Thursday, December 31, 2020

Louis Barthelmy Brut Amethyste, NV

I knew little about this Champagne when I plucked it off the shelf several years ago. It was undoubtedly a very fine wine at the time, and I am sure it is all the better for the years it spent in my cellar. It's produced from 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay from prime vineyards in Ay.

Small, persistent bubbles and fine mousse. Following a small dosage, Amethyste spends extra time on its lees, creating a pleasing yeasty biscuity bouquet. Very fresh. Pinot Nor/Pinot Meunier flavors are dominant. Freshly baked brioche with hints of raspberries. Rich and complex. Leaves a long, lasting memory on the tongue and in the mind. Louis Barthelmy Amethyste has already become one of my favorite Champagnes.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Chateau Tour St. Bonnet Medoc, 1990

Tour St. Bonnet is a moderately priced Bordeaux that has received high marks from Bordeaux expert Robert Parker. Yet it still gets little respect. The estate's owner detests the smell and taste of new oak, as imparted by barriques, and, as a result follows traditional methods of aging the wine in large, seasoned barrels. When consumed in its youth, Tour St. Bonnet is often perceived as rough and tannic; yet because the wine is inexpensive, few take the trouble to age it properly. It's the type of wine I fancy because it is "artisan wine on a budget."

Medium deep garnet shading to brick at the rim. Voluptuous aroma of cherries, pomegranate and cassis. Full fruit on the palate, 45% Cabernet, 45% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. Not a great wine but very good and a perfect match for braised beef brisket left over from Christmas Eve. At 20 years of age, it is showing no signs of advanced age.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Cascina Chicco Langhe Nebbiolo, 2011

I aerated this wine passively in the bottle for more than three hours, and it went through several evolutions during that time, getting increasingly fuller, richer and more complex. There are, I believe, enough fruit tannins and acidity to carry the wine for at least another five years.

Considerably lighter with more orangish tints compared to the older Tenuta Rocca beside it on the table. Violets, dark cherries, earth and spice. Takes awhile for the fruit flavors to open up, but they are well worth the wait. Not as sweet as the Barolo but more guts and greater complexity. I have several more bottles of this wine and will enjoy tracing its progress over the next several years.

Tenuta Rocca Barolo Vigne San Pietro, 2005

This estate claims that its Barolo wines will age "at least 18 to 20 years" if stored properly. Even though 2005 is not a great vintage, this Vigne San Pietro Barolo is doing quite well after 15 years.

Dark color shading to orange tints. Considerably darker than the much younger Nebbiolo d'Alba (2011 Cascina Chicco) beside it on the table. Beautiful Nebbiolo scents of flowers, spice and ripe red and black fruits. I suspect this wine has been aged in new oak barriques rather than the large Slavonian oak barrels traditionally used for Barolo. And the result is an attractive wine. Ripe fruit and spice on the palate. Substantial tannin and acid, but the wine is still smooth and approachable. I would not hesitate aging it another five years, but at this point, I still prefer the traditionally made Cascina Chicco Nebbiolo beside it. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

Chateau Saint-Amand Sauternes, 1983

Even for a wine that's nearly 30 years old, the color of this Saint-Amand Sauternes was a bit distressing. The smells and flavors, though, were bright and on target.

Yes, it has lost its yellow and even its deep gold hues and is now the color of weak tea. The smells, though, are what you expect from a much younger Sauternes: figs, apricots, almonds and coconut. Medium body, bright acidity and a long, sweet finish. Well liked at the table and got more positive votes than the Aigle Blanc Vouvray (see below).

Prince Poniatowski Vouvray Aigle Blanc, 1989

We drank this as a dessert wine to accompany Christmas bread pudding made with croissants. The pudding was fantastic, and the wine was a good accompaniment.

Deep gold color. Powerful Chenin Blanc smells of stone fruit, lanolin, eucalyptus honey. Sweet on the palate, maybe a bit one dimensional if you want to be critical. One taster also found high levels of sulfur dioxide, and that is probably one reason the wine appears so bright and youthful at 21 years of age. But I'm not inclined to be critical of a wine that delivers such pleasure at the end of the meal.

J.L. Chave Selection St. Joseph Offerus, 1998

This wine required more than two hours aeration to show its best. And it was still drinking well after four hours. Although it is now 22 years old, I suspect it will keep quite well. Deep red, fading to amber near the rim. Somewhat mute when first opened, this wine developed beautiful Northern Rhone Syrah smells: black fruits, cassis, black olive and bacon fat. Rich black fruit flavors. Also some red berries on finish. Nice wine.

Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape, 1999

The 1998 Vieux Donjon was named No. 1 Wine of the Year by both the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator, and it still sells for a premium. That 1998 is still drinking beautifully, but I think I like the 1999 even more. For me, it has more guts, more substance.

