Gaillard/Baills “Domaine Madeloc” 2004 Collioure “Cuvée Serral” (Roussillon) – Oaky and simplistic, with well-buttered black fruit and a general lack of verve, sun-baked intensity, dried earth, or character. Why drink Collioure, if all these things are going to be missing? This tastes exactly like an internationalized syrah from the plateau above the Rhône Valley, except that it’s missing the intense fruit. Dismaying. (5/07)
Gaillard/Baills “Domaine Madeloc” 2004 Banyuls “Cirera” (Roussillon) – Unsurprisingly, this is a fairly fruit-forward Banyuls. It shares a generally absent nose with a lot of its counterparts, but makes up for it with a rich, sticky-sweet cherry and milk chocolate palate. The cocoa turns darker on the finish, along with some espresso bean, and things stick around for a while (emphasis on “stick”). It’s a good enough wine, a pretty fair bargain, and much better than so many of the over-oxidized versions cranked out by the area’s cooperatives and touristy cellars, but other producers (Parcé, Rectorie) prove that more complexity is achievable. (3/07)
Parcé Frères “Domaine de La Rectorie” 2005 Collioure Rosé “La Goudie” (Roussillon) – Cranky at uncorking, but eventually all the beautiful qualities emerge: very ripe red cherries and strawberry-infused vinegar, tarragon and lavender, a dry, stony foundation with spikes and points, and a balanced, pure finish that imposes upon the palate. This is rosé as ambitious red wine, and it works. It’s not light by any means, but rather a serious, complex transcendence of the form. (2/07)
La Préceptorie “Les Terres Nouvelles” 2005 Côtes du Roussillon Blanc “écrits de lumière” (Roussillon) – Silky, sun-drenched melon with a seductive, almost dancing texture, grey-white earth and a lovely, feminine balance. This wine is content to be a pleasant background, but is fully capable of being the center of attention as well. Really, really good. (2/07)
Piquemal 2004 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes “Pierre Cuvée Audonnet” (Roussillon) – Concentrated blueberry and blackberry with dark, smoky leather and good, sun-baked weight. Nothing is out of balance, though it’s certainly a big wine…simple and unpretentious, but successful in its aims. And for well under $10, this is an excellent value. (1/07)
Piquemal 2004 Côtes du Roussillon (Roussillon) – A bit on the sour/soupy side, with vegetal, slightly charred red fruit and an unpleasant midpalate. Things improve on the finish, with good balance to the fore, but by then it’s just too late. (1/07)
Bantlin “Domaine Les Portes” 2004 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Muscat Sec “fin de la nuit” (Roussillon) – Faded flowers and dried fruit fading into an oxidative summer sunset. Yet there’s something intriguing about this wine, which keeps enticing me back for sip after sip, until the liquid’s gone. How’d that happen? (9/06)
Sauzet 1998 Saint-Romain (Burgundy) – Sweet-sour grapefruit with a bit of sweaty acridity, good but slightly disjointed crispness, and a light sheen of mature butter. It gains some crisp, citrusy spice with extended aeration. A pretty good, light, lower-tier white Burgundy at full maturity. (9/06)
d’Angerville 1994 Volnay (Burgundy) – Harshly tannic at first, but this slowly fades, giving way to a nice mélange of well-aged red fruit and crumbled autumn leaves fallen on a mossy ground, with the morning’s frost rising as steam from wet, aromatic earth. This is a really lovely wine, but it requires time to present itself. (9/06)
Trimbach 1989 Gewurztraminer “Sélection des Grains Nobles” (Alsace) – From 375 ml. Not even close to ready, with lychee and peach fruit only mildly spiced (though heavily sweetened), and showing almost none of the expected meat-like characteristics that come with aged versions of this grape. A dining companion notes an emergent bitterness, which is typical for late-harvested gewurztraminer; he dislikes it, while I find it a necessary balancing element in the wine’s sugar-dominated structure. Way, way too young, but potentially very nice. However, if you’re insistent on opening something, the ’89 VT is drinking much better right now. (9/06)
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/.
Notes from a few days in Montréal and Vermont:
Dard & Ribo 2004 St-Joseph (Rhône) – Exciting and complex, if fairly primary, showing grilled blackberry residue, pure essence of nighttime blueberry, and the essential Northern Rhône “meat liqueur” character, all layered over rich, dark black earth dusted with urfa pepper. The acidity is shockingly vivid. Outstanding. (8/06)
St-Joseph is becoming like Cornas: a appellation almost forgotten outside of the work of a very few committed producers. These 100% syrahs lack the masculinity of Hermitage and the Burgundian elegance of Côte-Rôtie, but replace them with more upfront fruit and a generous texture. Plus, they’re cheaper than both. This should be a recipe for export success, shouldn’t it? Closure: cork.
