Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine Thalabert, 1983

Crozes-Hermitage wines come from vineyards "in the vicinity" of the Hermitage hill. Most of these vineyards are on flat land, and the wines are often pretty ordinary--not worth keeping for 35 years. Jaboulet's Domaine Thalabert is a notable exception. In the 1980s, when the wine sold for about $8 a bottle, I bought at least a case every year and put several bottles from the best vintages in the cellar. Today, I am very happy that I did so. This 1983, a birth year for my son, may be the best I have had, and it is showing beautifully right now.

Bright ruby red, with only minimal amber tones. Needs about two hours of aeration to show its best but then the hallmark scents of Thalabert come through with clarity. Black raspberries, cassis, black olives. I love the black olive scents, and in this vintage, they are present but not overwhelming. From the tip of the tongue to the mid-palate, the flavors are notably concentrated. Black fruits, spice, pepper. Depth and complexity that continue through a long finish.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Vincent Saincrit Coteaux du Layon, 1999

When first opened, this wine seemed a bit simple and straightforward. Re-corked and resting in the cellar, it has continued to improve for more than a week.

Deep copper color. I have Coteaux du Layon wines from the 1970s that are much lighter in color. But that is probably because the winemakers added a healthy dose of sulfur dioxide to maintain the youthful color while the ageworthy Chenin Blanc worked its magic. In my re-corked bottle, that magic is taking place. Dazzling complexity. Ripe melon, honey and hard candy. I suspect the grapes had a good level of botrytis. Sweet but certainly not simple.

Domaine la Garrigue Vacqueyras, 2010

A little more than a decade ago, Donna and I spent three relaxing nights at the beautiful Hotel Restaurant Les Florets in Gigondas. The room was comfortable and artfully decorated; the food was fantastic; and we had plenty of good wine, Domaine la Garrigue, produced by the owners. Even without the ambience of Les Florets, Domaine la Garrigue wines are always a joy to drink.

Unusually rich and full bodied for a Southern Rhone. Of course, there is garrigue but also very deep cherry, black currants and spice. Impressive depth. Now the pepper kicks in on the finish. Competes very well with the l'Oratoire Saint Martin beside it on the table. Drinking very well right now, but I am going to wait another year or two before opening my last bottle.

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

Of all the Cotes du Rhone Villages, Cairanne is my favorite. And of all Cairanne wines, Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint Martin is at the top of my list. Of the range of wines produced at this estate, on the other hand, the Reserve des Seigneurs takes second place behind the Prestige bottling (which in recent years has become known as Cuvee les Douyes). The Douyes vineyard (a field blend of Grenache and Mourvedre) was planted in 1905 while the Reserve comes from a parcel (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah) that is a mere 50 years of age. It is a special occasion for me when I buy or open either of these wines.

This bottle of the Reserve is a bit less intense than previous bottles. It may be showing signs of age, but I would be quite happy to have a few more bottles of this for future occasions. Medium deep ruby. Red fruit and garrigue from the Grenache backed by some deeper, darker tones of Mourvedre. The Mourvedre is just beginning to raise its head. So who knows how much better this wine will become as the Mourvedre assumes dominance? According to many critics, the soil and climate here is perfectly suited to that grape.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco, 2009

vietti_nebbiolo_perbaccoI love Langhe Nebbiolo, and Perbacco is my favorite. At $22-$25 a bottle, Perbacco is neither the least nor the most expensive of its type, but I consider it one of the best--approaching the quality of a good Barolo.

The bouquet is slow to open but impressively deep. Nothing flashy. From the first sip, though, the Nebbiolo flavors dance on the palate. Medium body and weight with smooth tannins and a long, sparkling finish.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Tenuta del Terre Nere Etna Rosso, 2008

terrenere etna red docThere are many ordinary wines from Sicily on the market. But there is nothing ordinary about this wine, produced from low-yielding Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappubbio vines near Mount Etna. It still sells for less than $20 a bottle, but that is likely to change since the current vintage ranked 9th on the Wine Spectator's 2018 list of top 100 wines.

Beautiful ruby color. Crushed berries, flowers and exotic spices. Has the subtlety and grace of a fine red Burgundy. Berries and more berries on the palate. This wine continues to improve with each passing year.

Chateau Belair Haut Medoc, 1990

Chateau Bel Air Haut-Medoc Cru BourgeoisThis is my favorite of three red wines we had for Thanksgiving dinner. Now 28 years of age, it illustrates well the aging potential of red Bordeaux, even from relatively modest appellations.

Some amber tones around the rim, but otherwise no signs of advancing age. Currants, berries, blue flowers. Lead pencil tones on the palate. Long, beautiful finish.

Yorkville Cellars Yorkville Highlands Cabernet Franc, 2009

Situated on the highway leading into the Pinot-centric Anderson Valley, Yorkville Cellars focuses on Bordeaux-style wines. This Cab Franc, made from organic grapes grown in the Rennie Vineyard, is at a good stage of development right now.

Ripe raspberries, fresh and bright. None of the earthy traits you sometimes get from Cab Franc produced in the Loire Valley. Bordeaux in style--stylish and reserved. But the northern California traits are hard to ignore. Good fruit on finish.

Frey Sohler Alsace Muscat Reserve, 2014

I have been on the lookout for a dry Muscat Ottonel from Alsace, and this one is a very fine example.

Medium deep gold. Very floral and spicy on the nose and palate. Good acid and fruit intensity.

Luigi Baudana Dragon Langhe Bianco, 2015

From the first sniff and sip, I find this a special wine. It's a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Nascetto grapes grown in the middle of Barolo territory. The wine was (is) so good that vintners were unwilling to replace these white grape vines with more lucrative Nebbiolo ones.

