Monday, April 14, 2014

Domaine de la Tourade Vacqueyras, 2008

I have come to really appreciate off vintages. 1) My favorite wines from these vintages are nearly always available, usually at a lower price than usual. 2) They are more likely to be closed out early by merchants at even deeper discounts. And 3) the cooler weather in these vintages can sometimes result in wines with greater fruit definition, particularly if you open a bottle on the early rather than the late side. All of these advantages hold true for this Domaine de la Tourade Vacqueyras, an excellent wine that usually sells for about $20 that I picked up for $8.10 on closeout.

The color is a bit lighter than usual for Vacqueyras, and the wine is a bit smaller framed. The relatively cool 2008 vintage, though, has given it great fruit definition with none of the flabbiness that I found in a few wines from riper years such as 2007 and 2003. Initial aromas and flavors are of black pepper, then Vacqueyras dark minerals and licorice. Has everything I expect from Vacqueyras and Tourade but very finely tuned as well. Now I get lively bursts of dark cherries, red plums and spice. All nicely framed with a long after taste. I'm going to enjoy this wine frequently over the  next six months or so.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Domaine Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape, 1990

Like the Elke Pinot (below), this wine too seemed disappointing at first. A slight musty smell made me think it might be corked, but there were too many other good things going on for that and it gradually faded away.

Marcoux produced very good Chateauneufs in 1990, and, in that vintage, the regular bottling that came to the United States was almost as good as the old vines cuvee. I've had this wine several times in the past, and I rank it among the very best Chateauneufs I have tasted. It's been several years since I last tried it, though, and, from a 375 ml bottle, I was worried that it might be starting to show its age. If so, there is still plenty of power, concentration...and pleasure to last for many years.

Large crust of sediment on one side of the bottle; it has been well stored with minimal movement. The color is still deep and dark for 24-year-old Chateauneuf du Pape. Dried and fresh cherries, thyme, rosemary. Old vine concentration and personality. 1990 is a superior vintage, of course, and that's why this wine has more strength and substance than the 1993 Pegau

Elke Donnelly Creek Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 1998

For a repeat birthday #75 dinner a week later with our son, I had a chance to try a couple of wines that didn't quite make the cut the first time. These two wines may have been even better than the 1993 Pegau and the 2010 Perbacco.

Even though there was no sign of leaking or ullage, the cork crumbled pretty badly on this 1998 Anderson Valley Pinot. While taking a few small pours to get rid of the cork remnants, I thought it was going to be a disappointing bottle. The color was light and the aromas and flavors were shy. A half hour later, with a full glass pour, the wine was beginning to show beautifully and it continued to improve over the next 40 minutes or so.

Very bright ruby. Dark cherries, flowers on the nose. Same on the palate with cranberry, dark spice and fruit tannins. This is my type of Pinot--savory rather than sweet spices. Very concentrated, and the acidity makes it dance on the finish. No signs of fading; this wine will go on for at least another year or two.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Le Clos du Caillou Vieilles Vignes Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Unique, 1998

When I first saw this wine on the shelf at Sam's (now Binny's) in Chicago, it was priced as a Cotes du Rhone--about $10 a bottle. I tried a bottle first, then quickly went back for more. Apparently, other consumers did the same because the price quickly escalated, and current vintages of this old vine CDR sell for $25 and up. The vineyards lie just outside the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation and have virtually the same soil and micro-climate. North Berkeley Imports sees that the best lots are delivered to them, produced traditionally and without fining or filtering. Even at $25, it is a good value, and this bottle demonstrates that it ages at least as well as most Chateauneufs.

The color is a medium deep crimson. Very traditional Southern  Rhone smells and flavors--dark cherries, thyme, black pepper and, initially, some barnyard. I don't think this is brett; it is much more pleasant and soon becomes integrated with the fruit. It is rather part of the warm, spicy flavor profile of old vine Mourvedre and Carignan. Strong, persistent flavors; savory rather than sweet. This could easily be mistaken for a Bois du Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape--a high compliment indeed.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Domaine du Pegau Cuvee Reservee Chateauneuf du Pape, 1993

Now fully mature, Domaine du Pegau's 1993 Cuvee Reservee is no longer the "powerful, full bodied,...dense, tannic" wine it was when tasted by Robert Parker in June of 1996. A description of the wine today might include terms such as "mellow," "smooth" and "restrained." As with any Pegau, though, the range of aromas and flavors is remarkable.

When poured in small amounts, the wine is actually rather light in color--not at all what I expect from Pegau. The bouquet has some old-vine funkiness along with fresh and  dried fruits and flowers. The nose relatively restrained, however, compared to the array of flavors that dance across the palate. Very lively and intense for a mature wine. And, as to be expected, very long and satisfying.

As Pegau fans know, the Cuvee Reservee ages famously. If you still have bottles of the 1993, I would suggest drinking  rather than keeping. But you'll enjoy every minute.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco, 2010

After giving me a sip to make sure the wine was not corked, the waiter at Rustica in Kalamazoo decanted this wine through an aerator. The next (aerated) taste was significantly better. This wine is definitely young, and I would not hesitate cellaring it for a decade or more. But it is drinking beautifully right now.

Perbacco is my favorite Nebbiolo and, although a bit pricey at about $21 to $25 a bottle, one of the best wine values on the market today. Made from excess grapes from Vietti's Castiglione Vineyard, it is basically a baby Barolo. If it were to carry the Barolo designation that it deserves, it would cost at least twice as much.

At Rustica, Perbacco is an even bigger bargain since the restaurant offers bottled wine at 50 percent off when ordered before 6:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. So this bottle, one of many vinous treats to help celebrate my 75th birthday, cost only $21, a few dollar less than retail.

One thing I love about Nebbiolo wines from the Piedmont region of Italy is their versatility. The high tannins are accompanied by an equally high level of acidity--allowing both power and finesse. Perbacco is a perfect match for my hanger steak with wine reduction sauce; and it also goes well with the fish soup ordered by my wife.

The color is a bright, deep ruby red with saturation all the way to the rim. The trademark Nebbiolo aromas of dark cherries, anise seed and flowers are tantalizingly slow to unfold but always there. The same is true of the flavors. Beautiful acid/tannin/fruit balance. Drinks like a Pinot but with Barolo potential. Still young. Very long finish that will become even longer and more complex as the wine matures with bottle age.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Domaine Grand-Romane Gigondas Cuvee Boisee, 1990

The last time I tried this wine, in 2012, I posted some negative comments. It must have been an off bottle; this one is beautiful.

Good deep color, looks younger than its 24 years. The bouquet is surprisingly reticent but opens slowly with smells of fresh berries and anise seed. Lush on the palate with mellow, ripe fruit. Smells and tastes sweet but in a good way. Seems much younger than the Coudoulet de Beaucastel from the same vintage. It's not as complex as the Coudoulet, but it's by no means a simple wine. Gets better with each glass on the first night but becomes overly alcoholic and Porty on the second night.