Deep color. Throws more sediment than is typical with Chateauneuf du Pape. Very expressive nose from the time the cork is popped. Strawberries, blueberries, spice and garrigue. Very young tasting; lots of primary fruit that is developing very slowly. Modest 13.5% alcohol and good acidity. Ripe black and red fruits resonate on the finish. This is a serious wine that will become more serious as the years roll by. 

Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal Pauillac, 1981


The cork was very difficult to remove, and my initial taste was not very pleasant. I was really considering pouring this wine down the drain and choosing another, but, fortunately, I decided to see what a little air might accomplish. Another taste after about 15 minutes convinced me the wine was worth keeping, and after an hour the wine was beginning to sing. Another hour later, the wine was poured and became the hit of the table, preferred by all over the very good Sociando Mallet that accompanied it.

Substantial amber in the color, similar to the Sociando Mallet. And the nose is not as expressive. Blue plums but mostly pleasant old wine smells. The wine's maturity also shows in the flavors, which are beautiful and shape shifting. Savory more than fruity. "Something new appears in every part of your mouth," one taster said. Subtle and complex. Smooth, elegant mouthfeel.

Chateau Sociando-Mallet Haut-Medoc, 1985

This wine was a perfect accompaniment to slow baked beef brisket with lotke for Christmas Eve dinner.

Medium deep with amber. Cork very difficult to remove but very little sediment. Dark fruit smells; blackberry and black currant along with tertiary smells. Still has good balance and fruit flavors but is less elegant on the palate than the 1981 Haut Bages Liberal that accompanied it at the table.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Brothers in Arms Blend #6 Langhorne Creek Shiraz Cabernet, 2004

 Screwcaps were used for the first time at Brothers in Arms with this 2004 vintage. The winery considers it a success, and so do I. The wine has developed nicely and is now in a good drinking window that I suspect will last for some time. And, of course, it is not corked.

Deep and dark. Very black fruited bouquet: blackberries, black currants and French oak. Shiraz Cab traits of chocolate on the palate along with black fruits, spice and black licorice. Very intense finish.

Langhorne Creek is one of my favorite Aussie appellations, and the grapes for this wine come from the Metala vineyard, one of the oldest in the country. Old vine intensity is apparent. I like it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Sokol Blosser Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, 2015

The Sokol Blosser family were pioneers of Oregon winemaking, planting their first vines in 1971. The winery is now run by the second generation, siblings Alison and Alex Sokol Blosser, who share their parents' respect for the soil and the vines. They described this 2015 Pinot Gris as "our signature white wine of Oregon." The grapes were hand picked, hand sorted, whole cluster pressed and aged for four weeks in stainless steel, followed by another three months on the lees. The result is a prime example of Pinot Gris.

Brilliant gold. Smells and tastes young, even at age 5. Apples, pears, flowers. Good weight on the palate. Rich, creamy texture but with great acidity. I have kept this wine for several years but suspect it is just now coming into its window of prime drinking. Excellent value for Oregon Pinot Gris; it goes on my buy list.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Domaine Rabasse Charavin Cairanne, 2012

When I opened my first bottle of this 2012  Cairanne three years ago, I was slightly disappointed. The wine was good but was a bit light on flavor and personality. It just needed some time to develop properly. Tonight it is showing exactly what I expect from Cairanne and this estate, one of the best of the appellation.

Medium dark plummy red. The wine is made traditionally in enamel and concrete vats; no new oak. Powerful aromas of red cherries and peppery spice. Medium body with prominent but ripe fruit tannins. Pepper on the mid-palate. Red fruit opens up nicely on the finish. 14.5% alcohol is just right for this wine. Power and beauty; reminds me of a good Gigondas.

The blend is 70% Grenache from vines aged 40 to 70 years; 15% Syrah, 10% Counoise and 5% Cinsault. The vines are well situated on a clay/limestone hillside.

Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Vineyard Alexander Valley Chardonnay, 2012

This Robert Young Chardonnay has been given all the special treatments: barrel fermentation and extended time on the lees followed by aging in small French oak barrels. It is definitely oak influenced but still retains a refined, classic image.

Deep gold in its maturity. Very bright. Beautiful bouquet: peaches, pears, lemon custard and vanilla. More of the same on the palate. Medium bodied. Expressive flavors but suitable elegance for a California Chardonnay icon. I prefer unoaked Chardonnays but must admit that this is a very enjoyable wine that has aged very nicely over 8 years. At the right price, Robert Young Vineyard is always on my buy list.


