine are incredibly vibrant and youthful. Bright red cherries, cranberries, red plums and a slight touch of ginger. Russian River Pinot +++. The texture has probably gained the most from the 14 years in the bottle. Fine, fine silk. A slight bit of sweetness on the finish. Special wine.

Not a bargain wine at release price, but I got the wine at auction for a price about the same as the Trader Joe's bargain.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Trader Joe's Russian River Pinot Noir Reserve Lot 85, 2011

This has all the qualities of a top end Russian River Pinot Noir. And I paid only $10 for it at Trader Joe's--an excellent value.

Medium deep ruby. Smells and flavors of cranberry, cherry and ginger--all well proportioned and framed by acid and oak. Texture and style of Russian River Pinot. Good now and should age well. I will look for more the next time I make it to TJ's, but I fear that I will be too late.

Rouge Garance Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2011

This is not quite like any Cotes du Rhone or CDR Villages I have had, and I'm still trying to decide whether I like it.

Medium deep ruby, clear and bright but not too dark. Intense smells of red cherry, white pepper and spice, very tightly wound. I don't detect any of the scents I associate with either Grenache or Syrah. Some Mourvedre, yes. I learn that the cepage is actually 70% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre. And that may explain some of the tightness, but I still don't get much of the black fruit, cassis presence I expect from Southern Rhone Syrah. Also very tight on the palate. I like the intensity of red cherry, violet flavors. But not as much generosity as I expect from the Southern Rhone. Maybe it just needs some aging.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Mauro Molino Vigna Gattere Barbera d'Alba, 1998

I have been buying young Barberas but have never had a well aged bottle to know what to expect. This 1998 was available at a good price from WineBid so I decided to give it a try. Glad I did.

Deep red cherry color with burnished mature tints around the rim. Lovely nose--dried rose petals, anise seed and dark cherry. Gets better as it airs and warms in the glass. Medium bodied, Barbera acidity. The winery uses the terms "intensity" and "persistence" to describe wines from this vineyard, and I agree. Red cherry fruit on very long finish. This is a wine to enjoy over the course of an evening. Wish I had more.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Good Harbor Vineyards Leelanau Peninsula Pinot Grigio, 2012

Whenever I go to the Leelanau Peninsula to taste wine, Good Harbor is always one of my stops. I like the no-nonsense tasting room where I always get good information about the wines and usually have a chance to chat with the owner--the widow of the late Bruce Simpson, who was one of first to establish vineyards in Leelanau. The Simpsons are a family--as ours is--that believes in drinking wine every night with dinner. "If I had to pay $30 a bottle, we simply couldn't afford that," she told me. That is the philosophy that guides our family as well. Wine is part of a healthy lifestyle--a daily pleasure, as important to me as exercising or eating oatmeal and blueberries for breakfast.

This Pinot Grigio was our favorite wine when we tasted there last summer, and it was on sale for about $10. Perfect. Tonight, the wine appears deeper in color than I expected, but it is not fading. The aromas and flavors are rich enough to suggest Pinot Gris rather than Pinot Grigio (same grape, different style of winemaking). But there is still plenty of freshness and fruit--a mouthwatering wine. There is a slight "leesy" quality, from time spent resting on it spent yeast cells or lees. This is a particularly good Pinot Grigio, and I'm looking forward to future bottles.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux, 2010

Now this is more like it. Compared to what a Ventoux red should be, this is much closer than the Les Amidyves of Olivier B. (below). But it's still not what I really want or like. The wines, they are a-changing. And I guess I'm going to have to get used to it.

70% Grenache, 30% Syrah, it's deep and dark. But the bright crimson of Grenache is still visible. More blue plums and dark cherries than red berries, but that's alright. Also pepper and spice from the fruit. It's a medium bodied, friendly wine but still too high in alcohol (14%) for a Ventoux. Unfortunately, that seems to have become the style in the Southern Rhone (and most places in the world). Grenache takes well to high alcohol when the yields are miniscule, as they are in Chateauneuf du Pape or even Gigondas. But high alcohol Syrah is too sharp and angular for me.

At $15, Terrasses is about the same price as Les Amidyves. I'll try Font-Sane or the coop wines soon to see if they come closer to what I want (for about half that price).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Domaine Olivier B. Ventoux Les Amidyves, 2011

Jon Rimmerman of Garagiste was quite enthusiastic about this wine. And since Ventoux is a long-time favorite appellation of mine, I was quick to buy...but may not be the next time around. Although it has some impressive traits, Les Amidyves does not fit what I look for in a Ventoux wine.

Probably the classic Ventoux wine, for me, is the the Perrin Family's La Vieille Ferme, one of the least expensive and most enjoyable wines on the market. I have been enjoying it since the early 1980s. Year after year, it is boldly fruity and expressive with the traditional spice and pepper of the Southern Rhone in pleasing proportions. And, of course, the price is hard to resist--still $6 to $8 a bottle. For a few dollars more a bottle, I frequently enjoy Domaine de Font-Sane Vieilles Vignes and a couple of cooperative wines brought in by J&R Importers: Altitude 500 and Cuvee Les Trois Messes Basses. Chateau Pesquie La Terrasses is another fine example, although usually selling for about $15--more than I care to pay for a Ventoux. All are excellent wines produced in a style that is similar to that established by La Vieilles Ferme. How does Olivier B's Ventoux fit this profile?

The wine is very dark and dense--much darker than any of the above. Aromas and flavors are prune-like, dark fruit compared to the fresh red berries of the traditional Ventoux. Very powerful and muscular--too much so for my taste. Is this Ventoux trying to become a Gigondas? I find plenty of pepper, which I like in a Southern Rhone. But, by the second night, it becomes overwhelming. I think it's more about the high alcohol than the natural pepper from the Grenache/Syrah fruit. 15% alcohol for a Ventoux?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Napa Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet, 1979

The Napa Cellars that produced this wine was located in Oakville (prime territory in Napa) and owned by Charles R. Woods. The winery has changed hands several times since and is now probably known best for its Chardonnay. This 1979 Napa Cellars Cabernet has always been one of my favorite Cabernets from that period, and it has aged well.

Medium deep and dark. Clean, luscious smells and flavors. Some rich chocolate and coffee along with brighter herbal tones. Incredible range of flavors, carried forward by good acidity and fading tannins. Down near the bottom of the bottle, where sediment has formed, the wine is particularly concentrated and full bodied. Everything you should expect from an Oakville Napa Cabernet. I paid $13.75 for it back in 1981 or 1982--25 to 50 percent cheaper than more prestigious Napa Cabs such as Heitz, Phelps, Stag's Leap and Chateau Montelena.

Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, 1980

The 1980 vintage was universally bad or mediocre in most wine producing areas of the world. My bottles of Jaboulet's Hermitage la Chapelle were over the hill more than a decade ago (I may have bought poorly transported or stored bottles since recent reports of la Chapelle from Cellar Tracker have been much more positive). My 1980 Domaine Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage has been good from day one (and better than la Chapelle). Tonight's bottle, at age 35, once again is excellent.

Good dark color, not much bricking, but lots of crusty sediment on the sides of the bottle. The bouquet is classic Thalabert: black fruits, lavender, anise and black olives. I love the black olive element that I have noted in some of my favorite Northern Rhone wines. Rich and full on the palate; nothing dramatic but seems to touch and tantalize every taste bud in my mouth. Not as good as the 1982 or 1983 Thalabert but still very, very good.

Fratelli Molino Barbaresco Ausario, 2000

I opened this at least three hours before dinner, and it certainly needed the aeration time. I sampled it frequently after opening, and it remained tight, acidic and almost tart for at least two hours. Beautiful aromas, though, from the first opening.

With roast pork loin braised in milk (a recipe from Marcella's Italian cookbook), the smells and flavors unfolded like the petals of a rose. More red fruits than black. Roses galore but not many of the dark tones that I associate with Nebbiolo. Fine and delicate on the palate. Lots to like, but I suspect there will be even more in a few years.

CR&F Serradayres Portoguese Red, 1974

Tucked away in the far corner of my cellar since the early 1980s, this wine was presumed to be long dead. I drank many, many bottles of this and the 1969 Serradayres in the early 1980s. It was only about $2 a bottle (even at that time, cheaper than jug wine) and was beautifully textured and flavored. There were a few stray bottles left when I moved on to other wine values. Opened tonight out of curiosity, it is shockingly good and got many compliments from the table (even though it was matched against a 1990 Barbaresco, a 1982 Meyney from St. Estephe and a 1992 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz from Central Victoria. (This wine and the Langi got the most votes, although I preferred the Barbaresco.)

Still has a good dark color, less browning and bricking than the younger, more prestigious Bordeaux. High-toned nose with complexity that brings you back for sniff after sniff. Gamey, floral tones of Touriga. Thrust of dark cherry, as I remember from the early 1980s. Lots of deep, concentrated fruit but with an elegant texture that resembles a fine Bordeaux or Napa Cabernet. Really the same wine that I remember but with all of those positive traits that come with extended aging. $2 well spent!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Chateau Meyney St. Estephe, 1982

When I last tasted the 1982 Meyney in the mid-1990s, it was a dark-toned flamboyant wine with lots of sweet fruit flavors. I prefer it tonight as it shows a more elegant, though definitely mature, profile.

Amber and brick tones mark it as a 33-year-old wine, but the fruit smells and flavors are enticing. The blend is about 70% Cabernet, but the cooler tones of Merlot and Cabernet Franc seem more prominent tonight. Cigar box. Very smooth and very much a fine mature Bordeaux. Black currant fruit at the center. Great balance and a finish that seems to linger forever. Hard to stop sipping this wine--even at Thanksgiving dinner with pecan pie awaiting.

Mount Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz, 1992

The late Trevor Mast, owner and winemaker at Mount Langi Ghiran,  liked this 1992 Langi Ghiran for its excellent balance between tannins and acids. I was at the winery around this time, tasted it from the barrel and smelled the beautiful scents from the American oak barrels where it was aging. Some of those still linger in my memory today.

Very deep and dark. The peppercorn smells that were prominent when the wine was young have now blended in nicely with the Syrah spice and fruit. I smell lavender, anise seed and other herbs that are more prominent in Syrah from the Northern Rhone. But there are New World scents as well--eucalyptus, dill and vanilla. Rich and concentrated but also very smooth. Luscious dark cherry on the long, long finish.

Trevor, who developed Alzheimer's disease at age 57, left us way too early. But he left behind a legacy of great Australian Shiraz wines.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mittnacht Klack Tokay Pinot Gris Clos St. Ulrich, 1998

Mittnacht Klack is a small estate with excellent vineyards surrounding the village of Riquewihr in Alsace. I enjoyed many Mittnacht wines during the 1990s but unfortunately have not seen the label on the shelves for some time. This is a real old-fashioned Alsace Pinot Gris, beautifully mature.

