Browse Category

tasting notes

TN: Pinots, grey and black

[Coteau]Domaine Coteau 2003 Pinot Noir (Yamhill County) – Rough, chewy dark berries with brighter raspberry and rhubarb elements and some basso soil undertones. There’s earth, there’s structure, and there’s fruit, but it’s all a bit untamed and unruly at the moment. (7/06)

Domaine Coteau (not to be confused with California pinot producer Radio-Coteau), puts much of its qualitative focus on vine density, yet another of the viticultural methods available for stressing, and thus concentrating, fruit. The results do seem to show here, vs. other Oregon pinots, but simple concentration is not enough…especially for pinot noir. But this is a young winery, so there’s plenty of time to work things out. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Web:

Trimbach 2001 Pinot Gris Ribeauvillé “Réserve” (Alsace) – Big but refined crystalline pear and good, crisp acidity. Always solid. (7/06)

The residual sugar in this wine is always just at the barest edge of perception, but in good years (like 2001) the perfect balance of fruit and acidity leaves an impression not of sweetness, but of richness. Such is the case here. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Diageo. Web:

TN: Dried grapes & rolled Deiss

[Deiss]Deiss 1998 Schoenenbourg (Alsace) – Very, very sweet, though there’s plenty of acid to support it, with a flowery mineral streak and not much else. Still as simple as it was in its youth. It’s a tasty simplicity, but it would be nice to see something else develop. Maybe in another decade or so? (6/06)

Deiss claims these blends (usually riesling, pinot gris, gewurztraminer and muscat, though I have no idea what’s actually in here…the riesling, at least, is obvious and dominant at the moment, and nothing else would be legal as this is a grand cru site) are a more traditional expression of Alsace’s great sites. The cynical might claim that they’re simply outrageously expensive edelzwicker (the catchall name for cheap versions of this same blend). The keys to such wines are twofold: express the site (which Diess does well, here…though more recent vintages have been increasingly obfuscated), and not let the two aromatically dominant grapes in that mix (gewurztraminer and muscat) obliterate all else. The latter is also a success in this wine. However, the amount of residual sugar is off-putting – this is a dessert wine in alternative clothing – and, as with so many of Deiss’ wines, the tertiary complexities that come with age just do not develop as often as they should. Even the most obtuse reader should conclude that I’m not exactly high on Deiss, and they’d be right, but for me it’s more of a disappointment than a simple dislike. Deiss – like Ostertag – is an obviously talented winemaker (here and there, a bottle succeeds to support this belief) who, in my opinion, has let his theories and his philosophies overwhelm his wines. And I’ve said it before: based on the evidence, I’m not at all sure that biodynamic viticulture achieves superior results in Alsace like it does in many other regions. I have no explanation for why that might be, and yet… Closure: cork. Biodynamic. Web:

[Brigaldara]Brigaldara 2000 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico (Veneto) – Sapid prune and dried fig with a soda-like texture. Softer than most Amarone, with a gentle yet persistent flavor that builds and recedes like lapping evening waves. Really lovely, though I suspect that many fans of Amarone are going to want “more” of everything, in which case they should avoid this wine. (6/06)

Amarone is, essentially, dried Valpolicella. It’s the same grapes (corvina, plus two others that don’t much matter and are often semi-legally ignored or modified by the best producers), dried over the winter and then pressed, producing a much drier water-to-solids ratio and a more concentrated, intense wine with the expected raisined characteristics (which in Amarone are usually expressed as prune and/or fig, as here). These days, it’s usually so big that it can only go with the most extravagantly aggressive cheeses (salty or blue), but more balanced versions are especially fine with richly-sauced roasts and game. Closure: cork.