Friday, December 18, 2020

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages Notre Dame des Cellettes, 2000

I first opened a bottle of the 1998 Notre Dame des Cellettes, but, alas, it was corked. This 2000 has always shown better than the 1998, and it is still showing well tonight, although it is clearly fully mature.

Plenty of sediment that has not formed a crust, and that makes the wine's appearance less bright than previous bottles. Still a deep crimson/ruby, though. Mellow red fruit smells and flavors; mostly Grenache strawberry. Also some Mourvedre violet scents. Mellow and mouth filling. I still have another bottle or two and will be drinking them soon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Pelassa Mario's Bianco, 2015

Pelassa wines are brought into this country by Peloton Imports, but the bicycle on the label commemorates the bike Mario used to deliver wines to his neighbors in the Piedmont area of Italy. Yes, some of those wines had Barolo and Barbera labels, but this delightful white wine is a blend of Arneis, Favorita and Chardonnay.

Medium straw color. Intense aroma of apricot, lime, fresh flowers and a hint of almonds. Rich flavors framed by zingy acidity. Pleasant touch of bitterness on the mid-palate and a citric finish. A versatile wine that goes well with mushroom/spinach/lemon pasta.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Vignerons du Mont Ventoux Cuvee des Trois Messes Basses Venrtoux, 2016

There was a time when Ventoux was one of my favorite wine appellations, offering an amazing quality/price ratio. La Vieille Ferme, Font-Sane, Marotte, Altitude 500 and this gem produced by the cooperative in Ventoux--all offering excellent wine for less than $10 and usually less than $5 a bottle. The market, however, has caught on, and grapes from this area now command higher prices. I found Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses for $12.95 at Salut in Kalamazoo, and it is still one of the best bargains in Southern Rhone reds.

Good deep color. No oak, the wine is aged in concrete vats. Oh yes! The wonderful smells: fresh red and black fruit, earth and spice. Rustic tannins--I love them. Peppery Grenache (50%), Syrah (30%) and Carignan (20%). The latter adds its own spice and pepper. Long, peppery finish. Ventoux is still one of my favorites, even if I enjoy it less frequently.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Gabriele Scaglione Langhe Tutto Dipende da dove Vuoi Andare, 2011

If you have read Alice in Wonderland, you may remember when Alice, lost and in the woods and at a crossroads, meets a Cheshire cat perched on a tree. Which path should I take? asks Alice. And the cat replies: "It all depends on where you want to go," (or, in Italian, "Tutto dipende da dove Vuoi Andare.") In addition to this inscription, Gabriele Scaglione provides some cartoon images of Alice and her adventures at the bottom of the label.As I enter the wonderland of this wine, I know exactly where I want to go: to the Piedmont area of Italy I visited last October. The wine, a 50/50 blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera, represents the best of Piedmont.
Beautiful bright ruby, representing Barbera, along with some orangeish tints at the rim, typical of Nebbiolo. From there I get mostly Nebbiolo traits. Powerful aroma: smoke, roses, a bit of balsamic. Both dark and red cherries in the mouth along with black licorice. Plenty of tannin at this stage but as the meal goes, ripe red fruit flavors emerge. Much complexity, much pleasure in the finish.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Sanborn Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay, 2019

These days, Chardonnay is sold in two versions: oaked and unoaked. This wine, produced from grapes in the cool, foggy Santa Rita Hills near the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara County, really doesn't fit either profile. At this price level ($7.99 at Trader Joes), any oak flavors or smells would come not from new oak barrels, which are expensive, but from oak chips. This wine, however, doesn't show any oak influence that I can identify.

Fairly deep yellow. Very intense smells and flavors--lemon curd, pears, nutmeg. Exciting level of acidity on the mid-palate and finish. This is my type of Chardonnay; in my opinion, it is several cuts above other inexpensive New World Chardonnays sold at Trader Joe's

Monday, December 7, 2020

Montalbera Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato LAccento, 2009

Ruche is another grape from the Piedmont area of Italy, not very well known. Montalbera is an estate that appreciates the unique qualities of Ruche and produces several versions. Compared to the Tradizione, which is made in the usual manner, this LAccento is produced from 80% grapes picked at optimal ripeness and 20% grapes that are over-ripe. The result is a richer and fatter wine, similar in some ways to Ripasso.

At 11 years of age, the color has rusty/brick tones but is still deep and bright. The wine has been aged in stainless steel, then in the bottle. Enticing scents of roses, violets and dark cherry; a Piedmont profile. In the mouth, the wine is rich and full bodied. Cherries, blueberries, black licorice. Tannins have faded to reveal strong fruit. Ripe but good acidity. Does not tire the taste buds as ripe New World reds tend to do.  

When first opened, the wine tasted as if it might be past its prime. But I have had this bottle open for three nights now, and the flavors are still developing nuances. Of course, it is not as flamboyant or serious as Nebbiolo or even a good Barbera, but, at $15 to $20 a bottle, it is well worth a try. It goes well with spicy Middle Eastern dishes.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Saintsbury Cerise Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2006

 Cerise, of course, is the French word for cherry. So you would expect a wine from the Cerise Vineyard to smell and taste of cherries. And this wine certainly does.

Medium light Pinot color. Bright and saturated. Gorgeous nose of red cherries and pie spice. Like a cherry pie right out of Grandma's oven. In the mouth, more cherries, ripe and lovely but also pleasantly tart. Now cranberries and a hint of spice. As an Anderson Valley Pinot, though, it's the purity of the fruit that is most noticeable and impressive. Coats the tongue with ripe flavors from front to back. Cerise is obviously a very special vineyard in a very special appellation. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Chateau Canon Canon-Fronsac, 1990

At the time this wine was bottled, there were two Chateau Canons in Canon-Fronsac (an area in the east end of Bordeaux), not to mention the more reputed Chateau Canon in St. Emilion. This is the one shown in the accompanying photograph.

The color has lightened and turned to a brickish orange. It is a mature wine but not overly mature for my taste. High-toned nose: mostly cherries with herbs and a touch of cassis. Clearly an old-style Bordeaux aged in seasoned oak. Mostly Merlot, I would guess. Refined mouthfeel, very smooth with good balance to highlight fruit flavors rather than oak or alcohol. Cherries and herbs. Medium long, finish. It is, however, a mature wine, and, on the second night, it has little to offer.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches Chateauneuf du Pape, 1998

This wine has been a puzzle to me. When I tried it at a big Chateauneuf du Pape tasting soon after its release, it tasted very good, and others at the table agreed. I already had bottles of the 1993 and 1994 vintages in my cellar that were also very good. The price  was low ($13.57) so I bought a case and waited more than a decade before opening the first bottle. It was absolutely horrible, and the next two bottles were only marginally better. This bottle tonight, though, is not going down the sink. It is actually pretty good.

Barely any sediment and a deep color with very little bricking. Much brighter than the color of previous bottles. Black fruit smells; reminds me of a Crozes Hermitage. Now a bit of Grenache berry plus some old oak. Very agreeable on the palate. Ripe fruit but enough acid to keep it from being heavy. With aeration, it develops some interesting twists and turns. Not a great Chateauneuf but a very good Cotes du Rhone Villages. And it's a lot younger than its years. I'm now looking forward to future bottles. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris, 2015

 My wife likes Pinot Grigio and usually orders a glass when we are eating out. What she likes is a tight herbal style of wine similar to Mezza Corona. I like Pinot Gris, which is made from the same grape but in a style more like Alsace Pinot Gris than Italian Pinot Grigio delle Venezie. We agreed on a case purchase of this wine primarily because it was offered at steep discount (about $5 a bottle) by Russo and Son (now MegaBev) in Grand Rapids. She finds it "a bit sweet for my taste." I find it savory and delicious.

Deepening yellow color. Savory smells that I expect from Pinot Gris: ripe apples, seasoned oak and nuts. Round and full in the mouth. Nectarine, melon and papaya. Yes, a bit sweet on the finish but also savory and delicious.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Clos des Papes, Chateauneuf du Pape, 1994

Rhone expert John Livingstone-Learmouth refers to Clos des Papes as a "gold standard estate," and I doubt that many would disagree with that assessment, although Vieux Telegraphe and Beaucastel also belong right at the top of the appellation. While 1994 is not considered a great vintage in the Southern Rhone, Robert Parker ranked Clos des Papes as  the top wine of the vintage. Tonight, with Provencal lamb for Thanksgiving dinner, this wine lived up to its reputation and then some.

Like Beaucastel, Clos des Papes has a high percentage of Mourvedre (20 to 40%) in the blend. And when I first opened the bottle, Mourvedre was the dominant smell. Aggressive, high-toned, somewhat funky, almost like Bret but much more pleasant. With an hour of airing, the assertiveness fades into a rich, warm aroma of red and black berries, olives, sea salt and  trademark Mourvedre spice. On the palate, it just keeps getting better and better throughout the meal. Rich, warm texture with acidity to keep it going. Everything I want and expect in a Chateauneuf du Pape.

Domaine des Baumard Savennieres, 2008

This is a perfect example of Savennieres, the dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley--more powerful than many red wines and loaded with unique smells and flavors. At 12 years of age, it is just beginning to show its best.