Very deep, old gold but bright and clear. Mostly honey on the nose. On the palate is where it really shines. Rich and sweet but not at all cloying. Honey and apricots. Acidity makes it dance on the tongue. Great depth and concentration.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti Superiore Le Orme, 2010

"An Italian Beaujolais," said the man at Binny's in Chicago, pointing to this wine, priced at a mere $10 among other Barberas costing twice as much. I don't think the remark was intended as a compliment, even though this wine appears quite frequently on the Wine Spectator's list of the 100 Best Wines of the Year. Actually, I like Gamay as it appears in Cru Beaujolais. But this wine, sir, is no Beaujolais.

Medium deep and dark. Also dark smells and flavors: dark cherries, licorice, peppercorn and dark red flowers. Actually more like Nebbiolo than Gamay. Very forward and enjoyable at this stage of maturity. Bold fruit aromas and flavors. Great acidity plus some tannin that probably comes from oak. With all that boldness, it still has that Barbera d'Asti elegance.

Londer Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2008

2008 was the year of the forest fires near the Anderson Valley, and the grapes at Londer Vineyards absorbed too much of the smoke to allow the owner, a retired San Francisco ophthalmologist, to make the wine he wanted to make. The wine was deeply discounted.

This is my last bottle of a case (purchase price, $59), and the smokiness is definitely becoming more pronounced. I agree that the wine should not have been foisted on the public for the regular price of $35 to $40 a bottle, but, even at this stage, it offers more than most commercial Pinots.

Deep ruby. Still very smokey but also some Pinot scents of ripe cherries, flowers and spice. Same on the palate, but the smokiness is even more pronounced on the finish. Smooth texture and delicacy with New World fruit.

Bouchaine Carneros Pinot Noir, 2005

Line caught Alaskan Coho Salmon with a fine, mature Pinot Noir: is there anything better?

This 10-year-old Carneros Pinot Noir is still a deep cherry red, and it's also full of deep cherry aromas and flavors. Beautifully spiced nose, and the spices that I like in Pinot Noir--savory rather than sweet, ginger rather than cinnamon. Carneros is a corner of Napa that is ideally suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. And this is a very good Carneros Pinot. Medium bodied with the silky mouthfeel of Pinot Noir. A finish that opens up and creates a lively dance of flavors.

Bouchaine Pinot Noir is not generally a budget wine, but I picked this up at auction for $10. There were no other bids, apparently because others were doubtful that a California Pinot Noir would still be going at age 10. They were wrong.

Jovino Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Gris, 2013

This is certainly Pinot Gris and not Pinot Grigio. Of course, they are the same grape, but this Pinot Gris is big, rich and full bodied--a Fall rather than Summer wine. It's probably seen some time in a large, seasoned oak barrel.

The label mentions green apples and citrus zest, and I find plenty of those aromas and flavors. Almost tart on the palate, like a Pinot Blanc. I like Pinot Blanc, and I like this wine.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Domaine du Vieux Chene Cuvee de la Haie aux Grives Cotes du Rhone, 2012

With the memory of the 2012 Domaine Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape still lingering in my memory from the night before, this inexpensive Cotes du Rhone was a delight to drink. The aroma of red berries, cherries and spice was powerful and similar to those of the Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape. But what's the surprise? Both wines are about 80% Grenache from what is obviously an excellent vintage for that grape. The Vieux Chene vineyards are only about 30 miles away from those of Pegau. But, oh, what a difference those 30 miles can make--a $90 Chateaneuf du Pape versus a $10 Cotes du Rhone!

The flavors of the Vieux Chene are equally intriguing--spicy and intense with a backbone of tannin and acid (although not as much nor as refined as in the Pegau). Lingering flavors of peppercorn and red spices. Of course, the $10 wine is less concentrated and lacks the depth of the Domaine Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape, and the Chateau Pegau Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages. But it is still a delight to drink.

With all due respect to Laurence Feraud, the major difference is not the "superstar" winemaker, as some have suggested, but rather the vineyards and soil. Laurence Feraud is a great winemaker because she respects what the vines give her and lets the grapes speak in their own voice without the trappings of new oak and modern methods. Jean-Claude Bouchet of Vieux Chene follows much the same course. If you can't afford $90 for a bottle of wine, don't fret. It's still possible to find excellent traditionally made Cotes du Rhones and Cotes du Rhone Villages for a fraction of the price.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Domaine Pegau and Chateau Pegau in Ann Arbor

When I first tasted Domaine Pegau Cuvee Reservee Chateauneuf du Pape in the late 1980s, it was love at first sip. The major Chateauneufs in my experience were Beaucastel, Vieux Telegraphe and Clos des Papes; Pegau was one of several new Chateauneufs brought into Michigan by J.C. Mathes, a professor at the University of Michigan and a part-time wine importer. I liked all of them, but Pegau was my favorite. I bought as many bottles as I could afford and visited the estate for a tasting in 1991.

For the past decade or so, the traditionally made Cuvee Reservee has become known as one of the top wines of its appellation. It is now out of my price range, and I quit buying it with the 2000 vintage. But when I learned that Laurence Feraud, the owner and winemaker, was bringing her wines to Ann Arbor for a tasting, I was eager to drive across the state to see what is happening with current vintages.

As I expected, the 2012 Domaine Pegau Cuvee Reservee is fantastic. Beautiful ripe aromas of red fruits and spices. It's really hard to stop swirling and sniffing even when you know the flavors are yet to come. Not as funky as some previous vintages--at least at this stage. Ripe, savory flavors that expand. And will keep on expanding for many years to come. This is one of the best young Pegaus I have tasted, including the 1988, 1989 and 1990.

At $89.95 a bottle, I'm still not a buyer, but I was most interested in tasting wines with the Chateau Pegau label. These are from vineyards in Sorgue (outside the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation) that the Ferauds purchased and are producing as Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages. The 2012 Cotes du Rhone sells for $18.99; the Villages, for $24.99. That's a bit high for Cotes du Rhone, but they come from 50-year-old vines on soil that resembles that of Chateauneuf du Pape. Laurence Feraud chose the vineyards and makes the wine. If they are baby Chateauneufs du Pape, as some claim, they are worth the price; otherwise, they are simply high-priced Cotes du Rhones. The best way to find out is to taste them alongside the Cuvee Reservee. And they showed well in that context.

My opinion: they are baby Chateauneufs du Pape, worthy of cellaring for 8 to 10 years or longer. The aroma and flavor profiles differ from those of the Cuvee Reservee, but they offer plenty of intrigue, depth and fruit concentration. I liked the Cotes du Rhone best, but maybe that's because the Villages is less forward at this point in time. If you can't afford (or don't want to afford) a $90 bottle of wine, these are certainly worthy wines to consider.

Hyacinth Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, 2013

With the name on the label, how can you not think of hyacinths when you sniff this wine. At any rate, it does offer up beautiful floral scents along with red currants, rhubarb and cranberries. Winemakers in the Santa Lucia Highlands claim that this is the number one cool climate winegrowing area in the state. And this certainly smells and tastes like a cool climate Pinot Noir--the kind I like best.

It's riper than many cool climate Pinots--not at all austere or stingy. But it also has great acidity. From the tip of the tongue all the way down the throat this wine dances. And the ripe red fruit flavors give pleasure all the way. I love this wine now and feel sure that it will keep on improving for at least several years.

My son-in-law bought this wine for $14+ at a Kroger store in Lebanon, Ohio. The usual retail price is about $24. Wish it would come to my area in Michigan for that price.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2004

What's most impressive about this 11-year-old Cotes du Rhone is the way it smells and tastes on the second third day. The wine is mature but not fading.

The deep crimson color this wine had in its youth has faded to brick red, and there is a bit of sediment in the bottle. A good sign. Smells and flavors are also mature. Dried flowers, fresh berries and spice. Intriguing flavors and textures that seem to change with every sip. Ripe but with savory facets.
And these flavors are just as intense on Monday and Tuesday as they were on Sunday. (I'm a slow drinker.)

Domaine Sainte-Anne makes atypical Cotes du Rhones--worth aging at even the basic CDR level.

Famille Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone, 2012

This is one of the best young Cotes du Rhones I've had in quite some time. It has lovely bright aromas and flavors--a joy to drink. And it's widely available for about $9.95.

Deep ruby. Good strong core of Syrah showing. Beautiful aromas of cherries, peppercorn, cassis, spice and freshly cut flowers. Reminds me of Vinsobres, and I love Vinsobres. Flavors are lively and intense. Dark cherry and licorice with some Syrah-type pepper. Fleshy texture, just right for hearty foods. Traditional CDR without the international trappings.

Actually, I discover, the cuvee includes 20% Syrah from the Perrins' vineyards in Vinsobres--a very good source--plus Grenache and Mourvedre. The wine is showing well right now but with plenty of strength to carry on for a few years.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Franco Serra Barbera d'Alba, 2013

I am always on the lookout for good Barberas in the $10 to $12 price range. My favorites at this time are Franco Serra and Costa di Bussia.

Aromas are lovely--cherry, black licorice and flowers--spicy and bright. Flavors are the same. Firmness in the middle; the wine is still young. Some leather on the finish along with intricate fruit flavors.

This wine has been selling for $9.99 at D&W in Kalamazoo. I consider it one of the best values in the store.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Collovray & Terrier Macon-Villages Tradition, 2013

I have many happy memories of Collovray & Terrier wines from the early 1990s. My favorite was the Domaine Deux Roches. At $10 to $12 a bottle, it was an excellent wine to buy by the case (or two or three) and drink over the next three or four years. I aged very well. The C&T Macon-Villages Tradition was several dollars cheaper, and Deux Roches Saint Veran, at $12, was one of the best values in wine I have encountered. The exchange rate was very favorable at that time. Today, this wine $18 and the Deux Roche bottlings are out of my price range. There is never any question about the quality of wines from this estate, however.

Medium deep yellow. Apple, minerals and citrus. All the lovely Chardonnay flavors shining through without any oak cosmetics. Still young and tight. Deep mineral-laden flavors. All Chardonnay in the distinctive C&T style. Exactly what I like; even at $18, it's a great value.

Les Trois Couronnes Gigondas, 2007

The last two bottles I had of this wine were much, much better. It's not corked, and it doesn't appear to be over the hill. But, for one reason or another, this bottle is disappointing.

Deep, dark crimson. Muted smells and flavors. Dark cherries, dried figs. Rustic tannins. Pleasant but nothing very dramatic right now.

St. Hallett Barossa Faith Shiraz, 2010

St. Hallett's Old Block Shiraz is a special wine; this is a less expensive Barossa Shiraz meant for every day consumption.

