Vergelegen 2004 “Mill Race” Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Stellenbosch) – Classic cabernet peppers, leaves, cedar, and ground-up pencil. There’s a bit of oak soup on the long finish, though. Nicely structured, clean, and promising. (2/08)
Le Riche 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Stellenbosch) – Concentrated and round, showing plum, blueberry, and some herbality. Eucalyptus is also present. Long and dense, especially on the finish. Nicely formed, with good aging potential. (2/08)
Bellevue Estate “Tumara” 2002 “Titan” (Stellenbosch) – Chocolate, bitter leaves, black dirt, and endless green lines. No good. (2/08)
Bellevue Estate “Tumara” 2004 Pinotage (Stellenbosch) – Chocolate, big fruit, smoked chocolate, and thick, sludgy structure. OK, if you like tar. (2/08)
Neil Ellis 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Stellenbosch) – Unmistakably cabernet, with tobacco, bell pepper, cedar, and a lot of militaristic structure. But nothing is overblown or overdone, the oak has almost totally integrated, and there’s a great deal of promise here…though despisers of all that is green probably won’t be impressed. It’s not a generous wine by any means, and the finish continues to dash and dust various forms of pepper, but it’s a very creditable effort, with medium-term aging likely to bring rewards. (4/08)
Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. These were difficult tasting conditions, where speed and distraction were the norm rather than the exception. Thus, notes are brief at best, somewhat superficial, and cannot in truth be otherwise.
Louisvale 2006 “Unwooded” Chardonnay (Western Cape) – Clean apple, clementine and tangerine. Decent. (2/07)
Avondale 2006 Chenin Blanc (Paarl) – Concentrated red cherry, blood orange with slightly noticeable residual sugar. Quite intense, with good acidity. Flavorful New World-style chenin. (2/07)
Springfontein 2006 Chenin Blanc (Walker Bay) – Green peach and white linen. Simple and soft. (2/07)
BWC 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Gooseberry and thyme with a grassy undertone. Simple, fair. (2/07)
Avondale 2006 Rosé (Coastal) – Clean strawberry & raspberry leaves. Simple & fun. (2/07)
Amira 2004 Syrah (Coastal) – Bitter blueberry, dirt, and stems. No good. (2/07)
Vriesenhof 2003 “Enthopio” (Stellenbosch) – Rich, roasted frut and burnt soil with spice and crispness. Mostly pinotage. Both good and interesting. (2/07)
Morgenster 2001 (Stellenbosch) – Chocolate, cappuccino, black cherry, blackberry, and soft greenness. Low-tier potential at best, but it’s probably at its best now. It’s unquestionably better after a few hours of air. (2/07)
Muratie 2003 Shiraz (Stellenbosch) – Cassis, black cherry and strawberry. A big-fruited, simple-minded wine. (2/07)
Springfontein 2005 Pinotage (Walker Bay) – Red cherry and raspberry with pine tar and a great acidic tingle. Ripe and quite good. (2/07)
Springfontein 2005 “Estate Reserve” (Walker Bay) – Herbs (mostly thyme), underripe but boisterous fruit, light tannin, and a soupy texture. Bleah. (2/07)
Springfontein 2005 “Ulumbaza” Shiraz (Walker Bay) – Big blueberry fruit, light spice, mild tannin and good acid. Everything’s front-loaded here, but it’s good in that idiom. (2/07)
Avondale 2006 Cabernet Franc (Paarl) – Rosemary, rough black earth, blueberry and pointy acidity. Eh. (2/07)
Avondale 2006 Pinotage (Paarl) – Soft, with big strawberry, apple, and medium-ripe plum with some tannin on the finish. Moderately OK. (2/07)
Morgenster 2001 (Stellenbosch) – I didn’t forget to type an identifier here…the wine just doesn’t actually have a “name” by the usual standards. It’s a Bordeaux-style blend, showing spiced mushrooms, nuts, and juicy/spicy blackberry froth. Good, though 2nd and 3rd-day tastes show rapid decline (and to be fair, the wine had been open for many hours before the first taste). A solid effort, but I don’t know that I’d risk aging it. The signs of New World obviousness abound, and those are the sorts of wines that last rather than age. (2/07)
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/.