Medium yellow color. Exciting nose that keeps getting more complex as the meal progresses. Reasonably full bodied with rich but intense and tightly focused aromas and flavors. I don't think there is much Riesling in the blend, but it has a strong presence in the complexity on the back palate.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Costa di Bussia Barbera d'Alba, 2011

Image result for costa di bussia barbera d'alba 2016Tenuta Arnulfa's Costa di Bussia Barbera d'Alba is unusually tannic for a Barbera, probably because some of it has been aged in new French oak. In this case, I think the oak adds another dimension to the wine that is positive.

Medium deep ruby. Smells of red berries, coffee, spice and black licorice. Some lovely floral overtones that mark it as Piedmontese. Rich and full on the mid-palate. Pleasantly dry but ripe and fresh on the finish. Could be mistaken for Nebbiolo. The 2011 is drinking beautifully now but I would not hesitate to keep it another four or five years.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Vincent Girardin Macon Fuisse Les Vieilles Vignes, 2012

SquareRipe apples. That's a quality of good Chardonnay, and this wine is about as ripe an apple as you're likely to find. Medium deep color. Very mellow in smells and flavors. Very much like a fine Pouilly Fuisse. Apples, pears and a bit of honey. 10% new oak but none of it shows. Only fine Macon Fuisse fruit. Beautiful wine. Wish I had more.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Domaine Font-Sane Gigondas Tradition, 2004

Domaine de Font-Sane Gigondas Tradition, Rhone, France label
I like Gigondas but often have a hard time finding the right drinking window. Unlike most Cotes du Rhone Villages wines, Gigondas often has a hard edge in youth but, with few exceptions, is not a wine for long-term aging (two or more decades). After 14 years, this traditionally made Font-Sane (one of my favorites in this appellation) is showing beautifully right now.

Dark color but that reflects the relatively high percentage of Syrah and Mourvedre (compared to Grenache) in the blend. This "Tradition" bottling is made without new oak or barriques. Aromatic nose typical of Gigondas--sweet cherries, red berries, violets and a good dose of garrigue. Big bodied presence but tannins get riper and more approachable with aeration. Good balance, long finish. A very good Gigondas.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Phillips Hill Oppenlander Mendocino Pinot Noir, 2006

labelOppenlander vineyard is only eight miles away from the Pacific Coast--so close that it doesn't really qualify for the Anderson Valley appellation. In many ways, though, its qualifications are even better than those of AV because of the cool ocean breezes and the heavy clay loam soil. According to the label: "Driving onto the ranch, a tow truck is seen pulling a Hudson, both of which have vines, grasses and thistles growing up through their engine blocks. The momentum of the place gives it a completeness." The wine also has enough completeness to satisfy me.

Medium deep. Beautiful scents of rose petals, ripe fruit and savory spices. Reminds me of a Nebbiolo from the Piedmont. Ripe cherry and red plum fruit on the palate along with some pleasant gamey notes. I like this wine.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Vietti Tre Vigne Barbera d'Asti, 2015

A glass of this Barbera d'Asti from Vietti cost me only $8 at Tratorria Funistrada in Burdickville, MI. And it was particularly large fill--close to a third of a bottle. I got my money's worth plus plus.

Deep dark ruby. Has all the traits of Barbera from Piedmont--cherries, berries, spice, licorice and flowers. More finesse and less rusticity than the Barbera d'Alba wines I am used to drinking. Open for business now but should age well. Lots of depth. Ripe, moderate tannins, moderate acidity.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Cascina Pace Langhe Nebbiolo, 2016

My tendency is to give Langhe Nebbiolo a few years in the bottle. But this wine is so approachable that I was surprised to learn that it is from the 2016 vintage. Even though it will probably get more complex with aging, it is drinking beautifully right now.

Beautiful deep ruby red. Fresh scents of red fruits, flowers and spice. Nebbiolo at its best. Very full on the palate, but tannins are ripe, framing but not obscuring Nebbiolo fruit. The finish gets better with every sip.

I had this as a wine-by-the-glass at Trattoria Stella in Traverse City.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Domaine Bois de Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape, 1995

1998 Bois de Boursan Chateauneuf du PapeChateauneuf du Pape on a Tuesday night? With smells of roast pork on a bed of onions and garlic wafting from the oven, why not? Bois de Boursan is one of my favorite Chateauneufs but it's easy to overlook it on the shelves. It's not a wine that shouts at you, but it has much to offer.

The color has taken on some amber tones, but smells and flavors are as fresh as wild strawberries growing alongside a path in the woods. Grenache red berry along with Provencal herbs, flowers and a touch of mint. For a 23-year-old wine it's not lacking in fresh fruit. On the back end, black licorice emerges, a hallmark of Bois de Boursan, at least in some vintages. Lush red berries on a bed of licorice. Long finish.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Pontificis Vin de Pays d'Oc, 2015

Cotes du Rhone was my go-to wine for many years, but today I have a hard time finding one that I can drink. Wine consultant Phillippe Cambie has emerged as a central figure in this area, coaching traditional winemakers to join the international crowd with the use of new oak barriques for Syrah and, in some cases, Mourvedre. Some--maybe the majority of wine drinkers--welcome the change. I do not. Pontificis is not a Cotes du Rhone; the grapes are well selected from Languedoc vineyards. But it tastes like the Cotes du Rhone wines I love. And it's only $6 to $8 from Trader Joe's.

Nice crimson tones, medium deep. Beautiful scents of red and black fruits, Provencal herbs, spice and black pepper. Perfect. Slides smoothly across the tongue but lots of depth and concentration for a wine of this price range. 48% Grenache, 32% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre. I have been buying and drinking this wine often. And plan to continue.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Delas Cuvee Marquise de la Tourette Hermitage, 1985

This is 19 years older than the Penfolds Bin 28 and 17 years older than Mast Rare Reserve so it's not a fair comparison. The difference in nuance and complexity, though, is overwhelming and noted by nearly everyone at the table. This is a special wine (as Hermitage is supposed to be).