Deep gold. Powerful and attractive smells of quince, grapefruit, flowers, hay and damp stone. Even more assertive and powerful on the palate, So dry that it tugs at your taste buds while also coating them with powerful flavors. The Barolo of white wine. From my experience with earlier vintages of Domaine des Baumard Savennieres, these flavors will continue to grow more complex for at least another decade.

Monday, November 23, 2020

J.M. Perraud Saint Veran, 2014

 The last bottle of this wine I opened was a bit of a disappointment--tightly wound with a lot of citric acidity but not much else. This time, I was a bit tardy bringing the bottle up from the cellar, and it had not become completely chilled by the time I opened and served it. Voila! The transformation was remarkable.

Medium deep gold. Ripe apples in butter, spring flowers, spice and maybe a hint of walnut. Broad and deep. Very much like a six-year-old Pouilly Fuisse. Sleek acidity but also ripe multi-faceted fruit and a pleasing body.

It's a lesson I should have known. Don't overchill a good wine; you are likely to lose a good part of the fruit and flavor.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne, 2013

This 2013 Barbera d'Asti is drinking beautifully right now. The fruit comes from three vineyards in the hills near Asti, and the wine was aged for 12 months in barriques, large Slavonian oak barrels and stainless steel. It's a sophisticated wine that shows Barbera traits at their finest.

Bright ruby with purple tints. Scents of red cherries, violets and spice. Ripe and enticing. Medium bodied with a smooth, refined mouth feel. The oak is well integrated, letting the fruit shine. Long finish. Calls for yet another taste.


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2007


I have reviewed this wine so many times you are probably getting sick of reading about it. But, like any good wine, it is constantly changing and revealing new treats. This Sainte-Anne Villages is a step or two below the Notre Dame des Cellettes and the Saint Gervais bottlings and priced accordingly. It costs only a dollar or two more than the simple Cotes du Rhone and worth the premium, although I am also fond of the Cotes du 
Rhone. It is a very good ageworthy wine.

Deep ruby color. No oak; aged in stainless steel and concrete vats. About 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah plus Mourvedre and Cinsault from vines about 40 years old. Black raspberries, violets, aromatic herbs. Very expressive, as usual. Luxuriant fruit on the palate. More Syrah than Grenache at this point. Lavender and black fruits. Subtle spice notes developing on the long finish.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Cascina delle Rose Dolcetto d'Alba A Elizabeth, 2015

Some of the best Dolcetto vineyards are near Dogliani on the outskirts of the Barolo appellation. This one, though, comes from nearby Barbaresco--old vineyards in Tre Stelle and Rio Sordo. And it displays well its aristocratic breeding.

Clear bright ruby with bluish tints. Billowing scents of cherries, roses, cinnamon and almonds. Sweet fruit countered by a pleasantly bitter almond finish. Teases the tongue with brisk acidity and ripe fruit tannins. Oh, I like this wine. It's good enough and versatile enough to accompany any dish you can put on the table.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Monks Gate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2007

Monks Gate Vineyard is located in the Yamhill-Carlton area of the northern Willamette Valley, and the vines were planted there on Willakenzie soil in 2000. So the vines were relatively young when this 2007 was produced...but still capable of producing a highly impressive wine.

Light color but noticeably bright. Enchanting Pinot bouquet: red cherries, rose petals, and spice box. The scents are so lovely, that I almost expected something sweeter on the palate, but I was not disappointed at all. More of the spice box plus cranberries, cherries orange zest and white pepper. Pleasing acidity. Reminds me a lot of the Tualatin Estate Pinot I had at an American Wine Society tasting last week. The Monks Gate is 10 years older than that wine, but it has aged very well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Thomas Goss McLaren Vale Shiraz, 2016

Wine Enthusiast critic Christina Pickard describe this as a "big but not overblown old-school style of South Aussie Shiraz." I agree with her assessment, and that's why I purchased a few bottles after a Tasters' Guild wine tasting last year. It's definitely Aussie Shiraz, but it has more of the black fruit goodies that I like and less of the new oak qualities that often dominate newer-style wines.

Dark, bluish color. Prominent blackberries, plums and cassis on the nose; a touch of coffee and dark chocolate on the palate. Very ripe fruit flavors overwhelm the tannins that are lurking behind. Fills the mouth but does not taste hot or alcoholic. Although the winery says it uses some French oak barrels, they are not obvious in the smells and flavors. Drinks well now, but I am looking for more complexity as the wine ages.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Willamette Valley Vineyards Metis Walla Walla Valley Red Blend, 2017

This is an unusual blend of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals: 33% Syrah, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot and 19% Grenache. Although the wine is enjoyable, I fail to find specific traits of either the Bordeaux or Rhone grapes. It does, however, deliver plush dark fruit qualities along with red fruit ripeness and acidity.

