Marquis Dutheil de la Rochère “Chateau Ste-Anne” 1990 Bandol (Provence) – Shy out of the gate, then blossoming into a Provençal sunset: black, sun-baked earth radiating its stored heat as it cools, fragrant and well-ridden leather, lavender and other herbs, and black cherries. Still quite firm and tannic. However, I don’t know if I’d hold it too much longer, as after about two hours in the decanter, the seams rip and the wine just dies. (4/06)
Peyraud “Domaine Tempier” 1993 Bandol (Provence) – A wine that writhes, spreads and coats…from the initial squirt of bubblegum to old, mildewed morels and a hearty dusting of cocoa on the finish. The acidity is high by modern standards, the tannin is still present and will probably go unresolved as this wine goes softly into its good night, but the fruit is almost surprisingly clean; lovers of the funk will be mildly disappointed. They shouldn’t be, as this is a lovely wine in the very early stages of its retirement. (5/07)
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/.
A holiday week dinner at Boston’s justifiably-renowned No. 9 Park, with an eclectic selection of wines from the restaurant’s brilliant wine director, Cat Silirie
Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Brut Rosé (Champagne) – Gorgeous, silky-creamy preserved apple and black fruit with yeasty complexity and pleasant minerality, both of which build and roll through the midpalate and finish. Beautiful Champagne in motion.
This is one of those grower-producer Champagnes that one hears about so often, and it’s also one of the best. There’s something more indefinably soulful about these vs. the big industrial names. Try it for yourself.
Alain Guillot Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs (Burgundy) – Simpler and more direct, showing a character that’s either off-dry, botrytized, or possibly both (though I suppose it could also be an excess of leesiness), with straightforward grapefruit and green apple characteristics..
Crémant, a sort of catch-all French term for “sparkling wine not from Champagne” (though there are other possible terms as well), sells like crazy in France, but is a hard sell elsewhere. Primarily, this is because the wines – though unquestionably cheaper than Champagne – don’t really measure up. There are exceptions in each region, but those are also the wines that usually get snapped up by the local market. As for this particular crémant: other than the fact that this producer is situated in the Mâcon, and thus the grapes for this wine are likely to be from there, I know absolutely nothing about this bottle. Web: http://www.vignes-du-maynes.com/.
Bisson 2003 Cinque Terre “Marea” (Liguria) – Rushing mountain waterfalls full of minerality and midsummer bursts of ripe green fruit. 2003 has rendered this wine slightly less unique, but more fun to drink; a fair tradeoff, though I wouldn’t want to make it every year.
The Cinque Terre, not unlike the Côte d’Azur, has a bit of reputation for overpriced yet underperforming wines. This one isn’t exactly cheap ($24 or so), but neither does it underperform; less hot vintages are more enticingly floral/mineral, and there’s something unique and interesting here that’s worth the extra tariff. The grapes are vermentino, bosco and albarola, with extra time on the lees to add body and complexity.
Les Crêtes 2002 Torrette “vignes les toules” (Vallée d’Aoste) – Begins stale and cranky, but develops into an individualistic stunner, with raw iron blocks and vividly floral mixed berries. Fragrant and seductive, but not particularly feminine, this is a wine that takes some time to get to know, but rewards the effort a hundredfold.
Mostly petit rouge (a grape virtually limited to the Valle d’Aosta), grown in moraine, calcareous and sandy soils. One of the more unique wines I’ve tasted over the past year, and in fact I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted anything like it. Web: http://www.lescretesvins.it/.
Clos de Haute-Combes 2002 Juliénas “Cuvée Prestige” (Beaujolais) – Classic violet berries in agrodolce with a fairly firm, if not at all powerful, structure and a really gorgeous finish. Beyond food friendly; perhaps food-enrapturing, instead.
I’m not sure why I’ve been drinking so much Juliénas lately. Random chance, I guess. This one is decidedly prettier than either of the two Grangers recently consumed, and in fact is pretty much everything a person could want from cru Beaujolais.
Meix-Foulot 2000 Mercurey “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Less pretty and a little sluttier than previous vintages, though it would be especially churlish to call it anything other than tasty. There’s some very slightly grating tannin that looms over the fruit a bit, but this should be a good deal of nice drinking over the short term.
A blend from premier cru multiple vineyards (Saumonts and Ropitons, one site advises), from a solidly consistent producer of lighter-styled Burgundy at a not-unreasonable price. That, in itself, is a major accomplishment.
Pibarnon 2001 Bandol (Provence) – Texturally lighter than the previous three wines, with funky horse sweat and vine-rotted, shriveled fruit; it’s good, but it’s a little hollow and shrill for the usual mourvèdre (and, probably brett) stink, and I wonder if it might not be in a difficult phase.
Mourvèdre can get stinkier, and it can get more forceful, but it achieves its personal pinnacle of a rustic sort of elegance in Bandol, the only Provençal appellation to really do much on the international stage. This wine’s a little odd, but one thing I’ve found to be true of Bandol is that the wines are almost always better with age. Web: http://www.pibarnon.fr/.
Schrock 2002 Ruster Ausbruch (Neusiedlersee-Huggenland) – Very thin at first, with clean but obvious crystallized citrus aromas. With air, however, it fills out to show lovely, fuller-bodied spice and sorbet characteristics with a succulent peach-candy finish.
An ausbruch must be made from shriveled, botrytized grapes picked at an exceedingly high level of ripeness. What this usually means is that the spicy/creamy botrytis notes overwhelm everything else; this isn’t a bad thing, but simple botrytis doesn’t have to be as expensive as these wines usually are. In this case, it’s the varietal characteristics of the pinot blanc and pinot gris grapes that first emerge, to be followed by the additional complexity of noble rot. This is a worthy accomplishment in itself, even though this bottling is far from the best that Ms. Schröck can do. Web: http://www.heidi-schroeck.com/.
Ferreira 1997 Vintage Porto (Douro) – Big, fruity, tannic and obvious; there is the very slightest hint of emerging spice, but fundamentally this is way, way too young.
I usually consider drinking young vintage Port a complete waste of time and money, and this wine does little to change that predisposition. There are plenty of fresh-tasting, blended ports if one craves berried exuberance, and tawnies from simplistic blends to majestic colheitas available if one wants instant complexity. But young vintage Port is rarely other than monolithic, so unless one’s purpose is evaluative, why waste the wine? Web: http://www.sogrape.pt/.
Pierre Ferrand Cognac 30-year “Sélection des Anges” (Cognac) – Unbelievable aromatics of barrel spice and long-aged fruit with very little intrusive heat; goes down much, much lighter than one might expect, then fills and warms again on the finish, with elegantly lingering touches of bitterness. Just beautiful.
I never used to like Cognac, thinking it wan and simplistic next to the Bas-Armagnac I preferred. Then an enthusiastic young salesperson came to Boston, showing the Ferrand and Gabriel & Andreu lines, and everything changed. Here were real digestifs, with character and differentiation and (pun intended) spirit. Plus, they remain underpriced vs. a universe of oversold but undermade “name” brands. What’s not to love? Web: http://le-cognac.com/pf/.