Lighter in color than either of the Australian wines. Scents of black fruits, spice, leather, juniper berries. (In 1985, it was probably aged in old seasoned barrels.) Same on the palate. But almost no black pepper. More delicate in texture but richer in flavor than either of the Australian wines. Flavors reverberate and dance. Long, long finish. A memorable experience.

My experience with Hermitage is limited--the 1980, 1982, 1983 and 1984 Hermitage La Chapelle, the 1984 Chave and the 1985 and 1988 Sorrel. But this is definitely the best I have had--a superlative example of French Syrah, mature and drinking at its best.

Mast Rare Reserve Block Victorian Shiraz, 2002

This is maybe one of the last great wines made by the legendary Australian winemaker, Trevor Mast.This was about the time that he had sold Mount Langhi Ghiran and before he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, which later claimed his life. Like the Langhi wines, it is a noted example of cool climate Shiraz, a style that led to dramatic changes in Australian winemaking.

Tasted side by side with the Penfolds Bin 28 and the French Hermitage (above), it provides some interesting comparisons and contrasts. Shiraz black fruit with black pepper and leather. The black pepper is a trademark of Langhi Shiraz, and it is becoming very predominant in this wine. Oh, and it carries over to the palate. Pepper and spice and everything nice. This is much better than the bottle we had a couple of years ago. Maybe it is French in style, but it is definitely Australian fruit.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz, 2004

This is old style Australian warm climate Shiraz at its best. Deep and dark, smells of plums, currants and oak. Warm and full bodied from front to back. Firm tannins; impressive concentration; alcoholic warmth dominates the finish. I won't be in any hurry to drink the remaining bottles of this in my cellar.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Elio Sandri Barbera d'Alba Superiore, 2012

On the domaine's website, Elio Sandri calls this wine "a typical expression of the power of the Langhe." To produce it, "we have sacrificed a site of Nebbiolo da Barolo grapes to plant a vineyard of only 1,200 Barbera vines in 1996. A perfect soil for Nebbiolo, used to grow barbera, allows us to produce an amazing wine!"

This is my first taste of a wine for which I have great expectations. Deep ruby with purple tints. The "Superiore" on the label indicates that the wine has been exposed to some new oak. Barbera is typically a low-tannin, high-acid grape, and many traditional producers such as Sandri use new oak for Barbera, even if they avoid it for Barolo. As a result, this is a very large scaled wine: big fruit, big acid, big tannin and big alcohol. Sandri is proud to point out that this is "an extremely robust wine, which touches the 14 degrees (alcohol) almost all the years, and 14.5 in particularly generous vintages." What's important is balance, and this wine has good balance even though it feels a bit aggressive on the palate right now. Five years from now? I can't wait.

Chateau Cabrieres Chateauneuf du Pape, 1998

Chateauneuf du Pape wines were still relatively inexpensive when the very good 1998 vintage came to market. Even so, this wine was surprisingly cheap--under $10 a bottle, as I remember--when I visited Sam's (now Binney's) in Chicago. "This is one for drinking right away," the salesman told me. I was smart enough not to believe him. Chateau Cabrieres has good vines on rocky soil in the southern part of the appellation. And in 1998 the wine was made according to traditional practices. Now at 20 years of age, it is precisely what I like in a Chateauneuf du Pape.

Brilliant ruby with some amber shading. Powerful and typical CdP nose. Red berries, spice and leather on the palate. More savory than sweet. Unpretentious but worth all the attention you can give it. Long finish. Traditional Chateauneuf du Pape; wish I had bought more.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages Notre Dame des Cellettes, 1998

It was 10 years ago when I last reported on this wine, and I said that I would not hesitate to keep it another "5 or even 10 years." I must admit that I did not intend to keep these bottles for an additional decade. I simply overlooked them in the cellar. But I am now glad that I did.

My biggest worry when I first popped the cork was a dryness on the finish, but I soon learned that the fruit is still strong, albeit with the same tannic traits that I noted a decade ago. With substantial airing, the beautiful fruit qualities come through: macerated strawberries with purple flowers and spices.The
Syrah has thrown some sediment, but it is drinking quite well and providing structure for beautifully ripe Grenache. There is also Mourvedre in the blend, and it is just now starting to show its best.

Fortunately, I still have a few bottles and will enjoy them over the next 5 or even 10 years. 30 years for a CDR Villages??? I know that sounds ludicrous and maybe it is. But I see no sign that the wine is falling apart.

La Ferme Julien Rouge, 2017

This $5.99 La Ferme Julien from Trader Joe's is simply a TJ label for the Perrin family's La Vieille Ferme, always an excellent value (at about $8 a bottle). I have been buying and enjoying La Vieille Ferme since their first vintage in 1978. Of course, the quality has gone down as the source of grapes has gone from the Cotes du Rhone to Ventoux to the Languedoc and now to even more generic, unnamed sources. But the Perrins are always reliable in choosing the best grapes they can get for the money and making a wine that measures up to traditional Southern Rhone standards.

On the first night, the wine actually was a bit backward. After being re-corked on subsequent nights, the Grenache/Syrah charms come to the fore. Red and black berries, flowers, and the peppery mouthfeel I love. Just the right amount of warmth. It's hard to imagine that a $5.99 might require a few months' aging, but I intend to buy a few more bottles and not be in any hurry to drink them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Faisao Dao DOC, 2014

"Faisao" is the Portuguese word for pheasant, and there is a beautiful purple pheasant depicted on the front label of this wine. What's inside is even more beautiful.

