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.