Avril “Clos des Papes” 1989 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Gorgeous, satiny and elegant, with moderate and soft meat liqueur balanced by a proportional amount of smooth black/blueberry fruit and a timid bass note of vanilla. This may be the most “sophisticated” Châteauneuf I’ve tasted in ages, more fitting for the table of its namesake than for the country daubes of the peasantry, yet still carrying all the qualities either audience would want. Gorgeous wine, nowhere near full maturity but drinking beautifully right now. (2/07)
Les Vignerons d’Estézargues “Domaine la Montagnette” 2004 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Ripe blackberry layered with vanilla and showing thin stripes of light green, which is more complexing than underripe. A pleasant, simple wine, but it’s a little slicked-up for my tastes. And yet, there’s a hint of brett as well. So: slick, but in need of a little disinfectant. (1/07)
Castillon & Fils “Château l’Ermitage” 2005 Costières de Nîmes Blanc (Rhône) – A fresh, bouncy puppy wine, licking your face and generally ecstatic at your presence. There’s bright yellow fruit here with a very slight thickening – perhaps something in the nut oil family – and a good, clean, crisp-for-white-Rhône finish. Good wine, cheap. (1/07)
Texier 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône Brézème Roussanne (Rhône) – Spiced canned pear – freshly canned, not some ancient supermarket relic – and hazelnut oil with cracked clay desiccating in the sun. It appears fat, and yet somehow the weight seems more a matter of bulky clothing than blowsy opulence; there’s a honed quality that survives despite a much lower acidity than the majority of the whites I drink. Perhaps it’s higher than normal for roussanne due to the Brézème terroir? Well, whatever the case, it’s a delicious wine. (1/07)
Soard “Domaine de Fenouillet” 2005 Vin de Pays de Vaucluse (Rhône) – It sounds both unkind and unhealthy to say, but this is rustic old red wine made through grape-stained socks. The thing is, this footwear quality comes off as a good – though particular – thing, with the rough-hewn red and purple berries lent an actively organic aroma. There’s some vague nods in the direction of structure, but mostly this is a pleasurable representation of the kind of regional wine one doesn’t actually get to taste outside of the region of production; there’s freshly-ironed clothes and a comb taken to the hair, but the peasant within remains. (12/06)
Jean Claude Thévenet Brut Blanc de Blancs (Mâcon) – Soft suggestions of white apricot and gentle chalkiness; pleasing and inoffensive in form. The finish lingers nicely, but this is a very restrained wine. (9/06)
Reynaud “Château des Tours” 1998 Vacqueyras “Réserve” (Rhône) – Dense smoked plum concentrate with wet leather and meat-like components. However, the texture is lush and creamy, it’s quite heavy, and there’s an intense, heavy sweetness to the palate. Is there residual sugar in this wine? The owner says that half his bottles have undergone a secondary fermentation in their bottles, so I guess we know the answer to that question. Anyway, it’s very good in strict moderation, but less so in quantity, and sweet Vacqueyras is crossing too many borders of typicity for me. This tastes like show wine, rather than something one would wish to drink at table. (9/06)
Sabon “Clos du Mont-Olivet” 1990 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Cuvée du Papet” (Rhône) – Corked. (9/06)
Domaine Michel Cheveau 2005 Saint-Amour “En Rontey” (Beaujolais) – Surprisingly gentle: delicate red berries and ethereal floral notes dance right on the edge of perception. Surprisingly firm: a strong, granitic structure adds a pillar-like rigidity to matters. Between these two incompatible notions lies a slightly schizophrenic wine. The results are, on the surface, quite nice…as the wine functions both as light-bodied quaffing Beaujolais and something firmer and crisper that stands up to food, but one yearns for something a little more focused. (9/06)
Apologies for the long delay between updates. Life called, and it wasn’t bearing a case of La Tâche. Why does that never happen, anyway?
Ollivier “La Pépière” 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” Moulin de la Gustaie (Loire) – Fresh and lively sea-breeze and apple, with complexing saltwater sand notes and dried white flowers. Somewhat mossy, yet as vivid as you’d want. A really interesting wine. (9/06)
Grape(s): melon de bourgogne. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM. Web: http://www.filliatreau.fr/.