Very deep and dark. Enticing aromas of blackberries, coffee, flowers. And same on the palate. This wine has seen plenty of oak, and that is a good part of its attraction. Very ripe but with firm tannins in the middle to give it a serious tone. A friendly, juicy finish. For $14 to $16, this is a good Australian Shiraz, drinking beautifully right now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Veglio Michelino Barbera d'Alba, 2012

We had this wine with a somewhat spicy pork stir fry, and it worked well. The wine is not particularly spicy itself, but it has the right balance of ripeness and acidity to stand up to the Asian spices and soy sauce.

Very deep and dark. Probably oak influenced. Pretty aromas of violets, blackcurrants and coffee. Same on the palate. Hard not to like this wine. Plush and slightly sweet on the mid-palate. Sweeter than many Barberas but has good acidity on the finish to keep it lively and fresh.

Gilles Ferran Rasteau, 2009 Revisited

In my post below, I recklessly stated that the Gilles Ferran 2009 was one of the best Rasteaus I have tasted. It was very good on the first night, but after being re-corked for a day, it completely lost its charm, tasting sharp and alcoholic.

This wine has a 15% alcohol content, compared to 13% to 13.5% for a typical Cotes du Rhone or Cotes du Rhone Villages. It carried that alcohol well on the first night, then seemed to become unbalanced on the second night. High alcohol content is an increasingly common part of the international style of winemaking, giving a wine body and youthful aromatic appeal. But it is not what I expect from a traditional Southern Rhone.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Cameron Hughes Lot 324 Atlas Peak Chardonnay, 2010

This Atlas Peak Chardonnay is every bit as dramatic as the Sabrego Godello (below), but for different reasons. The lush qualities in this wine are mainly oak inspired but the fruit is strong enough to shine through.

Medium deep gold. Beautiful scents of limey French oak, apple, citrus and flowers. Extravagant is a good word for this wine. Rich in texture and flavor. And at the peak of maturity.

Atlas Peak is a pricey source of wine grapes, but Cameron Hughes buys excess produce at closeout prices. At $15 from World Market, this was a very good value.

Sabrego Valdeorras Godello, 2010

Godello, from Valdeorras in Spain, has quickly become one of my favorite white wines. And this wine from the 2010 vintage suggests that they become even better after a few years in the bottle.

Medium deep gold. Has deepened in both color and flavors. Has become a bit sweeter with age but with a lot more depth and complexity. Incredible perfume: ripe peaches, spices and flowers. Flavors tend to sparkle--almost tactile impressions on the palate. I like the direction this wine is going.

Chateau Grand Corbin Manuel Saint Emilion, 1982

I'm not a big fan of young Merlot and, as a result, don't buy many wines from Saint Emilion or Pomerol. After 33 years in the bottle, though, this Saint Emilion is more to my liking.

Amber tones. Takes awhile for 33 years of stale air trapped at the top of the bottle to blow away, but the wine underneath has developed nicely. Very pretty bouquet of ripe fruit and Asian spices. Smooth mouth feel. Rich and dark. Dates and raisins. Definitely salty on the finish. Not great but very good. The price tag says I paid $8.99 (before the 17% mixed case discount) at Village Corner in Ann Arbor. Hard to beat that for value.

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2001

The major difference between Sainte Anne's basic Cotes du Rhone and its CDR Villages is the age of the vines. It is a step up in quality, although not quite up to the level of the Notre Dame des Cellettes or the Saint Gervais. All are very reasonably priced for the quality and ability to grow with age.

Deep ruby beginning to turn in color but not as much so as the 2004 basic Cotes du Rhone. This 2001 also seems a bit less developed in its aromas and flavors. Still has that cool aromatic intensity that is typical of Sainte Anne wines in their youth. Fresh berries, ripe plums and herbs. Flavors are showing more signs of maturity. Savory finish.

Gilles Ferran Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau La Ponce, 2009

I usually prefer the red-fruited wines of Cairanne to their darker-toned siblings from nearby Rasteau. This is a notable exception, one of the best Rasteaus I have had.

Deep and dark. Smells dark too, as Rasteau should. Boysenberries with licorice, spice and tobacco. A blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah; I would have guessed the other way around, considering the black fruit and tannins. The aromas just get better and better. Now some peppercorn as a background to the dark berry fruit. Medium body, rich mouth feel and a long finish with flavors well defined. This is an excellent example of what traditional Southern Rhone is all about.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Penfolds Bin 407 South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004

As with most of their premium wines, Penfolds makes Bin 407 Cabernet from grapes from several districts, usually including Coonawarra, Wrattenbully, Padthaway, Robe, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and even Margaret River. The idea is to craft a wine following a distinctive style as opposed to one that reflects a particular vineyard or appellation. And the result is nearly always impressive.

Deep and dark with hints of amber forming at the rim. There is considerable sediment at the bottom of the bottle, but this wine still has a long way to go. Aromas are captivating and unmistakably Cabernet--black currants, black fruit and espresso. All of those come through in the flavors. Plump mid-palate but plenty of mouth watering acidity. Very black currant on the long finish. Archetype of a New World Cabernet.

Penfolds patterns its Bin 407 after the more expensive Bin 707--a poor man's Bin 707, if you will. But there is nothing second-rate about this wine. When I saw it offered at a distributor's close out for about $12 a bottle, I jumped quickly. I recently saw it advertised by an Australian retailer for $109 a bottle.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tenuta Arnulfo Costia di Bussia Barbera d'Alba, 2010

Tenuta Arnulfo has well situated vineyards in Monforte d'Alba and makes an excellent, traditional Barolo. If I did not see the Barbera d'Alba designation on the label, I would swear that this wine is a Nebbiolo d'Alba made from grapes that did not quite make the cut for the Costa di Bussia Barolo.

Deep color and deep, deep smells and flavors. Dark cherries, roses and black tones of licorice or anise--the hallmark traits of a good Nebbiolo. Sweet red flowers with an undertone of darker, more serious traits. Smells tannic, and it is--at least for a Barbera. Rich fruit flavors--again very deep. Unfortunately, I opened this just before pouring it at the table; it clearly opens up and gains character as it is exposed to air. Very much like a baby Barolo--high tannin, high acid, low alcohol (13.5%), and very expressive fruit. The label says that it is one of the longest lived Barberas, and I don't doubt that. I am holding back at least a few bottles.

This wine was recommended to me as a good, inexpensive Barbera by David Russo of G.B. Russo & Sons in Grand Rapids, and I have been buying it since, for $10 to $12, at every opportunity. The Costa di Bussia Barolo sells for $50 to $60 so I have not tried that, but, from tasting this low-end wine, I am convinced it is not over-priced.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2004

Most traditional Cotes du Rhone wines stay pretty much the same from the time they are released until the fruit starts to fade. The Domaine Sainte-Anne wines, in my opinion, are an exception, retaining their fruit while undergoing a transformation that adds depth and complexity.

Deep crimson. Good saturation to the rim with no sign of bricking. Mature bouquet of strawberries, dried leaves and flowers. Still has some of the cool tones that characterize the wines of this domaine but also some Pinot-like spice and pepper. Full bodied but still smooth and elegant. Fresh red berry flavors from front to back.

Bouchaine Estate Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir, 2004

My favorite appellations for California Pinot Noir are the Anderson Valley, Russian River and Sonoma Coast. After tasting this wine and a couple of others, I'm ready to add Carneros to the list.

Beautiful medium deep ruby. Very complex, intriguing perfume. Flowers, fruits, peppery spice. Probably some French oak influence but it has integrated nicely. The flavors are equally fantastic: rich, ripe cherry fruit but with great balancing acidity. Deeper and more complex with every sip. Delicate, silky texture of an aged Pinot Noir but with an undertone of ripe cherries on the mid-palate and finish. Excellent right now but probably with some room for growth.

Windspiel Austrian Gruner Veltliner, 2010

Time has added some new dimensions to this Gruner Veltliner since the last time I tried it more than a year ago.

It still has a youthful color--medium straw with green glints. There is freshness to the aromas, too, with flowers, white pepper and spice. Also some hints of petroleum reminiscent of German Riesling. In the mouth, particularly, the wine is filling out. Still has a citric edge but also some broader flavors, like nectarines or peaches. This is my last bottle so I will never know where it goes from here, but I suspect the development will be positive.

Kirkland Signature Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2013

I like to shop at Costco, and I have found good values in the wine department. Wines such as the Au Contraire Russian River Chardonnay and the Perrin Vinsobres Les Cornuds are priced 25 to 40 percent lower than at other stores I have visited. The bargain wines, though, have the Costco Kirkland Signature label, and this is the first one that really appealed to me. The price: $6.99. And it's a Cotes du Rhone Villages, not just a simple Cotes du Rhone. On the label, I find that it's made by Patrick Lesec, a respected name.

The wine has good deep color and the initial smells are inviting. Black fruits, spice and pepper. Shows more Syrah than Grenache. Same on the palate. Over the course of the evening, though, I find a leathery trait in the finish that I associate with brettanomyces. It's not quite barnyard but bordering on it. I'm probably wrong; it may just be Mourvedre that needs some time. But at least at this stage of its development, this wine does not appeal to me. Maybe I will give it another try in a few months.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Ca' Rome' Romano Marengo Barbaresco, 1995

This is my second go at an aged Barbaresco from this estate. The other was from the 1999 vintage. Both were excellent expressions of Barbaresco.

The orangish tints that appear when the wine is first poured give the impression that it may be overly mature. But that is typical of traditionally made Nebbiolo after a decade or two in the bottle. The bouquet that I expect from Barbaresco is somewhat muted, too, on the first impression. It opens beautifully, though, with passive aeration over an hour or two. Oh, yes. Cherries and rose petals. Now some anise seed. Subtle at first, then gathers momentum. By the end of the meal, I find myself going back for sniff after sniff. Those Nebbiolo traits are blended together nicely in the flavors and are lovely from the very beginning. Very intense. Sweet but with enough acid to make it dance on the tongue. Excellent.

This is the regular cuvee of Ca' Rome' Romano Marengo Barbaresco. Grapes from the most favored vineyards go into the Maria Brun cuvee, named after the owner's mother and made only in top vintages. My goal is to find a mature Maria Brun at a reasonable price.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Les Vignerons de l'Enclave des Papes Valreas Cuvee Prestige, 2010

This is a Valreas that I buy nearly every vintage for $5.99 at Trader Joe's. In the past, I did not consider it a serious competitor to the Val des Rois described below. Tonight, drinking the two wines side by side, I prefer the co-op wine from Trader Joes to the $14.99 Val des Rois. That could change in a few years.

Deep crimson, looks like a Grenache-based wine from the Southern Rhone, which it is. It also smells and tastes like a good CDR Villages. Ripe strawberries with a touch of black pepper. Smooth on the palate, not as concentrated as the Val des Rois but more enjoyable. A bit riper than it need be but has authentic flavors that linger and please.

