Bartucci 2004 Bugey Cerdon (Ain) – Lurid strawberry essence, bursting with geraniums. A little heavier than I’m used to, but still good. (4/06)
Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon “La Cueille” (Ain) – Inadvertently aged a year, and the seams are beginning to show; strawberries are turning seedy and slightly stale, and there’s an emergence of volcanic rocks underneath…not in a good, Lacryma Christi sort of fashion – that dries and subdues the fruit. But, overall, it’s still a very summery beverage, and surprisingly deft with all manner of aggressive cuisines. (5/07)
Peillot 2003 Bugey Mondeuse (Ain) – Bracing blackfruit with licorice spice and a freshening, Altoid-like verve to the palate. The aromatics ride the line between gamay and something darker and more menacing, but for all the wine’s threatened fierceness, it’s lovably approachable and extremely affable with food (thanks to bright acidity, even in this vintage). Very nice. (5/07)
Van Volxem 2002 Saar Riesling 01 03 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Gorgeously-textured silk paper with the thinnest possible coating of lime honey and a fine-grained granitic surface. The power is obvious at first, though it does recede at an accelerated pace, and this is not a wine for the long haul. (8/06)
Run by the incomprehensibly-named Roman Niewodniczanski, this is an estate with lots of creative ideas about wine. There are successes and there are failures, but certainly no one can say the property is dull. Age – as with this wine – helps clarify some of the notions that Mr. N. is pursuing, because some of his fresh-off-the-bottling-line efforts can be a little obscure. Alcohol: 11.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Theise. Web: http://www.vanvolxem.de/.
JJ Prüm 1999 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 3 02 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Better than a previous encounter, with an old-riesling cream supported by dusty, post-windstorm summer leaves and a baked, country road strewn with gravel. Still, it’s definitely on the downslope. (8/06)
One of the better vineyards of the Mosel, producing wines that are usually on the fruitier side in their youth. And, unlike so many of its modern brethren, this feels like it should actually be labeled kabinett…rather than spätlese or, heaven forfend, even auslese. Alcohol: 8.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Classic. Web: http://www.jjpruem.com/.
von Hövel 2005 Scharzhofberg Riesling Kabinett 9 06 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Sweet melon and crisp, ripe engineered apple (by which I mean, one of those Honeycrisp-type breeds) with acidity and intensity, but not much cut or integration. It’s awfully young, so there’s still time, but this seems more a collection of fine ideas than a unified theory. (8/06)
Unquestionably one of the great vineyards of Germany, though the site is perpetually underutilized by many (most?) growers. The best wines have an impressive complexity that is maintained through a long aging curve. Alcohol: 9.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Classic. Web: http://www.weingut-vonhoevel.de/.
von Simmern 2004 Hattenheimer Nußbrunnen Riesling Kabinett 009 05 (Rheingau) – Sweet-tart key lime and shattered quartz crystal minerality with raw steel and a subdued, but solid, structure hanging out in the background. Promising, though there’s the threat of a heavy metal drone looming in the subaudible. (8/06)
The 1893 labels on this estate’s wines are perfect examples of how to make an already-unfamiliar wine completely unidentifiable. Which is a shame, because the wines are really terrific across the range. And “thanks” to a rough patch a short while back, they’re also relatively underpriced for their quality. Not that much in Germany is exactly overpriced in that regard. Alcohol: 11%. Closure: cork. Importer: Carolina. Web: http://www.langwerth-von-simmern.de/.
Sokol Blosser “Evolution” 9th Edition (America) – Off-dry, floral, fruity and fun, though it’s flabbier than a sea lion and sorta flops around in the glass. Cocktail wine, without question. (8/06)
Riesling, müller-thurgau, pinot gris, sémillon, muscat, gewurztraminer, sylvaner, pinot blanc and chardonnay. When this wine was first introduced, it was “Evolution #9.” I suspect Apple (the music publisher, not the computer/iPod manufacturer) had something to say in response, because it’s not called that anymore. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.evolutionwine.com/.
Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2005 Touraine “Cuvée Gamay” (Loire) – Bitterly tannic when first opened, though this quickly recedes under the impetuous crescendo of graphite-tinged wild cherry and rose hip fruit. There’s an almost vibrant sense of possibility here, though it buzzes and dances just out of perception for the moment, and the structure of the wine is, other than a slight gravitational tug towards the tannic, very nice. (8/06)
Gamay is so delicately malleable in the soils of Beaujolais that it’s almost certain to do wonderfully expressive things elsewhere. Yet it remains so relentlessly unhip that few are much moved to try. This isn’t to say that there’s not a lot of non-Beaujolais gamay elsewhere in France – there is – just that most of it’s fairly mediocre. Here, for example, is a delightfully different take on the grape from the soils of the Touraine. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Peillot 2003 Vin du Bugey Mondeuse (Ain) – Spiced blackberry soda, with blueberry skin and slashing razors of sharp herbs, tar dust and grillchar. Yet it’s full-bodied enough to withstand these rendings, and fills the room with delicious, pulsating fruit. A true success. (8/06)
See previous note for more on this wine. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Easton 2004 Zinfandel (Amador County) – Briary wild berry fruit and vanilla-coconut wood, with the suggestion more than the actual presence of firming structure…yet the wine is neither soft nor out of balance (for a zin). Good, early-drinking stuff. (8/06)
Darling Cellars “Onyx” 2002 “Noble Late Harvest” (Groenekloof) – Beautiful old honey and nut paste in a toasty-spicy cream. Extremely sweet, though buoyed by a fair sense of acidity, with rich sunset browns, oranges and golds lingering on the succulent finish. Gorgeous. (8/06)
100% botrytis-affected chenin blanc, 240 g/l residual sugar. Though it’s made from chenin, and should thus theoretically be more akin an ultra-late harvest Côteaux-du-Layon or Vouvray, the actual model here is Sauternes…most easily seen via the oak aging that lends much of the spice to this wine. In truth, many grapes respond well to this treatment, though few can reach the standalone heights of botrytized chenin in its native state. This is not to suggest that the winemaker missed the boat here (especially since the wine is terrific), only that alternative expressions are possible and might be worth exploring. Alcohol: 11.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Loest & McNamee. Web: http://www.darlingcellars.co.za/.
Bottex Bugey-Cerdon “La Cueille” (Ain) – The usual slightly off-dry raspberry froth, with a slightly bitter and hollow edge that’s definitely not usual for this wine. (8/06)
Gamay and poulsard, allowed (rather than induced) to sparkle. Alcohol: 8%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch.
Westport Rivers 1999 Brut “Cuvée RJR” (Southeastern New England) – Tastes strongly of tonic water and mineral salts, with grapefruit and some aged, yeasty creaminess lurking in the background. This has always been a bit odd and slightly disjointed, and age doesn’t seem to be helping. Look for other vintages. (8/06)
Don’t let my tepid reaction to this wine turn you off Westport River’s sparklers in general, which are usually quite good…and incredibly good considering their Massachusetts origin. It’s definitely cool-climate viticulture, but that’s a boon for sparkling wine production. As for other vintages: if you run across any ’98, snap it up. It’s drinking beautifully right now. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.westportrivers.com/.
JJ Prüm 1999 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 3 02 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Soft and fully creamed, perhaps overly so, with spicy dust starting to fade away on a dry Sahara wind. (8/06)
This isn’t overly old for a kabinett, so a less-satisfying performance is a little surprising. It’s probably an artifact of the vintage, but it could also be something in the wine’s storage history (it was recently purchased, rather than bought at release and cellared). Still, it does point out why even ageable kabinett usually gets consumed in the first flush of youth: the rewards of aging are not always as clear as they are for spätlese and riper styles. Alcohol: 8.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Classic. Web: http://www.jjpruem.com/.
Tablas Creek 2002 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – Mixed nut oils and dried apricots with a roasted earth and mushroom character. The wine doesn’t initially seem all that assertive, but there’s a surprising amount of power and concentration, which must eventually express itself as force. This is a very complete and impressive wine. (8/06)
36% Viognier, 30% marsanne, 26% grenache blanc, 8% roussanne. I’ve noted before how I find this winery’s Rhône-style whites an even more impressive achievement than their reds, and this is another reason why. Rhône whites are notoriously cranky agers, and yet bottle after bottle of this wine shows clear development and increased complexity. Alcohol: 14.2%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.tablascreek.com/.