Unckrich 2005 Kallstadter Steinacker Grauer Burgunder Spätlese Trocken 013 06 (Pfalz) – Simple, slightly acrid pear squeezings (heavy on the skins) and faded grapefruit/lime soda, with nice acidity and a chalky undertone. It seems interesting at first, but after a while the realization sets in: it’s a little boring if taken in quantity. But “boring” doesn’t mean “bad,” and in fact this wine is tasty enough. (9/06)
Grape(s): grauer burgunder (a/k/a pinot gris). Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Boston Wine. Web: http://www.filliatreau.fr/.
Boulard Champagne Mailly “Grand Cru” Brut (Champagne) – This is an older release, perhaps 1999/2000 or so. Deep, almost animalistic red fruit and black chanterelle aromas with a spicy, bready, brown-toned aura of brooding antagonism. It’s as forcefully flavorful as a fine red Burgundy, stronger-willed than most Champagnes, and seems fully mature. Striking wine. (9/06)
French bottling. Grape(s): 90% pinot noir, 10% chardonnay. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.champagne-boulard.fr/.
Gresser 2001 Riesling Duttenberg (Alsace) – Minerals through gauze, showing too much restraint and a thick, somewhat clumsy texture at first. This all resolves after an hour or so of air, and the wine’s minerality sharpens, turning to fine particulate glass in an overcast mood. All this indicates is that aging is most likely required. (9/06)
Grape(s): riesling. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ideal. Web: http://www.gresser.fr/.
Karthäuserhof 1992 Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Riesling Spätlese (auction) 9 93 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Warring between its youthful crispness and its mature creaminess, this is a gorgeous soda of acid-washed quartz and bubbly cocktail lime. Perhaps even a brief shot of gin? Terrific riesling just on the other side of its midlife crisis.(9/06)
Grape(s): riesling. Alcohol: 7.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Old Vine. Web: http://www.karthaeuserhof.com/.
R&V Dauvissat 1995 Chablis La Forest “1er Cru” (Chablis) – Blended herbal tea leaves with blackened crystal minerality and old stone fruit dusted with a cabinet full of faded spices. There’s old wood here too – not oak, but the antique smell of a great-grandfather’s desk – and a gorgeous, almost milky texture. Stunning. (9/06)
Grape(s): chardonnay. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Haas/Vineyard Brands. Web: http://www.filliatreau.fr/.
Chapoutier 1989 Hermitage (Ermitage) “Le Pavillon” (Rhône) – Medium-well leather and slow-cooked meat in a silky, sensuous, almost creamy wine full of soft, mouthfilling meatfruit and Provençal herbs. There’s so little structure than the creaminess turns somewhat flouncy on the palate, and one longs for a little muscularity, or at least assertiveness. Perhaps more importantly, there’s nothing about this that suggests any of the masculinity of great Hermitage. It’s a very good wine, but I’m not sure it’s a good representative of its appellation. (9/06)
Ermitage is an alternative form of Hermitage. Biodynamic. Grape(s): syrah. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Paterno. Web: http://www.chapoutier.com/.
Chapoutier 1994 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Bernardine” (Rhône) – Corked. (9/06)
Biodynamic. Grape(s): grenache & syrah. Alcohol: 13.8%. Closure: cork. Importer: Paterno. Web: http://www.chapoutier.com/.
Texier 2003 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “Vieilles Vignes” (Rhône) – Fruity pear, apricot and white peach with a vaguely spicy ginger soda component. It’s not fat, though it is slightly chubby, and there’s a bright and fresh-faced balance that defies the vintage’s reputation. Good, highly drinkable stuff. (9/06)
Clairette, bourboulenc and grenache blanc. Web: http://www.adonkeyandgoat.com/texier/home.htm.
Kanu 2004 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Simple, off-dry melon and filtered stone fruit with the faintest suggestion of wax. Quaffing wine. (9/06)
97% chenin blanc, 3% chardonnay, 6.7 g/l residual sugar. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Cape Classics. Web: http://www.kanu.co.za/.
Pieropan 2004 Soave Classico (Veneto) – Very tight at first opening, and only coming into its fabulously brittle aromatic maturity with an hour of aeration. Mixed rocks and dried white flowers dominate this wine, which straddles some sort of line between Teutonic and Italian with flair and masculine style. (9/06)
90% garganega, 10% trebbiano di Soave. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Empson. Web: http://www.pieropan.it/.
Sella & Mosca 2004 Vermentino di Sardegna “La Cala” (Sardinia) – Wet garden vegetables and solid, albeit monolithic, yellow-green citrus. There’s a lot of heft and a not insignificant alcoholic presence here, which is slightly less than ideal for a flavorful but medium-bodied white wine. Still, the flavors are appealing. (9/06)
Alcohol: 11.5%. Importer: Palm Bay. Web: http://www.sellaemosca.com/.