Domaine du Val des Rois (Bouchard) Valreas, 2007

I loved the 2004 Val des Rois, but this 2007 seems to be a horse of a different color. A deep, dark, bluish color. Leads me to think that this wine has spent some time in barriques. A beautiful bouquet is forming--plums and black fruits, though, rather than the red berries and spice that characterized the 2004. Big, full bodied wine that has much to recommend it. It's ultimately too international for my taste, though, and comes across as tannic and alcoholic on the second night.

Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine Thalabert, 1989

The 1989 Domaine Thalabert has never received the attention that the highly rated 1990 has. And it  doesn't deserve it. But it is a very good Northern Rhone Syrah now in a plateau of maturity. I should mention that I'm a big fan of Domaine Thalabert and do not agree with those who claim that this particular Crozes-Hermitage should be consumed at a relatively young age.

The color has faded quite a bit. Now a medium light brick red. Typical scents of a mature Northern Rhone Syrah--leather, black fruits and mint. Same on the palate. More acidity and less tannin than when I tasted it a couple of years ago, and I like that. Takes awhile to open but is lovely to sip after a pleasing dinner of roast lamb. Perfect match for wine. The acidity really carries it on the finish. It's not as good as the 1990, the 1983 nor even the 1985, but it's still very good.

I should mention that much has changed at Jaboulet over the past two decades, but the vineyards that produced this wine are special.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Cave Lugny Macon Lugny Les Charmes Chardonnay, 2013

As the name suggests, this is a charming wine that is cheap enough for every day service but elegant enough to serve at a special dinner. It ordinarily sells for about $14 but can be purchased at Costco for about $10.

Medium light straw. Apples, flowers, citrus. Fruity zest. Same on the palate. Slightly spicy flavors. Elegant mouth feel. Not much, if any oak. Chardonnay fruit shines through, and I like that.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Elke Vineyard Anderson Valley Donnelly Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2000

When first released, this wine was given only 80 points by the Wine Enthusiast. That's good enough reason not to pay any attention to critics and early scores. As I taste the wine tonight, 15 years after the vintage, I'm getting at least 95 points of pleasure.

Deep garnet. Potpourri of scents--pomegranates, flowers, wild berries--all beautifully melded into a bouquet. Flavors that cling to the tongue--sweet, savory, spicy. Silky texture. Lots of action on the finish. Wide range of flavors with an essential sweetness that shines through. The goodness lingers for several minutes.

I have had several other Pinots from Elke's Donnelly Creek Vineyard, all from the late 1990s and all superb. When the winery offered futures on its 2013 vintage at a discount, I jumped at the opportunity and have a case stacked away in the cellar. The winery believes the 2013s may be the best wines they have produced.

La Vieille Ferme Rouge, 2014

I have long been a fan of the Perrin family and of La Vieille Ferme Ventoux. I love Ventoux and feel that it was and is a greatly under-rated appellation. Even for wines at the lowest end of the pricing scale, such as La Vieille Ferme, Cuvee les Trois Messes Basses and Font-Sane, the red wines have been better than many Cotes du Rhones costing several times as much. I'm still a fan of Ventoux, but apparently this La Veille Ferme is no longer a Ventoux.

Nowhere on the label is any appellation given, and what is in the glass confirms my suspicion. As usual, there is bold, peppery fruit delivered in an authentic style, but there is nowhere near the depth and flavor interest that I have learned to take for granted with this wine over the past 40 years.

Oh, well. It cost only $8, and it worked very well for making beef bourgignon.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin Reserve des Seigneurs Cairanne, 2006

The domaine's website recommends aging this wine six to eight years. I disagree: after eight years in the bottle, it is just now beginning to open up.

Deep ruby with a purplish rim. Like a young Gigondas: purple fruits and flowers. Mourvedre just stepping out of its shell. Patient sniffing is required but eventually tree bark evolves into violets, blue plums and black raspberries. Smooth texture. Old vine quality. I'll wait another year or so before opening my next bottle.

Bouchaine Carneros Pinot Noir, 2004

I got a good buy on this Pinot Noir at auction presumably because other bidders were reluctant to take a chance on a 10-year-old California Pinot Noir. They were wrong, and I was right.

On my first small tasting pour, the color is a dusty, brick red--definitely showing its age. A full glass pour, though, has more of a deep garnet appearance. Very pretty smells: red berries with a haunting floral perfume. Smells rich. And it tastes even richer. A special velvety mouth feel that I find mostly in well aged Pinots. Deep cherry flavors that coat mid-palate and finish. Gingery spice with a cool, mint-like quality. Fully mature but very enjoyable.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Produtorri del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo, 2012

I'm always excited when I see a Nebbiolo on a restaurant wine list. But, then,Trattoria Stella in Traverse City, Michigan is special in many respects. At Stella, all of the wines that are offered by the glass can also be purchased in 500 ml carafes. That is a huge selling point for me. For a young Nebbiolo, slow to open, that gave me an opportunity to see the wine grow over the course of an exceptional lunch.

It's easy to identify this wine as Nebbiolo from the aromas. The black licorice elements are not very prominent, at least at this stage, but the dark cherry and floral aromas are intense and captivating. On the palate, the wine is firm from front to back. The tannins give the impression that the wine is very dry, even though there is plenty of ripe fruit lurking underneath. Very impressive.

The Produtorri, incidentally, is a cooperative--one of the best--and their Barbarescos always rank among the best of the appellation.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape, 1995

In writing about this wine a few years ago, I suggested that it might drink better at 10 rather than 15 years of bottle age. With this bottle, let me amend that observation: it is far better at 20 years than at either 10 or 15.

At the time this wine was produced, Clos Saint Jean made very traditional wines that Robert Parker spurned as "old fashioned"--no destemming and extended aging in large old barrels known as foudres. In 2003, the estate hired Philippe Cambey as a consultant, and the wines produced today are more modern and international in style. They get rave reviews from Robert Parker and are about three or four times more expensive than they were in the late 1990s. The vineyards here are some of the best in Chateauneuf du Pape, however, and my view is that great wine is made in the vineyard.

The color is a medium brick, not unexpected after 20 years in the bottle. But that is the only sign of aging I detect. I smell cherries, warm spices and old vine character. Classic Chateauneuf du Pape; reminds me of an old Vieux Telegraphe. Medium weight and very smooth on the palate. Just hitting its prime. Old vine Grenache is shining. Cherry/berry sweetness plus savory spices on a long, long finish.

The price tag from D&W Market reads $12.99, but I buy at times when a 15% or 20% discount is offered for the purchase of six or more bottles. I bought at least six bottles of this 1995 and now wish I had bought more.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Domaine Galevan Paroles de Femme Cotes du Rhone, 2011

Coralie Goumarre of Domaine Galevan markets her wines as having a woman's touch. But really that is nothing new in the Southern Rhone. Nearly all of my favorite wines from that region are made by women: Laurence Feraud of Domaine Pegau, Corinne Couturier of Rabasse Charavin and Veronique Cunty-Peysson of Font-Sane. This is my first taste of Domaine Galevan, a wine I purchased through Garagiste.

Deep crimson. Beautiful color. Takes awhile to open; that's probably because of 20% Mourvedre in the blend. Violets and tree bark. Also berries, spice and a bit of peppercorn. More subtle than most CDRs. Not at all soft and simple but hard to pin down in terms of descriptors. Firm middle palate and finish. I'd like to taste this wine again in a year or two.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Domaine de la Tourade Vacqueyras, 2008

In the Southern Rhone, the 2008 vintage is not highly regarded. For reasonably early drinking, though, this Vacqueyras shines.

Still a deep, dark ruby. Dark, earthy, black pepper qualities have come to prominence. Now very typical of Vacqueyras. Fuller and more earthy than it was a year ago. Black fruit flavors but also some Grenache red berries. Has much to delight. Full on the mid-palate but friendly and open. As ready to drink as it will ever be.

This Vacqueyras initially sold for about $20 but was discounted again and again and finally closed out for $8 when I bought it. Lucky me.

Epicuro Salice Salentino, 2006

This has to be one of the best values for red wine anywhere. Still $5.99 at Trader Joe's, it's far too easy to brush off as a cheap red wine. I tasted this several times when it was first released, then put a few bottles back to see how well it ages. At nine years, it is coming along fine.

Deep, intense ruby red. I smell dark cherries, wild berries, licorice and flowers. Deep and concentrated. In the mouth, there is more of the same. Velvety mouthfeel, typical of Salice Salentino. Pleasantly sweet. Pleasant because the sweetness comes from ripe fruit and peels rather than oak or residual sugar. For those who like "big" wines, this wine will satisfy, but the alcoholic content is only 13.5% and acid rules over tannin. That's my kind of big wine. This wine has improved substantially with age; it has taken on another dimension but does not taste old.

From my limited experience, I would say that Salice ages well for 10 to 15 years. Aglianico, also available for $5.99 at Trader Joe's, has an even better reputation for aging. I will hold off awhile on my 2006 Aglianicos.

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages Saint Gervais, 2000

This is my favorite of the Domaine Sainte Anne wines. It has a relatively high percentage of Mourvedre in the blend and ages beautifully.

Deep cherry red. Takes awhile to open but worth the wait. Slowly violets emerge, then dark cherries. Finally small red berries. Spicy as Mourvedre should be. Also deep and laid back. All of that on the palate...and more. Cherry compote, very rich. More spice. Perfect balance of ripe fruit and fresh acidity. Long, elegant finish. I love it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Don & Sons Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 2012

I ordered this from the wine list at the Common Grill in Chelsea, Michigan. It went well with the excellent Lake Superior Whitefish Piccata; but then it would match up with nearly any dish or appetizer. Don, of course, is Don Sebastiani of the family that pioneered winemaking in Sonoma County.

Deep ruby color, shows its youth. Strawberry, rhubarb and black tea. Aroma and flavor profile similar to that of the Eric Ross Pinot below. It's much younger, of course, and does not take as many twists and turns. But it has more fruit intensity and power. A wine to savor with the meal and afterward. Pinot Noir from California is either very good or very bad. And this is one of the good guys. I'd like to see how it ages.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Eric Ross Russian River Valley Poule d'Or Pinot Noir, 2001

After having a very good Wonderwall Edna Valley Pinot Noir last night with salmon at the Every Day People's Cafe in Douglas, MI, I was in the mood for another good Pinot--this time with home cooked whitefish. This 2001 Eric Ross RR Pinot was a beautifully mature choice.

A light Pinot ruby color but no real signs of advancing age. Lovely sweetish smells of red berries and flowers with toasty French oak fading into a backdrop. More ripe red fruit on the palate--like a strawberry/rhubarb tart. Lovely. Delicate--as a Pinot should be--but surprisingly rich fruit flavors on the mid-palate. Sweet, spicy finish. Is aging beautifully.

