Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Top 10 Wines of 2016

As I looked over candidates for my top ten wines of the year, I decided that 2016 was a pretty good year for drinking wine. My list, of course, is a highly personal and idiosyncratic is my blog. I do not award points and do not presume to judge quality--only personal pleasure. For various reasons, these are the most memorable wines I drank during the year.

1. Taylor-Fladgate 20-Year Tawny Port. Both this and my No. 2 wine were consumed on a trip to Spain and Portugal last June. I trudged at least a mile up a steep, cobblestone lane to reach Taylor's, but the pleasure at the top was truly worth it. For less than $20, I had three- to four-ounce glasses of three Ports. Even though, I usually lean toward Vintage Port, this 20-Year Tawny caught and held my attention. Rich, rich, rich bouquet of nuts and caramel with exotic dried fruit flavors. I drank slowly and enjoyed every sip. See my note from June, 21.

After returning home, I kept my eye out for 20-Year Tawny Ports and, on Christmas day, enjoyed another excellent example--Graham's 20-Year Tawny. Judged side-by-side, I am not sure which would get my top nod.

2. Taylor-Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port, 2002. Even the Late Bottled Vintage from Taylor's was excellent, but this Quinta de Vargellas was my second choice. See my note from June 21.

3. Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, 1994. Domaine Thalabert has been one of my favorite Rhone wines since the early 1980s, although I quit buying in 1999 when it became clear that quality was declining. During 2016, I had bottles from three vintages--all at least 20 years old and all drinking beautifully. My favorite was the 1994 (April 24), which has taken on tones of cured meats and Provencal olives. The 1995 (July 28) was a close second, followed by the 1989 (May 8).

4. Giacomo Fenocchio Freisa, 2013. (November, 23). This was my first bottle of Freisa, and the wine is now on my shopping list. I was blown away by the aromas; similar to those of Nebbiolo but maybe even more entrancing. Flavors for this bottle were still a bit backward, but I could see the potential.

5. Bybee Vineyards and Habitat Russian River Pinot Noir, 2005. (May 26). I enjoyed many good Pinots this year from Russian River and Anderson Valley. This was my favorite. Others included 2001 Martinelli, 2006 Saintsbury Cerise Vineyard and 1997 Alderbrook.

6. Gigi Rosso Barolo Arione, 2001. (December 26). I drank this wine with Christmas dinner, along with the 1995 Barbaresco from Ca Rome Romano Marengo, and wavered as to which I liked best. The Barolo was clearly superior in terms of bouquet and about equal in terms of flavors.

7. Ca Rome Romano Marengo Barbaresco, 1995. (December 26, March 28). I chose this as one of my birthday wines and opened another on Christmas Day. No disappointment. This is an estate I really like. Another Barbaresco I enjoyed during the year was the 1993 Musso Cru Pora (March 10).

8. Domaine Beaurenard Chateauneuf du Pape, 1990. (May 1). As usual, I drank many good Chateauneufs du Pape, including the 1998 Vieux Donjon (April 10), 1990 Domaine Marcoux (March 6), 2000 Mas de Boislauzon (December 27), 2000 Pierre Usseglio (December 27) and 1994 Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches (December 27). All were excellent, but I was surprised by the fruit purity of the Beaurenard.

9. Trimbach Alsace Riesling, 2012. (December 30). I really didn't have much of this Riesling because I was intrigued by other wines at the table. I had enough, though, to know that it is a special wine. I also enjoyed the 2011 Trimbach Pinot Blanc (February 27). And I was impressed by a mature bottle of Cuvee Emile Willm Pinot Gris from 2001 (December 14).

10. Grao Vasco Dao, 2013. (June 21). This inexpensive wine was another highlight of my trip to Portugal in June. While we were waiting for carry-out pizza, my wife and I ordered a glass of the house wine. For about $1.50 each, we were served huge glasses of this impressive Dao--reminded me of a cross between a very good Cotes du Rhone Villages and an equally fine Pinot Noir. Peppery, spicy fruit on a delicate frame. The waiter showed us the bottle and exclaimed: "Very good wine, very low price." I have been looking for Dao wines ever since and may have come close with the 2011 Portado Winemakers Selection from Lisboa (December 30).

There are so many other wines that came close to making this list: the 2001 Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin Prestige, 1998 Domaine le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras, 1999 Font-Sane Gigondas, 1982 Poujeaux, 1981 d'Angludet, 1983 Patache d'Aux, 1985 Domaine des Baumard Clos du Papillon Savennieres and 2012 Franco Serra Barbera. It was a good year for drinking wine. And I will try to do even better during the year to come.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Tahbilk Victorian Cabernet Sauvignon, 1990

Like the Inglenook (below), this wine, too, is in decline. The bouquet, though, offers up scents of black fruits and smokey old oak. Smoother texture and more depth of fruit on the finish than the Inglenook.

In terms of bouquet and flavor, though, neither of these New World Cabs from 1990 come close to the 1981 Chateau d'Angludet I had a few weeks ago or even the 1983 Patache d'Aux I had earlier in the year.

Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1990

This 1990 Cab was better a decade ago, but there is still some pleasure left. Deep and dark. Some green herbs along with black fruits. Still some tannin. Not as good as the 1990 Tahbilk Australian Cabernet beside it.

Portado Winemakers Selection Red, 2011

At $5.99 from Costco, this has to be one of the best values I have encountered in several years. It's a Portuguese blend of Tinta Roriz, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Caladoc, Casteleo, Pinot Noir and Touriga National sourced from vineyards near Lisbon. It reminds me of a very good Grao Vasco Dao I had last June in Porto.

Bright crimson. Smells of red and black fruits, spring flowers, peppercorn. Very tightly wound but still very pretty and appealing. Has the peppery, spicy fruit of a very good Cotes du Rhone plus the delicate texture of Russian River Pinot Noir. Sweet fruit peeking through a veil of black pepper. Yum.

Trimbach Alsace Riesling, 2012

There is no reason not to drink this very fine Trimbach Riesling right now, but I suspect that it will get even better over the next few years.

A very dry Riesling. Initially, the smells and flavors are citric--almost tart. Also some white peach which adds some nice fruit sweetness as the wine warms and airs. By the end of the meal, the wine really comes alive, blending so nicely with spicy Asian foods from Chinn Chinn restaurant of Mattawan, Michigan.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Domaine Mas de Boislauzon Chateauneuf du Pape, 2000

This wine had the stong fruit presence of the 2000 Pierre Usseglio beside it on the table...but also a good bit more. The majority at the table, both experienced and inexperienced wine drinkers, preferred this wine. Red fruit Grenache but also a touch of black fruit Syrah and Mourvedre for balance. Longer and more interesting on the palate.

This is the only Chateauneuf from this estate that I have bought or tasted. But I was impressed by the estate's $12 Chaussynette Vin de Table. Both show traditional winemaking that respects the grapes and the soil.

Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape, 2000

This 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape is drinking beautifully right now.

Strong fruit presence--Grenache red berry with a touch of spice. Also some black fruits but very clearly a wine high in Grenache. Full fruit on the palate. Very easy to like. Even so, the majority at the table preferred the next wine, the 2000 Mas de Boislauzon, and those familiar to wine, the 1994 Domaine des Hautes des Terres Blanches.

This is the regular bottling of Pierre Usseglio, the one sold by Premier Cru

Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches Chateauneuf du Pape, 1994

This is exactly what I expect from a top Chateauneuf: depth, complexity and pleasure.

The color is much lighter than the 2000 Chateauneufs beside it on the table. And it is clearly not as fruity. But the traditional elements of Chateauneuf have come together so beautifully. Grenache berry with dried fruits and flowers. Savory rather than sweet and very compact. This is mature Chateauneuf du Pape as I love it.

Bergadano Langhe Nebbiolo, 2008

I opened this Langhe Nebbiolo for Christmas dinner for the benefit of guests who prefer the vigor of youth to the complexity of mature wine. And there were some who preferred it to the more expensive Barolo and Barbaresco beside it.

Deep color. Smells and flavors more like that of Barolo. Cherries, licorice, rose petals--yes. Vigor and power. Stays strong in the bottle--and improves--for four days after being re-corked. I paid $130 for a case of this at Binny's in Chicago several years ago and have never regretted it. If you're hesitant about laying down big money for Barolo and Barbaresco, you can do just fine with Langhe Nebbiolo. (My favorite, of course, is Vietti's Perbacco, but it's difficult to find that wine for less than $25--not much less than the price I usually pay at auction for aged Barolo and Barbaresco.)

Ca Rome Romana Marengo Barbaresco, 1995

This Barbaresco made a good companion to the Arione Barolo (below), highlighting the distinctions between the two appellations as well as individual variations in style and vintage.

The Barbaresco is slightly lighter (and more amber) in color but still in line with how mature Nebbiolo should be showing. The bouquet has less exuberance than that of the Barolo; licorice and dark tones are more noticeable. More delicacate on the palate than the Barolo, lighter body and seemingly less alcohol.(Actually, both are 13.5%.) But lots of action on the finish. At least as complex. And on the second night, after the wines have be re-corked, this is clearly superior to the Barolo--a very positive sign.

This is the third bottle of 1995 Ca Rome Marengo Barbaresco I have had over the past two years, and I have been happy with each. Sorry to see it go.

Gigi Rosso Barolo Arione, 2001

This Barolo was the highlight of my Christmas dinner of roast lamb Provencal. It is drinking beautifully now.

Aromas of roses, dark cherries and licorice are beautiful from the time the bottle is opened. The other bottles (a 1995 Barbaresco and a 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo) are much meaner and more backward when first opened, although they open up nicely after a couple of hours. Definitely a Barolo--big, bold and beautiful. Sweetish flavors of dark cherries. Actually, still some tannin and plenty of acid to keep it going. Yet on the second night, after the wine has been re-corked, the wine is much less enjoyable than the 1995 Ca Rome Barbaresco.

2001 was an excellent year in the Piedmont, and Arione is arguably one of the top vineyards. Even so, the Cellar Tracker reviews for this wine were not as positive as our assessments today. And partly because of experiences similar to mine: the wine has not held up over the second night.

Louis Latour Domaine Valmoissine Pinot Noir, 2011

Valmoissine is a long-term favorite in our house, and this got more than the usual amount of praise.

Very aromatic: red berries, cherries and flowers. Fine textured and smooth. More pepper than usual, and that may be why it gets more than the usual compliments.

This wine is now available for $9.99 at Costco--a good value.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2001

I originally bought a case of this wine, but still have a few bottles left. It has always given more than its share of enjoyment, but when I opened a bottle several weeks ago, I was quite disappointed in the smells and flavors. Thinking it was corked, I opened another bottle. Whoo--same bad smells and flavors. It's pretty unlikely that two consecutive bottles of the same wine could be corked, but the wine is 15 years old, after all. Must be over the hill.

I never completely give up on any wine, though, and when I opened another bottle tonight--WOW! Classic Sainte-Anne. Deep ruby color. A basket of cherries and berries with floral/spice background. Vanilla that I know does not come from oak aging. (This wine is aged only in stainless steel and concrete.) Good mid-palate fruit and a long, enjoyable finish. Luckily, I still have another bottle or two in the cellar.

With the exception of those two bad bottles, my experience with Domaine Sainte-Anne remains 100% positive. I have had CDR and CDR Villages ranging from 1998 to 2007--all vibrant and fresh. Let's hear it for stainless steel and concrete.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Louis Pinson et Freres Grand Cru Chablis Les Clos, 1981

When you have been buying and enjoying wine as long as I have, you always have a few bottles that you know you should have opened years ago. This is one. But, for a 35-year-old unoaked Chardonnay, it certainly isn't the total loss that I expected it to be.

