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.

Domaine Jean Teiller Menetou Salon, 2013

Menetou-Salon is located just a few miles southwest of Sancerre, and the Sauvignon Blanc wines from there are less known and less expensive. My only experience with the appellation were the wines of Henri Pelle that were imported into Michigan during the mid-1990s. They were excellent, better than most Sancerres I have tasted. But they apparently are not coming into my area any longer. When I saw this Menetou-Salon last week at Sawall's Health Food Store in Kalamazoo, I wasted no time picking up a bottle. Glad I did; I will be back for more.

This wine is more like a Pouilly Fume than a Sancerre--not much of the catty or aggressive traits of Sauvignon Blanc but with laid back peachy tones. Peach, grapefruit, melon, mint. Fresh fruit smells and flavors but with enough complexity to hold your interest all the way through the finish.

Jacqueline Friedrich, author of a couple of books and several articles about Loire wines, doesn't rank Jean Teiller very highly. From my experience with this wine, I disagree. It's not Henri Pelle, but it's a good drink at a good price ($11.99).

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Nerelo del Bastardo Vino de Tavola, 2006`

I have been a fan of this Trader Joe's bargain for many years. The label hints that at least some of the juice is declassified Barolo and Barbaresco, and I agree that Nebbiolo traits come through for me--at the bargain price of $7.99.

Ruby red, deep and dark. Dark cherries, rose petals and black licorice tones. Has the bright acidity of Nebbiolo, but it probably has seen more new oak than traditionally made Barolos and Barbaresco. Also some other grape varieties blended in--Sangiovese?

At 10 years of age, this is drinking nicely; and it will probably improve. I had the 1999 a few months ago, and it was beautiful. The 2002 was also very good when I last tried it. Later vintages, such as the 2008 and this 2006, probably have less Nebbiolo. But whatever grapes are used, the wine is very good for this price.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Martinelli Russian River Pinot Noir, 2001

Are California Pinots ageworthy? This one certainly is. Beautiful deep ruby color. All the smells and flavors I expect from a Russian River Pinot Noir--sweet cherry, tart cranberry, spice. Bright fruit and lovely texture. Coats the tongue with pleasure from front to back. 14.5% alcohol but wine seems perfectly balanced.

As you may know Martinelli wines hardly qualify as budget offerings. I bought this bottle at auction for $15, probably because other bidders did not trust a 15-year-old California Pinot.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Yorkville Cellars Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc, Randle Hills Vineyard, 2011

This is an impressive Sauvignon Blanc. I misplaced and lost track of three bottles in the cellar and glad I did. It is just now coming into its own.

Medium deep gold. Very bright. Hard to pin this one down immediately as Sauvignon Blanc. No gooseberry, no cat piss, no passion fruit. Oh, but there is a twist of grapefruit along with peachy qualities. More like Pouilly Fume than Sancerre and very well done. Deep running fruit concentration that keeps your interest all through the meal.

I've heard good things about the Randle Hill Vineyard. Bink Vineyards also uses grapes from this vineyard for their highly regarded Sauvignon Blanc. Both Yorkville and Bink are located on the highway that runs through the Anderson Valley. But, interestingly, neither winery has the right to use the Anderson Valley appellation; the grapes rather come from the nearby Yorkville Highlands. Anderson Valley is a special appellation for Pinot Noir and Alsace varietals. For Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah, I like what I have tasted from the Yorkville Highlands. Wish I had more Randle Hill Sauvignon Blanc.

Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches Chateauneuf du Pape, 1998 Revisited

With the terrible bottle of Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches opened last Friday fresh in my mind, I opened another bottle, as I promised. Yes, the bottle I opened last Friday was a bad bottle, for whatever reason. This bottle is better, although not what I expect from this Chateauneuf du Pape at 15 years of age.

Light color with brownish, brick tones but not the complete muddy brown of last week. The aromas are slow to open and are somewhat muted when they do. The bitter taste fades away as the wine warms and airs. There is nothing particularly intense about the smells or flavors, but there is a subtlety that becomes more and more apparent. The vines here are very old and well situated. Eventually, it becomes a suitable accompaniment to baked ziti. I'm not sure I would bring this wine out for any special occasion. And for every day meals, I would prefer a good Cotes du Rhone. But who knows? The wine tastes old (even compared to other 1998s), but it may not have stopped growing. I love the 1993 and 1994 Haut des Terres Blanches--both older and much less reputable vintages. I don't think this 1998 measures up.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Chateau Bel-Air Saint Croix du Mont, 1986

Saint Croix du Mont is a neighbor of Sauternes, and Chateau Bel-Air, now 30 years old, is every bit as good (or better) than many of the premium wines of Sauternes. I bought a case of the Bel-Air for about $35; a Sauternes this good would cost at least twice as much.

Deep old gold color; the wine is 30 years old, after all. Scents of honey, apricots, almonds are well defined. And the wine glides smoothly down the tongue. Plenty of sweetness and none of the bitter edge that sometimes creeps into an older Sauternes.

Saint Croix du Mont, as a satellite appellation, is no longer a well kept secret as it was in the late 1980s when I bought this wine. But the wines from there are still cheaper than Sauternes and, in some cases, I am sure, better. Because they cost less, some would say, "drink them early"; based on my experience with Chateau Bel-Air and other Saint Croix du Mont estates, I disagree.

