Michel Tête “Domaine du Clos du Fief” 2004 Juliénas (Beaujolais) — Rich and dark and about 75% “pinotted,” this is still Juliénas but it’s a little trickier to say it’s gamay any longer. Mature sexuality. (11/16)
Granger 2002 Juliénas (Beaujolais) – Softening, for sure, and starting to cast glances in the direction of softer, smoother pinot noir as it attempts to leave its brighter, lighter gamayness behind. It’s still mostly what it was, however, showing brownish-grey earth and soft red berries, and its an open question whether or not it will achieve its pinot noirish destiny. I do think it would be somewhat improved by a little more of either its past or its future. (2/10)
Granger 2002 Juliénas “Cuvée Speciale” (Beaujolais) – Earthen more than brightly-fruited, which would seem to be the usual destiny of aging Juliénas, and in a reasonably pleasant way. Early maturity? Yes, probably, though the resistant tannin might be an issue going forward. There’s a light within that gives hope, but this is a fairly muscular wine. (9/09)
Dubœuf “Château des Capitans” 2004 Juliénas (Beaujolais) – Corked. (8/08)
Michel Tête “Domaine du Clos du Fief” 2006 Juliénas (Beaujolais) – Gently-spiced meat, orange rind, and beet. Fruity, then strong; this is pure fun with a serious side for the curious to discover. (1/08)
St. Michael-Eppan “Sanct Valentin” 1995 Cabernet (Alto Adige) – Cedar, herbs and very slightly green cassis with the paired bites of acid and tannin poking at the edges. Perhaps only halfway to maturity, though I wonder if the fruit is sufficient to outcomplex the slightly hard, green notes. And for those interested in sly blind tasting adventures, this could pass for a Bordeaux with effortless ease. Not a great Bordeaux, but Bordeaux nonetheless. (9/06)
Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – At first, this wine can’t decide whether it wants to be grilled-plum syrah, or tart-berried pinot. There’s a lot of acid here, and eventually that acidity decides matters; the smokiness fades a bit, leaving a wine with lots of unfocused flavor but a somewhat hollow midpalate and a perhaps overly crisp finish. Starts wide, finishes narrow. It’s a good wine, but I’m not sure I’m entirely on board with the way it’s aging. (9/06)
Maculan 1998 Breganze “Torcolato” (Veneto) – 375 ml. A beautiful, inspiring mélange of cinnamon, nutmeg, pineapple, clove, blood orange, caramel and butterscotch with just the right amount of brightening acidity. My mouth is watering just writing this tasting note. One of the truly great sweet wines of the world, calling to mind all the classic elements of Sauternes-style wines, but with its own unique palette of aromas and characteristics. (9/06)
Prager 1996 Weissenkirchner Steinriegl Riesling Smaragd (Wachau) – Firm and stern to the point of being sour (more in mood than in structure), with dried greengage plum and wind-whipped limestone. Complex and interesting, but not – at this moment – pleasurable. It would appear to need time, since there’s an awful lot of “here” here. Or “there” there. Whatever. It’s a stupid turn of phrase anyway. (9/06)
casina ‘tavijn 2004 Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato (Piedmont) – Exotic, Thai-influenced red fruit with wild aromas darting from jarred cherry to makrut lime to rose jam, with juicy acidity and light, sandpapery tannin lurking in the background. Difficult to embrace without preparation, but lots of fun. (9/06)
Audras “Clos de Haute-Combe” 2002 Juliénas “Cuvée Prestige” (Beaujolais) – Gentle but surprisingly firm red fruit dusted with graphite and sweet black earth. Lithe and light, with fine acidity and an elegant, almost regal texture. Lovely. (9/06)
Kuentz-Bas 2004 Alsace (Alsace) – Fragrant, and promising more palate weight than it eventually delivers; the wine is fresh, lightly fruity (mostly from the white and green spectrum) and very lightly spicy, with a vaguely effervescent zing and good, food-friendly acidity. An hors d’oeuvre wine. (9/06)
Edmunds St. John 2003 “Rocks & Gravel” (California) – Dense, fruity blueberry compote with light leather and faint morels. Forward and juicy, with decent structure somewhat overwhelmed by a lot of friendly, smiling fruit. (9/06)
Muga 2005 Rioja Rosado (Center-North) – Light, almost seductive pale orange and red fruit with dried earth tones and little hints of baking spice. Very, very pretty. (10/06)
Grape(s): 60% garnacha, 30% viura, 10% tempranillo. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ordoñez. Web: http://www.bodegasmuga.com/.
Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2004 Touraine “Cuvée Gamay” (Loire) – A little funky and grating when first opened, though this eventually steps back in favor of rose hip, cranberry and zingy acidity. There’s a stale chalk note that battles a bit with the otherwise sweet-natured aromatics, but this should integrate with time. (10/06)
Grape(s): gamay. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Marquis Philips 2005 “Holly’s Blend” (South Australia) – Sweet JuicyFruit™ cocktail mixer. Acid-deficient and incredibly obvious. (10/06)
Grape(s): verdelho. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Grateful Palate.