TN: Original Oratoire

[Oratoire]Château de Beaulieu 1999 Côtes du Marmandais “Cuvée de l’Oratoire” (Southwest) – Probably as mature as one would want it; the fruit, decaying but reddish and a little juicy, is still present, while the tannin is in an accelerated drying stage. I suspect it will be parched and difficult before the tertiary elements are fully developed. There’s plenty of well-baked clay here, but the ultimate impression of the wine is fairly rustic despite an overall smoothness to the texture. (6/06)

25% each of merlot, cabernet franc & cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah and 10% malbec, from old vines, spending twelve months in oak (60% new). The Côtes du Marmandais are one of the many Bordeaux-like appellations around France’s most famous viticultural region (though obviously the syrah provides some differentiation), most of which remain almost completely undiscovered and thus an excellent source of often-striking values. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Web:

TN: The pale, pale wines of Rhône

Château de Bastet 2004 Côtes-du-Rhône “Les Acacias” (Rhône) – Flowering peach stickiness, with a fresh nut oil texture and a relatively short finish. White Côtes-du-Rhône is a bit of an acquired taste, but while this isn’t a particularly good value ($24 at a local store), it’s a nice wine for near-term drinking. (6/06)

Any number of grapes could be represented here, but the thing about nearly all of them is that they tend to pair a thick, almost chewy texture with acidity levels that are often perilously low. Unless one is attuned to the taste, whites from the Rhône Valley – and this applies to everything from the lowliest CdR blanc to the most lofty Condrieu or Hermitage blanc – can often be more of an exercise in intellectual than organoleptic enjoyment. I happen to have a taste for the wines, but (other than Condrieu) more so when they’re well-aged; a practice which I don’t believe will benefit this bottle (though I’ve been profoundly fooled by white Rhônes before). In any case, even though most would identify the texture as the problem (as I guess I do, above), it’s really not likely that it is; the most popular New World wines basically replicate this texture, albeit in a more manipulative way (malolactic fermentation, residual sugar, new oak, etc.) I think it’s the aromatic palette that confounds people…neither boisterous fruit nor transparent minerality are to be found here. Alcohol: 13%. Biodynamic. Closure: cork. Importer: Violette.

TN: Burnout

Chidaine “Collection” 2004 Touraine (Loire) – Wax and chalk dominated by a wet ash aroma that devalues everything around it. The wine is light, quiet, and gentle…but there’s that ash again on the finish. (6/06)

Wines labeled Touraine are a little surprising in that they’re almost always more significantly marked by their site than by their cépage. Most of them are sauvignon blanc (though other grapes are allowed), but somehow the soil turns this normally-vivacious grape into the first cousin…or perhaps bastard stepchild…of chenin blanc. It’s an interesting study in one component of terroir, and an indication of just how important soil can be. Alcohol: 12.5%. Biodynamic. Closure: molded synthetic. Importer: Ideal.

TN: Gotim Jack

[Gotim Bru]Castell del Remei 2001 Costers del Segre “Gotim Bru” (Cataluñya) – Boring, straightforward red and black fruit with blasé, anonymous earth and moderately balanced wood. Textbook red wine…but who wants to drink a textbook? (6/06)

Tempranillo, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and grenache. This is as safe and solid as wines get, which probably explains why I’ve never felt anything but indifference towards it. Young, middle-aged, even older…it doesn’t seem to matter. So why do I keep buying it? See above, re: safe and solid. Some people crave those qualities. Closure: cork. Importer: Solomon/European Cellars. Web:

[vernaccia]Troiani “Fontaleoni” 2004 Vernaccia di San Gimignano Vinga Casanuova (Tuscany) – Surprisingly intense green fruit and lightly grassy notes with a touch of briny adhesion. It’s a touch awkward without food, but shines with it, showing a certain strength and fortitude (along with a decent wallop of well-integrated acid). (6/06)

Vernaccia is yet another of those Italian white grapes that seems to be slowly fading into obscurity. A lot of mediocre product is certainly one reason, and a (mistaken) worldwide impression that it’s all mediocre is another. But while it’s true that, in comparison to the great white grapes like riesling and chenin blanc, only isolated pockets of Italy offer whites on par with or surpassing its reds in a worldwide context, what this misses is a veritable ocean of tasty, well-made, and (most importantly) unique white wines of quality and character. It would be a real shame to see all these wines disappear in favor of an entire planet planted to chardonnay. As for Fontaleoni, it’s quite the operation: restaurant, wine bar, rooms for rent…and, oh yes, a winery. Closure: cork. Web:

Trimbach 2001 Gewurztraminer (Alsace) – A little more advanced than I might have expected, showing a metallic edge greased with bacon fat and slightly pongy cashew oil. Lychee and peach are, here, only a distant memory, though the expected well-aged jerky aromas have not yet emerged. It’s got pretty good acid, but seems just the slightest bit out of balance at the moment. Perhaps a few more years in the cellar will bring it around. (6/06)

If gewurztraminer by itself wasn’t controversial enough, aged gewurztraminer ramps up the level of dispute. All the things that make gewurztraminer gewurzy come screaming to the fore when the wine’s got some years behind it. And here’s where the modern fetish for residual sugar rears its ugly head: truly sweet gewürztraminers age beautifully, as to bone-dry versions, but the too-ripe off-dry versions living in the vast in-between do a lot less well; the sugar never actually integrates, leaving a sort of unpleasant sweet bacon taste, not entirely unlike a plate of American breakfast food wherein the maple syrup has gotten all over the last few pieces of bacon. Closure: cork. Importer: Diageo. Web:

[Domaine du Poujol]Domaine du Poujol 2002 Vin de Pays de Val de Montferrand “Proteus” (Languedoc) – A rustic paysan prettied up by some nice clothes…not a fancy designer suit, just a shirt and pants well-pressed with clean shoes and maybe even a new blade on the razor. There’s frothy, roasted red fruit and sun-baked earth here…a little hint of horse lingers in the background…with good, light-bodied structure barely supporting a medium-bodied wine of some estimable qualities. (6/06)

90% merlot, 5% cinsaut and 5% grenache; this is an unusually high percentage of merlot, and caused the wine to be “declassified” (a poor choice of word) from its usual Vin de Pays de l’Herault appellation…probably for reasons of varietal typicity, but I’m just guessing here. This is intended to be an early-drinking wine, but according to the domaine their viticultural practices are hefting this thing up year by year, so don’t be surprised if it ages for a few years…or a few years more. Closure: cork. Importer: Kermit Lynch. Web:

[Kenwood]Kenwood 2004 Zinfandel Jack London (Sonoma Valley) – Spicy oak with waves of charred, chocolate oak and a finish of cinnamon and clove oak. (6/06)

In other words: no good. Web:

Sobon Estate 2004 Zinfandel “Hillside” (Amador County) – Big, brambly, fiery Amador zin, just the way it’s supposed to be. Sure, it’s a little tarted up (by chocolaty oak? it seems so, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it) and probably a bit more alcoholic than it needs to be, but typicity will usually out. Doofus wine, but eminently gluggable and fun. (6/06)

There’s a little bit of blending going on here (grenache and syrah), which is normal and historically correct for zinfandel. Alcohol: 14.6%. Organic grapes. Closure: screwcap. Web:

TN: Summer Saumur

Filliatreau 2005 Saumur (Loire) – Black earth with leafy/grassy notes, some rosemary, and a rather surprisingly intense core of dark purple plumminess. Delicious and nicely balanced, but heftier than the typical Saumur. (6/06)

100% cabernet franc. Saumur, in the typical French conception, is a light, crisp wine full of herbed berries and mostly served chilled and en pichet in hundreds of Parisian bistros. This wine can certainly be served in a pitcher, but it’s far too deep and flavorful to be served chilled. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM. Web:

TN: Two dinners, four terrific wines

Trimbach 2000 Pinot Gris “Réserve Personelle” (Alsace) – Steely to the point of severity, but with enough silky pear essence to entice the taster back into its iron grid work. Long, fabulously structured, and as close to dry as one could want. Stunning, even in its infancy. (6/06)

Lapierre 2004 Morgon (Beaujolais) – Dark, brooding blackberry and boysenberry with good acidity and a biting edge of tannin. This wine scowls and glowers, but in the end is just too well-constructed to keep the inquisitive taster at bay. (For the averse: there is a very, very slightly funky note in the background, but nothing intrusive.) (6/06)