Peyraud “Domaine Tempier” 2003 Bandol Rosé (Provence) – Orange blossoms and lavender. Serious and structured for a rosé, but in a very light-bodied way. In other words, just about everything one wants from a rosé. Yet the finish is nearly absent, which is probably an artifact of the vintage. (8/06)
This is a very expensive rosé (around $30 at one local store, though I bought it for much less), and one expects a lot at that price. In many years, Tempier delivers. This, at least, is a healthy attempt. Alcohol: 11-14%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch. Web: http://www.domainetempier.com/.
Van Duzer 1998 Pinot Noir “Barrel Select” (Willamette Valley) – Brown earth, loam, wet autumn leaves and dried cherries. Just a little tiny bit past it, with the tannin biting the remaining aromatics into rough chunks, chewing them up, and spitting them out in an increasingly angry way. Drink up soon. (8/06)
Van Duzer has taken a turn for the commercial and increasingly dismal, but this is a reminder of a time when they made better wine. Even then, the last time I tasted this wine (maybe 2004 or so), it was drinking beautifully. Well, that was a quick demise… Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.vanduzer.com/.
Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Massive black fig, dark plum, orange rind and intense, ripe red beet. It seems like it should be packed with structure, but it’s really not. A bit of a hammer blow pinot, yet one with amazing complexity and persistence. Still, it is big. (8/06)
Outstanding pinot in the forceful modern style. In fact, it does veer into syrah territory, and many will dislike it for that reason – I myself would be disheartened if most pinot tasted like this – but as an occasional alternative, its qualities are impossible to deny. Alcohol: 13.9%. Closure: cork. Importer: Empson. Web: http://www.pegasusbay.com/.
Renardat-Fache Bugey Cerdon (Ain) – Spritzy and more mineral-driven than usual (mostly chalk, perhaps a bit of gravel), with less exuberant strawberry and a dry, papery finish. I wonder if this bottle might be ever so slightly off. Bad cork? (6/06)
Gamay and poulsard (at least theoretically; there were two different cuvées of the previous release and if that’s the case here, then this could possibly be 100% gamay), naturally sparkling, etc., etc. I think this might be one of the more notated wines on the various wine non-mainstream fora, and what was said at the beginning still holds true to this day: soda pop for adults. Alcohol: 7.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Zenato 2002 Valpolicella Superiore (Veneto) – Restrained, violet-tinged rhubarb and olive with bitter strawberry and a fine dusting of drying tannin. There are good elements here, but there seems to be some sort of internal struggle going on with this wine, for they emerge and retreat seemingly at random. A little overworked in the cellar, I think, and it fades a bit with food, but it’s decent enough as a slightly angry cocktail wine. (6/06)
80% corvina, 10% rondinella, 10% sangiovese. While this isn’t done in the popular ripasso style, with all the jammy, prune-like fruit that the technique portends, neither is it done in the traditional, high-acid, best-served chilled style that has almost completely disappeared as a wine for export to the States. It tries to find a middle ground, but in the process I think it loses some of what makes Valpolicella interesting. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Locascio/Winebow. Web: http://www.zenato.it/.
Torbreck 2003 “Cuvée Juveniles” (Barossa Valley) – Big, full-bodied, and strongly-flavored, with dark plum and charred blackberry larded with double-smoked bacon. The fruit is on full display here, and while it’s a little ponderous without strongly-flavored food as a foil, it’s pretty difficult to dislike the high-decibel enthusiasm of this thermonuclear fruit device. (6/06)
60% grenache, 20% shiraz (syrah), 20% mataro (mourvèdre), done in a style that’s both accessible and…according to the winemaker…ageable. I wonder if there’s sufficient structure to support long-term aging (and even if there is, whether the lack of acid will result in this wine asymptotically turning to dark soy, as many older Barossa wines do), but there’s certainly no lack of concentration. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Australian Wine Collection. Web: http://www.torbreck.com/.