Jadot 2005 Beaujolais-Villages (Beaujolais) – Hard-edged red cherry and raspberry with a dark, sun-burnt gravel base. There’s little complexity or fun, yet the wine is varietally-correct. It’s the overstructuring that kills the sprightly gamay verve, but one could certainly do worse in a pinch. (9/06)
100% gamay. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kobrand. Web: http://www.louisjadot.com/.
Sella & Mosca 2002 Cannonau di Sardegna “Riserva” (Sardinia) – Boisterous strawberry bubblegum fruit, with an exploding tapioca texture and lots of obvious but fun spice…some of it wooded. (9/06)
Cannonau is a synonym for grenache. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Palm Bay. Web: http://www.sellaemosca.com/.
Jean David 2004 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Séguret (Rhône) – Thick, dense leather and blueberry compote with a dry, mistral-swept mouthfeel and a surplus of lingering Provençal herbs. Highly structured and ungenerous. This needs time, but I wonder if there’s enough non-structural extract to reward extended aging. (9/06)
62% grenache, 17% carignan, 8% counoise, 6% cinsault, 4% mourvèdre, 3% syrah. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: cork. Importer: Violette. Web: http://www.domaine-jean-david.com/.
TJ Wines “Jonesy” Old Tawny Port (Australia) – Akin to pedro ximénez, though perhaps without quite so much prune. It’s painfully sweet, showing overripe, baked and caramelized blended sugars and a dark raisin concentrate character that speak of long, old-barrel aging. The acidity is a bit volatile and spiky. This is really much more reminiscent of one of the Aussie liqueur muscats or “tokays” than its authentic Portuguese namesake. (9/06)
Alcohol: 18%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Grateful Palate. Web: http://www.kellermeister.com.au/.
La Vieille Ferme 2005 Côtes du Ventoux Rosé (Rhône) – Slightly candied strawberry juice and canned red cherry, both overwhelmed by sweetening alcohol. (9/06)
50% cinsault, 40% grenache, 10% syrah. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Vineyard Brands. Web: http://www.lavieilleferme.com/.
Sterling 2002 Chardonnay (71% Napa County / 16% Sonoma County / 13% Mendocino County) – Sweet peach, honeydew melon and orange with a pretty, albeit confected, palate presence and lots of buttery, toasty wood. Paint-by-numbers chardonnay, and tedious before the first sip has left one’s mouth. (9/06)
Alcohol: 13.5%. Web: http://www.sterlingvineyards.com/.
Faiveley 1998 Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits “Dames Huguettes” (Burgundy) – Dead. (9/06)
French bottling. 100% pinot noir.Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.bourgognes-faiveley.com/.
Faiveley 2002 Mercurey “Domaine de la Croix Jacquelet” (Burgundy) – Corked. (9/06)
100% pinot noir. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Wilson Daniels. Web: http://www.bourgognes-faiveley.com/.
Goats Do Roam Wine Company 2003 “Goat-Roti” (Western Cape) – Big, obvious dried blackberry and synthetic leather with tarred wood and rosemary squeezings. It’s exceedingly heavy, but somehow manages to lack structure. There’s nothing overtly wrong with this wine, but it’s not very interesting either. (9/06)
96% shiraz, 4% viognier. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Vineyard Brands. Web: http://www.fairview.co.za/goats/wines.php.
Trimbach 1996 Riesling “Cuvée Frédéric Émile” (Alsace) – From 375. Very, very tight and sulfurous at first. With a few hours of air and aggressive swirling, the classic CFE profile of liquefied metal appears, in a razor-sharp pillar of crystalline structure. In no conceivable universe is this yet ready to drink. (9/06)
Closure: cork. Importer: Seagram. Web: http://www.maison-trimbach.fr/.
Parcé “Domaine du Mas Blanc” 1998 Collioure Clos du Moulin (Roussillon) – Rough, leathery fruit that’s been involved in some sort of long-lasting street brawl, leaving it bruised and bloodied by somehow matured by the effort. The aromatics are enticing, showing dark wet soil and fall leaves, with brief intrusions of gentler floral notes and the occasional trace of dark soy. Really nice wine, though certainly not polished to a sheen for modern tastes. (9/06)
90% mourvèdre, 10% counoise. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.domaine-du-mas-blanc.com/.