The color is deep gold and gets deeper the longer it's exposed to air. The smells at first are muted but start emerging nicely after half an hour or so: peaches and other stone fruit, butter, triple creme brie cheese. On the palate, it's love at first taste. Very concentrated. Savory rather than sweet. Full of intrigue. Flavors that keep shifting and changing. I am entranced. Very full on the mid-palate and long, long, long on the finish.

Of course, Les Clos is the pinnacle of Chablis, but at 35 years of age, this wine cannot be expected to have much left in the tank. The price tag reads $8.95, but I probably got a 17% discount on top of that from Village Corner in Ann Arbor. I should have opened this a decade or two ago. But I'm sure getting my money's worth tonight.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Domaine des Tourelles Gigondas, 2004

It's sometimes difficult to find the right drinking window for a Gigondas wine. At 12 years of age, I think I caught this Tourelles at a perfect time.

Deep ruby red. Beautiful nose of violets, blackberries, aromatic herbs. Gigondas at its best. The palate is a basket of ripe strawberries and raspberries. Big Gigondas structure. More aromatic herbs and spices and a long finish with only a hint of earthiness.

This was the last vintage of Tourelles before the estate was purchased by the Perrin family of Chateau Beaucastel fame. The Perrins were impressed by this Gigondas; the sand in the soil, as they saw it, was good for producing wines of aromatic intensity. I agree.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Cuvee Emile Willm Pinot Gris Reserve, 2001

When I first served this wine (about 13 years ago), the perception was that it was "too sweet." I thought it needed some time for the complexities of the fruit to become more apparent than the sweetness. I didn't plan to wait 13 years to try it again, but it got lost in the cellar. So here goes.

Deep gold, as to be expected from a 15-year-old white. Rich bouquet that verifies its Pinot Gris heritage. Ripe apricots, honey, dried flowers. Old vine intensity on the palate. Still sweet but the complexities of the fruit are now dominant. Not as sweet as a Sauternes but every bit as rich and enjoyable. Worth the wait.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1996

Now this is what I expected, but did not get, from last night's Saint Joseph Offerus. It is three years older than the Saint Joseph but tastes at least a decade younger. What it has, that the Saint Joseph lacks, is intensity and depth of flavor. But then I have long known that Domaine de Thalabert is a special wine, a baby Hermitage.

There is plenty of sediment as there was with the Chave wine. The color is brickish ruby but significantly more saturated. Intensity plus plus--red and black fruits, leather and spice. And once it is in the mouth, the flavors begin to explode. No use trying to pinpoint descriptors; it's Northern Rhone Syrah at its best. Acidity, fruit, tannin, alcohol all beautifully balanced. Although it is now 20 years old, I would still rank this as a "young" Thalabert. And a very good one.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

J Chave St. Joseph Offerus, 1999

I realize that St. Joseph is ordinarily considered a wine for early drinking, but, from earlier tastes of this (plus the 1997 and 1998) St. Offerus, I assumed that this wine would be more ageworthy than it is showing tonight.

The color is a bit faded, and so are the aromas and flavors. Leather, black fruit and spice but lacks the intensity and depth that I have come to expect from a Northern Rhone Syrah. I like the acid level but there is not enough strong fruit presence for my taste--even considering its age.

Beside it on the table is a much older wine (the 1981 d'Angludet described below) that actually tastes much younger.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Chateau d'Angludet Margaux, 1981

When I notice signs of a leaking bottle in my cellar, I drink it up right away. Except for a slight ullage (low neck of the bottle), this wine did not show any signs of leakage until I removed the top of the capsule and found a cork that was soft and almost completely saturated. I may have waited too long on this one, I thought. But my worries were quickly dispelled.

The color is a mature brick red, and initial smells are slightly medicinal. After the first few minutes, though, I am perfectly happy. Lilting Margaux scents of violets, cherries, leather and exotic spices. Flows very smoothly along the palate. Pure and clean with no sharp edges. The finish is medium long and pleasant. Showing its age, but so am I. Nothing wrong with that. A good dinner wine.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Domaine du Pegau Cuvee Reservee, 1993

Domaine Pegau's Cuvee Reservee is one of my favorite wines, and I have tasted virtually every vintage from 1988 to the present. 1993 does not rank high on that list; it was not a particularly strong vintage for the Southern Rhone. This wine tonight, though, is very enjoyable.

Not a big wine. And there is none of the delightful funk that can be found in many Cuvee Reservees. Red berries and spice. Smells remarkably fresh for a 23-year-old wine. It's actually quite restrained on the palate, almost elegant. (13.5% alcohol) There is some dryness on the finish that might make wine critics turn up their noses. But I can't find anything that really takes away from my pleasure of drinking this wine alongside Provencal lamb with potatoes, onions and tomatoes.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Sonoma Valley Zinfandel, 2006

You may have heard of Ravenswood's Old Hill Vineyard Zinfandel; it sells for about $40 a bottle. Bucklin's Old Hill Ranch Zin is not as well known but only slightly less expensive when it first hits the market. I bought this one three or four years ago for about $12 from Village Corner in Ann Arbor, probably thanks to a distributor close out. It was a great opportunity to try a wine from one of the country's oldest vineyards, first planted in the 1880s. Although the label says "Zinfandel" because Zin is the primary grape, this is actually a field blend that includes Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Syrah, Carignane, Temperanillo, Tannat, Grand Noir and few other varietals. You name it, this wine has it. And it's a unique experience.

Very deep and dark. Looks like a big wine and it is: 15.3% alcohol but it's not at all sweet, jammy or hot as many high-alcohol wines are. Zinfandel-like boysenberry is prominent but, oh, so much more--carignane spice and earth, Grenache berry, Syrah pepper, Mourvedre violets, etc., etc. All blended together nicely. On the palate, dark cherry takes over, rich and warm. Medium long finish. This is the best bottle I have had from a half case. One more to go; I may keep it another year or two just to see what happens.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Louis Latour Auxey Duresses Blanc, 1996

This is a 20-year-old mid- to low-level white Burgundy drinking beautifully right now. I have had this wine several times over the past 16 to 18 years, and it has never been better than it is tonight.

Deep gold. Don't worry about the color; this wine is alive and growing. Almonds, white peaches, flowers and grain. Aromas that keep coming at you, and flavors that are layered and complex. Each sip creates a new memory that lingers and lingers. This is a unique experience.

I paid about $15 for this Auxey Duresses at Village Corner in Ann Arbor during the late 1990s. Even if I could live another 20 years (which is highly unlikely), I could not expect the current vintage of this wine to still be delivering pleasure after so many years in the bottle. Things have clearly changed in the way Burgundian Chardonnays are made, but I am fortunate to have a few relics from the good old days.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ici/La-Bas "Les Reveles" Medoncino Pinot Noir Elke Vineyard Anderson Valley, 2006

This is an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir made by Jim Clendenen, a respected winemaker from Au Bon Climat. The grapes come from Mary Elke's Donnelly Creek vineyard--again one of the best.

Medium deep ruby. Wild strawberries, flowers and spice. Fruit purity and focus. Lively intensity on the mid-palate followed by a rich, satisfying finish. For my taste, this wine needs some time to develop depth and complexity. A 1997 Ici/La-Bas I had a couple of years ago showed loads of character, even though Mary Elke's vineyards were still young at that time.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Collovray & Terrier Macon Villages Tradition, 2014

For those preferring a white wine with our Thanksgiving turkey, this traditional Macon was more than adequate.

The color is a beautiful medium gold. (By comparison, the 2013 from this estate tasted last week was much deeper gold with more suggestions of maturity.) Crisp apples and pears. No oak but probably some time spent on the lees (spent yeast cells). Chardonnay just the way I like it, showing all the facets of the fruit. Reminds me of the estate's Pouilly Fuisse and Saint Veran, which I had many times during the 1990s. Good Macon, good vintage. Buy more.

Clos du Clocher Pomerol, 1995

Some 1995 Bordeaux might be showing signs of age, but this Pomerol is doing just fine.

Deep and dark. Scents of dark chocolate and cherries, laced with just a hint of herbs. A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, showing the best face of both varietals. Flamboyant with finely tuned fruit. I'm generally not a fan of Merlot, but then I rarely run across Merlot this fine. Paired with a 1979 Edmeades Cabernet at the Thanksgiving table.

Edmeades Anderson Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1979

The price tag on this bottle reads $7.99. Even considering inflation, that was a particularly low price for a 1979 California Cabernet. The 1979 Burgess Cellars was $12.50; Mondavi, $13.15 and Cakebread, $15.95. Edmeades, though, had vineyards in Anderson Valley--a cool climate area that was very low on the prestige scale at that time. In recent years, Anderson Valley has gained a reputation for very high quality Pinot Noirs and Alsace varietals. As a result, there aren't many vineyards (outside of Yorkville Cellars) producing Cabernet or other Bordeaux varietals. This wine, though, is proof that the area is capable of producing very good, ageworthy Cabernet.

Deep but with the bricking to be expected. Well focused Cabernet smells and flavors--blackcurrant, black fruits and leather. A blast from the past, well preserved. Tasted alongside a 1995 Pomerol (Clos du Clocher), this wine showed all the colors of Cabernet Sauvignon. A hit at the Thanksgiving table.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Giacoma Fenocchio Langue Freisa, 2013

As much as I love Piedmont reds, I hadn't heard of Freisa until recently, and this is my first bottle. It's an old grape, probably an ancestor of Nebbiolo, that has not gained the prominence of Barolo and Barbaresco...or even Langhe Nebbiolo. But this bottle from Giacoma Fenocchio is very, very good, and I will certainly be back for more.

Deep ruby color. The bouquet, even at this young age, is heavenly. Cherries, raspberries--a whole fruit orchard surrounded by rose bushes. Deep, dark and full of passion. I love to sniff Nebbiolo, but I think this may be even more enchanting. The same on the palate. Layers of flavor framed by good acidity and mouth drying tannins. Yes, there is some bitterness on the finish, but it's a pleasant bitterness, like that of dark chocolate. This wine is clearly an ager, but at my age, who cares?

The wine list at Bistro Stella in Traverse City introduced me to Freisa, focusing on G.D. Vajra's Kye. I was tempted to try a glass of the Kye but instead went for a Nebbiolo d'Alba, which was very good. I hope the Kye is still on the wine list the next time I get to Travere City. And in the meantime, I will be looking for other Freisa wines. I bought this from for $20.23 with free shipping from New Jersey. Worth every penny.

Pierre Bise Anjou Blanc, 2001

I drank this inexpensive Anjou Blanc with great pleasure through most of the 1990s and bought four cases (for about $40 a case) for my daughter's wedding in 2005. I am well aware of the value of this wine, and apparently the domaine has also come to this conclusion, asking $78 a bottle for the current vintage. It is a special dry Chenin Blanc wine, at least as good as most Savennieres.

Deep gold by now, showing its maturity. Also maturity on the nose but that's a plus with this wine. Honey, red berries, incredible depth and concentration. Same on the palate. This is very much like drinking a red wine. You can't just sip and forget; you have to savor the greatness of Loire Chenin Blanc, well grown and well made. Alas, my last bottle.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Franco Serra Barbera d'Alba, 2012

This is one of my favorite Barberas, and it is an excellent value at $9.99 a bottle (D&W FreshMarket in Kalamazoo).

