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.