E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone, 2011

My very first case purchase of a Cotes du Rhone was the 1976 Guigal recommended to me by a wine salesman at what was then Zimmerman's liquor store on Grand Avenue in Chicago (now the site of a Binny's outlet). I had virtually no experience with wine at that time but thoroughly enjoyed every bottle. Since that time, I have had numerous more-than-memorable bottles of this wine--the 1981, 1983 and 1985 were particularly good, and I remember enjoying some vintages all the way into the early 1990s. Guigal's CDR has an excellent reputation for aging as well as for consistency, quality and value. This 2011 seems to fit quite nicely into that tradition.

Very deep ruby/crimson. Probably a fairly high percentage of Syrah in the blend. Red fruits, garrigue and a hint of black pepper. Syrah firmness on mid-palate with a peppery edge that becomes increasingly more prominent. Long finish feature fruit, spice and pepper. Exactly what I like in a Cotes du Rhone.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches Chateauneuf du Pape, 1993

1993 was not a particularly distinguished vintage in the Southern Rhone, and Diffonty's Domaine du Haute des Terres Blanche is not very well known. This wine, however, is showing very nicely.

Some bricking at edges, but the bouquet is fresh and lively for a 22-year-old wine. Flavors lean toward dark cherry, fresh and dried. Gets better throughout the meal. Good fruit and good acid for balance. A finish that just keeps giving.

The price tag says $11.99. That was 20 years ago, but this wine is still a relative bargain among Chateauneufs du Pape.

Two Fine Old Riojas: 1978 Cune, 1975 Vina Turzaballa

The wines that first got me truly interested in following wine were Riojas. I remember enjoying several cases of  Rioja Vega, Domecq Domaine, and Olarra Riojas in the late 1970s--all priced around $2 to $3 a bottle and offering so much more than anything I could find in New World wines. But Rioja wines started changing in the early 1980s, and so did my taste in wines. But I have a few old bottles lingering in the cellar, and, for a family gathering tonight, I decided to bring out a couple.

1978 Cune Rioja is darker in color and seems much younger than its years. The smell of vanilla-tinged American oak barrels is prominent, as it was 35 years ago. Creamy mouthfeel. Dark fruit and oak. A real delight to drink.

1975 Ramon Bilbao Vina Turzaballa Rioja: When first opened, this wine seems a bit precarious. The bouquet is fabulous, but the color has faded to amber and the flavors seem a bit rustic. After an hour or so, however, this wine starts to show its stuff. The American oak is still there but integrated nicely with the herb-tinged Temperanillo fruit. The complexity is remarkable. This is why you age wines; magic has happened in the bottle and this wine has many stories to tell. I love it.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Didier Grappe Cotes du Jura Longefin Chardonnay, 2012

Jon Rimmerman of Garagiste.com used the words "purity" and "honesty" in describing this Cotes du Jura Chardonnay. That's probably why I hit the "buy" button, and I'm glad that I did.

Medium deep yellow. From the first sniff and sip, I can tell this is a unique wine. Minerals, cool Chardonnay fruit, lemony acidity. Purity and honesty, indeed. This is one of the best Chardonnays I have had in a long, long time. I think I paid $16,87. Wish I had bought more.

Vallana Spanna, 2011

When asked to help pick some inexpensive but ageworthy wines to lay away for my grandson born in 2011, I felt overwhelmed. Sure, I have many wines in the cellar that have aged quite well over two, three, and even four decades. But I never put any of them away with confidence that they would age that well. And I have bought other wines that I thought would be solid agers that died prematurely on me.

I know wine critics and others who try to estimate when a wine will be drinking at its best. I don't trust any of them. What I do trust is track record. And, on the basis of that, I recommended this Vallana Spanna as one of the wines I feel confident will be there and offer pleasure for my grandson in 2032 or later. Number one, the wine is made from Nebbiolo, arguably the most ageworthy of all wine grapes. And 2011 has been rated as a very good vintage for Nebbiolo from the Piedmont area of Italy. Secondly, it comes from highly underrated vineyards in the Novara hills northeast of Barolo, and I have had other wines from this region that aged marvelously, including the 1975 Dessilani Gattinara and the 1982 Dessilani Spanna. Finally, this wine, in particular, has a great track record with bottles from the 1950s still getting good reviews. Just to be sure, though, I wanted to try the 2011 Vallana right now.

Very deep ruby but nothing that would indicate barriques or new oak treatment. Has the hallmarks smells and flavors of traditionally made Nebbiolo: dark cherries, rose petals and black licorice. Bold, full bodied and fruity. Fruity enough that it would be easy to miss the strong tannins, but they are there. Even more important, there is plenty of acid to keep it going for years and years. But I don't want to tell you that I could taste this wine blind and predict that it will last three or four decades. It's a beautifully fruity wine that goes very well with spicy Mexican food. Everyone loves it. With some close attention, it's also possible to note the great concentration and the way the wine clings to the back of your palate and stays there for minute after minute. I love it.

I hope that I'm around to enjoy this wine with my grandson in 2032, but I doubt that very much. In the meantime, I could drink this wine again and again right now. And it's only $14.99 at Binny's in Chicago.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Domaine de la Bastide Cotes du Rhone Villages Visan, 2009

This is a very good wine. But tasted alongside the 1989 Lucien Barrot Chateauneuf du Pape, it is totally outclassed.

The color is deep, dark and bluish; some of this wine has undoubtedly been aged in barriques. Sweet berry and herb aromas. Very pretty. Chocolate as well as red and black fruits on palate. Strong finish. This is a very good example of the modern, international style of Southern Rhone. I like it better than most modern-styled Rhones but think it needs time for integration of oak and fruit.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Lucien Barrot Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

Ask me my favorite Chateauneuf du Pape, and I would have to give it a lot of thought. I love Pegau Cuvee Reservee, Bois de Boursan, Vieux Donjon, Clos de Pape, Clos Mont Olivet, Les Clefs d'Or, Chante Perdrix, Vieux Telegraphe, Beaucastel. Oh, and I also like Beaurenard, Janasse, Chante Cigale, Fortia, Clos Saint Jean, Lou Frejau, Raymond Usseglio, Pierre Usseglio and older vintages of Grand Tinel. There are many excellent wines in Chateauneuf du Pape, and they were once (not too many years ago) cheap enough to buy in quantity. But if I had to name my No. 1, it would be this one: Lucien Barrot. As one writer put it, having a bottle of Lucien Barrot in the cellar is like having a Van Gogh painting in the attic. It is a jewel among jewels, and it is usually one of the least expensive of Chateauneufs du Pape, probably because the wine takes many years to show its true charm.What better choice for Father's Day dinner of grilled Australian lamb?

Minimal bricking around the edges. At 26 years of age, this wine still shows a deep, dark ruby. No barriques, just good fruit and good traditional winemaking. Bouquet is slow to come around, but it's worth the wait. Everything is blended together so well that it's hard to single out individual smells and flavors, but they focus around strawberry and are beautiful. On the tongue, the wine is smooth as silk. Long finish with lots of subtle fruit and spice qualities. I've had many good Chateauneufs, but this ranks right up there among the best.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Castillo de Monseran Garnacha, 2010

This wine is widely available, and I have seen it discounted to $6.99 a bottle. As far as I'm concerned, it's worth at least twice that much.

Medium ruby, good brilliance. Peppery Grenache with some herbs. Soft but not simple. Lots of subtlety on the palate for a $6 wine. I like having a few bottles of this in the cellar at all times.

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2002

I always hold and drink Jean Descombes Morgon longer than anyone I know. I like aged Gamay, and this is an excellent example.

Medium light color with some bricking. Fresh and dried berries, sweet and lovely. Also some floral scents. Lacks the distinctive spice of a good Pinot but has a similar texture and intensity. Savory as well as sweet with a long and interesting finish. The bouquet, though, is the thing; worth the price of admission.

Domaine Rabasse-Charavin Cairanne, 2004

This wine was shining when I first bought it two or three years ago on WineBid. Now it's losing some of its charm but still displays the old vine character that is a hallmark of this estate.

Color a bit faded but still deep. Dried fruits and flowers. Reticent at first but bouquet eventually begins to open. Cherries and red berries. Has retained plenty of intensity and old vine power. This is my last bottle, and I didn't want to keep it any longer, but I will miss it.

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2004

When young, Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhones have a cool, tonic feel on the palate, with smells and flavors of wild herbs, red raspberry and spices. This 2004 has reached a lovely stage--the maturity I've been waiting for. Because they are well made wines, with low alcohol and high acidity, I am never worried they will drift over the hill.

Medium ruby/garnet color. Complex fruit/spice smells and flavors with fine, ripe tannins. Very Grenache now. And much better than the Cotes du Rhone appellation suggests. Good grip and finish.

Domaine Richaud Cairanne l'Ebrescade, 2005

I love Cairanne and have read nothing but good things about Domaine Richaud. Although I have always been a fan of Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cairanne, I thought this wine was worth a try when I saw it at a good price on a WineBid auction.

Opaque, purplish color--must have been aged in barriques. Lots of oak, black fruits, coffee, plums and spice box. Exciting but not what I've come to expect from Cairanne. Full-bodied presence with plenty of alcohol (14.5%). Both smells and flavors open up dramatically when I pour from the Rabbit aerator.  More red fruit and more depth now. But reminds me of an Australian GSM rather than a Cairanne. International style, not mine.

St. Antonius Kreuznacher Kronenburg Riesling Auslese, 2012

At $8.99 a bottle, this is a true budget wine. It's slightly sweet, better as an after-dinner drink. But it has the depth and quality of an Auslese.

Medium deep yellow. Jonathan apple, clean and fresh. Gains floral smells as it warms in the glass. Sweet but doesn't cloy. Clean finish with an acidic lift.

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Vignoles, 2009

Bernie Rink at Boskydel was one of the pioneers of wine-making on the Leelanau Peninsula, and, to my knowledge, he has never moved from French hybrid to European varietals. Vignoles is not a familiar name with the wine-buying public, but the wine has the full body of Chardonnay plus good acidity for aging.

Medium yellow, no sign of advancing age, even after six years in the bottle. Apple and pineapple with citric acidity. Clean and fresh. Better than most Chardonnays from Leelanau and Old Mission and, at $70+ a case, an excellent value.

Domaine de Font-Sane Gigondas, 1999

My previous bottles of this were still too young to really enjoy; this bottle has reached majestic maturity. Considerable bricking but basically a deep crimson color. Strawberries take center stage both in aromas and flavors. Also purple flowers and Provencal herbs. Crinkly maturity. Lovely. Lots of beautiful Grenache qualities with a long berry finish. Peppery qualities emerge and the wine still has some firm tannins on the mid-palate. Gigondas power. I have more of this and will be in no hurry to drink.

E. Guigal Cotes Rotie Brune et Blonde, 1990

This wine hardly qualifies as a budget wine, but it was a budget wine when I bought it--on sale in half bottles at a price lower than the going market price at the time. I probably paid $10 to $12 per 375 ml bottle. A 750 ml bottle now sells for $60 to $75.