The color is dark and so are the smells and flavors. Black cherry, blackberries and peppercorn. Very much a Piedmont wine in its intensity and concentration. Pleasing ripeness on the finish.

Monte Degli Angeli Piemonte Pinot Noir, 2013

You don't see many Pinots from the Piedmont area of Italy, but the grape should take well to the cool, high altitude climate. I like this inexpensive ($10/bottle) Piedmont Pinot.

I usually expect a burst of aroma when I pop the cork on a Pinot Noir but got virtually nothing from this one. Oh well, Piedmont wines generally need some air, and this wine's aroma becomes better and better over the next half hour. Cherries and spices. On the palate, the wine is not as delicate as I expect from Pinot Noir but it is rich and satisfying. Reminds me more of a Barbera than a Pinot Noir. Nothing overdone and a pleasing finish.

I suspect that this wine might benefit from aging, but it will probably not get that chance from me.

d'Arenberg The Hermit Crab McLaren Vale Viognier Marsanne, 2013

This is an interesting combination of two Rhone whites. Marsanne is the grape used for white Hermitage; Viognier is the only grape allowed for the Northern Rhone appellation of Condrieu. The Australian d'Arenberg winery blends them at 76% Viognier and 24% Marsanne, and it works well for me.

The color is deep yellow, as you might expect from even a young Marsanne. And on the first night I get a lot of Marsanne character. "Glue" is sometimes used as a descriptor, and I smell glue here. That may sound negative, but it really isn't when you smell it in a wine. It's a broad earthy smell that might match up well with a crab bisque soup. Concentrated and deep.

On the second night, the Viognier peeps out with a completely different personality--white peaches, spring flowers, crisp acidity to counter the Marsanne earth. Viognier is generally not considered a wine for aging; Marsanne seems to improve even over several decades. For this wine, I would be tempted to let it age for awhile, knowing full well that the color might get deeper and less pleasing to some.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mas de Boislauzon Chaussynette Vin de France, 2013

Mas de Boislauzon is an excellent Chateauneuf du Pape domaine, but this inexpensive wine is labeled simply Vin de France--not even Cotes du Rhone. The estate won't reveal where the grapes come from, but some have speculated that they may have come from young Chateauneuf vines. Actually, they could come from anywhere in France and probably from a less prestigious appellation. At any rate, someone has crafted a very good, traditional Southern Rhone wine.

The blend probably contains about equal amounts of Syrah and Grenache,  but, for me, the Syrah traits seem dominant. Deep ruby. Black fruits, anise, black pepper. Lush on the mid palate. Good acid lift (only 13% alcohol), and the finish improves throughout the meal. I bought this for about $13 from Folgarelli's in Traverse City; for that price, or even a bit more, it is an excellent value.

Fatalone Primitivo Riserva, 2006

Primitivo is believed by some to be the Italian equivalent of Zinfandel. And this wine is every bit as bold and powerful as Zins from Dry Creek or elsewhere in California. The aromas and flavors are dark--black fruits, licorice and just the right amount of funk and rusticity. Warm at 15% alcohol, but not at all awkward or tiring to drink. At 10 years of age, it is mature but will keep for several more years.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Collovray et Terrier Macon Villages Tradition, 2013

This is an old favorite that I enjoyed many times in the 1990s. Also known as Domaine Deux Roches, the estate also produces very good Pouilly Fuisse and Saint Veran wines.

This 2013 has taken on a deep gold color, showing more maturity than I would expect. I bought a case or two of the 1990 and was still enjoying it 1998 and later. Otherwise, though, the wine is fresh and lively. Broad apple and citrus smells and flavors. I don't believe this wine is aged in oak, but it does have some leesy qualities that give it body and richness. Lots of subtelty, reminds me of a Pouilly Fuisse.

Rouge Garance Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2011

This CDR Villages is 70% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre from vines 50 to 70 years old. It is also aged in barriques but still looks, smells and tastes very much like a traditional Cotes du Rhone.

Deep ruby. Backward scents of black fruits and spice. Same on the palate with a touch of black pepper showing after the wine has been opened for half an hour or so. Medium weight, good grip and finish.

I bought two of these from Garagiste a few years ago and probably opened them a few years too soon. Although the wine shows well now, I suspect it will gain more depth after a few years of aging.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Nine Stones McLaren Vale Shiraz, 2008

Nine Stones, established by wine writer Len Evans, offers several cuvees of shiraz; my favorites are the Hilltops and this one from McLaren Valey. This 2008 is showing pretty well right now.

Deep, dark color. I smell mostly black fruits--blackberry and anise. On the palate there are also some blue plums and a hint of black pepper. McLaren Vale fruit is prized for its supple mid-palate presence, and this trait comes through here. Some tannin but drinks well right now.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Saintsbury Cerise Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2006

This label says Cerise Vineyard, and, from the time I pop the cork, I smell cherries, beautiful cherries. Dark cherries but also bing cherries and other red berries. Very fruity, even at 10 years of age, but multifaceted and beautiful.

Cerise is the French word for cherry, and the vineyard is in the Anderson Valley, on a steep southwest facing slope not far from the ocean--fog in the morning, sun in the afternoon, cool temperatures overnight. Knez and Chronicle also produce Pinot Noirs from this highly regarded vineyard. Saintsbury's plot is near the top (1000 to 1300 feet elevation) planted with Pommard and Dijon clones.

On the palate, the wine reveals itself as distinctly Anderson Valley. Compared to Russian River Pinots, which I also love, the Anderson Valley product is intense and pure, oriented more toward fruit than spice. Not as dark but more vibrant. Cairanne rather than Rasteau. This 2006 wine was aged in 50% new French oak, but at this stage of development I can't detect any oak influence. Has the delicacy and texture appropriate for Rainbow trout and Hasselback potatoes. In my opinion, Anderson Valley is one of the best spots from growing fine Pinot Noir.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

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

2006 is not considered a top year for Southern Rhone wines, but this is a particularly good vintage for Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin, a Cairanne I have been buying and enjoying for at least the last 25 years. Although the domaine recommends drinking these wines at 5 to 7 years, I have long since discovered that this is a conservative estimate. This wine is still young in every respect.

Good saturated color. Deep, dark cherry scents. Also black fruits, violets, cured meat. Big presence on the palate, rich fruit and spice. Grenache berry giving way to Mourvedre spice. No need to hurry with this wine; it's still in its prime. I have a bottle or two left; wish I had a case.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Gavilan Chalone Appellation Chardonnary, 2012

Gavilan is a second label of Chalone, but there is nothing second class about this wine.

Brilliant light to medium gold. Green pears and Granny Smith apples, freshly sliced with a coating of lemon. The aromatic intricacies of this wine are incredible; I can't quit sniffing and get something new from every sniff. Fresh on the palate but, again, with the intracies more common in a mature wine. Beautifully balanced.

For $16.99 (Village Corner in Ann Arbor), this wine gives me more than I would expect from a $20 to $30 New World Chardonnay. Chalone is dedicated to making Burgundy-like Chardonnay and Pinot. And, with this 2012 Chardonnay, I would say they have succeeded.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Southeast Australia Shiraz Cabernet, 2005

During a year I spent in Australia, the 1976 Koonunga Hill Claret (as it was then called) was a favored bargain, whether off the shelf for less than $2 a bottle or in pubs around Melbourne University. The wine was undoubtedly sourced from better vineyards at that time, but the style is pretty much the same, and the wine is still a stellar bargain, selling for $8 to $10 at World Market and other wine outlets. The 1976, I am told, was going strong after three decades; this 2005 has been ready to drink for the past several years.

Deep color, some bricking. Typical Shiraz Cabernet (72% Shiraz, 28% Cab) smells and flavors. Not really like either Shiraz or Cabernet. Dark chocolate, spice and black fruits. Rounded and full bodied. Flavors that grow on you. Very dry with firm tannins.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Les Trois Couronnes Gigondas, 2007

I had some really good things to say about this wine when I last had it in February of 2015. Tonight: not so much. The wine is nearly two years older and may have declined. But I'm more inclined to attribute the difference to bottle variation. I have had five or six bottles of this Gigondas (all purchased at the same time from the same source), and every experience has been different.

The wine tonight has good color, is medium bodied and has decent plum-like fruit. I think I described the last bottle as "Syrah flavors wrapped in Pinot Noir"--pretty much what Gigondas is about. Power and beauty. This bottle has none of that complexity or excitement. Good enough to drink but not worth spending much time with. Some of the 14.5% alcohol is beginning to show on the mid-palate and finish. Maybe the wine has started its decline. But based on the bottle variation I have experienced, I would not advise anyone to either drink soon or hold.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Nerelo del Bastardo Vino da Tavola, 2008

Nerelo del Bastardo is my number one bargain wine from Trader Joe's over the years. It was $5.99 a bottle when I started buying it with the 1999 vintage, but the price has gone up (and the quality down) in recent vintages. There is nothing wrong with this 2008, though.

The label hints that the wine is made from Nebbiolo ("certain BIG wines that we are not permitted to mention here, under Italian law.") And the wine does, indeed, have many of the traits of a Nebbiolo, although I suspect that some other grape (Syrah? Sangiovese? Cabernet?) is part of the blend.

Deep ruby, none of the amber that is typical of even relatively young Nebbiolo. At first, the nose is a bit shy, but it opens nicely after an hour or so. It's on the palate, though, that the Nebbiolo traits appear--rich dark cherry with floral undertones. Fills the mouth. Plenty of tannin here but also lots of acid. Still accessible and exciting to drink. More like Barolo than Barbaresco.

I still have some Bastardo bottles from 1999, 2000 and 2002. And they were all doing fine the last time I tried them. This 2008 may never become as good; then again, it might be even better.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Parducci Small Lot Blend Mendocino Pinot Noir, 2013

This wine ordinarily sells for $13 to $15 a bottle, but Harding's Market in Kalamazoo has a "special purchase" price of $8.69. Even at the higher price, it's a fantastic value--several cuts above your typical inexpensive Pinot Noir.

The label is classy. I was attracted by the Mendocino appellation, and the "small lot blend" designation. But there were 43,000 cases produced, so it's hardly an artisan wine. I don't know where the vineyards are located (probably around the winery in Ukiah), but it does have many of the traits that I love about Russian River Pinot Noir.

Medium light ruby. Beautiful scents, particularly on the second night: flowers, wild raspberries, cedar and French oak. Smooth Pinot texture and flavor interest that keeps me sipping for nearly half an hour. Not at all sweet--even compared to the Marsannay I had last week. Intense Pinot fruit and spice on the ginger end of the spectrum. Very pleasing touch of Pinot black pepper on the finish. I think I will go back for more. I don't think this wine is a long ager, but it should do fine over the next five or six years.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Domaine Bois de Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape, 2003

2003 was a disastrously warm vintage in the Southern Rhone, and, after tasting a few inexpensive Cotes du Rhone wines, I decided to stay away from Chateauneuf and Gigondas wines. This wine from Bois de Boursan was an exception. I have always admired Jean-Paul Versino as a winemaker and read some positive early reports about his 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape. The reports were right.

Good color, some amber beginning to form. The first sniff is funky but quickly turns into typical Bois de Boursan aromas, which are still funky but distinctive and beautiful. Spring flowers in a cow pasture. Very aromatic. Grenache strawberry but also black fruits. Warm and spicy on the palate. Very dense, like fruit cake but also sleek in texture. Very typical and very good. Ripe Grenache finish. No sign of warm vintage issues; the alcohol level is only 13.5%. Glad I have another bottle.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Louis Latour Marsannay, 2006

It has been nearly two years since I last opened a bottle of this red Burgundy. And it has developed nicely during that time.

