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.