San Alejandro “Las Rocas” 2003 Garnacha (Calatayud) – Thick, dense strawberry jam and toasted creosote. It’s “coming together” in its own HGH-enhanced way, and is now almost drinkable. (10/06)
Grape(s): grenache. Importer: Solomon/European Cellars. Web: http://www.san-alejandro.com/.
Michel Tête “Domaine du Clos du Fief” 1999 Juliénas “Cuvée Prestige” (Beaujolais) – Spectacular. Darkness and light in the same package. Dusty berries and misty dried flower aromas are bound in a leathery, enveloping structure, firm yet gentle. The wine writhes and expands, filling the available space with beautiful sensation. Not yet fully mature, but it would be hard to argue against current consumption. (10/06)
Grape(s): gamay. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Tablas Creek 2003 Rosé (Paso Robles) – Red cherry and strawberry with a mildly tinny note, and starting to fade under the onslaught of its alcohol, but still showing enough boisterous, summery fun to be pleasurable. After all, it was never really meant to age this long. (10/06)
Grape(s): 64% mourvèdre, 28% grenache, 8% counoise. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.tablascreek.com/.
Ollivier “Domaine de la Pépière” 2005 Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France Marches de Bretagne “Cuvée Granit” (Loire) – Unlike previous vintages of this wine, which have been exotically exciting but rather angular, this one shows up with most of the corners already filled in. There’s strapping, herbal-earthy black fruit and a good deal of acid, and the wine’s incredibly easy to drink…as long as there’s food to go with it. (10/06)
Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Harrington 2003 Pinot Noir Birkmyer (Wild Horse Valley) – Big, juicy and a little goofy, yet there’s complexity and a New World-defined balance as well. Bright, somewhat overdriven red fruit is supported by sands and silts, with a white pepper texture and a fairly hefty palate impact. I don’t know that it will age, but that’s probably not the point. (10/06)
Grape(s): pinot noir. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.harringtonwine.com/.
Aurelia “Corte Marzago” 2005 Bardolino Vigna La Morara (Veneto) – Grapey and very wine-like, with a fresh berry component dominating, and a thirst-enhancing vivacity enhanced by acid and the wine’s overall lightness. Which is not to say that the flavors are reticent – rather, they’re sharp and clear – only that the wine is not overwhelmed with alcohol or weight. Yummy stuff. (11/06)
Grape(s): corvina veronese, rondinella, molinara & sangiovese. Alcohol: 11.5%. Closure: molded synthetic. Importer: Violette. Web: http://www.cortemarzago.com/.
Château Saint Martin de la Garrigue 2002 Côteaux du Languedoc Bronzinelle (Languedoc) – Thoroughly of the soil, showing the wild southern French underbrush still clinging to rich, dark, sun-baked earth. A few dusky blackberries work their way into the mix, but mostly this wine is a primal expression of the land. And it’s really good, too. (11/06)
Grape(s): syrah, grenache, mourvèdre & carignan. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch.
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/.
Granger 2002 Juliénas (Beaujolais) – Too small to be a fruit bomb – perhaps a fruit “poof” – with dainty red fruit and a sweet grin. There’s never much more to it than that, however. Furthermore, given that another recently-consumed bottle of this wine was entirely different, some blame has to be assigned to the variability of the synthetic cork seal.
See the previous note for not-very-much information on this wine. As for the cork, early demises and variability are an unfortunate side-effect of even the best synthetic corks (and this is one of the better ones; extruded, not molded). Removing the TCA threat is a worthy goal, and these corks do accomplish that, but they bring an even more loudly-ticking time bomb of their own. A shame, really. Screwcaps (and crown caps) are still the most promising of the various alternatives to cork. Alcohol: 13%. Importer: Rosenthal.
San Alejandro “Las Rocas” 2001 Garnacha “Viñas Viejas” (Calatayud) – Insistent strawberry and plum pit with dried roadside tree bark, a warming palate impression, and a decent amount of support and structure. Whether this wine is falling apart or closing down is anyone’s guess at this point, though the emergent heat hints at the former. On the other hand, it is a fairly hot-climate red, and some obvious alcohol isn’t necessarily a reason for anxiety. Still, I’ll drinking most of mine sooner rather than later.
There’s been controversy about this wine – multiple bottlings leading to one critically-heralded version and another that’s apparently not up to snuff – but this purchase (a multi-bottle lot) was unquestionably one of the good set, and even though it’s not the full-fruited monster it was in its youth, its still a fun and good value quaff. Alcohol: 14%. Importer: European Cellars.
Aucœur 2002 Régnié “Cuvée de Vernus” (Beaujolais) – Tart raspberry, underripe red cherry and apple with acid-spiked sheets of rusty iron. This is starting its downslope, and giving way to the powerful acidities within, but it was fun while it lasted.