I see significant bricking on the taste-size pour; from a full glass, however, it is a beautiful deep ruby with only slight signs of bricking at the rim. Mature Syrah, somewhat funky. Dark cherries, herbs and flowers. Both the smells and flavors are savory rather than ripe. Very concentrated flavors. Demands your full attention. Very enjoyable wine, but only if you are familiar with and like Northern Rhone Syrah. No Aussies; this is not Shiraz.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

St. Hallett Barossa Gamekeeper's Red, 2010

At a wine dinner at Oakwood Bistro in Kalamazoo, Donna and I had the good fortune to share a table with the St. Hallett winemaker, Stuart Blackwell. This was the least expensive wine that Stuart presented to us that night, but he made it clear that it was one of his favorites. And he had confidence in its aging ability.

The wine is a combination of Shiraz (61%), Grenache (32%) and Touriga Nationale (7%). As an experiment, it was aged on its lees but without new oak. And the result is impressive.

Very dark, Shiraz, Touriga color. Black fruit, peppery, still young. Round, full and tannic. I'm searching for the Grenache red berry, and it may take more time to emerge. For now, the darker grapes dominate. As the wine airs, more peppery qualities emerge--some Syrah, some Grenache. And the finish becomes increasingly friendly and open. Yes, I think that's the Grenache speaking. I like this wine and have a few more bottles to enjoy a few years down the road.

Red Door Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir, 2010

I bought this wine from Jon Rimmerman at Garagiste.com. It was very inexpensive ($10 or less) and has only Oregon as an appellation. Some reviews on Cellar Tracker were negative, so my expectations were not high.

The color is so light that a one-sip pour in the glass is nearly transparent. Strawberries and spice--light but nice. The negative Cellar Tracker reviewer apparently likes his wines darker and more tannic. I've read that the secret to good Pinot Noir is the spice, and I agree. This wine has the kind of spice I like--cranberries, sour cherries, a touch of ginger. (None of the cinnamon and pie spices that I find disagreeable in Pinot wines from Monterey County.) Light body but plenty of substance. The more I drink, the more eagerly I come back for more. Great smells, great flavors, great acidity. It's not for everyone, but it's my kind of Pinot Noir. Wish I had bought more.

Pierre Bise Clos du Coulaine Savennieres, 1998

This is my third or fourth try of this wine, and it still puzzles me. The color is a deep, old gold, much more mature than much older Loire Chenin Blancs I have had. Compact smells of somewhat funky Chenin Blanc--honey, spices, stale lemon curd. Has substance but no freshness. (I know, it's a 17-year-old white wine, but I am comparing it to other wines from the region, including the 2001 Pierre Bise Anjou Blanc--a wine that cost less than half as much and is still drinking beautifully.) Full bodied and tannic for a white wine with a firm finish. Okay, but it doesn't thrill me as other mature Savennieres have.

I have read reviews of this and other Clos du Coulaine wines from the late 1990s from writers I trust. There is little comparison between what they report and what I have tasted from these wines. I suspect this batch may have been exposed to too much heat during transport or storage.

Olivares Altos de la Hoya Jumilla Monastrell, 2009

I loved this Jumilla Monastrell when it was first released and put away a couple of bottles to see how well it ages. The only thing I discovered is that it's holding well.

Very dark and bluish. French oak barriques, I believe. I smell vanilla, violets, black fruits, coffee and dark chocolate. Ripe, creamy smooth with a long finish. Very dark chocolate. French oak has been very, very good to this wine. The Jumilla old vine Monastrell traits are lurking underneath and will undoubtedly make this wine a revelation to drink...in 10 to 15 years. I'm not sure I want to wait that long, and there are plenty of unoaked and lightly oaked Spanish Monastrells on the market to satisfy my immediate appetite.

Nicolas Cotes de Gascogne Sauvignon Blanc, 2013

The label is classy and simple--looks like a $25 Sancerre but with a $9.99 price tag. And it's really a pretty classy wine for the price.

Beautiful light straw color. Grapefruit, flowers, leaning toward the sweetness of passion fruit. Same on the tongue. Pleasing grapefruit acidity and freshness but ripe fruit to counter it. Just what I like for a mid-summer evening on the deck.

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2001

This is a good example of a mature Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone. It has lost some of its bold fruit and cream and gained some finesse and depth.

The color is fading a bit but still a healthy medium light ruby. Strawberries and spice still dominate the nose but with developing complexity. Good fruit but not fruity in a simple way. On the palate, there is more of the same: strawberries, spice and a trace of pepper. The same red berry fruit that it had 10 to 12 years ago but with growing depth and maturity. This is certainly not a typical Cotes du Rhone, nor even Cotes du Rhone Villages.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Moutard-Diligent Irancy, 2009

This Pinot Noir from an area just south of Chablis was another of my favorites at the French wine tasting presented by Soif Distributors. It impressed me not because of its size but because of its lack of such.

Light garnet color. Cherry/berry scents but very reticent; takes a lot of time to start to open but well worth the wait. Light spices and dried fruits and flowers. Has the texture that you expect from a good Pinot Noir. The tannins are velvety and supple. Good acid balance but needs a few years to show its best.

Mas de Daumas Gassac Languedoc Blanc, 2012

This is priced the same ($50) as the Languedoc Rouge (below), and I was underwhelmed with my first taste. As I suspected, though, it needs more time so I went back for a second try after the wine had time to warm up a bit and gulp some air. This time, I was impressed.

Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc is another field blend--mainly Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Petit Manseng. Fairly deep color. I smell some Chenin Blanc mineral, floral tones that are unfolding slowly. Figs, ripe apples and earth. Lots of grip on the palate. Now comes the incredibly long finish. This, too, will be a special wine.

Mas de Daumas Gassac Languedoc Rouge, 2012

This was one of several wines presented by Soif Distributors of Detroit at a French wine tasting last night presented by Salut wines of Kalamazoo. A highly regarded but not very well known wine, Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge is made from a field blend that is primarily Cabernet but also 19 other grape varieties, including Syrah, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Montepulciana.

Very dark and deep. Deep, deep aromas of black fruits, truffles, mushrooms, cured meat. Fascinating wine. Same on the palate. Deep, deep fruit. Plums, blueberries, cassis. Packed tight. I don't know when this wine will open, but when it does, it will be peacock's tail.

The price ($50) is outrageous for a Languedoc wine, even though Robert Parker has raved about the wine and the estate. I was ready to dismiss it summarily on the basis of price alone...until I tasted it.

Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti Les Ormes, 2010

Tasted alongside the much older Fourcas Hosten (below), this Barbera d'Asti is considerably lighter and less concentrated...but very good. Deep bluish tints. Cherries, roses and black licorice--the Barolo formula but without the tannin. Licorice, turning to black pepper. A very engaging wine. Fruity, high acid, low tannin but not at all simple. Can be enjoyed with many foods and a variety of occasions

Chateau Fourcas Hosten Listrac, 1982

The price tag on this bottle reads "$9.95." But that was a time when you could buy Cos d'Estournel for $25. The current vintage of Fourcas Hosten sells for about $20; Cos, $360 and up. There are many bargains in Bordeaux, and some of them still offer pleasure for 30 years and more. Fourcas Hosten is a prime example.

I've had many bottles of this wine at various stages of its development, and I admit that it has faded a bit from its best showing. The cork crumbles, and there is a thick crust of sediment but not as much bricking as you would expect from a 33-year-old wine. I get fabulous smells as I am pouring it into the decanter: sandalwood, flowers, red berries, Merlot tea. The 1982 Fourcas Hosten has always seemed Cabernet-dominant in the past, even though it is only 50% of the blend. Today, Merlot (40%) seems to be taking over. I taste tea, cherries, red plums. The palate doesn't quite measure up to the promise of the nose. Medium long, sweet finish. Still a nice wine.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Domaine du Val des Rois (R Bouchard) Valreas, 2007

Nine generations of the Bouchard family have been wine growers in the Southern Rhone since the 1600s, and the winemaking here has always been very traditional. The dark, bluish tints I see when I first pour this wine suggest to me, though, the use of barriques--a modern twist. I did not notice this in the 2004 bottles I have been drinking recently. Blueberries and plums. Very peppery and spicy. Medium full body. Less ripe than most 2007 Southern Rhones I have tasted. But not as complex as the 2004 Val des Rois.

Domaine de la Tourade Vacqueyras, 2008

I have been impressed by every wine I have had from Domaine de la Tourade. The 1998 Gigondas was particularly memorable, and I was able to buy enough of this 2008 Vacqueyras at close-out prices to enjoy it frequently. 2008 was not a good year for the Southern Rhone, but the winemaker did a good job of staying within the limits of the fruit he was working with.

Medium deep ruby with minimal bricking at rim. The bouquet seems less forward than I remember from the last bottle I had several months ago, but I have a cold. As the meal goes on, the wine gets better and better. I think it's curing my cold.  Subtle fruit, pure and so well framed.

Francoise et Denis Clair Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes-de-Beaune, 2005

I am a pretty confirmed Europhile. For whatever wine I am buying--be it Cabernet, Riesling, Syrah, Grenache or Chardonnay--I usually feel I can get more wine for the money by buying French, Italian or even Spanish rather than New World. Pinot Noir is another matter. I have rarely had an outstanding red Burgundy, mainly because I am not willing to pay the big bucks. Even the least expensive (and ordinary) Pinots from Burgundy are $15 or more. Recently, I have had some good luck with California Pinots, such as the Acacia described below and some excellent examples from Anderson Valley, Russian River and Sonoma Coast. These wines are not cheap, either, but I have managed to get some good aged wines at decent prices through online auctions.

I opened this Hautes-Cotes-de-Beaune soon after the Acacia specifically to make an unbiased comparison. And after the first night, I was leaning toward the New World wine. The Burgundy takes longer to open and is less fragrant. Very dry on the palate; is the fruit fading? On the second night, the aromas and flavors were more prominent, though. And on the third night, they were brilliant. Bright cherry fruit, very deep and concentrated. Gets better and better. Sweet and lovely with a long finish.

Hautes-Cotes-de-Beaune is a modest appellation, and I bought this wine for about $15. It's clearly worth that and more. Whereas the Acacia seems to be fading at 10 years of age, this nine-year-old needs more time in the cellar.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Acacia Carneros Pinot Noir, 2004

Acacia's Carneros Pinot Noir sells for $20 to $30 when first released, but this 2004 was going begging at a recent auction (December, 2014). My guess was that few bidders were willing to take a risk on a 10-year-old Carneros Pinot from this producer, but I was willing to take the risk, if for no other reason than to see how well this wine ages.