Dark with bluish tints. Currants, cassis and French oak. Big in the mouth. Good fruit/acid balance with ripe tannins. Cherries and chocolate on the finish. Easy drinking but not simple. I need more time with this wine before I can make a commitment of $35. 

Willamette Valley Vineyards Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir, 2017

This is a good match for the Willamette Valley Chardonnay below. It's a wine that made me sniff and sip very slowly to appreciate all the nuances.

Pinot light but bright color. Heavenly smells of red cherry, violets, earth and Pinot Noir pepper. Dances lightly on the tongue. Hard to find the tannins, but they are there, and I am sure the wine will age very well for a decade or more. Pomegranates, cranberries and, as the winemaker suggests, pumpkin spice. I have never thought about pumpkin spice as a wine descriptor, but, yes, now that you mention it, I taste it. A delicate, ethereal finish that refuses to quit. Again, not a budget wine but worth the splurge.

Willamette Valley Vineyards Bernau Block Chardonnay 2017

Tasted at another American Wine Society virtual event. This ranks high on my all-time best Chardonnay list. Produced from the Dijon clone, it is big in flavor, more like a white Burgundy than a California Chardonnay. The owner compared it to Mersault, but I must admit that my limited experience has never given me a Mersault of this quality.

Medium deep yellow. The nose is simply irresistible: pear, honey, flowers. And the flavors are there to match: lemon cream with subtle vanilla on the finish. Very long, haunting finish. This is not a budget wine ($45 on the winery website) but I feel sure I would have to pay a higher price for a comparable Mersault. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Syrah, 2017

From the Yarra Valley of Victoria, this wine was billed as even cooler climate than the Leeuwin Estates' Sibling. By using the term "Syrah" rather than "Shiraz," the producer is also identifying with the French rather than the Australian style. I am a great lover of Rhone reds, but I don't see this wine as having much similarity to a Crozes-Hermitage or Saint Joseph.

I find some unattractive aromas that blow away after a few minutes in the glass. Probably reduction odors which will resolve with age. More red than black fruit, flowers and spice. Good acidity but a bit sharp on the finish, at least at this stage. This is not my style of wine.

Leeuwin Estate Siblings Margaret River Shiraz, 2017

Of the three wines tasted at the American Wine Society tasting, this was my clear favorite. From the Margaret River area of West Australia, it is from a cooler climate and apparently a different soil structure.

Deep and dark but a bit lighter than the Torbreck. Boysenberries, dark cherries, minerals and violets. Lighter in body than the Torbreck but plenty of strength and structure. Red currants, cinnamon, coffee and black pepper. Good acidity, exciting finish. At $18 to $20, I consider this a great value.

Torbreck Woodcutters Barossa Valley Shiraz


This is the first of three Shiraz wines we tasted as part of a American Wine Society presentation entitled "There is No Australian Shiraz." The theme, of course, was that there is no simplistic stereotype of Australian Shiraz but rather many different styles based on appellation, vine age, climate and winemaking decisions. Although Barossa is often dismissed by American critics as producing overly heavy, alcoholic, extracted wines, it is also home to many of Australia's finest wines such as Penfold's The Grange and Henschke's Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone Shiraz.Torbreck also has earned critical praise as a premium producer, in part because of the estate's old, dry-farmed vineyards. The Woodcutters bottling is priced at a moderate level ($20 to $25) and includes fruit from relatively younger vines raised mostly in well seasoned French oak. We were both impressed with this wine.

Deep, dark, bright. Big aromatic presence of blackberries, black currants and cassis. Deserves a lot of serious sniffing, revealing more and more pleasures as the wine aerates. I get mostly black fruits on the palate as well. A big tannic wall on the mid palate but it too softens over time to reveal beautiful Shiraz fruit plus mocha, vanilla and lavender. The finish is well worth lingering over, even at this young stage but will get even better with five to ten years of additional age.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone, 2016

I don't drink as much Cotes du Rhone as I once did. Prices have gone up, and some of my old favorites have gone modern. Nevertheless, I still think CDR is the best and most versatile choice for every day drinking. For my taste, it's a perfect accompaniment for a tomato-based pasta and it also works with either vegetarian or meat-centered meals. It's beautiful young, and some bottles will gain complexity with 5 to 8 years of aging...or even longer. Delas Saint Esprit, a blend of about 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache, is still one of my favorites.

Dark crimson. Intense peppery, spicy aromas from the time the cork is popped, Rich fruit and spice on the tongue. Boysenberries, violets. Firm but ripe tannins. Syrah traits are upfront, but there is also plenty of Grenache pepper and spice. My kind of wine.