Medium light color but still bright and lively with only a bit of amber at the rim. The smells are captivating: strawberry, mint, cinnamon and flowers. On the palate, it is fruity and ripe but with acids that keep it from going over the top. I have been drinking Pinots from Anderson Valley and Russian River recently, and this wine lacks the gingery, peppery traits on the finish that add complexity to those wines. I am basically a Europhile, preferring wines from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal to those from California or Australia. Pinot Noir is the exception--and probably because I don't have the big bucks to spend for the top red Burgundies. At less than $20 a bottle, Louis Latour's Marsannay is a good value.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Penfolds Bin 407 South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004

This is not as big and powerful as I expected. (I'm not sure what those expectations were based on except probably earlier vintages of this or similar Aussie Cabs.) But it is a very petty wine and a good match for filet mignon.

Deep and dark. Distinctive Cabernet bouquet of blackcurrants, blue plums and cassis with hints of herbs and vanilla. Not really very oaky at this stage and the tannins are ripe. Grapes come from several respected wine-growing regions including Padthaway, Wrattonbully, Robe and Coonawarra. Smooth and elegant but nothing particularly complex or memorable at this stage. I suspect that it needs a few more years to show its best.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegno Riserva, 2005

Cannonau di Sardegno is actually Grenache grown on the Italian island of Sardinia. And anyone familiar with Southern Rhone wines would recognize the Grenache heritage immediately.

The color is a medium light brick color, much lighter than I expected for an 11-year-old wine. And the smells and flavors are also much more mature. Wild berries, red cherries and peppercorn. This wine has the intensity and focus of Grenache from low-yielding vineyards (as opposed to most of the Grenache from Australia, California and Spain). Warm and satisfying. This is very much like a good Chateauneuf du Pape, but one from the late 1980s rather than 2005.

As an interesting comparison, on the second night I tasted it side-by-side with a 2004 Cotes du Rhone from Domaine Sainte-Anne. The Cotes du Rhone is a year older but is several shades darker in color and tastes much younger with fresh, bold strawberry fruit flavors. This is not your run-of-the-mill Cotes du Rhone, though; Sainte-Anne ages well over many years. At this stage, the Cannonau is by far the more interesting wine. Five years from now, I'll probably prefer the Sainte Anne.

As a poor person's Chateauneuf, Cannonau di Sardegna is a good value at about $14 a bottle. But don't put it away for any longer than a decade.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Franco Martinetti Barbera d'Asti Montruc, 2004

Locals in the Piedmont wine appellation love Barbera with tomato-based pasta, and that was our match tonight. Perfect. Tomatoes are high in acid and so is Barbera. This bottle from 2004 is holding up very well. Deep and dark. Powerful smells and flavors of black cherries, flowers and licorice. A much bigger wine than I expected. I think it has seen considerable time in new oak barriques. But the acid is even more powerful than the tannins. A slight herbal quality along with the acid on the finish. Probably will get better with a few more years in the bottle, but, alas, this is my only one.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Domaine des Girasols Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau, 2005

Rasteau and Cairanne are only a few miles apart, and the same grapes are used for the blend. Yet the wines are very different. Compared to the forward red-fruited personality of Cairanne, Rasteau is more reticent and may even need a bit of age to show its best. This 2005 from Domaine des Girasols is just beginning to open up.

Deep and dark. This is not a wine for casual drinking, but if you give it a bit of attention, its beauty is apparent. Deep, compact black fruit smells with flowers and minerals. Really special bouquet just beginning to form. Also on the palate, it's still a bit backward but has traditional feel and flavors. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Carignan. I like this a lot; wish I had more.

Buehler Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1990

I've always considered Buehler to be one of the best values in Napa Valley Cabernet. I paid $10 or $12 for this 1990; and I've seen the current vintage for just a little over $20. Buehler's estate vineyards are on Howell Mountain--prime property, but the Buehler family bought it while real estate prices were still reasonable. For the lower priced bottlings today, estate grapes are blended with fruit from the valley floor, but, again, the Buehlers have well established sources they can trust.

Consumed young, Buehler cabs are quite good although not quite as opulently oaky or sweet as some of the higher priced labels. As this bottle demonstrates, though, the wine ages well for 20 years or longer. Medium deep color. Beautiful Napa Cab scents of black currants, black berries and plums with a touch of cassis. Elegant on the palate with flavors that complement, rather than overwhelm, those of the food.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Portada Winemakers Selection Lisboa (red wine), 2011

One of my fondest memories of our trip to Portugal and Spain during June was sipping a glass of  house red at a small bar along the riverside in Porto. Served in a large Burgundy-style glass, the wine tasted better with every sip. Noting my enjoyment, the waiter showed me the bottle: Grao Vasco Dao. "Good wine, low price," he said. And I agreed. We paid two Euros a glass for at least ten Euros worth of enjoyment. I also remembered some Grao Vasco wines I had enjoyed during the late 1970s and early 1980s--good wine, low price (less than $2 a bottle at that time!)

Since that time, I have been looking for Grao Vasco or any similar Portuguese red, and I think I have found it. This Portada is not from Dao, a mountainous area with a temperate climate in northeastern  Portugal, but from, "the wine region of Lisboa...where the low rolling vineyards lie between the Tagus River and the Atlantic Ocean."

Deep, dark ruby. Similar to the Grao Vasco in its floral, red berry aromas. Cranberries, sour cherries, almost tart on the palate but fattening up with aeration. Gets better and better as fruit emerges. What I like most is the black pepper finish, warm and spicy. This doesn't come from alcohol; it's only 12.5%. Great balance of fruit, acid, alcohol.

The Wine Enthusiast liked this wine, giving it 90 points and ranking it #8 among the magazine's Top 100 Best Buys for 2014. I like it, too, and the price ($5.99 at Costco) makes it even more appealing.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Domaine Rabasse Charavin Corinne Couturier Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne Cuvee Estevenas, 1999

This 1999 Cairanne was my Wine of the Year for both 2013 and 2014. It's been almost two years since I opened the last bottle, and I may have waited a bit long. At age 17, it has a right to slip a bit, but it's still a special wine, every bit as good, in my opinion, as a top Chateauneuf du Pape. It's 80% Grenache from vineyards 80 to 100 years old and 20% Syrah from slightly younger vines--all south facing.

The color has lightened but still looks healthy for a Cotes du Rhone Villages of this age and vintage. The bouquet is fantastic--leather, dried cherries, flowers and a pleasant hint of barnyard. Reminds me of a mature Vieux Telegraphe. Grenache berry, mature and crinkled on the palate. Lots of haunting old vine qualities. I detect some slight volatility on the finish that wasn't there in January of 2013 and October of 2014. But it's still a very fine wine.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Ca del Baio Pian Rosa Barbaresco, 2008

Even though this Barbaresco is a 2008, I suspected it was too young to drink, and I was right. But I have several bottles and wanted to see how it is developing. And what I have to report is good: give it another two to four years, and it will be singing.

It's got that orangeish-amber color that is typical of traditional Nebbiolo. It hasn't seen any new oak barriques, and I am happy about that. From the first sniff, the aromas are lovely. Rose petals, red berry fruit. And with three hours of aeration, those smells get broader and more powerful. On the palate, it's even slower to open. The finish is tannic and also high in acid--tar rather black licorice. On the second night, though, some deep cherry flavors begin to emerge. And lots of complexity. This wine is already very good but will get much better.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Pierre Bise Clos de Coulaine Savennieres, 1996

If you go by appearance alone, you might have poured this down the sink before taking the first taste. Glad I didn't do that. Mature Chenin Blanc from Savennieres in the Loire Valley rarely fits international standards but is nearly always an exceptional experience.

Deep, deep gold, almost to bronze. Looks like a well aged Sauternes, and the first sniff is also very Sauternes-like. Lots of honey, probably even some botrytis. Ripe apples and minerals. On the palate, honey and cooked apples. Great texture. Unctious like a Sauternes but with a dry finish. This wine requires a lot of attention; and rewards you amply for that attention.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Caves Vidigal Dao (Red), 2013

After tasting a very good Dao from Grao Vasco when I was in Portugal, I have been scouring the shelves for any wines from this Portuguese appellation. This was the only one I found--about $10 from Salut Beverage in Kalamazoo.

As wtih the Grao Vasco, an intense fragrance wafts from the glass. Flowers, wild red berries. On the palate, it's a bit tart and acidic but still has some nice intensity. On the second night, though, the wine seems to fill out nicely with juicy, spicy fruit. As with the Grao Vasco, a nice peppery feel on the finish. Has many of the qualities I like in a good Cotes du Rhone--including the reasonable price. I will keep searching for wines from this appellation.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Chateau Patache d'Aux Medoc Cru Bourgeois, 1983

Robert Parker says that Patache d'Aux is a wine that should  be consumed between ages 5 and 8. That's probably because he has never bothered to try it after extended aging. For my taste, the wine was okay in its youth but gives a whole new level of enjoyment at full maturity. Like most Bordeaux from 1982 and 1983, it has aged beautifully.

Patache d'Aux is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, and that is the lush black fruit quality that Parker apparently prefers. The rest of the cuvee is 30% Merlot, 7% Cab Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, and all of these have blended nicely after 30-some years in the bottle. I get well defined Merlot and Cab Franc smells and flavors--cherry, raspberry and red fruit. Donna smells more of the black currant and black fruit qualities of Cabernet Sauvignon, and those are certainly there, too, giving a firm underpinning, even in its old age. And the special fragrance of Petit Verdot. No need to deconstruct, though; it's all one integrated whole with the nuances that only advanced aging can provide. So smooth on the palate and so well defined. Parker compares Patache d'Aux to a Napa Cabernet, and that's what it was in its youth; tonight it is much, much more.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Domaine du Font-Sane Gigondas Tradition, 1999

It's not easy to catch a good Gigondas at the right stage of maturity, but this 1999 is definitely singing. If you are fortunate enough to have a bottle, open it soon and enjoy.

Medium ruby. Beautiful Grenache scents--red cherry, strawberry, aromatic herbs. Ripe and wonderful on the palate; that perfect Gigondas combination of power and beauty. Open and friendly immediately after the cork is popped but becomes more complex and enjoyable with each sip. Dances on the tongue/

Domaine Galevin l'Esprit Devin Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2010

Now this is how a Cotes du Rhone wine should taste! Judging from the color, this wine from Domaine Galevin may have spent some time in new oak barrels but the effect is not to erase the traditional traits of a fine Southern Rhone. A beautiful bouquet is already forming--violets, black and red fruits and peppery spice. Concentrated on the mid palate. Good fruit. Just the right amount of alcohol, acid and fruit tannin. A finish that keeps you coming back for more.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Domaine Mireille et Vincent Cotes du Rhone

I have had the Mireille et Vincent Cotes du Rhone in the past and always enjoyed its traditional style. This vintage, which I ordered by the glass at Martha's Table in Sutton's Bay, MI, was a distinct disappointment, although I suspect that others might disagree.

In the glass, the wine is dark enough that it's virtually impossible to distinguish it from the Joel Gott Cabernet beside it on the table. The smells are also very similar--coffee, chocolate, black fruits--ripe and lush like a California Cabernet or Zinfandel. The flavors are ripe and oaky enough that I find it hard to finish the glass. Oh well, that is the direction that many makers of Cotes du Rhone have taken. And I don't like it.