The first bottle I had a month or so ago was not very good. The fruit had faded, and there were no exciting traits showing up to replace it. It must have been an off bottle. Or, more probably, I did not give it enough time to rest following shipping. This one is excellent.

Medium ruby, some bricking at rim./ Sweet and fragrant. Red berries, flowers, spice. Very pretty./Same on the palate. Silky Pinot texture. Flavors that fill the mouth--cherries, berries, spice. Savory as well as sweet.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Nerello del Bastardo Vino da Tavola Rosso, 2000; Gigi Rosso I tre Merli Barbaresco, 1999

This has always been one of my favorite wines from Trader Joe's, selling for $6 to $8 over the past 10 or 15 years. In the early days, the label hinted that the wine was declassified Barolo and Barbaresco, and the Nebbiolo traits were clearly apparent to me. Piedmont Nebbiolo for less than $10 a bottle? I was so impressed by the 1999 that I bought a case to see how it would age, then followed by buying a half case of the 2000. My buying slowed after that time, and bottles of recent vintages--now sold at World Market as well as Trader's Joe's--seem to be blends of other grapes such as Sangiovese, Cabernet and Montepulciano and not as interesting.

The 2000 Nerello tonight is showing well. The dark but orangish color clearly confirms that it is mostly, if not completely, Nebbiolo. And the trademark smells and flavors are there too--dark cherries, rose petals and dark licorice tones. For me, that combination is irresistible. Full bodied on the palate with lively acidity and some still firm tannins. The sweet fruit flows freely, though. Hedonistic is the term Robert Parker might use to describe this wine.

My experiment in aging was both successful and not so successful. The wine is well preserved. The orangish color is what you should expect from Piedmont Nebbiolo, and the aromas and flavors are well preserved. I still have a few bottles of both the 1999 and 2000, and I will be in no hurry to drink them. On the other hand, the wine has not changed appreciably from its early days, and I don't find any developing complexity or intensity. By comparison, for Easter dinner, I had a 1999 Barbaresco from Gigi Rosso--good vintage, good producer. By all appearances, this Barbaresco was much further along on its aging curve--lighter in color, more resolved tannins, more autumnal dried fruit smells and flavors. But the concentration, intensity and mystery of a great wine were there, and the acidity tells me this Barbaresco will only get better over the coming decade and more. I don't think the Nerello will ever come close.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chateau Grand Traverse CGT Old Mission Peninsula Ship of Fools, 2009

When tasting at Chateau Grand Traverse, Ship of Fools is always among my favorites and I put away a bottle or two from every vintage to see how well the wine ages. It is a blend of 50% Pinot Blanc, 40% Pinot Gris, and 10% Pinot Noir--the latter for "bouquet and ageability," according to the label.

Generally, I like how this wine has developed, although I am not sure I want to age it any longer. Rather deep color for a six-year-old wine. Complex nose--the brisk acidity of Pinot Blanc plus some lovely funky notes of Pinot Noir. The bouquet gets better as it warms and airs. Full bodied for a white wine with a level of sweetness that pleases me.

Kahlkahl Pamies Loriza Minervois, 2011

The Languedoc is France's largest wine growing region, and production from that appellation is three times that of Bordeaux and more than all of Australia. With such a huge supply and not much knowledge to drive demand, prices have until recently been outrageously low. For several years, I have been able to buy well chosen bottles of Minervois from Village Corner in Ann Arbor and D&W Markets in southwest Michigan--often for $3 a bottle or less. I have no problem with the recent increase in prices; these wines are worth exploring. But I have been spoiled, and when Jon Rimmerman of Garagiste raved about this wine and offered it for $16.79, I was expecting something amazing. In fact, it is in line with other Minervois wines I have had--incredibly good for $3 or even $10 but somewhat pedestrian for $16.79.

Very dark color but no other sign of new oak or barriques. Plums, berries, spice and peppercorn on the finish. Sturdy and full bodied with a rich mouthfeel. I suspect the alcohol level is somewhat high, but the label provides only a ball park figure: 11 to 14%.

Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux, 2011

Ventoux has been one of my favorite appellations for many years, and my love for these wines is based not only from the wonderful fruit-driven smells and flavors but also the outrageous values these wines offer. The Perrins La Vieille Ferme is an excellent wine year after year--a wine that you can enjoy with pizza or rack of lamb. And you can usually buy it for $5 to $7 a bottle. Other favorites include Font-Sane's Vieilles Vignes, Altitude 500 and Cuvee des Trois Messes Basses--all selling for less than $10. The latter two are cooperative wines, but there is nothing wrong with that; the coop has the technology and the equipment needed to do justice to grapes coming from what I consider a very fine appellation.

Pesquie's Terrasses is another very good Ventoux that has been marketed much more effectively than the above wines and, as a result, sells for two or three times as much. I buy it when I see it at special pricing. As for this 2011, I liked it better a year or two ago, but it is still a very enjoyable wine. Blueberries, plums and spice with a pleasing black pepper finish.

At the excellent Blackbird restaurant in Chicago, I recently had the chance to try another "premium" Ventoux--Philippe Gimel's St. Jean du Barroux. It sells for upwards of $25 a bottle, and, for that premium, you get a wine that is smoother and more elegant on the palate but decidedly more international and modern in its aroma and flavor profile.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula: Home of Fine Riesling

After a two-day visit to Old Mission Peninsula (near Traverse City, MI) with the Kalamazoo Tasters' Guild, I am convinced (once again) that this is a special place for Riesling. Many other wines are produced--Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Grigio, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc--and I tasted many good examples of each. My favorites by far, though, were the Rieslings. The top three, for my taste, were: Chateau Grand Traverse Lot 49 Riesling, Chateau Grand Traverse Whole Cluster Riesling and Left Foot Charley Seven Hills Vineyard Riesling.

All three are dry but with great acidity from the cool climate of this finger of land that juts out into Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan. All three have textures that tickle and tease the palate. All were under $20. Googling these wines back home, I discovered that two British wine writers, Jancis Robinson and Stuart Piggot, share my enthusiasm for the two Chateau Grand Traverse wines. Robinson said the Lot 49 Riesling was by far the best of a lot of several hundred Rieslings from around the world that she was asked to judge.

I'll write more later about the wines I tasted on Old Mission. For now, what I can say is that if you live in or near Michigan and haven't put some Old Mission Rieslings in your cellar, you are missing an excellent opportunity.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, 1988

Paul Jaboulet's Domaine de Thalabert was my favorite wine during the 1980s, and the wines have held up very well. I had the 1985 last December, and it was drinking beautifully. I haven't had the 1982 or 1983 for awhile, but I have confidence they are still going strong. Online reviews on Cellar Tracker continue to be good. Some say that this 1988 might be the best of the bunch, but I still lean toward 1983.

The color is lighter than the 1985, and it is generally more elegant. Beautiful mature Syrah bouquet of bacon, red berries, cassis and herbs. Same on the palate. Red fruits, meat. Concentrated but very smooth and dances lightly on the tongue. Leaner and more herbal than the 1985. Also livelier. Very lively for a 27-year-old Crozes-Hermitage. Very long finish. Glad I have more of this wine.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Hess Select Monterrey County Chardonnay, 2012

If you like your Chardonnays with a strong tropical fruit presence, Monterrey County is the appellation you want, and there are many low- to medium-priced wines from Monterey. Hess Select, $8.99 at Costco, is a prime example.

Pineapple is sweet but pleasantly tart. Add a few twists of lemon and/or lime, and you have a refreshing glass of Chardonnay. It's a bit too dramatic for some tasters, and not very subtle, but that's what I want when I open a bottle of Monterrey Chardonnay. You can find many of the same qualities from Estancia and J. Lohr Riverside. Chalone, a premium estate, also produces a modestly price Monterrey cuvee ($12 to $15). For the most part, these tropical fruit traits do not come from winemaker manipulation but from the Monterrey climate, with warm sun and cool ocean breezes.

A-Mano Primitivo, 2007

I haven't seen this wine in my area of Michigan for several years. I wish it would come back because it is a very good value. A-Mano Primitivo ordinarily sells for $8 to $12 a bottle, but I have seen it as low as $4.99. I held this bottle back to see how it would do with some moderate aging.

Still has its deep, dark, almost bluish color. No fading here. Powerful smells of dark cherries, licorice, flowers. Very nice. On the palate, the cherries are very ripe but with good balancing acidity. I get skin rather than oak tannins. Medium to full bodied with lots of flavor interest. Dramatic but never boring. Sweetish finish but with a lip smacking acidity. Even at $12, this is a very good value. I presume that most of the grapes come from Puglia, in Southern Italy, where an American-born winemaker and his Italian spouse have bought property.

Acacia Carneros Pinot Noir, 2004

The label on this 2004 Carneros Pinot mentions rich flavors of blackberry and cassis. Ten years after the vintage date, these flavors are no longer present, or at least not very prominent. They have been replaced by mature smells and flavors that I consider even more attractive. But not every taster will agree with me.

Negative signs of maturity include some browning color at the rim and a medicinal hint when the wine is first poured. After that, everything I get is positive: unique floral, spicy notes along with more typical Pinot smells of pomegranate and ginger. It's really worth coming back to for sniff after sniff. Lots of complexity and interest. The texture is as silky as you would expect from a good Pinot Noir, and there is a nice peppery finish. On the second night, after being re-corked, the magic of the nose has faded away, but the wine still drinks well with no hard edges.

Acacia's Carneros Pinots have a good reputation and sell for $30 to $40 a bottle. I don't usually buy them, but this was available at auction for $10. It was an opportunity for me to taste this wine at what I consider full maturity, and I am not disappointed. I am generally more interested in Pinot Noir wines from Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast and Russian River, and I have had several wines much older from these appellations that showed much better. If this is typical of Carneros Pinots, then I will stick with the more northerly appellations.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Domaine de Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape, 1990

This wine has always ranked as one of my best Chateauneufs of all time, and it is still hanging in there, even though it is now 25 years old and from a half bottle. It is the regular bottling and not the Cuvee Vieilles Vignes that got the high marks from Robert Parker. Nevertheless, it's hard to miss the distinctive old vines quality of this great Chateauneuf du Pape. And most critics report that the difference between the regular cuvee and the VV was not as great in 1990 as in other years.

There is definitely some bricking and browning as the wine is poured. And there is a great deal of sediment on the bottle. The color is showing some age, but the nose, oh, the nose! The same wonderful smells that I remember so well from previous bottles. Dark fruits, fresh flowers, lavender and licorice. Old vines Grenache but also some meaty tones reminiscent of fine Syrah. After an hour, the smells are getting richer and more complex. More of the same on the palate plus sea salt and savory meat. Old vine intensity and complexity become ever more apparent. Silky texture and a long, satisfying finish.