I bought this at D&W in Kalamazoo where it sells for $12 to $16.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Martinelli Russian River Pinot Noir, 2001

When I opened the last bottle of this wine on February 14, 2016, I commented about how beautifully it had aged. Nearly five years later, I am even more impressed by this wine and its ability to defy the advancing years.

The color has lightened a bit but is still what you might expect from a 10-year-old, rather than a 20-year-old Pinot Noir. In 2016, I smelled cherry, cranberries and gingery spice; today, the scents and flavors are riper and more mellow--red plums and flowers--but by no means flabby. In the mouth, the wine is exciting, stimulating the sides of the tongue as well as the mid-palate but leading to a very ripe, long and satisfying finish. This is my last bottle; if I had more, I would be in no hurry to drink them.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Echo Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2019

This Sauvignon Blanc was part of the Trinchero virtual tasting dinner at Fieldstone Grill in Kalamazoo a week or so ago. Although the wine is made in New Zealand, it is imported and distributed in the United States by Trinchero as part of their portfolio. It is immediately attractive, with bright fruit flavors, and it showed some positive development over three nights.

Bright yellow. On the first night, aromas and flavors of passion fruit and citrus with fresh acidity. Deeper notes of gooseberry, fresh mown grass and green bell pepper develop over succeeding nights. Very attractive.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Luca Bosio Leda Truffle Hunter Barbera d'Asti, 2018

This wine is named after Valter Bosio's truffle hunter dog, who sniffs diligently around tree trunks to discover the prized mushroom that sells for several thousand dollars an ounce. Truffles are highly aromatic as well as tasty; and so is this wine.

Bright ruby. Yes, very aromatic: red berries, baking spices and almonds. Ripe fruit flavors. 
Goes down very easily. High acid, low tannin--typical of Barbera. It's probably not a wine for long-term aging, but I think it will improve over the next 12 to 18 months.

Truffle Hunter Barbera is pretty widely available, at least in the Kalamazoo area, and an excellent value at $9 to $11 a bottle

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Domaine Alary Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne La Font D'Estevenas, 2007

 Domaine Alary's Cairanne L'Estevenas is a blend of roughly 65% Grenache and 35%  Syrah (from cuttings taken from the Hermitage appellation in the Northern Rhone). This 2007 has aged very nicely and is at a near-perfect stage right now.

Bright crimson, minimal bricking. Pretty aromas of flowers and fresh berry fruit when first opened. Within half an hour, deeper and more serious--a bouquet rather than an aroma with fine wine smells blended together. Darker fruits on the palate, including some hints of black currant and cassis. Beautifully ripe fruit on the mid-palate and finish but with enough acidity to make it dance on the tongue. A special wine.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages Saint-Gervais, 2000

Of all the Sainte-Anne wines, this is by far my favorite. More than half of the grapes each year come from Mourvedre vines, many of which were planted in the 1960s. The rest of the cuvee is split, about 50/50, from equally old Grenache and Syrah vines. All of the Sainte-
Anne CDR wines can age 10 or more years, even the simple Cotes du Rhone, but the high level of Mourvedre makes the Saint Gervais particularly ageworthy. At 20 years of age, this Saint-Gervais is drinking better than it has at any time over the past decade.

Medium deep red, just beginning to show some bricking around the edges. Mourvedre cherry and spice showing clearly on the nose. But, really, this is a fully developed bouquet with scents blended seamlessly. Beautiful. Rich fruit on the mid-palate. Creamy texture that just keeps getting smoother. Pleasing cherry tartness on the finish. This wine may have quit growing, but it still has plenty of life ahead.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Bouchard Aine & Fils Pouilly Fuisse, 2012

Compared to the very good Sanford Chardonnay (below), this Pouilly Fuisse from Bouchard Aine & Fils is several steps above.  Alas, I have finished my stash of bottles purchased at closeout and will have to decide whether I want to shell out the $30 necessary to buy current vintages. It is, in my opinion, worth the premium.

Medium deep yellow/gold; lighter than the Sanford Chardonnay (below), even though it is six years younger. Bouquet every bit as distinctive as the Sanford but much more subtle.  Perfectly ripe apples and pears, white flowers. Concentrated fruit, presented with elegance and grace. Glides across the palate. Assertive but not aggressive. This is a bottle you want on your table with a special meal.

According to the winery, "only the yeasts naturally present on the grapes were used, which is our way to respect and enhance the terroir."


Sanborn Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay, 2018

When I buy wines from California, I ordinarily buy according to appellation rather than producer. If the label states merely "California" as the appellation, it means that the grapes can come from anywhere in the state, and that usually means the cheapest grapes available. The Santa Rita Hills is an area that has developed a reputation for producing high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and grapes from the appellation command a correspondingly higher price. Even compared to the surrounding Santa Barbara appellation, the soil and the cool climate in the Santa Rita hills produce distinctive wines. That's why I bought this $7 Chardonnay from Trader Joe's. And it did not disappoint.

Medium deep yellow/gold. Very powerful aromas: flowers, pears, Granny Smith apples. Cool climate acidity. Meyer Lemon, sea salt and flowers; very intense, aggressive flavors from front to back. Not your typical California Chardonnay; could even be mistaken for a Sauvignon Blanc. But very distinctive and very good for a cool climate Chardonnay.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Trimbach Alsace Riesling, 2014

I opened this bottle for a Thursday virtual tasting with winemaker Anne Trimbach and Madeline Triffon, MS, of Plum Market in Ann Arbor. Ms. Trimbach was a delight to listen to; her wine, as always, a delight to drink. Trimbach is my favorite source of Riesling and my favorite Alsace estate.

Deepening yellow. Fresh scents and crisp flavors when taken out of the refrigerator and first opened. As the wine aerates and warms from 45 degrees to 65, both the smells and flavors broaden and become more complex. From pear and citrus to ripe apple and minerals. From Granny Smith to Jonathan apples. Coats every corner of the mouth with ever changing tones and flavors. Completely dry and enchanting with and without food. Ms. Trimbach recommends drinking this Riesling at 5 to 10 years of age but admits that it will keep much longer. A few years ago, I opened a bottle of the 1978 Trimbach classic Riesling (purchased in the early 1980s for less than $40 a case) and it was still drinking beautifully at nearly 20 years of age.

A Trimbach Riesling made for aging is the Frederic Emile, which is made from two Grand Cru vineyards and sells for about $100 in some vintages. I did not open my bottle of Frederic Emile but got virtual satisfaction from hearing the glowing words from Madeline Triffon. I will reserve my pleasure for a special occasion several years from now when the bouquet and flavors have more time to develop.

Mario Pelassa Piedmont Oltre, 2014

Oltre is the Italian word for "more than" or "ultra," and this wine is made to be more than Barbera by the addition of 10% Nebbiolo. The result is more than enjoyable.

The color is a beautiful ruby, much darker than Nebbiolo. The rest of the wine has more Nebbiolo traits than you might expect from a 10% blend. I don't find the beautiful aromas of Nebbiolo but the dark cherry fruit is upfront and strong along with dark spicy scents and a hint of almonds. The fruit is crunchy and attractive--dark berries as well as cherries. Both Nebbiolo and Barbera are high in acidity but Nebbiolo typically has more tannin, and Oltre has good tannic grip. Some makers boost the tannic content of Barbera with new oak; the addition of Nebbiolo might be a better option. Right now this wine is drinking beautifully.

Imported by Peloton, Pelassa Oltre offers good value (about $15 a bottle) but is somewhat difficult to find.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

d'Arenberg The Hermit Crab McLaren Vale Viognier Marsanne, 2018

I sniffed this Marsanne blend alongside the mature Tahbilk Marsanne (below) and found many of the same rich scents of ripe apricots, peaches, honey toast and nuts. Very nice, but even nicer when they are combined with the fresh honeysuckle, floral smells of Viognier. Both grapes are from the Northern Rhone, but, to my knowledge, the French never blend Condrieu (Viognier) and White Hermitage (Marsanne). The Hermit Crab is a wine for New World tastes, and it works well for a variety of dishes.

Medium light gold. Powerful smells of Marsanne married to delicacy of Viognier. Rich mouthfeel for those who like Chardonnay (and Marsanne) but also citrus zest for those partial to Pinot Grigio (and Viognier). I think this wine will age nicely. Marsanne is a wine for aging, although Viognier is better when consumed as early as possible. As the Hermit Crab develops, the Marsanne qualities are likely to dominate.

Tahbilk Goulburn Valley Marsanne, 1992

This deep amber colored white wine is a curiosity. The grapes come from some of the oldest Marsanne vines in the world, taken from grafts from the Hermitage area of the Northern Rhone. As White Hermitage or as Australian Marsanne, it is a wine made for long aging. And, at 18 years of age, this bottle is a delight to drink.

The deep color is bound to elicit some doubt. But I have detected a similar color for many years, through the transparent bottle and in previously opened bottles. A decade ago I also found oxidized smells and flavors and did not find the wine very pleasant to drink. Not so, tonight. Beautifully ripe apricots and peaches, honey toast, mushrooms, hazelnuts and dried fruits. Wow! Smells and tastes like an aged dessert wine but it is bone dry. Very rich texture but very little acidity. Medium finish. This wine is unique but not for everyone. 

Tahbilk's vintage chart lists it as drinkable but in decline with a suggested value of $45.