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.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Iron + Sand Paso Robles Cabernet, 2018

 Iron + Sand seems to me a perfect name for this wine. It has a strong, earthy core of flavor with an iron-solid structure plus the charm and aromatics that are typical of grapes grown in sandy, mountainous soil. Although I am usually lukewarm regarding Paso Robles Cabernets, this wine grabbed my attention and approval. Accompanying braised lamb with pearl couscous risotto, it was, in my view, the highlight of the Trinchero virtual wine dinner from Fieldstone Grill.

Dense, deep, purplish colors. Deep aromas: dark cherries, black fruits, spice. Concentrated on the palate: dark fruit, cherries and chocolate. Tannins are apparent but they are ripe and open enough to let some fruit show through, even in its youth. Complements the braised lamb and sauce. Good now but I suspect five to eight years in the cellar will soften the tannins and bring out greater complexity and flavor interest.

Hope's End Red Blend, 2017

 This Red Blend is an Australian version of a Cotes du Rhone--mostly a blend of Grenache (39%) and Syrah, also known as Shiraz (41%). Other grapes, in this wine but not typical of Cotes du Rhone, are Malbec (12%) and Petit Verdot (8%). Although the grapes comes from South Australia, the wine is sold by Trinchero 'Family Estates of St. Helena, Napa County, California.

When first poured, I noted the bright crimson color typical of Grenache but also darker tones, even some purple that suggests oak maturation. Grenache is also apparent in the bright red berry aromas and flavors that make the wine a friendly and useful choice for a range of every day dishes. The winemaker's notes use the term "jam" twice, and, yes, the wine is ripe enough to cover up some of the rough oak tannins. The notes also mention "vanilla" and a "hint of chocolate." Compared to my favorite Cotes du Rhone wines, this Hope's End Red Blend is a bit awkward and heavy handed. Others, who are more attuned to New World wines, might disagree.

Part of a Trinchero virtual tasting staged by Fieldstone Grill in Portage, the Hope's End Red Blend went well with a delicious onion and mushroom tart (part of the tasting) but was too heavy for grilled Atlantic salmon the following night.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Trader Joe's Reserve Carneros Chardonnay, Lot #204, 2019

This $10 Chardonnay at Trader Joe's has the Carneros qualities that you might expect in a wine costing two or three times that much. It is from the Napa side of the Carneros appellation. 

Bright medium yellow. Red Haven peach: ripe and juicy but with zesty citrus acidity. Not too much oak. Good with salmon or for drinking before the meal.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Phillps Hill Oppenlander Pinot Noir, 2006

The Oppenlander Vineyard is not in the Anderson Valley but about five miles northwest in Comptche's Surprise Valley at an altitude of 600 feet. Rusty Gaffney, M.D., the retired ophthalmologist who writes the free PinotFile newsletter (an excellent source of tasting notes), says that he has never had a bad wine from this vineyard. Although my experience (with Pinot Noir as well as the Oppenlander Vineyard) is miniscule compared to Dr. Gaffney's, I wholeheartedly agree.

I opened the bottle about 45 minutes before the meal. At this time, the color, smells and fruit  flavors were deep and concentrated, though not extraordinary. As the night grew on, though, the intensity and strength of the fruit continued to grow. A true "come-back-to-me" nose offering more and greater pleasure with each sniff. Cherries, dark fruit and ginger. Really, though, complexity, of the kind that comes with age, is the guiding force behind this wine with no one descriptor standing out. Complexity and intensity. The texture is incredibly silky with rich fruit flavors resting on top and a finish that refuses to stop. I can't say enough good things about this wine...or the Oppenlander Vineyard.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone, 2007

From most Southern Rhone appellations, particularly Cairanne, I have found the 2005 vintage to be better and more ageworthy than the highly hyped 2007 wines. For Domaine Sainte-Anne, located farther west in Saint Gervais, I am very happy with the 2007s.

Good color, fading a bit, as to be expected after 13 years. Bouquet focuses on Syrah black fruits with minty/thyme notes. More Grenache red fruit on the palate. Rich, ripe fruit in the middle with a touch of black pepper that is not very common in Sainte-Anne wines. A bit hot (14.5% alcohol) on the finish.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz, 2005

 This wine was a bit of a disappointment...perhaps because I tasted it beside the John Duval Entity Shiraz (below), a much younger and more forceful statement. Actually, John Duval is the former winemaker at Penfolds and probably supervised the making of this Bin 128, which is still a very good wine. 

Penfolds has always believed in preserving the personalities of certain wines that have been in the winery's portfolio for many years. This wine reflects the appellation (Coonawarra), the vintage (2005), and the Bin 128 profile, which were all a little less than what Duval had to work with in his 2015 Entity Shiraz, selected from some of the best old vines in Barossa.

Color is still dark although lacking a bit in brilliance. Forward black fruit, spice and floral aromas with more than the usual amount of vanilla. From what I have read, the 2005 vintage of this wine is fading a bit faster than its 2004 sibling. Ripe fruit gives mid-palate pleasure. Not as deep or concentrated as the Entity Shiraz and the balance is tilting a bit toward the alcohol. But still a very good wine.