2 Lads Old Mission Peninsula: A Candidate for Great Michigan Red?

2 Lads is the northernmost winery on Old Mission Peninsula, and the view of both bays from the hilltop winery is spectacular. It's worth a visit for the view alone, but the wines are also good.

The 2015 Chardonnay was fermented in half stainless steel and half 630 gallon French oak tanks. And the result is a delicious Chardonnay that captures the flavors of a good unoaked Chardonnay. Some oak smells and flavors but mostly fresh, clean Chardonnay fruit. I like it.

The 2015 Riesling, like those of previous vintages shows spicy, limey, mint traits that I associate more with Gewurztraminer than Riesling. Again, I like it.

My favorite, though, is the 2013 Cabernet Franc, which ranks as my No. 1 Michigan red--at least for this trip. It has beautiful smells of wild cherries and berries with smokey spice and vanilla. There is good structure here, but the wine is very friendly for drinking right now. Reminds me a bit of a good Chinon from the Loire Valley. And, really, isn't that the kind of red wine that Michigan is most capable of producing?

Monday, August 15, 2016

In Search of the Great Michigan Red Wine: Villa Mari

For many years, I have had few good things to say about Michigan red wines. As I see it, the climate is well suited to brisk white wines like Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Vignoles and Pinot Gris but not warm or sunny enough to produce big, bold reds. For years, many of the reds I tasted from Leelanau or Old Mission were almost pink in color with smells and flavors of celery and green bell peppers.

Brys estate on Old Mission Peninsula was started with the express purpose of demonstrating that world class Cabernet and Merlot could be produced from vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula. With all due respect, I have never been a fan of the reds from Brys estate. They are dark in color from time spent in barriques, and they don't show celery or bell pepper...yet. But they are too oaky for my taste, and I suspect those green elements will start showing up once the oak starts to integrate.

Mari Vineyards has found an intriguing way to produce the Great Michigan Red. The owner planted varieties such as Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Merlot and then made sure they ripened fully by constructing temporary greenhouses around some of the vines--a process the winery calls "nellaserra."

The 2011 Ultima Thule I tasted at Villa Mari is a blend of 45% Nebbiolo, 35% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot. The grapes were grown at the northern-most tip of Old Mission, all with the extended growing season provided by temporary greenhouses. The color is impressively opaque. And, yes, I can find the captivating scents of Nebbiolo--dark cherry, cassis, flowers. Powerful yet Nebbiolo should be. The flavors are big and bold--perhaps more like over-ripe New World Merlot than Italian Nebbiolo. Barolo gets its power from a combination of acid and tannin; this wine is all tannin, mostly from the oak. By the time I finish the glass, I actually feel a bit tired. At least at this stage, the wine is overwhelming. Too ripe, too big, too oaky. At $69 a bottle, it aspires to be the Great Michigan Red. But, for that price (and a lot less), I can find hundreds of more enjoyable red wines from France, Italy or Spain.

Tasting at Chateau Grand Traverse, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan

I always look forward to tasting at Chateau Grand Traverse, the oldest--and, for my taste, the best--winery on the Old Mission Peninsula of Michigan. My three favorites here are the Lot 49 Riesling, the Whole Cluster Riesling and the Ship of Fools (a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir). But none were available to taste or buy at this time.

The Lot 49 won high praise from wine writer Jancis Robinson a few years ago, so I suspect she buys all of this wine she can get her hands on. Too bad for me. The Whole Cluster Riesling and the Ship of Fools are apparently popular as well. I will have to come earlier next year.

I was happy, though, to taste the 2014 Dry Riesling, a wine that's readily available in Michigan for $10 to $12 a bottle. A pretty traditional Alsace style wine. Apple, pear, petrol with a bit of honey.
The 2014 Late Harvest Riesling is much sweeter, of course, but with great balancing acidity. The staff note citrus, white peach, melon and orange blossom honey. And that sounds about right to me. I could happily drink this wine several times a week.

Recently, CGT has also been having success with red wines. The 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve has attractive strawberry/rhubarb aromas and flavors, but it's a bit one-dimensional. Would be better with some of the peppery/spicy qualities of Pinots from Russian River or Anderson Valley. The 2012 Gamay Noir Reserve, though, is a special wine. The staff call it "our answer to Cru Beaujolais," but I find some of the spiciness and structure I expect from a good Pinot. Tart cherry and black pepper. Mmmm.

Patrick LeSec Selections Les Galets Blonds Chateauneuf du Pape, 1999

For Chateauneuf du Pape, 1999 is generally not a vintage for keeping, and this bottle is showing its age. But I love it for its traditional Chateauneuf qualities.

Medium light brickish red. Lots of uplift on the nose--Cheracol, kirsch, leather. Has the crinkly traits of well grown and well aged Grenache. Lovely ripe flavors. Underneath are some dark-fruit Syrah black fruit flavors. There are some who would dismiss this wine as being overly mature. I am not among them. This is old fashioned Chateauneuf, at its mature best.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Tasting at Good Harbor Vineyards, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan

In the past, I have preferred the Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay from Good Harbor Vineyards, located just south of Leland on the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan. This time, I really liked the 2012 Dry Riesling. Very aromatic with flowers and only a hint of petrol. Peach-oriented flavors but fresh and racy.

The Gruner Veltliner (2011) seems to be getting better as the vines mature. Has the white pepper/wax beans qualities that are common in Gruners from Austria. At $19 a bottle, though, I'm sure I could find much better value.

The Tribute Chardonnay (2013) is barrel fermented and aged a year in French Oak. It has attractive lime/oak aromas and flavors but is a bit oaky for my taste. I prefer the regular Chardonnay (2013) which does a better job of showcasing the apple/citrus Chardonnay fruit. This is my kind of Chardonnay.

2014 Pinot Noir: I would have been happier if I had skipped this wine. It looks like a Pinot Noir but doesn't smell or taste like one. Maybe some ripe cherry but also some yeasty flavors on the finish that are not very appealing.

Monday, August 8, 2016

CUNE Rioja Crianza, 2011

When I tasted this wine in February, I could smell and taste the oak influence. Now it has integrated nicely. It was one of my favorites among the Riojas we had in Spain during June, and it seems even better tonight.

Deep ruby color. Cherries, red raspberries and violet on the nose. Very aromatic. Good structure, relying on fruit rather than oak tannins. Refreshing red fruit on the finish. A really powerful wine for a Rioja and a very good value.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Berry's Bridge Pyrenees Shiraz, 2000

The Australian Pyrenees are in Victoria northwest of Ballarat, surrounding the city of Avoca. It's a good appellation for Shiraz; other wineries in the vicinity include Taltarni, Dalwhinny and Terlato Chapoutier.

Deep bluish color. French oak barriques. Chocolate, coffee, blackberries. Ripe but not overly sweet or alcoholic. Good Syrah fruit just beginning to develop secondary and tertiary qualities at 16 years. This is Australian Shiraz as I like it. I paid $10 at auction; too bad, I couldn't get more.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Esterlina Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2000

Esterlina is the largest winery in the country owned and operated by an African American family. Its wines are highly respected and have been served to international guests at the White House. As my introduction to Esterlina, this wine gets a mixed review.

The brickish tones are signs of advancing age; the wine is 16 years old, after all. Otherwise, I find a well balanced wine with bright acids. The major defect is on the nose; it may be corked but it doesn't have the pungent wet cardboard smells I expect from a corked wine. A corked wine usually gets worse in a short time; this wine stays about the same, even on the second night. Maybe it's a mild case of cork taint. The flavors, to me, are fine. Bright cherry/berry. Tastes to me like an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. So I hold my nose and enjoy it.

Esterlina Pinots ordinarily sell for about $55. I bought this at auction for $10, understanding that it could be over the hill. So I have no complaints.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Domaine des Baumard Clos du Papillon Savennieres, 1985

This bottle was a leaker; the top of the capsule was corroded, and the level of wine in the bottle was significantly lower than when I last examined the bottle. It is too good a wine to let slip away; I had to open it. And I'm glad I did.

The color was deep but not overly so--not really as deep as the 2009 Alsace Pinot Blanc we had last night. This Chenin Blanc wine is 31 years old, after all, and the top of the cork was beginning to shrink, letting wine seep out and (hopefully not too much) oxygen creep in. One sniff and one taste told me the wine was okay--maybe not quite as exciting as the bottle I opened in 2008 but still damned good. (My notes on that bottle can be found on this site through the search engine.) Powerful bouquet of honey, beeswax and flowers. Not quite as intense as the previous bottle, but I won't complain. On the tongue, there is fullness, richness and power and so many nuances. Very hard to quit sniffing and sipping; and I didn't until the bottle was empty. British wine critic Michael Broadbent listed Clos du Papillon as one of the top 100 wines "to drink before you die."

I am so glad I opened the leaker. And I have at least one more non-leaking bottle of this that I must drink before I die. It is a great wine.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Franco Serra Barbera d'Alba, 2012

Franco Serra's Barbera d'Asti Superieure costs a few dollars more, but I far prefer Serra's $10 Barbera d'Alba. It is a more traditional wine with no new oak treatment or very little. The result is a strongly flavored, fruit-oriented wine that will accompany nearly anything you put on the table.

Deep, dark color. Dark cherries, flowers, hints of anise or licorice--very much in the Piedmont mode. Carried by fruit rather than oak tannins. Reaches all parts of the palate. I should buy more of this wine.

Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, 1995

From my experience with Domaine Thalabert wines produced during the 1980s, when the estate was in its prime, 20 years is a good time frame for drinking. As the late Gerard Jaboulet put it, "Between 10 years and 20 years, c'est magnifique!" I've been a bit worried about the ageworthiness of wines produced in the 1990s when changes in ownership were taking place. But this 1995 put away my concerns. It is drinking beautifully.

The color has lightened and taken on amber tones, but a full glass appears deep and dark. The bouquet is captivating: violets, rosemary, red and black fruits--mostly red. Like a good Pinot or Nebbiolo, it is a wine I could sniff all night. Flavors are even better--elegant and well delineated. Plenty of acid--for me, that is a positive. Silky texture and a long, long finish. A prime example of Syrah, well grown and well made.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot Noir, 2013

I have had the Castle Rock Pinot Noir many times and have been singlularly unimpressed. These were undoubtedly the Castle Rock California cuvee and not the Mendocino one. Mendocino is an excellent appellations, but many wine store buyers are simply not savvy enough about appellations to recognize the difference. I bought this from Costco...for $8.99, the same price as the California cuvee at other stores. It is much, much better and a truly good value.

Like the California cuvee, this has enough fruit sweetness to please the casual buyer. But it also has some serious touches. Beautiful floral scents. Raspberry, strawberry and gingery spices--in the Northern California mode. Has that silky Pinot texture, and a long finish. I think it will improve with a few years in the bottle.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Franco Serra Barbera d'Asti Superiore, 2011

I am a fan of Franco Serra's Barbera d'Alba, but this is the estate's Barbera d'Asti Superiore, which costs a few dollars more and is presumably a higher quality wine.

It has the qualities of the Barbera d'Alba that I like: dark color and deep aromas and flavors focused on dark cherry and licorice. Very much a Piedmont wine. I suspect this Barbera d'Asti has spent some time in new oak, probably French and that is what distinguishes it from the Barbera d'Alba, both in style and price. Suave wine but with some noticeable tannins on the finish. At this stage of maturity, I believe I prefer the more rustic but authentic Barbera d'Alba.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Rioja: Old versus New in Laguardia

Laguardia is a picturesque walled village perched on a hill surrounded by Rioja vineyards. In addition to the walls, Medieval inhabitants built tunnels under the town for protection during battles, and these tunnels have now become wineries and wine cellars. Because there is so much hollow space under the town, no cars are allowed--and all the better for tourists. It is a beautiful place to explore and learn about wine.