Yes, still one of my all-time best. Purchased for about $6 per 375 ml bottle back in the day. Probably the best $6 I ever spent.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Chateau Grand Traverse Old Mission Peninsula Gamay Noir Rouge Reserve, 2011

Donna and I had a glass of this wine at our dinner at Food Dance Cafe during Restaurant Week in Kalamazoo. We liked it so much that we ordered a bottle when we returned to Food Dance this week. My impression is the same: this is one of the best Michigan red wines I have tasted.

The color is a medium ruby/garnet, similar to what you'd expect from a Beaujolais Cru. This Chateau Grand Traverse Gamay has been aged in French oak and is more tannic than most Gamays I have tasted. But as far as I'm concerned, the oak has not affected the beautiful smells and flavors of well grown Gamay. Wonderfully spicy and peppery from the first sniff. Cherries, flowers. Smells and flavors open like rose petals--very Pinot like but with more tannic backbone. On the wine list at Food Dance in Kalamazoo for $9 a glass or $32 a bottle (40% off on Thursday nights).

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Chateau Tahbilk Goulburn Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1986

Whenever I read or hear anything about Tahbilk (formerly Chateau Tahbilk), my mind always goes back to the old war stories I heard from my late father-in-law.  During World War II, Ted served in the Northern Territory under a commanding office named Purbrick. Purbrick was old school in its purest form--a stickler for rules but with an overriding sense of integrity and fairness. In the Outback, with no outsiders within hundreds of miles, he would have his men parade in full uniform. If there were only two men available at that moment, he would give his orders to them, and they would march. When limited quantities of liquor would arrive with rations, he would never consider drinking it himself or giving it to fellow officers; he would carefully measure out equal portions to every single soldier.

The Purbrick family still runs the Tahbilk winery, and everything I have heard about the estate fits with the portrait given me by my father-in-law. With Tahbilk, you get honest wine at a price that is sometimes too reasonable. Capable of living 30 years in the bottle, this Cabernet sold for $8 when lesser Australian Cabs were selling for double that price.

Celebrating out 42nd anniversary, Donna and I thoroughly enjoyed the wine and our second-hand memories of Purbrick. Moderate bricking and huge amounts of crusty sediment. A great deal of tannin has been left on the sides of this bottle, but there is still enough to give the wine grip and power. Red berries and currants. On the palate, the wine is incredibly smooth with a kiss of sweetness. Many of the qualities that you might expect from a Bordeaux of comparable age, but the Australian stamp is apparent. While it may lack a bit of elegance, the fruit presence is pure and powerful. The wine still has plenty of acid and tannin, but I'm not sure how long it will be able to hold this precarious balance. I'll drink my remaining bottles fairly soon.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Domaine l'Espigouette Vieilles Vignes Cotes du Rhone, 2012

Bernard Latour's l'Espigouette is one of my long-time favorites. I bought and drank it regularly through the late 1980s and early 1990s. My last case purchase, though, was the 1998 Villages, and it's been awhile since I've tried the Vieilles Vignes.

At first, I was afraid that the domaine had gone modern on me. The color was darker than usual, and I didn't get much of the characteristic spicy, peppery quality right away. By the end of the meal, though, I was a fan again. The wine is a 2012, after all, and benefits from some air and/or aging. Strong black fruit traits with cassis and berries. The spicy, peppery traits are smooth and elegant; nothing rustic at all about this wine. For me, the best part is the lively acidity. Long and deep fruited. For $12.99 at MegaBev in Kalamazoo, this is an excellent value.

Tour Saint Bonnet Medoc Cru Bourgeois, 1990

We're back to budget happy wines, now.I bought a case of the 1990 Tour Saint Bonnet on futures for $139 back in the early 1990s. The price has gone up since then but is still reasonable considering the quality of this very ageworthy Bordeaux.

Good color with minimal bricking for a 25-year-old wine. Cherries and red fruit rather than currants. Nothing green or herbal. Still youthful and lively with some uplift on the palate. A good Bordeaux from an outstanding vintage. I'm in no hurry to drink the rest of my stash.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Domaine des Pasquiers Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2007

We're still eating roast lamb and Provencal vegetables from Valentine's Day so I'm sticking with the Southern Rhone theme. We're heading north and a little east as we go from Chateauneuf (Pierre Usseglio) to Gigondas (Les Trois Couronnes) to Sablet (Domaine de Pasquiers). They are all very good wines with very different personalities. Sablet has less prestige than the other two appellations, but it should not be written off as insignificant.

Good dark color but no indication of new oak or barrique influence. Lots of herbs (lavender) and flowers (violets). Also blue plums, licorice and black pepper. Very fragrant. Same on the palate. Black fruited and dramatic. Reminds me of a Vacqueyras or Rasteau. As dramatic as the Les Trois Couronnes Gigondas but less tannic. Fruit showing through very nicely. Fills the mouth with black fruits, licorice and black pepper. At $15.99, this is a fairly pricey CDR Villages, but it is worth the premium.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Les Trois Couronnes Gigondas, 2007

One taster reported that this wine had Syrah flavors wrapped in Pinot. I think that is generally a description of good Gigondas. And this is a good one, even though it comes from a cooperative and I paid only $11 for it.

Good dark color. Black fruit, leather and lavender. Bold fruit and tannin on the inside with the prettiness and complexity of Pinot Noir. Beauty and power. Drinking well now and shows no signs of fading.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils Chateauneuf du Pape Tradition, 2000

Many tasters, particularly those who don't have a lot of experience with Southern Rhone, focus on the earthy, barnyard qualities of Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas. I usually disagree, but, with this wine, the barnyard is clearly present. And I love it. This is the first bottle of a half case I bought in the early 2000s, and it shows signs of being a good ager.

Deep Grenache crimson color with minimal bricking. Barnyard, yes, along with cherries, rosemary and ripe berries. Grenache oriented and traditional--no new oak or small barrels used in making this wine. Very rich on the palate, like a fruit cake. Good fruit/acid balance and a long, finish with licorice and black peppercorn. The wine has already started to open up after only about 20 minutes in the glass, and I expect it to explode with flavor alongside Provencal roast lamb in the oven for Valentine's Day.

And it does. Barnyard funk is tranformed into ripe blackberries and currants. Very rich, very long. Reminds me a lot of Domaine Pegau but also Bois du Boursan, two of my favorite Chateauneufs.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Musso Barbaresco Pora, 1993

You can learn a lot about a wine from its color--age, grape, origin and how much it has been exposed to new oak or small barrels. Wine drinkers love to revel over the deep, purplish hues of a young Cabernet, but some of my favorite wines--those based on Grenache or Pinot Noir--are lighter in color or texture. Nebbiolo often has a brickish orange hue that might be taken as a sign of advancing age in other grapes. Brown, though, usually means that the wine is past it.

I've had this Barbaresco Pora twice, and each time I have noted the brown color. Some orangeish tints but mainly a muddy brown color that does not inspire confidence. My first sniff got only damp, muted smells--another bad sign. 1993 was not a strong vintage in the Piedmont, and this wine is 22 years old. I suspect it may also have had some storage mishaps along the way. Nevertheless, as the wine in the glass warms from cellar temperature and is exposed to air, it starts to show the true colors of a fine Cru Pora Barbaresco from a good traditional producer. The bouquet gets more and more exciting--roses, violets, cherries and dark, earthy scents. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied but very concentrated. Warm and savory with Nebbiolo nuances. Acidity is keeping this wine going as the fruit matures. Dances on the palate. I can only imagine what it would be like to drink a Musso Cru Pora from a strong vintage.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Chateau Boutisse Saint Emilion, 2010

The theme for the main course was rosemary: prime filet Wellington with rosemary dressed fingerling medley, heirloom carrots and rosemary scented Hollandaise. The beef was tender and beautifully flavored, and the rosemary theme worked well. Even the wine was redolent of rosemary.

Herbs and flowers. Definitely a Saint Emilion and it escapes the greenness that sometimes comes forth in lesser vintages from this appellation. Merlot and Cab Franc at their best. Ripe finish that blends perfectly with the rosemary-scented dish.

Lavau Gigondas, 2012

The third course of the Tasters' Guild dinner was lollipop lamb chops with pistachio-mint pesto, sweet pea cous cous and Meyer lemon-mint gastrique.

I drink Gigondas often but had never tried Lavau. It is a relatively new estate, I believe, and the style is traditional enough to meet my standards but has clearly incorporated some modern trends--probably some new oak. At least at this stage, it works. Cherries, flowers, leather, not as gamey as I would expect from Gigondas but that makes the wine more appealing to a broader audience. Bold flavors and ripe finish. My favorite wine of the night.

Marland Michigan Lake Shore Chardonnay Non-Affecte, 2013

This an unoaked Chardonnay from Wyncroft of South Haven, MI--a very intriguing selection to accompany a rainbow chard salad with warm tarragon-walnut vinaigrette, braised pork belly, artichoke and cherry tomato. For my taste, this was the top dish of the night, and the wine did not disappoint.

In 2013, the fermentation in stainless steel was very slow due to cold weather so the wine had plenty of time to rest on its lees (spent yeast cells). The leesy quality comes across rather strongly and adds an interesting dimension. Lemon creme and minerals. Texture is fine and smooth as silk. Unlike any Chardonnay I have had, and I would like to follow it over a few years.

Les Hospices Sancerre Blanc, 2013

The second appetizer followed an oregano theme: duck confit flabread with oregano-plum sauce and oregano infused goat cheese. Thankfully, I didn't smell or taste any oregano in the wine, but it worked well with the dish.

Subtle smells of flowers and ripe peaches. Has the flinty Sancerre aggressiveness but also some of the riper peachiness of Pouilly Fume. Has more sweetness on the finish that I would expect from a Sancerre.

Bott Freres Cremant d'Alsace Blanc, NV

This sparkling wine from Alsace was chosen to accompany the first appetizer for a Tasters' Guild wine dinner at Epic Bistro in Kalamazoo. The appetizer was chive and onion Cotswold cheese with Finocchiona salami and Spanish olives. In addition to being a refreshing way to start a meal, sparkling wine tends to go well with salty items like olives, salami and cheese.

I enjoyed this Cremant d'Alsace a lot. Good bubbles. Flowers and fruit on the nose but also a sweet biscuity smell similar to that of a Champagne. Ample zest on the palate but also a creamy mouth feel.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2001

Domaine Sainte-Anne is continuing to provide real treats from my cellar. I stocked up when the prices were low and am being repaid in pleasure. The 2001 Cotes du Rhone is drinking beautifully right now as is the 2004 CDR Villages. This 2001 Villages, I think, trumps them all.

Deep ruby. Lovely smells of red and blue fruits, spice and flowers. Coming together nicely in a bouquet. Same on the palate. Has lost its baby fat and the slight tonic lift many Sainte Anne wines have in their youth. But it is still jam packed with sweet red raspberry fruit. Good length and lots of flavor interest. I'll come back to this often over the next year or two.