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2006

This 10-year-old CDR from Domaine Sainte Anne seems to have changed very little from when it was released. Vibrant cherry/berry aromas, a full mid-palate and long, pleasing finish. It is still very fruit oriented and has not yet taken on the secondary traits I love so much in the 2004 and 2001 Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone wines. I like the freshness and youth almost as much as I like the maturity of its older siblings.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Chateau Haut-Plantey Haut Medoc, 2013

My first choice for a wine to match up with Provencal style roast lamb is Chateauneuf du Pape. And the 1998 Fortia (below) matched perfectly. Penny Ross, wine specialist at D&W Markets in Kalamazoo suggested this Merlot-rich Haut-Medoc, and it, too, was a perfect match.

The 2013 is still young but shows beautifully after two to three hours of aeration. It's 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet, but the Merlot seems dominant right now. And what a Merlot it is: blackcurrants, tea, a subtle herbal lift that goes well with Provencal herbs in the dish. Well balanced wine for drinking now and over the next few years.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Domaine du Haute des Terres Blanches Chateauneuf du Pape, 1998

This has to be one of the biggest wine disappointments I have ever had. I loved the wine, as others did, at early tastings when it was first released. The estate has well situated vines and a reputation for long aging. The 1993 and 1994 Haute des Terres Blanches are drinking beautifully and getting better with age. But this 1998 tonight is horrible. Muddy brown color, muted  but unappealing smells and horribly bitter flavors. Does not resemble wine or even vinegar. I left it open and continued to sample it for several hours, but it only got worse. Then, down the drain.

This may have been one bad bottle, but it doesn't smell or taste like any corked or heat-damaged wine I have ever had. The cork did not show signs of serious leakage. Unfortunately, I have read online reviews on Cellar Tracker reporting tasting experiences similar to mine. I have other bottles I will sample in the weeks to come.

I'd love to hear from others who have tasted this wine recently.

Chateau Fortia Chateauneuf du Pape, 1998

I have been following this wine closely over the past several years. I remember it as being exceptionally good when it was first released, but reports since then have been varied. I liked the wine even more in 2009, but a bottle opened at Thanksgiving, 2014 showed more secondary than primary fruit flavors. No problem, I thought; it is entering another stage of Chateauneuf du Pape development. Tonight's bottle was yet another experience.

Deep, dark crimson, and the initial aromas are beautiful. Good solid red fruit focus with at least some of the lushness it showed when it was first released. None of the leathery traits I detected in 2014. A bottle of 2013 Haut-Plantey from the Haut Medoc and a 2011 Columbia Valley Cabernet are beside it at the table, and this is clearly the superior wine--smoother and with a more developed flavor profile. Of course, it should show better than those wines at this stage of its development. On the second night, I was a bit disappointed; the bouquet was not as intense and the flavors not as focused. It might be better consumed sooner rather than later.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Marques de Grinon, Caliza Red, 2010

Following the CUNE Rioja and the paella (see below), this Marques de Grinon beauty was served to accompany puchero, a traditional Spanish stew. The smells and flavors of both the wine and the stew still linger in my memory.

Caliza is from grapes grown on limestone soil, 70% Syrah and 30% Petit Verdot with maybe a bit of Graciano. It's a beautiful wine.

Deep and purplish. Oak is a big part of Spanish wine. The Petit Verdot aromas are entrancing--intense but elegant. Black fruits and dark chocolate. Very deep and comlex. The alcohol level is 14.5% but the wine carries it well. In fact, it may bring out the aromas with greater intensity. This is another wine I want in my cellar.

CUNE Crianza Rioja, 2011

Last summer, as a treat for my son-in-law and daughter who had bought me a fine bottle of Rioja as a Father's Day present, I dug into the cellar to dig out a couple of Riojas from the 1970s--a 1978 CUNE Crianza and a 1975 Vina Turzabella Gran Reserva from Ramon Bilbao. Both were beautifully complex. And, surprisingly, the CUNE Crianza was showing as well as the Gran Reserva beside it. Crianza is the lowest level of Rioja, aged for the shortest period in oak, while the Reservas and Gran Reservas are made for aging (and even more aging.)

I made a mental note to buy some current bottles of CUNE. And, after tasting this 2011 at a wine dinner hosted by Cosmo's Cucina Restaurant and D&W Market in Kalamazoo, I have done so.

Deep ruby color. I'm sure it has seen more new oak than the 1978. Deep, deep scents and flavors of cherry and red berries. I can taste the oak but it's subtle and well integrated with the concentrated fruit flavors. I thought I smelled Garnacha, but I learned later that it's 100% Temperanillo. How will this wine taste in 35 years? I probably won't be around to find out, but I suspect that it might.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Domaine de l'Oratoire St. Martin Cuvee Prestige, 2001

This is an old favorite of mine that I don't get a chance to drink as often as I did during the early and mid-1990s because the price has finally caught up to the quality. From 100-year-old vines in one of the best sites of Cairanne, this is a special wine. And 15 years after the vintage, this 2001 is showing exceptional fruit presence.

The color is a deep ruby, and there are glorious Cairanne scents of small red berries, flowers and minerals. Not as peppery as some vintages but very forward fruit for a wine of this age. I finished my 1998s several years ago, and they were all more advanced than this 2001. Medium bodied and a rather elegant demeanor. 13.5% alcohol is just right for this wine. A long finish; my taste buds tingle for minutes.