Carlos San Pedro showed us four of his wines at Bodegas Carlos San Pedro--two vintages of his Vinasperi Reserva and two vintages of a signature wine, Vinasperi Collection Familiar. All were very good but not at all as traditional as the village from which they come. Modernization of the winery took place in the early 1990s, Carlos explained. And what does he think about the changes? I asked. Does he like the traditional style or the new, international style? He never really answered my question but talked instead about the advantages of modernization. Now, we can control temperature more easily during fermentation, he said. Now we worry less and work fewer hours to get our finished product.

In a tourist destination, the Collection Familiar sells for about 40 to 50 Euros--three times as much as the more traditional Marques de Riscal Reserva from the nearby village of Elciego. The wines are very good and could sit comfortably beside a similarly priced Napa Cabernet. Taste blind, and you might never know which wine came from a walled Medieval village.

Rioja Still the Wine of Choice in Spain

Having just returned from a three-week trip to Spain and Portugal, I am ready to report on some of my impressions. As is common in most European countries, the food was universally excellent, even from small, unpretentious cafes, and wine was always an important part of the meal. A bottle of wine could be ordered for 15 to 20 Euros, but a better choice, as far as I am concerned, was "a glass of tinto (red)" or "a glass of branco (white)." The wait person would bring the bottle to the table, let you see what you will be drinking and then pour a generous glass. The typical price was 2.60 and rarely over 3.00 Euros, and the wine was nearly always a good Rioja. Some of my favorites were an El Circulo Crianza, a Fernandez de Pierola Crianza and a Muga Crianza. In Porto Portugal, I had a delightful glass of Grao Vasco Dao. The El Circulo is in the the traditional mode but with bold fruit overpowering the American oak traits of vanilla and dill; Fernandez de Pierola is internationally styled, with evidence of barriques and new French oak but very elegantly styled; reports on the other wines can be found below.

Rioja has always been considered an important wine region, and I expected to find Rioja wines dominating the wine lists in that area of northern Spain. But Rioja was also dominant on the wine lists I saw in Barcelona, Madrid, San Sebastian and Seville. I noticed very few Monastrell wines from Jumilla or Hecla that I have enjoyed at home over the past several years.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2001

On a just-competed trip to Spain and Portugal, I tasted many good Riojas--Crianza, Reservas and even one or two Gran Reservas. But I really don't think any of them measure up to this inexpensive Cotes du Rhone from Domaine Sainte Anne.

At 15 years of age, the color is turning slightly, but the aromas and flavors just keep getting better. Cherries, flowers, spice. Strong mid-palate. The flavors just keep rolling in. Layers of pleasure.

Many Rioja makers today are turning away from Grenache or Garnacha in their blends, apparently because they believe it is an inferior grape compared to Temperanilla. I far prefer Grenache although as long as it is grown in the appropriate soil with low yields and not exposed to new oak.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Grao Vasco Dao, 2013

I remember buying a Grao Vasco Dao wine in the early 1980s for less than $2 a bottle and thinking "good wine, cheap price." I am thinking the same right now. This wine is incredibly good for the price (about 3 Euros a bottle).

Very deep crimson. Cherries, spice and black pepper. Good depth and concentration plus flavor interest that just keeps growing. A unique aroma and flavor profile but, otherwise, reminds me of a good Cotes du Rhone Villages or Gigondas.

Taylor Fladgate 20 year old Tawny Port

Heavenly Tawny Port experience! Nuts, toffee, leather and brown sugar. Fills the mouth with complex flavors and just keeps giving. Deep and long. Would be great with aged brie or blue cheese. For my taste, a 20 year Tawny is more than twice as good as a 10 year old Tawny. This one is particularly good and would be a lovely end to a special dining experience.

Quinta de Vargellos (Taylor) Vintage Port, 2002

I drank this side by side with the LBV of Taylor (below). The quality of vintage vs late bottled port was apparent, although both were excellent.

Deep and dark. Lovely bouquet: black fruits, spice and flowers. Brighter and livelier than the LBV. Deep, deep, deep--just keeps getting better. I could sniff this wine all night. Plums and nutmeg again on the palate. A full range of flavors and, oh, so smooth! Superb fruit presence and a long, satisfying finish. This wine is drinking beautifully right now.

Taylor Late Bottled Vintage Port, 2007

LBV is the poor man's vintage port, and Taylor Fladgate has a very good one.

Deep and dark. The bouquet is a bit muted at first and opens slowly. Deep and compact: plums, jam, nutmeg and other spices. Plums again on the palate, deep and compact like fruit cake. A restrained sweetness. Warm on the finish and even a bit alcoholic. Black fruits emerge more and more but still basically spicy. Tasted side by side with the 2002 Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port, it suffers a bit by comparison but is still a very good wine and a very good value.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Vilamartin de Valdeorras Val de Sil Godello, 2014

The 2010 vintage of this wine was recognized by wine critic Jancis Robinson as her choice for top Spanish wine. Who am I to disagree? The color is deep, but the wine is fresh and lively. Has the unctuous mouth feel of a top Chardonnay but nicely balanced by brisk acidity. Ripe pears, citrus and minerals. Very enjoyable with sole meuniere.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva, 2011

Rioja Reservas and Gran Reservas spend more time in the barrel than Crianzas, and they also come from older, better sited vineyards. This Reserva from Marques de Riscal is showing its class. It has the depth and flavor interest that I remember from Riojas I had in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The fruit is strong enough to overshadow the trademark oak qualities. I ordered a glass of this on Wednesday, a full bottle on Thursday. No disappointment. At $15 or less, an excellent value.

Muga Crianza Rioja, 2011

Having tasted quite a few Rioja Crianza wines this past week, this one from Muga emerged as a clear favorite. Like the others, it has the hallmark American oak vanilla nose. In the mouth, though, it strikes me as having more concentrated fruit flavors. Red berries and spice framed by American oak. Aside from the oak, this reminds me of a good Cotes du Rhone Villages. Good now but with room to grow.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ramon Bilbao Crianza Rioja, 2012

I was a big buyer of Rioja in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Along with Douro wines from Portugal, they were the least expensive wines on the market (cheaper even than Gallo Heart Burgundy) and there were some real gems available. Olarra was a big name in Rioja, but Village Corner in Ann Arbor stocked the whole line of wines from Ramon Bilbao--from the Crianza to the Monte Rojo Riserva to the Vina Turzabella Gran Riserva. A 1975 Vina Turzabella I opened last summer was showing beautifully.

Winemaking in Rioja changed in the early 1980s, with many wineries incorporating new technology and even some practices such as pasteurization. I quit buying. Looking at this Ramon Bilbao Crianza, I see both the new and the old face of Rioja. American oak has always been a big factor in Rioja wines, and this wine has plenty of vanilla and dill weed showing. Dark, purplish color. Cherries and blue plums. Somewhat rough and tannic on the mid-palate, but not enough to scare away the casual drinker. Too oaky for my taste, but I think a couple of years in the bottle would be beneficial.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bybee Vineyards and Habitat Russian River Pinot Noir, 2005

Oh, what a wine! It's been three hours since my last sip, and it's still engraved on my memory.

Garnet/ruby. A bit murky but that's because, as the label points out, the wine has not been fined or filtered. That non-action may have helped preserve the enthralling smells and flavors. The kind of wine I could sniff all night, even if it slows down the tasting. Runs toward the strawberry/rhubarb spectrum, ripe but with cherry pits and Russian River spice to counter. Served with Atlantic salmon and tomatoes grilled with olive oil, garlic and balsamic, and the wine seemed to pick up all the nuances of the food. The finish is a bit riper than most RR Pinots I have had recently, but that's no problem at all. Silky texture and come hither acidity.

Habitat, by the way, is the English word for terroir. And this Pinot clearly comes from a very special habitat.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2005

I have been so busy drinking the very good Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhones from the 2001 and 2004 vintages, that I have tended to neglect the 2005. It too has matured nicely and may be the best of three.

Deep crimson. Cherries, berries and flowers. Grenache strawberry/rhubarb dominates the flavors and the long finish. Has shed the intense tonic/fruitiness of a young Sainte-Anne and showing impressive depth and concentration for a simple Cotes du Rhone.

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2002

Gamay is the grape grown in Beaujolais, and it does not have a reputation comparable to the Pinot Noir of nearby Burgundy. But when the grape is well grown and well aged, it does offer some of the qualities of Pinot Noir at a fraction of the price.

This 2002 Morgon from Jean Descombes is fully mature and, maybe, a bit more. Lots of crusty sediment on one side of the bottle. Cherries, dried flowers and spice. Has the delicacy, subtlety and complexity of an aged Pinot but with its own unique profile.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Domaine de Font-Sane Gigondas Tradition, 1999

Font-Sane's Tradition Gigondas, I have discovered, ages very nicely. After shedding its baby fat, it often goes into a very unattractive stage for quite a long time before opening up again. That's why I pay little attention to tasters on Cellar Tracker and other online sources who don't have the patience to see what the wine has to offer at 14 plus years.

The color is still a deep crimson/garnet with some bricking around the rim. The bouquet is beautiful: cherries, licorice, cloves and mint. Has the Gigondas combination of beauty and power. Flavors are just as enticing. Full on the mid-palate. The rough tannins that choked the flavors a few years ago have faded away, but the wine still has good structure. Lively personality. Just the right amount of ripeness on the long finish. Better than the 1998.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Veneto Wine Dinner, D&W/Oakwood Bistro, Kalamazoo, May 15

When I saw the lineup for this wine dinner, I had to sign up. 1) The menu put together by Chef Ryan Soule was irresistible, and 2) the presence of Amarone to accompany the fifth course attracted me. After four decades of wine drinking, I had yet to drink an Amarone. I was not disappointed.

FIRST COURSE: 2014 Pieropan, Soave Classico with a risotto of pickled garlic scape, slow roasted tomato, asparagus tips with a truffle oil drizzle and shaved Parmesan Reggiano, Wow! The dish was beautiful, and the wine was a perfect match.  Broad flavors of Garganega--minerals, almonds, citrus. Good body, good acidity. I was lucky enough to take home a bottle of this as a door prize.

SECOND COURSE: 2013 Pieropan La Rocca with scallops, crab and lobster stuffed in grape leaves with ricotta, lemon and toasted orzo. This dish was probably the highlight of the evening. You can never go wrong with ingredients like scallops, crab and lobster, but the Chef added some creative touches. The grape leaves and toasted orzo added texture, the lemon and ricotta made the whole dish sing. And Pieropan's La Rocca was a good match. Brilliant deep yellow. Lovely smells: floral, lemon, minerals. Dances on the tongue. Excellent.

THIRD COURSE: 2014 Allegrini Valpolicello Superiore DOC, with mushroom pasta stuffed with pheasant confit served with roasted pheasant breast, crispy portabella and a rich poultry glace. I don't drink much Valpolicello; this wine convinced me that I should drink more. Deep ruby. Exciting red cherry and spice. Good fruit, acid, substance. And again, a perfect match with a mushroom pasta pocket filled with pheasant confit. The poultry demi glace was particularly rich.