Charles Koehly 2004 Riesling St-Hippolyte (Alsace) – Restrained and almost rigid, with dried white flower petals flaked and dusted into a chilly evening breeze. Indisputably dry, with a medium length finish and the ability to raise its volume in the presence of food. Quite nice. (6/06)

Nalle 1995 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) – Gorgeous waves of ancient spice and well-baked berries, laying bare a core of rich, loamy earth and a delicate, almost feminine (for zin) structure. Gorgeous and fully mature. (6/06)

TN: Jeune “Château Valcombe” 2005 Côtes du Ventoux “Signature”

Jeune “Château Valcombe” 2005 Côtes du Ventoux “Signature” (Provence) – Tight and gravelly at first, showing thinner than one would like. With air, intense raspberry juice coalesces and expands to bury all else. A nice rosé, but it needs a certain amount of coaxing. (6/06)

Made by Paul Jeune, who also makes the Domaine de Montpertuis wines in Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe. Though I don’t know the precise cépage, it’s likely to be mostly grenache, with a little carignan, syrah and cinsault. These Provençal rosés often fail for a surplus of alcohol, but that’s not a problem here. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: composite cork. Importer: Rosenthal.

TN: Dancing with corks

[vines at Heinrich]Heinrich 2001 Blaufränkisch (Burgenland) – Dark violet aromatics, decayed leaves and slightly bitter plum coalesce around a hard, somewhat sharp core. This still has some of the fantastic nose of its youth, but the fruit has started to decay in deference to the structure, and it was unquestionably better in its youth. It’s film noir on a scratchy, brittle old print. (6/06)

Blaufränkisch isn’t a grape that gets much international respect – though the same could be said for most Austrian reds – because it’s neither overly fruity nor generous and mouth-filling in its natural state. These things can be induced, of course, but the real pleasures of the grape are similar to those of nebbiolo: beautifully seductive aromas somewhat at war with an occasionally razor-like structure, though here the effect is rather lighter-bodied (and in this way, more like pinot noir, or possibly gamay). All this varietally comparative confusion aside, it’s a grape that can be too crisp and too light, but when it’s good – as this one is – it’s quite enticing. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Vin Divino. Web:

Hartley Ostini “Hitching Post” 2004 Pinot Noir “Cork Dancer 4.2” (Santa Barbara County) – Lovely, balanced, and pure, with succulent red berries in light array and lithe, dancing structural elements over a soft foundation of rich earth. There’s just enough tannin and just enough acidity to make this feel ageable, though frankly it will be hard to resist its youthful charms. (6/06)

It used to be that the words “Hitching Post” meant a restaurant only to a concentrated group of locals and the tourists who intermingled with them. Sideways changed all that, rendering the restaurant rather famous and pushing the wines into the background; it’s not uncommon for me to hear “oh, they make wine there?” (I guess they didn’t pay close enough attention to the movie, in which the wines are explicitly mentioned on more than one occasion.) But for me, Hartley Ostini has long made fine pinot noir in a non-intoxicatingly lighter style vs. others in their area; wines to drink rather than taste, wines that seduce rather than solicit. Which – before some angry Central Coast winemaker gets on my case – is not to say that the alternative styles are bad, or “slutty,” or whatever it is I’m allegedly implying in the previous sentence. (Oh, whatever. It’s just a turn of phrase. Lighten up!) Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Web:

[ca’Rugate]ca’Rugate 2002 Recioto di Soave “La Perlara” (Veneto) – Stunning. Heavily-spiced white fruit with preserved lemon and an utterly flawless, bright and crisp structure for balance. The finish lingers with perfect poise, and unlike many dessert wines you’ll find yourself going back for glass after glass. Or maybe that’s just me. (6/06)

100% garganega, dried for about six months to concentrate both the sugars and the flavors, and then vinified. A good recioto di Soave is one of the most enticing dessert wines in the world, for it achieves Sauternes-like levels of spice (often with less reliance on oak, though wood is certainly not unknown in high-end Soave), but frequently with better acid. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ideal. Web: