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.