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.