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.