Yalumba “Y Series” 2005 Viognier (South Australia) – Simple, relatively clean stone fruit with floral enhancements. It lacks exoticism and complexity, but neither is it heavy. A decent wine. (8/06)
Viognier’s appeal lies in its overtly floral, honeysuckle-and-peach fruit…but to achieve these qualities, it’s often necessary to let the fruit hang, which leads to its most significant problem: high alcohol, lending any resulting wine a heavy, ponderous texture. Unfortunately, it’s a rare site and winemaker than can avoid the latter while achieving the former. Thankfully, the wine is at least pleasant when presented in its less ripe form…as long as it’s not buried in new wood, which this wine is not. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: screwcap. Web: http://www.yalumba.com/.
Cane 2004 Dolceacqua “Superiore” Vigneto Arcagna (Liguria) – Compelling but slightly harsh red fruit, tarted up by sour cherry acid and wet bark, but stuffed with fruit dust aromatics. It’s a particular, almost dying sort of style that might not find purchase in our modern world…but with higher acid food, it really shines. People tend to decry the existence of “food wines,” but this – properly paired – is the sort of thing that makes them look foolish. (8/06)
This is made from rossese grown west of Genoa, right up against the French border. Ligurian wines don’t make much, if any, impact on the international marketplace – even the fame of Cinque Terre can’t change that – so it’s interesting to see this on local shelves. The internationalization of wine works its nefariousness in two ways: by forcing wines of this type into new wood and smoothing textural deformations, and by keeping wines of this type out of the marketplace entirely. But this…this is what wine used to taste like. Not a cocktail, but a partner at the table. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Adonna.
Texier 1998 Côtes-du-Rhône Brézème (Rhône) – Extremely sweaty leather and beef juice with sun-charred rocks and spiky, jarring acidity. It smells terrific, but the acid – even when one is expecting it, which anyone familiar with this wine should be – is occasionally shocking. Still, it appears to have reached some sort of peak, and with the inconsistencies introduced by its synthetic cork I wouldn’t dare hold it any longer. (8/06)
100% syrah. Texier’s Brézème is the only wine from this site that I’ve tasted, though I’ve been led to believe that high acidity is a site characteristic. It’s certainly jarring, and definitely not for everyone…even acid-lovers like myself. With the right food – something higher-acid than the normal syrah fare, perhaps game or a roast with onions or tomatoes in the mix, or why not lamb in a Greek-style avgolemono sauce? – things improve quite a bit. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM. Web: http://www.adonkeyandgoat.com/texier/.
Guigal 2000 Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde (Rhône) – Solid and dependable, showing mild animalistic funk smoothed over by dark, earthy, baritone fruit and a few alto incursions of blackberry residue. Everything is very strictly in place here, and the wine is aging nicely, but one perhaps wishes for a bit more verve, and certainly for a good deal more aromatic enticement. Nitpicking, I know. (8/06)
96% syrah, 4% viognier. Guigal, long a dependable producer of representative wines (aside from their expensive and frequently overwooded luxury cuvées), goes through ups and downs. Lately, they’re on a definite upswing, with qualitative improvements obvious almost across the board. Name the appellation and there’s certainly a “better” example, but the wines are once more steady-handed representatives of their terroir. (Note, though, the usual caveat: be wary of 2002/2003 wines, which are difficult for different reasons.) Closure: cork. Importer: Ex Cellars. Web: http://www.guigal.com/.
Milan Champagne Sec “Grand Cru” Blanc de Blancs “Tendresse” (Champagne) – Lightly sweet melon and yellow raspberry, gently oscillating in a dish of pure, sweet sunlight. There are hints of complexing minerality here, but this is really one of the nicer sweet Champagnes I’ve ever tasted. (8/06)
100% chardonnay. Despite the literal translation of the word, “sec” in terms of Champagne means relatively sweet. Though it’s often-rumored (and occasionally confirmed) that Champagne houses sweeten all their cuvées for the American market – because after all, you’ll never go broke selling sugar to Americans – categories other than brut (dry) and extra-dry (slightly less dry…yeah, yeah, go figure) are exceedingly rare in the States. This is probably because Americans like to think they’re drinking dry, even when they prefer sweet. (If you think about it, this is the same concept behind Starbucks and Trojan eschewing anything labeled “small.”) It’s too bad, too, because I think this wine would be very, very popular in the States, if people would only try it. Closure: cork. Importer: Theise/Skurnik. Web: http://www.champagne-milan.com/.