FOURTH COURSE: 2011 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre IFT with basil-horseradish gnocchi, taleggio, roasted strip loin, pine nut and charred tomato salata. Along with the Pieropan La Rocca, this wine was a highlight of the evening. Basically a ripasso, with 30% of the blend made from dried grapes. Rich and concentrated--plums, figs, dark cherries. The blend includes Sangiovese, which adds intense red cherry fruit. For $15.99, this is an excellent wine bargain. As for the food, it's hard to go wrong with roasted strip loin, but  the gnocchi, taleggio cheese, charred tomatoes and pine nuts provided an exciting backdrop.

FIFTH COURSE: 2010 Allegrini Amarone with toasted farro and gorgonzola risotto, crispy braised lamb, fennel gremolata, natural jus. Well, I had my Amarone; $62 is a good price for this wine, but it's still out of my price range. I am impressed by the opulence. Wish I had put away some Amarone several decades ago; I suspect this wine will reward a decade or two of aging. Deep and dark. Rich, rich, rich. Plums, figs, dark cherries. Like velvet on the palate. And again, an excellent match  for the rich lamb risotto--one of the best dishes of the evening.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mas de Gourgonnier Les Baux de Provence Rouge, 2009

I had a glass of this wine at Chez Panisse in Berkeley three years ago and loved it. The waiter agreed with me that this wine would be a perfect match for the Provencal dish that I ordered. I don't remember now what the entree was, but I remember that the combination of wine and food was superb. Upon returning to Chicago, I went to Binny's and bought two bottles to take home.

The wine as I remember it from Chez Panisse was much better than the wine in my glass tonight--mostly, I think, because the magic of eating at such a fine restaurant is no longer present but also, I suspect, because the balance of the wine has suffered a bit with aging.

When I first open the bottle, beautiful aromas of fruit/spice/flowers fill the room. Sniffing the glass, though, I get mostly funky barnyard smells. Don't get me wrong; I like barnyard smells, and I like funky Provencal wines. In this wine, I believe, the smells are from brettanomyces and not from the the Mourvedre in the blend. There is also a pungent, brett-like trait on the palate, and eventually the wine becomes a little tiring to drink. For $15, it's still a good wine but not the special one I remember.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, 2003

From the first sniff, this Coonawarra Shiraz is a charmer. Medium deep ruby with the expected amount of amber at the rim. Lovely bouquet--chocolate, coffee, blackberries. Plenty of oak still showing, but it's attractive and blends in nicely with the fruit. Coonawarra-style Shiraz with ripe, upfront fruit but not at all overdone. Medium bodied and an intense finish. This wine is at a good stage for drinking right now.

Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, 1989

Once again, this is my least favorite Domaine Thalabert of the 1980s. It is the one, I believe, that had the greatest percentage of new oak aging, and it has never quite come together to meet my expectations of Thalabert.

Initially, some charred wood aromas but these blow away. Now I get some typical Thalabert scents--black and red fruits, anise, leather and a hint of olives. The olives are more prominent on the palate. Smooth mouth feel and an intense finish. In most respects, I prefer the 1994 that I had a couple of weeks ago, but the finish on this wine has more depth.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir, 2009

As a good value Pinot Noir, Domaine Valmoissine is a long-term favorite in my family. I have seen recent vintages for $10 a bottle at Costco. The 2009 is still a deep ruby. Aromas and flavors have a strawberry/rhubarb note--pleasingly ripe but with an acidic edge that keeps it lively. Also anise seed and other spices. As always the texture is lovely--Pinot all the way.

Having had some excellent Pinots from the Northern California Coast (Anderson Valley, Russian River, Sonoma Coast, Mendocino Ridge) recently, my enthusiasm for Valmoissine has waned a bit in comparison. It does not offer the depth that these wines have. When released, though, these Northern California Pinots sell for three to four times more than the Valmoissine.

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2001

This 15-year-old Cotes du Rhone continues to impress. Tasted alongside the 1990 Beaurenard Chateauneuf du Pape (below), it was clearly a different type and style of wine, but no less serious and ageworthy. Smells and flavors are intensely floral with red and black fruit and spice. The one thing it has in common with the Beaurenard is its clarity.

When first released, Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone wines often display some vanilla notes that some mistake for new oak. At this stage, it's very clear that the wine has seen no new oak and does not need any, either for longevity or framing of fruit

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Domaine Beaurenard Chateauneuf du Pape, 1990

The last time I opened a bottle of this wine was more than 10 years ago, and one taster at the table noted the alcohol content. ABV is 14%, not that out of line for a Chateauneuf du Pape, I didn't agree with the negative comment at the time. I was worried, though, that the wine might be on the downward slide. Instead of putting pressure on me to drink up, that worry instead led me to push the wine aside in favor of more drinkable options. Tonight, I discovered, the worry was misguided, anyway. The wine is showing better tonight than it ever has in the past, and I will be in no hurry to drink my one remaining bottle.

Medium crimson, good brightness but the expected amount of amber. Some sediment has formed on one side. I was initially unimpressed; not much power (nor alcohol). Over the course of an hour, though, the bouquet and flavors really opened up. Flowers, red fruits--remarkable freshness and clarity for a 26-year-old wine. Pretty is the operable word for this wine. Very pretty. And giving more pleasure with every sip. No funk whatsoever, just good fruit still singing.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Joseph Mellot Destinea Val de Loire Sauvignon Blanc, 2014

You would pay a good bit more than $10 for a Sancerre from Joseph Mellot. But unless you have drunk enough Sancerre to be able to note the fine points, you might prefer this less expensive Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc. It's what some writers have referred to as a "petite Sancerre." The grapes come from younger vineyards grown in a broader appellation. But the produce and the winemaking are clearly very good.

Medium deep yellow. I smell flowers as well as typical Sauvignon fruits--grapefruit and ripe gooseberry. Fresh and bright. The flavors are a bit riper and less aggressive than you might expect from Sancerre but that's likely to create even broader appeal. For $9.99, it gives me plenty of pleasure, and I will go back for more.

If you have never had a Sancerre or Pouilly Fume, I suggest that you buy and drink a few bottles of this before moving up to the more reputable appellations.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Monte Degli Angeli Piemonte Pinot Noir, 2013

For $10, this is a very drinkable Pinot Noir. Medium deep garnet. Fresh fruit smells. Cherries, red and dark.Ginger, anise seed. In the mouth, ripe strawberry/rhubarb qualities. Goes down easily, but there is also some decent depth of flavor. No substitute for a good red Burgundy or Anderson Valley Pinot but a good wine for every day drinking.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

d'Arenberg d'Arry's Original (McLaren Vale), 1994

This is a true old-fashioned Australian "Burgundy" similar to many I enjoyed during the late 1970s in Australia. At that time, this bottling was known as d'Arenberg Burgundy; and there were other Burgundies from Lindeman's, Penfolds and other producers--all selling for $3 to $4 and, as a result, heavy favorites at wine bars near Melbourne University. I suspect that all of these wines were a similar blend of old bush vine Grenache and Shiraz--Australian Chateauneufs rather than Burgundies. I loved them in the 1970s, and I am enjoying re-visiting that style tonight.

Medium deep, lots of amber. 51% Shiraz, 49% Grenache in this vintage, but the Grenache seems dominant right now. Ripe cherry. Mellow and mature. More one-dimensional than a typical Chateauneuf du Pape, but the old vine fruit is deep and leaves a lasting impression.

The winery advised 2015-2016 as prime drinking years for this wine. That advice is clearly based on old-time standards and the personality that the winemaker was seeking to create. I approve of both.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, 1994

The first thing I noticed when opening this wine was the smell of olives--green and black. It's a trait I love in Northern Rhone Syrah wines. I remember it in the 1984 Domaine Thalabert; and I remember it vividly from the 1979 Raymond Roure Crozes--one of my all-time favorite Northern Rhones.

Along with olives, I smell black and red fruits, cured meats, leather and spice. This wine has matured beautifully, as I have come to expect from Domaine Thalabert. Fills the mouth with flavor, smooth and medium bodied with a slightly funky acidic edge that makes the wine work for me.

Back in the days when the Jaboulet family owned this estate, I remember attending a large tasting of Thalabert in Ann Arbor, led by the late Gerard Jaboulet. When one taster, quoting Robert Parker, questioned the ageworthiness of the 1982, I remember Jaboulet's reply and the look on his face: "Between 10 and 20 years of age, make no mistake: this wine will be magnifique." And it was.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bergadano Langhe Nebbiolo, 2008

This is the wine that turned me back toward the wines of the Piedmont. I bought it for about $10 at Binny's in Chicago, hoping to re-live some fading memories of Barolos and Barbarescos I had during the 1980s. Probably produced from younger vines and excess produce that would otherwise go into a Barolo, this Langhe Nebbiolo from Bergadano is impressive.

Still deep and dark but with hints of the orangeish tones that are the trademark of Nebbiolo. One whiff takes my mind immediately to Barolo--very floral with dark tones of licorice. Tar and roses, as they say. Beautiful. Dark cherries, sweet but not too sweet. Leaves the palate bone dry after a satisfying fruit experience. Now the dark tones again. More powerful in mouth feel than Barbarescos I have had recently but just as subtle in its own way.

Bodegas Valdesil Godello Valdeorras Val de Sil, 2008

When I first tasted this wine in June of 2012, I warned myself to have patience. This wine will only get better over the next five years, I wrote. It's four years later, and I stand by my statement. I had no idea, though, how dramatic the changes would be.

As a young wine, this was bright and minerally with lemon tones, like a young Chablis. Tonight, it is impressively broad, rich and full bodied. Deep gold color. Almonds, spice and honey. Has matured very much like a white Burgundy or a Savennieres from the Loire. Expansive flavors.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Bouchaine Carneros Pinot Noir, 2005

This is definitely a Californian as opposed to a Burgundian Pinot Noir. And that's alright with me.

Deep garnet. Aromas of fresh strawberries, rhubarb and ginger. Smells like the strawberry rhubarb jam made at my local bakery. Ripe fruit at the front and all the way back. Nothing shy about this wine. Maybe not as complex as some of the Pinots from Russian River and Anderson Valley I have had recently, but very enjoyable.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape, 1998

The 1998 vintage brought Vieux Donjon into the spotlight. It was named Wine of the Year both by the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator. I brought out this bottle for my 77th birthday and did not take notes. My impressions, though, were positive.

I have had bottles of Vieux Donjon from 1993 and 1994 that were bigger and more traditional in style. By comparison, this 1998 was graceful and elegant. The fruit flavors--cherry, anise, pepper--were not dramatic but graceful, smooth and well defined. It has aged nicely.

Veglio Michelino et Figlio Barbera d'Alba, 2012

The winery advertises this wine as having reduced histamines, presumably to eliminate the "red wine headache" that some experience. I don't get such headaches, but I enjoy this wine.

Deep, dark youthful color. Violet, blackcurrant jam and chocolate--very pretty. Plush and ripe on the palate.Good acidity on the finish. This wine might age well, but it's hard to resist at this stage. I'm thinking 2012 might be an enjoyable vintage for Piedmont wines.

Valreas Cotes du Rhone Villages Cuvee Prestige (Les Vignerons de l'Enclave at Tulette), 2011

This is a long-time favorite of mine that I have been buying at least since the 2004 vintage. At $5.99 at Trader Joe's, it has to be one of the best wine values to be had. And, of course, I've never been disappointed.