Medium dark ruby, brilliant and clear. No sign of barriques or new oak. Exotic scents of wild berries and violets. Very enticing. As the wine airs and ages over the next two nights, it develops a Pinot-like peppery quality along with plums and berries. Donna and I both see a strong similarity to the Dao wine we loved so much on our trip to Porto, an inexpensive glass we had while waiting for our pizza order. There is none of the exotic allure of Porto surrounding us tonight, but the Dao qualities are no less appealing.

I bought this wine for $7 or $8 at Binny's in Chicago a year or two ago. It was shelved in a remote corner along with other inexpensive imported wines. Unfortunately, Dao wines are not imported or marketed very aggressively in any of the areas where I shop. Occasionally, they show up at Costco. I will keep looking for them.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Tenuta Rocca Barbera d'Alba Roca Neira, 2006

This is a very good Barbera d'Alba, just hitting its prime drinking period 12 years after the harvest. Deep ruby color. Enticing Piedmont aromas of dark cherries and black licorice. Same on the palate but with impressive freshness and life. The wine has probably had some new oak treatment to add wood tannins, and these are nicely balanced by the natural acidity and fruit of the Barbera grape. If I had a case of this wine (which I unfortunately do not), I would be looking forward to following it over the next five or six years.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Marchesi di Montecristo Nerello di Bastardo, 2000

I paid $5.99 for this wine many years ago at Trader Joe's, but it does not surprise me at all that it is still drinking fabulously at 18 years of age. At this time, anyway, Bastardo was primarily Nebbiolo from the Italian Piedmont. The back label talks about DOCG laws that limit the production of Barolo and Barbaresco and force winemakers to put excess grapes into table wine. Bastardo is not Barolo or Barbaresco, but it is clearly made from mostly Nebbiolo and exhibits many of the hallmarks of that grape.

Deep color with less of the brownish-orange color than you might expect from a Barolo of the same vintage. But, then, the back label also mentions a "secret" ingredient, which is probably Cabernet or Sangiovese. The bouquet is glorious: plenty of roses along with dark cherries and the dark qualities that are sometimes described as tar. And there is more of the same on the palate. Rich mid-palate and a very dry but also lengthy finish.

I still have another bottle of this 2000 Bastardo plus two bottles of the 1999. I'm not worried about their longevity.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Merry Edwards Russian River Pinot Noir, 2000

The Merry Edwards label shows a woman's hands, emerging out of a rose arbor, holding a large bunch of Pinot Noir grapes. And that's pretty much what you can expect in this bottle: well selected fruit with luxurious floral, fruit and earth smells and flavors, hand crafted with the Merry Edwards touch.

Deep, dark color for a Pinot Noir. Bing cherries and roses. Deep, deep fruit but not overstated. A hint of smoky oak. Even for Pinot Noir, the texture and mouth feel are exceptional. Smooth, rich, luxurious but also light on the palate. Teases and pleases. At 18 years of age, this wine is getting more beautiful with each passing day.

The Merry Edwards Russian River Pinot is produced from three vineyards: Klopp Ranch, Olivet Lane and Meredith Vineyard. As she puts it: "Blended together, the fruit from these properties offers an irresistible fusion of earthiness, dark succulent fruit and sweet oak."

Monday, July 23, 2018

Altitude 500 Ventoux, 2015

I have enjoyed this Ventoux for many years but am disappointed by this bottle from 2015 (a very good vintage). It just doesn't have the warm, friendly personality that I expect from a Ventoux. I don't think it has been aged in barriques, but it does have a much higher alcoholic content than in the past: 15.5%. That gives it a big, burly quality--not something that I appreciate.

The peppery/spicy Grenache/Syrah fruit is there but under a veneer. I can't really drink very much of this wine without feeling palate fatigue. I prefer the Cuvee des Trois Messes Basses.

Trader Joe's Grand Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir (Lot 80), 2016

Trader Joe's has some very inexpensive wines, but most of the best values are in the Trader Joe's Grand Reserve line--wines costing $12 to $16 but from excellent New World appellations. Elsewhere, I rarely see a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir for less than $20, so I considered this a real bargain at $12.99. And it met my expectations.

At this stage, the wine is very oaky, of course, and difficult to judge. But even this oaky quality can be very attractive for many wine drinkers. The wood tannins are not at all mouth puckering, although they may hide the qualities that will eventually make this wine either sensational or ordinary.

Deep ruby. Brilliant and beautiful. Scents of cherries and flowers, but flavors are better than aromas at this stage. It's the peppery, spicey finish that is most attractive to me. Given the Santa Lucia appellation, I am confident this wine will emerge as a winner after four or five more years in the bottle.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fontanafreddo Briccotondo Langue Dolcetto, 2015

Dolcetto means "little sweetie," and that's probably the reason I usually dismiss this Piedmont wine when I am browsing a wine list or looking at bottles on the shelves. It is not a sweet wine, though, and can be very stunning when made by a good producer like Fontanafreddo.

I had this wine to accompany a simple spaghetti pomodoro at the pasta and pizza restaurant at Eataly in Chicago. Both the wine and the dish were excellent. Deep ruby color. Violets, roses, cherries and the dark tones of licorice. Very much a Piedmont wine. The fruit is fresh and intensely focused. Weight and substance far beyond what you might expect from a wine that has been raised three months in stainless steel. Velvety texture. Long finish.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Paul Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage, 1978

This is not Jaboulet's highly regarded Domaine Thalabert Crozes but rather its generic sibling, probably from purchased grapes. The wine is, however, from the great 1978 vintage. And it is still hanging on well, showing only a slight decline from the last bottle I had in 2009.

When I first tasted this Crozes in 1981, it was a rich summer pudding experience: blackberries, raspberries, cherries in a rich compote. After 40 years in the bottle, the rich fruitiness has evolved into a textbook example of aged Northern Rhone Syrah. Black olives, minerals, cured meats--more savory than sweet, more Cote Rotie than Hermitage. Old but still very good.