Foillard 2004 Morgon Côte du Py (Beaujolais) – Perfectly ripe berries bursting from their skins, showering fresh tarragon and light grey graphite with beautifully enticing juice. It’s light and flirty as an apéritif, more serious and substantial with food, and effortlessly moves between the two states. This is the kind of wine that makes you want to roll around in the grass and giggle. (8/06)
Gamay is not often an ageable grape, except over the very short term, but from a few select terroirs the story changes. Morgon Côte du Py is one such terroir. But unlike some other ageable Beaujolais terroirs, like Moulin-à-Vent, the solidity and structure is not immediately evident. Morgon Côte du Py bridges the gap between the pure aromatic delight of other Beaujolais and the deceptively firm construction necessary to support the wine’s future development. Closure: cork.
Cazes 1991 Rivesaltes “Ambré” (Roussillon) – Old sugar, caramelized and spicy with moderate oxidative notes and a crisp, apple-skin bite sharpened by walnut oil. It’s not particularly complex, but it’s quite delicious. (8/06)
Rivesaltes of this form is a vin doux naturel, which means high-sugar grapes have their fermentation blocked by the addition of alcohol, thus fortifying the wine and leaving it with a good deal of residual sugar. This method is more familiar when used to make Port, but it’s done all over the winemaking world, and is very common around the Mediterranean. Fortified muscat is the best known form of this wine, but this particular bottling happens to be made from grenache blanc. And finally, these wines are typically consumed young…but as this wine shows, given the right conditions they can age quite well. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.cazes-rivesaltes.com/.
Serge Dagueneau 2004 Pouilly-Fumé “Les Pentes” (Loire) – Light, pale schist and dust through a gauzy filter, with faint grass and green apple notes. A very indistinct wine that tastes completely stripped. (8/06)
100% sauvignon blanc, with none of the allegedly-signature “gunflint” promised by the appellation, and every evidence that the wine has been excessively filtered. Pouilly-Fumé doesn’t have an excessive number of high-quality proponents, but I’ve had much better from this domaine in the past. Web: http://www.s-dagueneau-filles.fr/.
Cazes “Chateau Les Ormes de Pez” 1996 Saint-Estèphe (Bordeaux) – Almost as pure an expression of the classic Bordeaux descriptor “cigar box” as one will ever experience. And “almost” because the other major aromatic impression is of sticky waves of butterscotch-tinged oak. There’s a really beautiful wine lurking in here, but the wood – at least at this stage – is doing its best to bury it. A shame, really, but maybe time will heal this wound. (8/06)
A cabernet sauvignon-dominated blend (with merlot and cabernet franc playing supporting roles). As for the oak…unfortunately, that horse left the barn a long time ago, and it’s probably too late to coax it back in. How Bordeaux is improved by being made to taste more like anonymous New World cabernet I can’t imagine. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.ormesdepez.com/.
Everett Ridge 1999 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) – Massive blackberry and boysenberry fruit bordering on concentrate, with jammy inclinations only slightly mitigated by a nice dose of ground black pepper. A one-note wine…though it’s a tasty note. (8/06)
Zinfandel is capable of aging, certainly (though a significant number of the most ageable are not 100% zinfandel at all), but – especially these days – two destines are more likely. The first is excessive alcohol dominating all else, which is the fate of some of the more overdriven and overripe versions (though high alcohol at bottling is not a 100% reliable indicator). The second is where we find this wine: ever-more concentrated fruit, moving from on-the-vine, to jam, to syrup. (More coverage of Everett Ridge can be found here.) Closure: cork. Web: http://www.everettridge.com/.
Isabel 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Slightly heat-damaged by the external evidence, and the wine bears this out: the intense aromatics and green-tinged edges are gone, replaced by a creamy, pear-dominated wine that’s primarily about its texture. Sourced from the New Hampshire state liquor system, which has a long and dedicated history of baking their product. (8/06)
The state of this wine is a shame, because Isabel – while it has gone through peaks and valleys – makes a sauvignon blanc that does not ape the popular tropical fruit salsa (complete with hot pepper) style, but rather exercises restraint in the pursuit of structure. Also, their sauvignon blancs are much drier than most of what’s commercially available these days. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.isabelestate.com/.