This 2011 is at a mellow stage right now. Blueberries, cassis, black pepper and Provencal herbs. All the smells you expect from a good Southern Rhone, and it's very facile on the palate. Really, there is nothing simple about this wine except the price.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Dessilani Gattinara Riserva, 1988

One of the most memorable wines I have ever had was the 1974 Dessilani Gattinara, consumed after 30+ years in the bottle. It was remarkably subtle and complex. This wine I bought at auction, expecting much of the same. Unfortunately, this Gattinara was too affected by brett for my taste and was no match for Ca Rome Marengo Barbaresco (below).

Light orangeish color, lighter than the Ca Rome Marengo. Very powerful, intense nose but dominated by barnyard. Flavors are also powerful and intense with a long finish--also of brett. I like the wine but the brett becomes tiring after half a glass.

Ca Rome Marengo Barbaresco, 1995

This is a beautifully mature Barbaresco. It's similar to the last bottle I had and does not show signs of decline. The medium light orangeish color is what I expect from a Piedmont Nebbiolo. Scents of cherries, red berries and roses are there from the beginning--subtle charm. Now some anise/licorice tones. Same on the palate; flavors that dance; not powerful but persistent and with well focused Nebbiolo fruit.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2001

The color has lightened a bit, and there is some sediment on one side of the bottle. Otherwise, not much has changed in this Cotes du Rhone over the past 15 years. Cherries, strawberries, spice and aromatic herbs. Still a strong fruit presence, although perhaps a bit less bold than in its youth.

Right now, this 2001 is very similar to the 2004 and 2006 CDR from Sainte-Anne. It is less complex than the 2001 CDR Villages, as I remember it. But I am more than happy with any of these wines.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Domaine de la Bastide Cotes du Rhone Villages Visan, 2009

Some of this wine has been aged in barriques. Deep, dark color. Blackberry Syrah with a touch of coffee. Lacks the pepperiness and rusticity that I expect from a Southern Rhone, but there is much to like. Ripe fruit in a brandy sauce. Alcoholic warmth on the palate, but there is good acidity and an elegant mouth feel.

Aware of the use of new oak barriques, I put some of this wine back, hoping it might improve with age. I haven't found the improvement that I expected and will drink up the bottles I have.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

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

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I am a confirmed Europhile. When it comes to Pinot Noir, though, I have recently been more impressed by wines from Northern California--Anderson Valley, Russian River, Sonoma Coast. One reason for my preference is that I have never been willing to spend big money on Red Burgundy. I know: good Northern California Pinot is also expensive, but I have been fortunate to dig out some good values from closeout sales and lesser known wines neglected by auction buyers. Bargains from Burgundy are almost impossible to find.

This Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes-de-Beaune, which sold for about $15 to $20, offers a good example of my experience: it's very good but doesn't quite measure up to Russian River and Anderson Valley wines of about the same age that I have had recently--wines I have obtained for $10 to $15.

The color is beautiful--deep, brilliant crimson with tones of garnet forming at the rim. Fresh, lively aromas of red berries and pomegranate with a hint of cinnamon. Flavors are similar. Good wine, but, for my taste, it lacks the depth and complexity that I found recently in wines from Mary Elke Donnelly Creek (Anderson Valley), Greenwood Ridge (Anderson Valley) and Eric Ross (Russian River). I suspect that some of the difference is related to the clones of Pinot grown in these vineyards as well as the climate and soil. Before I buy, I always check out the experience and philosophy of the winemaker and notes from other drinkers in the community at

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Chateau Poujeaux Moulis-en-Medoc, 1982

When the 1982 Bordeaux wines started hitting the shelves, there were bargains galore. Robert Parker (then relatively unknown) was raving about the quality of the wines, but the more respected British critics were a bit reluctant at first to proclaim this as a great vintage. French wines were generally inexpensive at the time, and the exchange rate was favorable. I planned on buying a case of Chateau Meyney (always a Parker favorite), but Cheryl McMillan, a student staff member at Village Corner in Ann Arbor talked me into splitting the case between Meyney and Poujeaux. Both were priced at $8.99, or $89.90 a case. Thank you, Cheryl. The last bottle I had of Meyney last Fall seemed to be on the decline; this Poujeaux is just hitting its stride.

Medium light ruby, minimal bricking; looks much younger than its years. Classy bouquet of cherries, red currants, cassis, hint of cedar. Cool tones. On the tongue, the wine is even better. More cherries and cassis. Has a smooth texture and long, cool finish.

Poujeaux is often compared to Chateau Lafite, and I can see why. According to the story, President Pompidou of France served the 1953 Poujeaux to Baron Rotschild who refused to believe it was not his 1953 Lafite, until he was shown the label.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Musso Barbaresco Pora, 1993 (revisited)

My wife and I ordinarily share half a bottle of wine a night. For the second night, I reduce the excess air by using the Vacu-Vin so that the wine is still relatively fresh for the second night. Because this is a Nebbiolo (even a very mature Nebbiolo), I decided to skip the Vacu-Vin and let the wine continue to aerate for 24 hours. It was a good idea.

The pretty floral scents are less noticeable tonight; but they are still there along with dark cherry, chocolate and smokey old wood. The flavors, though, have come alive. Very powerful and concentrated Nebbiolo, still somewhat tannic and very much alive. Last night, I speculated that this wine may have been better a few years ago. Tonight, I think it might even benefit from a few more years. Musso is a very good source of old fashioned Barbaresco.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Musso Barbaresco Pora, 1993

Valter Musso owns some of the best sites of the Cru Pora Vineyard and follows traditional methods of winemaking.

Orangeish tints typical of mature Nebbiolo. Smokey old wood smells but also flowers, dark cherries and savory spices that become more and more prominent through the meal. I opened this bottle about 1 1/2 hours ahead of time, but it is still benefiting from exposure to air. Growing in subtlety and complexity. Powerful flavors that cling to the tongue.

1993 was not a particularly distinguished vintage in the Piedmont area of Italy, and this wine was probably better a few years ago. Even so, it is very delightful.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Domaine Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape, 1990

When I first had this wine more than a decade ago, I thought it was probably the best Chateauneuf I had tasted. Since that time, it has declined a bit...but not much. My bottles are all 375 milliliters, though, and cannot be expected to age as well as those from larger bottles.

Brick tones and lots of sediment on one side. The nose is funky tonight. The last bottle of this I had a year ago had an exceptional bouquet, so I think what is showing tonight is more about bottle variation than age. The flavors are still going strong--deep cherry, berry, spice. Very typical old-style Chateauneuf. The old vines Grenache creates lots of excitement on the finish.

In his latest email offering, Jon Rimmerman of questioned the ageworthiness of Chateauneuf du Pape, stating that the prime age for drinking is 12 to 15 years. Having had numerous Chateauneufs at all stages of maturity, I disagree strongly. It depends, I guess, on what you're looking for in a wine. What makes this appellation special, in my opinion, are the qualities that develop over several decades in old vine Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Rimmerman can have his early agers; I'll take my late bloomers.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Domaine Galevan Le Puy Saint Martin Vin de Pays Vaucluse, 2012 Revisited

I don't know if it is my perception or if the wine has simply changed that much after being re-corked for a day. But the wine I smell and taste tonight is very different than it was last night.

Last night, it was flowers, herbs, currants, plums and traits I associate with a Cabernet-dominant Bordeaux. Tonight, the dominant smells and flavors are very Vaucluse-like: pepper, spice and red berries. Last night, I liked it; tonight, I love it. But then I am a fan of Grenache and Syrah as grown in Vaucluse. And the fruit here is very fine, with lots of intensity and finesse. I suspect this new face represents what the wine will become with a year or so of aging.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Domaine Galevan Le Puy Saint Martin Vin de Pays Vaucluse, 2012

A day or two ago, Jon Rimmerman of offered the 2013 Le Puy Saint Martin for $9 plus a bottle. His post reminded me that I had a bottle or two of the 2012 vintage of this wine in my cellar and that I should open one to see how it is doing.

Deep ruby. The color, the smells, the flavors are all different from those I have come to expect from a Vaucluse Vin de Pays. That's because there is some old vine Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, along with the usual Grenache and Syrah. Very different. Perfumed smells of flowers, herbs and red currants. On the palate, I taste some blue plums and black tea. Very much like a young Bordeaux from one of the satellite appellations--but with Cabernet rather than Merlot as the dominant trait. Fine tannins and fresh acidity. I like this wine. But probably not enough to place an order for the 2013.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Marques de Caceres Rioja Crianza, 2011

Oak aging has always been a prominent feature of Rioja red wines. Recently, though, winemakers have made greater use of French, as opposed to American oak and leaning more toward an international style. This Marques de Caceres Crianza is an excellent example. And although it's not the style of wine I ordinarily drink, it is a very enjoyable drink at a relatively modest price ($12.99 right now at Earth Fare in Kalamazoo).

The color is deep and dark. Dark cherries, raspberries and coffee. A big, tannic wine but very accessible even in its youth. The fruit carries all the way through to the finish.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Trimbach Alsace Pinot Blanc, 2011

I love Pinot Blanc, and this 2011 Trimbach is one of the best I've tasted--crisp, fresh and delectable.

Pale straw tones and a touch of green. White peaches, flowers and freshly sliced Granny Smith apple. Unmistakable Pinot Blanc flavors, clean and focused. Citric acidity, matches well with a lemony pasta dish. The finish dances on your tongue with bright flavors.

As far as I am concerned, Trimbach ranks at the top of Alsace producers. At $12 to $15, this Pinot Blanc is priced slightly below Trimbach's regular bottlings of Riesling and Gewurztraminer. All three are great bargains.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Franco Serra Barbera d'Alba, 2012

This is a $10 Barbera, and I would prefer it any day over just about any $30 California or Australian wine you could put on my table. It's rich, bold, satisfying and a good match for almost any dish--from grilled steak to mushroom risotto.

Deep, dark, bluish. The aromas are immediately captivating--dark cherry, black licorice, rose petals. Piedmont bargain: I can sniff it and pretend there is a Barolo or Barbaresco on the table to follow. No worry; this Barbera will do for tonight. The flavors are there, too. Not a whole lot of tannin, and the alcohol is only 13%. Yet the wine has a "big" feel. Spicy acidity and lots of fruit on the finish.

I keep thinking that I should put some bottles of this Barbera away to see how it develops. But it's so hard to keep my hands (and palate) off of it.

Alderbrook Russian River Pinot Noir, 1997

I am a confirmed Europhile; I generally prefer wines from France, Italy and Spain over New World offerings. But I have recently developed a taste for Pinot Noirs from the North Coast of California--Anderson Valley, Russian River and Sonoma Coast.This 1997 Alderbrook is a good example.

Brick red; the wine, after all, is 19 years old. Clarity and brightness are good. Has most of the qualities that I like in Russian River Pinot--good acid, intense smells and flavors and a long finish. This Pinot leans more toward strawberry rather than cherry and cranberry. Beautifully sweet like wild strawberries but with plenty of acid and complexity. The texture is Pinot all the way--silky smooth. A beautiful wine, still showing well after all those years.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale Basket Pressed Cabernet Merlot, 1994

I bought lots of Chateau Reynella basket pressed wines during the mid-1990s: Shiraz, Cabernet and Cabernet Merlot. They were very good young and at all stages of their development. Unfortunately, only a few are left, but they are still bringing pleasure.

Good color for a 22-year-old wine. And lively smells and flavors. Red currant with minty tones and a hint of black tea on the mid-palate. Australian Cabernets are sometimes weak in the mid-palate. This one isn't. Smooth and elegant from front to back. This is my style of Cabernet.