Le Piane Boca, 2011

I'm embarrassed to admit that this is the first Boca I have had. I'm not embarrassed to report that it is one of the best wines I have ever tasted. Three days later, it is still in my taste history.

Boca is a mountainous region of Italy, northwest of the more famous Nebbiolo appellations of Barola and Barbaresco. Boca is actually the birthplace of Nebbiolo, and knowledgeable wine people are aware that the region is capable of producing great wines with exceptional ability to age. Piane is probably the top producer in this appellation, and this particular bottling contains Vespolina as well as Nebbiolo.

From the first sniff, I know I am in for a magical tasting experience. Powerful scents of rose petals, dark cherries, balsamic and iron. And on the palate, it's even better. Blackberries, cherries, minerals. Powerful fruit and enough acidic backbone to carry it for decades. But why wait? It's irresistible right now.

This was offered as a wine by the glass at Trattoria Stella in Traverse City. It is not a cheap wine, selling for $52 a bottle retail ($74 at the restaurant), but Stella was offering a three-ounce glass for $8.50. I followed it with three ounces of a Langhe Nebbiolo that was very good but could not even approach the complexity and depth of the Boca.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Cascina Ballarin Langhe Nebbiolo, 2009

This wine is showing beautifully when I open it; yet after three and a half hours of aeration, it is still improving and growing when I take my last sip.

Amber hues of good Nebbiolo, made by a traditionalist. No barriques. Rose petals, black raspberries, balsamic. Like sniffing a very good Barolo. Coats the front teeth and the tip of the tongue with the dryness of a Barolo. Plenty of weight on the mid-palate and an exciting array of flavors on the finish. More savory than sweet. More Barolo than Barbaresco. Excellent.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve, 2015

I figured this Cotes du Rhone might offer some of the same charm as the Pontificis from the Languedoc (below). And I was right. Tasted side by side, they are very similar. And they are both great values even though the Pontificis ($5.99) is about half the price of the CDR  ($10.49).

Both wines are blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. And the scent of violets that makes them so attractive is part of the Mourvedre profile. Famille Perrin is a bit richer in Grenache (60%). And, as a result, the smells and flavors lean more toward strawberries than black raspberries. 2015 is a good year for wines from Southern France, and this wine is every bit as attractive right now as the Pontificis. I want more of each.

Pontificis Pays d'Oc Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre, 2015

I have had this wine several times before, but one sniff from this bottle tells me the wine is open and ready for business. Beautiful scents of black raspberries, peppercorn and violets. I believe it's the violets that are responsible for the come-hither overtures. Beautiful. On the palate, it's even more tempting. Ripe and fruity but not simple. Acidic edge brings you back for more...and more.

Produced by the excellent Burgundian negotiant, Badet Clement, this Languedoc wine is 48% Grenache, 32% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre. At $6.99, it's probably the best value I know on the shelves of Trader Joe's.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mount Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz, 1995

From one of the best Shiraz vineyards in Australia and legendary winemaker Trevor Mast, this 1995 Langi Shiraz is showing beautifully at the moment.

The lifted minty notes in the bouquet suggest that this vintage was exposed to a greater than usual amount of new American oak. But this does not detract from the wine's overall charms and may even be an asset. The oak scents are nicely integrated into more traditional smells of black currants, black olives and peppercorn. Reminds me a lot of Jaboulet's Domaine Thalabert, one of my favorite Syrah wines. Rich but not at all heavy on the mid palate. And the finish sings. At least at this stage, I think I prefer this 1995 to the very good 1997 Langi Shiraz.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Boomtown by Dusted Valley Columbia Valley Washington Merlot, 2015

I almost never buy Merlot or order a glass of Merlot from a restaurant menu. I have what I believe is a well founded prejudice against this wine because most of those on the market are either soft and sweet, overly oaky or reek of green vegetables such as celery and bell peppers. I realize, of course, that some of the great wines of Pomerol and Saint Emilion are mostly Merlot. And I have thoroughly enjoyed some high end New World Merlots such as Duckhorn and Leonetti. This Boomtown Merlot from Washington State is a budget wine that won my approval.

Deep and dark. There is 6% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Cherries and dark chocolate but not at all sweet. Also some black currants but not even a trace of green veggies. Tannic enough to match up well with pan seared duck. But there is enough acid to keep the wine lively and highlight the fresh fruit. The winemaker notes that 20% of the wine was aged in new French oak, but even at this early stage, I can detect no oak influence.

For $13.99 (a reduced price for those who attended the Tasters Guild wine dinner), this Merlot is a bargain. I ordered four bottles.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Ca Rome Romano Marengo DaPruve, 1996

This may be the best Barbaresco I have ever had. And it's not even a Barbaresco. If you take a careful look at the label, you will see that the producer, Ca Rome Romano Marengo, is located in Barbaresco Italia, a small village where Barbaresco is grown and made. But nowhere is the wine identified as Barbaresco, an appellation that requires that the wine be made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. DaPruve  (Vino da Tavola or table wine) is a blend of 80% Nebbiolo and 20% Barbera. While this small portion of Barbera may lower the price of the bottle, it certainly did not lower the quality...nor its value to me.

Actually, the color is deeper and darker than I would expect from Barbaresco. And that can undoubtedly be attributed to the Barbera in the blend. The bouquet is explosive...but I'm talking about beauty and charm rather than power. It definitely has the Nebbiolo aroma profile--rose petals, dark cherries and a touch of black licorice. And it is even more beautiful on the palate. A feminine wine with ripe tannins that are barely noticeable and enough acidity to make it dance on the tongue. 1996 is recognized as a great year for Barbaresco, and this wine is a great one.