Trimbach 2001 Gewurztraminer (Alsace) – Light on the lychee, showing more peach and apricot with firm acidity. If a “deft” Alsatian gewurztraminer is even possible, this is a candidate. But one might wish for a little more intensity…which it has shown in the past. A bit closed, then. (8/06)
Most gewurztraminer is made in a huge, upfront style and never really shuts down or ages in any useful way. The really sweet stuff – represented by the vendange tardive and sélection des grains nobles designation in Alsace – often lasts more than it ages. But occasionally, one finds a gewurztraminer with the structure and balance to age…which it does by developing its bacon fat and spice characteristics. I’m not sure this is a long-term ager, but it should be better in a few years. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Diageo Web: http://www.maison-trimbach.fr/.
Kanu 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Fruity, semi-zippy and light, with an intensely green-fruited character feathered by grass. It’s fairly monotone, but it’s a nice enough quaff. (8/06)
95% sauvignon blanc, 5% chenin blanc. Sauvignon is a very insistent grape; it tastes what it tastes like, and only the most remarkable terroir or winemaking can wrench it from this varietal consistency. Since most sauvignon blancs are fairly identical, the question is: what is one willing to pay for that flavor profile? The Kanu is a fairly good value, but no better than certain mass-market New Zealand sauvignons. If it and other South African versions are going to compete on the marketplace, they’ll have to find something interesting to say. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Cape Classics. Web: http://www.kanu.co.za/.
La Puerta 2005 Torrontes (Famatina Valley) – A mélange of fruit flowers and meadow-derived perfumes, with a sticky and somewhat heavy texture. Lightly off-dry. More fun to smell than to drink. (8/06)
A fairly new winery, producing in a dramatically beautiful valley. Torrontes is the Argentine analogue to muscat, in that its principal quality is its heady aromatic presence. But, like muscat, what it also needs is freshening acidity and an eye towards lightness, something this wine doesn’t quite achieve. Alcohol: 13.3%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Ecosur. Web: http://www.valledelapuerta.com/.
Fèlsina “Berardenga” 2000 Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany) – Sweet wild cherries and wind-blown organic soil, lightening and then firming up again on the finish to show structure and balance. Not everything is in sync – the fruit is a little too forward, the tannin is a little too hard – but it’s a worthy and expressive wine. (8/06)
100% sangiovese, done as traditionally as one can expect these days, from old vines. It’s almost remarkable that a producer as solid as Fèlsina gets such wide distribution, and sells for such reasonable prices. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Domaine Select. Web: http://www.felsina.it/.
Kanu 2004 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Softly enticing, with hints of chalk dusting subdued pineapple, apricot and Meyer lemon flavors. A lovely, simple summer sipper. Just a bit off-dry, but it comes off as more of a softening element, rather than actual sweetness. (6/06)
This is the point where wine writers inevitably say something like “chenin blanc is traditionally known as ‘steen’ in South Africa.” Well, it’s not untrue, but in reality almost no one actually calls it that anymore. Why do we keep repeating this cliché? Inertia, most likely. Anyway, there’s a teensy bit of chardonnay in this wine, but not enough to notice. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Cape Classics. Web: http://www.kanu.co.za/.
Easton 2004 Zinfandel (Amador County) – A hefty lumberjack of a wine (not to suggest overwooding, though wood is definitely present), showing thick and somewhat feral dark fruit lightened by sticky red cherries and then counter-weighted with a dense, intensely “winy” texture. Nice, and a good value, but not for the faint of heart. (6/06)
Winemaker Bill Easton is a great guy, I’ve played golf with him, and I like both him and his wines a lot…but when he calls this “cru Beaujolais-styled” (as he does on his web site), I have to wonder if he’s been in Amador – where the wines are men and the sheep are nervous – a little too long. Beaujolais on anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and a ten year weight training regimen, maybe. In any case, this retains classic wild-vine Amador character without the rough edges exhibited by so many other wineries in the region; the tradeoffs are a little less fiery exuberance and a little more slickness, but that’s a fair price to pay. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.terrerougewines.com/.
Tohu 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Second note, same as the first. (Does anyone remember Herman’s Hermits?) (6/06)
Ditto the write-up. This is a remarkably consistent wine. The screwcap undoubtedly helps that: a reliable wine presented exactly the way the winemaker intended, without all the inevitable cork-induced variability. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Davies & Co. Web: http://www.tohuwines.co.nz/.
Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2003 “Big House Red” (California) – And again with the reliability. This is a good wine that’s just not worth extensive re-notation, especially when all the notes start to read the same. (6/06)
This would make a good “house wine,” especially for the budget-conscious, but one of its strengths is that it’s just a little bit better than that. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: screwcap. Web: http://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/.