Régnié is one of the ten crus of Beaujolais, and according to most observers I’ve talked to one of the least definable; the wines have to be taken on a bottle-by-bottle basis. This is a wine I’ve liked a great deal, and I admit to surprise at the downturn; it was never a blockbuster gamay, but it was fairly solid and balanced, and three years isn’t that old. Serve it with tart food, however, and things should be OK.
Alcohol: 14%. Importer: Violette.
Beaumont 2004 Lirac Blanc (Rhône) – Stone fruit: the cocktail version. It doesn’t require a colorful paper umbrella, because everything’s fairly restrained rather than fruit salad-y, but this texturally sticky-silk wine is rather a mélange of varied fruits uncomplexed by more interesting characteristics. As with many Southern (and Northern) Rhône whites, interest may develop with age, but I’m not sure this wine has the structure to support much aging.
Despite being right next door to Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, Lirac is – along with its west-of-Avignon partners Tavel and the villages of Chusclan and Laudun (the latter duo more north than west) – somewhat of a forgotten stepsister. Despite sharing with its neighbors a healthy grenache component, the reds from this appellation always seem more like syrah and/or mourvèdre to me. I’ve had very few rosés, and I believe this is one of the first domaine-bottled whites I’ve tasted. The grapes may include clairette, bourboulenc, grenache blanc, ugni blanc, picpoul, and the usual trio of Rhônish white grapes: viognier, marsanne, and roussanne. While I don’t know the specific cépage of this wine, I suspect the lack of greater complexity is due to the blend being dominated by the grapes at the former end of that list (which is required by law), rather than the latter. Or maybe it’s just not an ideal terroir for whites. More research is needed.
Alcohol: 13.5%. Importer: Vineyard Research.
Dashe 2002 Zinfandel (Sonoma County) – Unlike another recently-consumed bottle, this one has chosen to cower under a tight sheen of coconutty oak. There’s big, generous zinberry fruit underneath it all, but the performance of this wine is a touch inexplicable. Finishes with the expected blackberry liqueur and black pepper residue, though it’s important to note that this wine isn’t hot or boozy.
Mike Dashe used to make wine at Ridge. That should be enough to convince anyone of the potential quality of his zins (which make up the majority of his portfolio). If not, try this: Mike and his wife Anne are dedicated Francophiles; even with zinfandel, the monster truck of wine grapes, they do work to achieve balance in all that they do. (NB: Anne should be a Francophile, since she’s French…) Finally, they’re friends of mine. OK, maybe the last isn’t exactly a selling point, but I thought I’d throw it out there. It may help explain my enthusiasm for these wines, which are as big and bold as anyone could want, but rarely over the top (note: “rarely,” not “never”), and my confusion as to why Dashe isn’t more popular. Anyway, what we’ve got here is a lower-cost blend from some of the single-site wines the Dashes work with, designed for earlier drinking but – surprise, surprise – built for a little aging as well.
Alcohol: 14.1%. Web: http://www.dashecellars.com/.
Zusslin Crémant d’Alsace Brut “Prestige” (Alsace) – Tight and unyielding, showing the barest hints of tart fruit and a featureless grey wall of industrial steel.
Valentin Zusselin et fils is a producer in Orschwihr about which I don’t know a lot, though I have tasted the wines both in Alsace and in the States, at their local importer’s tastings. This is not my favorite of their various wines, but I do encourage seeking out the others.
The Alsatian biodynamic crew’s wines share a restrained, difficult quality that with every passing year becomes ever more undoubtedly an outgrowth of the methodologies, and the argument that these issues are resolved by superior aging seems to me to only be borne out about half the time. I have no idea why biodynamics might be less successful in Alsace than elsewhere, though from both theoretical and practical standpoints it is difficult to fault the viticultural practices, and biodynamics are rarely paired with poor or abusive vinification. Elsewhere, I have heard theories (upon which I personally have no opinion as yet) that already-stressed vines don’t respond well to biodynamics, yet except on certain truly difficult sites, it’s not my impression that the grapes of Alsace are particularly stressed; in point of fact, the range of Germanic and Burgundian transplants seem often to have a fairly cushy lifestyle in the hills, slops and plains of the region. All of this summarizes to a big “I don’t know what’s wrong,” I agree, but I don’t know, and I’d love to. Any theories?
Alcohol: 12.5%. Biodynamic. Importer: Violette. Web: http://www.valentin-zusslin.com/.
Granger 2002 Juliénas (Beaujolais) – Dense and tannic. Dark berries land with a militaristic thud on the palate, and only some vividly floral aromatics and backpalate acidity mark this as Beaujolais at all. An ager, though I wonder if there’s enough fruit to meld with the structure.
This is another producer with which I don’t have much experience. After tasting this wine, I’m a little surprised, though I suspect the constant focus by local gamay fans on the wines brought by Kermit Lynch and Louis/Dressner may obscure the consistently good work done by Rosenthal in my market. Anyway, there’s much here worthy of deeper study, and I will attempt to sock a few of these away to continue the “research.”
Alcohol: 13%. Importer: Rosenthal.