By far, the best wine I have had this year and probably better than anything I had in 2017.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Domaine Sainte-Anne Saint Gervais, 2000

As most of you know, I am a fan of Domaine Sainte-Anne wines, and Saint Gervais is my favorite bottling. It's 60 to 70% Mourvedre blended with about equal quantities of Grenache and Syrah--all from well sited vineyards planted in the mid-1960s. The high percentage of Mourvedre is what makes it special for me.

Deep and dark ruby. More black than red fruits with hints of violets becoming more prominent since the last bottle I opened. Rich and very smooth on the mid-palate. Unlike the other Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhones, the Mourvedre in this wine may have been exposed to new oak but it is nicely integrated. Elegant and charming on the mid-palate. Goes well with beef.

Phillips Hill Toulouse Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2006

After driving from the Pacific Ocean through a 10-mile stretch of towering redwoods, Toulouse Vineyards and Winery suddenly loomed up on our left. It looked inviting, and we stopped for a very pleasant tasting. It was one of my first introductions to Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, and I was suitably impressed. Phillips Hill Winery (which we had passed just a few miles before) apparently used grapes from one of the Toulouse vineyards to make this wine. Noting that, I was quick to buy. And, tonight, I have no regrets.

The color is a deep ruby with only slight bricking. Crushed raspberries--black and red--with flowers and spice. The Anderson Valley traits are apparent: very pure fruit, subtlety and grace. Lovely texture. Long finish. As much as I like Russian River Pinot, I believe that Anderson Valley is a cut above.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Domaine de Cristia Cotes du Rhone, 2015

This wine is made with 100% Grenache grapes but the color tells me that it has been aged in new oak barriques. And, as far as I'm concerned, that is not a good combination. Grenache does not take well to new oak; the wood tannins cover up and basically destroy most of the subtle qualities of the grape.

Dark, bluish color. Sweet rather than ripe smells. At least at this stage, I don't get the pepper, spice and floral traits I expect from Grenache. Rich and ripe but essentially flat on the palate. International style; not to my taste.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Sottimano Mate Brachetto, 2016

Like the Chidaine Vouvray Sec (below), this is a wine I might never have tried without the opportunity to sample from a wide array of fine wines at Tastings Wine Bar in Columbus, Ohio.

Light in color and body. This is not for those who like "big boys" or "heavy hitters." That's okay; that means there is more for the rest of us. Lovely scents of flowers, spice, wild berries. Not much tannin but lots of acid that makes it dance on the tongue. This is my first go at Brachetto, and I will go back for more. I suspect, though, that Sottimano's Mate is the best of the lot.

Chidaine Les Argiles Vouvray Sec, 2014

Of all the white wines I have ever tasted, this ranks right near the top. Beautiful from the first sniff--pears, spring flowers and just enough honey to make it all come alive. Great acidity highlights the expressive mineral qualities. 

I don't drink much Vouvray because most are bit too soft for my taste. This is dry Chenin Blanc at its best. A special  wine that sells for about $25 a bottle and worth every penny. I had two ounces only from Tastings Wine Bar in Columbus, OH. Next time, I will have a whole glass...or a bottle.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Laurus Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2011

As soon as I pour this wine, I can tell it is a modern, internationally styled Southern Rhone--generally not to my liking. As I sniff and sip, though, I'm finding a lot to like.

The color is deep, dark, bluish--a sign of barriques. Gabriel Meffre's website confirms that about 60 percent of the wine has been aged in 275 liter Laurus barrels for 17 months. The label indicates 15% alcohol, another trait of the international style, but the wine carries it well. Aromas are deep and dark, loaded with black fruit. This is 76% Grenache, but it smells like a Northern Rhone Syrah. Deep fruit on the palate. Unfolds nicely with airing. Blue plums as well as blackberries on the finish.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Dessilani Gattinara Riserva, 1988

I have been drinking and enjoying Dessilani wines since the 1978 vintage, but this is a bottle I picked up at auction several years ago. Like Spanna, Gattinara is a Nebbiolo-based wine from the Novara Hills north of the Piedmont region of Italy. And, as Nebbiolo, it ages very well.

Brownish color with heavy sediment. I miss the beautiful floral scents that are typical of Nebbiolo, but the fruit scents of this wine are attractive--dark cherry, fresh and dried. And there is also a good amount of brettanomyces. Lots of power on the palate. Very cherry with the brett adding an attractive earthy element. 

Rutz Cellars Martinelli Vineyard Russian River Pinot Noir, 2000

This wine is the antithesis of the Red Door Pinot (below). Yet I would be hard pressed to tell you which one I prefer. They are both very good.

Very dark color. Though it's nearly 18 years old, I find no signs of age in the color, smells or flavors. More dark cherry than strawberry. And lots of dark Russian River spiciness. Very deep and serious. Has Pinot texture but shows power rather than delicacy in the long finish.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Red Door Oregon Pinot Noir, 2010

I find a lot to like in this inexpensive Pinot Noir with a modest Oregon appellation. It simply gets better with every sip, and that's not just because of the benefit of aeration. The more I drink, the more I appreciate its subtle charms.

Light Pinot color, almost pink. The developing bouquet leans toward strawberry but also some dark cherry. Very pure Pinot fruit. Some rhubarb tartness on the palate. But it's the finish that keeps bringing me back for more. Perfectly balanced. I bought this from Garagiste for about $10 a bottle; wish I had more.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Smith Woodhouse Madalena Vintage Port, 1995

Twenty years ago, the Wine Spectator gave this 1995 Smith Woodhouse Port 92 points and made it a Cellar Selection. On my birthday (March 30), it is drinking beautifully with plenty of room to grow.

Deep, dark ruby. Looks young. Blue plums, berries, chocolate. Sweet but countered nicely by acidity. Perfect balance. Lush feeling on the palate. A real hit with everyone at the table, even those with limited experience with Vintage Port.

