Saturday, April 18, 2015

Nerello del Bastardo Vino da Tavola Rosso, 2000; Gigi Rosso I tre Merli Barbaresco, 1999

This has always been one of my favorite wines from Trader Joe's, selling for $6 to $8 over the past 10 or 15 years. In the early days, the label hinted that the wine was declassified Barolo and Barbaresco, and the Nebbiolo traits were clearly apparent to me. Piedmont Nebbiolo for less than $10 a bottle? I was so impressed by the 1999 that I bought a case to see how it would age, then followed by buying a half case of the 2000. My buying slowed after that time, and bottles of recent vintages--now sold at World Market as well as Trader's Joe's--seem to be blends of other grapes such as Sangiovese, Cabernet and Montepulciano and not as interesting.

The 2000 Nerello tonight is showing well. The dark but orangish color clearly confirms that it is mostly, if not completely, Nebbiolo. And the trademark smells and flavors are there too--dark cherries, rose petals and dark licorice tones. For me, that combination is irresistible. Full bodied on the palate with lively acidity and some still firm tannins. The sweet fruit flows freely, though. Hedonistic is the term Robert Parker might use to describe this wine.

My experiment in aging was both successful and not so successful. The wine is well preserved. The orangish color is what you should expect from Piedmont Nebbiolo, and the aromas and flavors are well preserved. I still have a few bottles of both the 1999 and 2000, and I will be in no hurry to drink them. On the other hand, the wine has not changed appreciably from its early days, and I don't find any developing complexity or intensity. By comparison, for Easter dinner, I had a 1999 Barbaresco from Gigi Rosso--good vintage, good producer. By all appearances, this Barbaresco was much further along on its aging curve--lighter in color, more resolved tannins, more autumnal dried fruit smells and flavors. But the concentration, intensity and mystery of a great wine were there, and the acidity tells me this Barbaresco will only get better over the coming decade and more. I don't think the Nerello will ever come close.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chateau Grand Traverse CGT Old Mission Peninsula Ship of Fools, 2009

When tasting at Chateau Grand Traverse, Ship of Fools is always among my favorites and I put away a bottle or two from every vintage to see how well the wine ages. It is a blend of 50% Pinot Blanc, 40% Pinot Gris, and 10% Pinot Noir--the latter for "bouquet and ageability," according to the label.

Generally, I like how this wine has developed, although I am not sure I want to age it any longer. Rather deep color for a six-year-old wine. Complex nose--the brisk acidity of Pinot Blanc plus some lovely funky notes of Pinot Noir. The bouquet gets better as it warms and airs. Full bodied for a white wine with a level of sweetness that pleases me.

Kahlkahl Pamies Loriza Minervois, 2011

The Languedoc is France's largest wine growing region, and production from that appellation is three times that of Bordeaux and more than all of Australia. With such a huge supply and not much knowledge to drive demand, prices have until recently been outrageously low. For several years, I have been able to buy well chosen bottles of Minervois from Village Corner in Ann Arbor and D&W Markets in southwest Michigan--often for $3 a bottle or less. I have no problem with the recent increase in prices; these wines are worth exploring. But I have been spoiled, and when Jon Rimmerman of Garagiste raved about this wine and offered it for $16.79, I was expecting something amazing. In fact, it is in line with other Minervois wines I have had--incredibly good for $3 or even $10 but somewhat pedestrian for $16.79.

Very dark color but no other sign of new oak or barriques. Plums, berries, spice and peppercorn on the finish. Sturdy and full bodied with a rich mouthfeel. I suspect the alcohol level is somewhat high, but the label provides only a ball park figure: 11 to 14%.

Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux, 2011

Ventoux has been one of my favorite appellations for many years, and my love for these wines is based not only from the wonderful fruit-driven smells and flavors but also the outrageous values these wines offer. The Perrins La Vieille Ferme is an excellent wine year after year--a wine that you can enjoy with pizza or rack of lamb. And you can usually buy it for $5 to $7 a bottle. Other favorites include Font-Sane's Vieilles Vignes, Altitude 500 and Cuvee des Trois Messes Basses--all selling for less than $10. The latter two are cooperative wines, but there is nothing wrong with that; the coop has the technology and the equipment needed to do justice to grapes coming from what I consider a very fine appellation.

Pesquie's Terrasses is another very good Ventoux that has been marketed much more effectively than the above wines and, as a result, sells for two or three times as much. I buy it when I see it at special pricing. As for this 2011, I liked it better a year or two ago, but it is still a very enjoyable wine. Blueberries, plums and spice with a pleasing black pepper finish.

At the excellent Blackbird restaurant in Chicago, I recently had the chance to try another "premium" Ventoux--Philippe Gimel's St. Jean du Barroux. It sells for upwards of $25 a bottle, and, for that premium, you get a wine that is smoother and more elegant on the palate but decidedly more international and modern in its aroma and flavor profile.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula: Home of Fine Riesling

After a two-day visit to Old Mission Peninsula (near Traverse City, MI) with the Kalamazoo Tasters' Guild, I am convinced (once again) that this is a special place for Riesling. Many other wines are produced--Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Grigio, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc--and I tasted many good examples of each. My favorites by far, though, were the Rieslings. The top three, for my taste, were: Chateau Grand Traverse Lot 49 Riesling, Chateau Grand Traverse Whole Cluster Riesling and Left Foot Charley Seven Hills Vineyard Riesling.

All three are dry but with great acidity from the cool climate of this finger of land that juts out into Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan. All three have textures that tickle and tease the palate. All were under $20. Googling these wines back home, I discovered that two British wine writers, Jancis Robinson and Stuart Piggot, share my enthusiasm for the two Chateau Grand Traverse wines. Robinson said the Lot 49 Riesling was by far the best of a lot of several hundred Rieslings from around the world that she was asked to judge.

I'll write more later about the wines I tasted on Old Mission. For now, what I can say is that if you live in or near Michigan and haven't put some Old Mission Rieslings in your cellar, you are missing an excellent opportunity.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, 1988

Paul Jaboulet's Domaine de Thalabert was my favorite wine during the 1980s, and the wines have held up very well. I had the 1985 last December, and it was drinking beautifully. I haven't had the 1982 or 1983 for awhile, but I have confidence they are still going strong. Online reviews on Cellar Tracker continue to be good. Some say that this 1988 might be the best of the bunch, but I still lean toward 1983.

The color is lighter than the 1985, and it is generally more elegant. Beautiful mature Syrah bouquet of bacon, red berries, cassis and herbs. Same on the palate. Red fruits, meat. Concentrated but very smooth and dances lightly on the tongue. Leaner and more herbal than the 1985. Also livelier. Very lively for a 27-year-old Crozes-Hermitage. Very long finish. Glad I have more of this wine.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Hess Select Monterrey County Chardonnay, 2012

If you like your Chardonnays with a strong tropical fruit presence, Monterrey County is the appellation you want, and there are many low- to medium-priced wines from Monterey. Hess Select, $8.99 at Costco, is a prime example.

Pineapple is sweet but pleasantly tart. Add a few twists of lemon and/or lime, and you have a refreshing glass of Chardonnay. It's a bit too dramatic for some tasters, and not very subtle, but that's what I want when I open a bottle of Monterrey Chardonnay. You can find many of the same qualities from Estancia and J. Lohr Riverside. Chalone, a premium estate, also produces a modestly price Monterrey cuvee ($12 to $15). For the most part, these tropical fruit traits do not come from winemaker manipulation but from the Monterrey climate, with warm sun and cool ocean breezes.