Pieropan Soave Classico DOC, 2014

This is a wine that stood out at wine dinner at Oakwood Bistro a couple of years ago. And I was lucky enough to win a bottle by correctly identifying the grape as Garganega. Garganega is hardly a household wine term, but, based on my limited experience, I prefer it to Pinot Grigio.

Beautiful deep yellow color. Flowers, pears, white peaches and minerals. Delicate aromas, crisp acidity and a persistent after taste. Probably even better with a few more years in the bottle. I like this wine and will be on the lookout for more. Why has it taken me so long to discover Soave Classico?:

1989 Chante Perdrix, 1989 Domaine de la Janasse Vieilles Vignes Chateauneuf du Pape

For my 79th birthday on Saturday (March 30), I chose two of my favorite Chateauneufs from the 1989 vintage. Each wine had faded a bit from its past glories, but I'm sure I have too. It was a good occasion for well aged Chateauneuf du Pape. With slow-cooked leg of lamb and roasted potatoes, they were delicious.

1989 Chante Perdrix is one of the best Chateauneufs (and one of the best wines) I have ever tasted, but it's been a few years since my last bottle. Even in its relative youth, this Chante Perdrix was light colored and light bodied--seemingly tannin free--but with incredibly deep, complex and persistent smells and flavors. Tonight, it takes two or three hours of aeration to bring out the those ethereal qualities. Grenache red berry and dried flowers. Still a great wine.

1989 Janasse Vieilles Vignes is several shades darker and has some tannic firmness, but I find it a struggle to coax out scents typical of a Chateauneuf du Pape. Flavors are a bit better: some dark as well as red fruit. Most at the table preferred the Chante Perdrix, but this too is a very good wine.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Vignerons de l'Enclave des Papes Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas Cuvee Prestige, 2015

When you think about wine bargains from Trader Joe's, you may think first of "two buck Chuck," the Charles Shaw wines from California. As far as I am concerned, these are commercial, manufactured wines that are not even worth the $3 or $4 charged. There are, however, some true wine bargains that should not be missed. And this is one of them.

Cotes du Rhone Villages is a definite step up from wines labeled simply Cotes du Rhone. And Valreas is a well regarded CDR Village, on a par with Seguret and Visan and not far below Cairanne, Rasteau and Vacqueyras. This Valreas is produced by a cooperative that has a good reputation for preserving the traditional qualities of the appellation and the vineyards. I have been buying this particular Valreas from Trader Joe's regularly, at least since the 2004 vintage, and I have never been disappointed with either the quality or the price ($6.99). This 2015 may be the best of the lot.

Medium deep ruby. Has the color, smells and flavors of a traditionally made Southern Rhone. No barriques or new oak. Ripe berry fruit with a good backbone of pepper and spice. The wine is 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah and the traits of both shine through even at this early stage. Good fruit purity and winemaking that lets the grapes speak for themselves. I love it. And, at the price, I can drink it often.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Eric Ross Klopp Vineyard Russian River Pinot Noir, 1999

Eric Ross is a small winery in the Russian River Valley with the motto: "Taste the vineyard. Taste the difference." The vineyard he chose for this wine is a very special one and so is the wine that it produced. The source is presumably the Klopp Ranch vineyard often used by another talented Pinot Noir winemaker, Merry Edwards.

I bought this wine for a good price at auction, and, considering the uncertain provenance and 19 years of bottle age, it may well have shown better a few years ago. Nevertheless, it is still a very fine wine, and I can "taste the difference" that Eric Ross seeks.

Medium light garnet with some bricking. Beautiful scents of earth, wild cherries and dried flowers. Dusty tannins on the palate. Dry but delectable. Haunting flavors that are still with me several hours after the last sip. This may be the best $11 I have ever spent.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Chateau Rieussec Sauternes, 1988

I had many excellent wines on my recent 33-day trip to New Zealand and Australia, but this 30-year-old Sauternes on my final night was the bell ringer. In appearance, smell and taste, it is much younger than its age suggests.

Beautiful gold color. Fresh, lively scents of almonds, coconut, citrus and vanilla. Rich and smooth on the palate like a creme brulee but with the same vigor and freshness. A perfect match for a delicious pear tart made with almond flour. I have had many great Sauternes, including two vintages of Yquem, but this Rieussec has to rank right alongside them. No sign of age at this stage.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Mas de la Garrigue Grenache-Carignan Millas, 2015

I sometimes struggle identifying the garrigue trait (scents of Provencal herbs) in Southern Rhone wines. These scents are clearly there in a majority of wines, but in varying degrees. In this wine from Southern France the trait is unmistakable, presumably explaining the name on the label.

Deep and dark. Rosemary, thyme and other Provencal herbs, but, as in other wines of Southern France, the ripe red fruit qualities take over and keep the wine from smelling or tasting green.  Medium bodied with a sleek finish. You can buy a glass for $9.50 to accompany your meal at Oakwood Bistro in Kalamazoo.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Brandborg Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2000

On their way toward establishing their own winery in the Umpqua Valley of Oregon, Terry and Sue Brandborg made some good Pinot Noirs from well selected vineyards in California. This is an excellent example.

Deep ruby, relatively dark for an 18-year-old Pinot. Black fruits, dark spices and Balsamic. Reminds me a bit of Goldeneye Pinots I had several years ago. Dark cherry but some red berries peek through in the flavors. Fully focused and pure Anderson Valley fruit. Ripe but with good balancing acidity. A gorgeous wine.

I bought this wine at auction for $6, apparently because other bidders were wary of bidding for an 18-year-old Pinot Noir from California. I wish there had been more to buy. Anderson Valley Pinots clearly age very well.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Berrgadano Langhe Nebbiolo, 2008

I was a bit worried when I opened this wine and found a very muted bouquet. But no worry; that is just the personality of this particular Langhe Nebbolio. It's slow to open, but when it does, it has a lot to offer.

After about an hour, the bouquet begins to develop. Dark cherries with a dash of cinnamon. More depth than intensity. A wine that sits beside you and becomes a quiet friend. More of the same on the palate. Very deep and satisfying. A finish that lingers for minutes.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Emilio Lustau Dry Oloroso Sherry Don Nuno

I must admit my ignorance regarding sherry, but I do know that it is probably the most under-appreciated and under-priced wine on the market today. From the cellars of Emilio Lustau, this dry oloroso is not a cheap wine ($30 from Salut Beverage in Kalamazoo), but it is worth every penny and a good deal more. From very old and rare soleras, it has the rich, complex qualities that can come only from long aging in the barrel.

Light tawny color. Nuts, dried oranges and lemons. Very rich, compact. Just a touch of sweetness. Good at cellar temperature but becomes rounder and softer as it warms in the glass. Something new emerges with each sniff and each sip. Goes beautifully with both mushroom and lentil soup.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Mud House Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir, 2015

I've been eager to try a Central Otago Pinot Noir, but this is the first I've found at a reasonable price ($15 at Plum Market in Ann Arbor). Now I'm willing to pay the price and try some of the other Pinots from this very cool (almost cold) appellation near Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand.

Beautiful, bright color. My initial sniff suggests a ripe fruitiness. Black fruits with hints of cocoa powder and cinnamon. It doesn't take long, though, to discover that this wine has some special qualities. Good structure and intensity from front to back. Lots of black pepper and spice; reminds me of a very good Southern Rhone. I don't see ready comparisons with either French Burgundy or Pinots from California or Oregon. But it's a wine and an appellation that I would like in my cellar.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, 2005

I got a strong whiff of coconut when I popped the cork, and the aromas and flavors all indicate a healthy dose of French oak--a bit too healthy for my taste. After a few minutes, though, high quality  Shiraz fruit starts to shine through. Black fruits, lavender, a touch of mint. This is definitely an Australian Shiraz and a good one, though I would prefer a bit less oak.

Chateau Fortia Chateauneuf du Pape, 1998

At a big tasting of 1998 and 1999 Chateauneufs hosted by Village Corner of Ann Arbor many years ago, the 1998 Fortia was my favorite...and that of many others hovering around the table. As to be expected, the wine has gone through many changes over the past 15 years or so and is not as flamboyant as it was at that time. But it is still a very good traditional Chateauneuf du Pape, probably better for drinking sooner rather than later.

Dark cherries and spice. Chateauneuf Grenache showing well. Intense fruit that hangs on even on the second and third day after being re-corked. Very powerful, like a Gigondas. 14% alcohol and carries it well. Not as subtle or complex as the 1994 Clos Mont Olivet I had on Christmas day but a delicious companion to herb-crusted rack of lamb.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Domaine Baumard Savennieres, 1990

Although this wine is not the highly regarded Clos du Papillon bottling, it is from one of the finest producers of Savennieres and from the excellent 1990 vintage. Although it is inching near its 30th year, it is still drinking beautifully.

Deep gold. Rich, rich bouquet of almonds, apricots, honey and spice. Not in the least bit shy or subtle but I get something new with each sniff. I can't think of another wine with such a compelling aromatic profile. And the same complexity is on the palate. Rich without being heavy, ripe without being sweet. Great wine.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Taylor Fladgate 10-year-old Tawny Port

I opened this on Christmas day to go with the plum pudding, and it was very good. But I still have a glass or two left for nights like tonight when I need a lift.

Beautiful rich bouquet. Toffee, roasted nuts, dried fruits and fruit zest. Oh, so rich. Oh, so complex. Just the right amount of sweetness. Goes well with cheese and walnuts. Not as special as the 20-year tawny from Taylor's we had last year at this time. But it does the job.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages Saint Gervais, 2000

In the view of Rhone wine writer John Livingstone-Learmouth, the wines of Domaine Sainte Anne "are very good wines indeed, but are something of an acquired taste due to being rather rigid and strict when young. The reds age extremely well, and need time to loosen their early tannins." Count me as one of the acquired tasters. This 2000 is drinking beautifully.

Deep, dark robe. A hint of oxidation when the wine is first opened but that blows off quickly. Spicy Mourvedre at its best. Backed by Grenache and Syrah. Silky texture. Ripe berries, violets and spice. Lovely.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Monrosso Toscana (Tuscan Red Blend), 2013

This wine is made by Fattoria Monsanto, one the best producers of Chianti (no relation to the chemical manufacturer). It's a Toscana, sometimes known as "super Tuscan," because it is a blend of grapes not allowed by the traditional Chianti appellation. In this case, the blend is 60% Syrah, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot and 3% Sangiovese (the traditional grape of Chianti).

That particular blend makes this wine what Australians would call a Shiraz Cabernet, but I have been trying for two nights with little success to find a similarity with wines such as Penfolds Bin 389 or Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet.

Deep ruby but not nearly as dark or bluish as an Australian red. Peppery Syrah with dark berries and currants. On the mid-palate, I can detect a slight bit of the slick chocolate texture of a Shiraz Cabernet. The Syrah and Cab traits blend nicely, but if I were to taste it blind, I think I would peg it as a Chianti. Nice finish, nice prospects for the future.

Monrosso Toscana is a very good wine, now selling for about $12 at D&W Market in Kalamazoo. For a few dollars more, I think I would go for the Monsanto Chianti Classico at Costco.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

La Maison de Barsac Terre Noble Barsac, 1995

This wine stood out as a bargain when I bought it in the late 1990s. I can't remember the price, but I am sure it was less than $15. Drinking it tonight it is an even greater bargain.

Deep gold. Powerful smells of almond paste, dried apricots, figs and honey. Very full on the palate. Brown sugar as well as almonds and apricots. Rich and thick. Can almost feel the texture of brown sugar on the finish.