Thursday, December 29, 2005

2002 Caymus Connundrum (white)

A very distinctive and fun white. Intense nose of lychee, honeysuckle, and custard. Though the label doesn't say, I'm betting there's some Viognier, Moscato, and Chardonnay in the blend. Maybe even some Gewurztraminer. Soft, round, and medium-bodied in the mouth, with persistent flavors of ripe grapes, minerals, and flowers. Not completely dry, but close. Very nice and memorable. 91. This was a gift from Christmas 2004, so I don't know what it cost.

2003 Domaine St. Antoine Costieres de Nimes Rosé

Fairly dark color for a rosé. Sweet, ripe watermeolon, grape scents, with hints of tomato skin and steely minerals. Very round and soft in the mouth, with low-ish acidity -- yet still fresh tasting. Very flavorful, softer style of rosé. 87. (And drink up, as this is going to start downhil soon). About $9 at Richard's on San Felipe.

This is yet another of the rosés from the south of France imported by Robert Kacher. He must bring in at least a half dozen of them, and they are always among the best rosés of the given vintage.

2004 Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy Sancerre "Les Coutes" (Loire, France)

Outstanding Sauvignon Blanc from the chalky soil of the upper Loire. Pale gold/straw color with greenish glints. Gorgeous (and textbook) nose of flowers, citrus, grapes and chalky minerals. Even a peachy-appley component is there. In truth, the nose immediately transported me to France (I drank a lot of Sancerre, both white and red, in Paris in '85). None of the overly-herbal, grassy or even "cat pee" scents that some folks mistakenly think Sancerre is supposed to have. Only unripe Sancerre has that sort of funky stuff going on.

In the mouth, bright, vibrant appley-mineral flavors prevail, with lemons and steely minerals on the finish. Dry as a bone, yet round and soft in the mouth. In short, ripeness, concentration, and balance are all present. Superb. 91. Was $19.99 at Spec's Warehouse on Smith.

PS -- How many Sancerre wine families are named Reverdy? Must be at least a dozen.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

2003 Chateau St. Jean Sonoma County Fume Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc)

This is ALWAYS one of the best buys in a complex, balanced, drinkable white in the marketplace. I'll have to describe this one from memory, since my notes on this vanished -- a rare occurrence in my orderly, uncluttered house. . . . NOT.

Chateau St. Jean always gets the oak quality and oak level just right on this wine, year after year. Gorgeous grapey-lanolin nose with bright floral scents and beautifully integrated, subtle high quality toastiness from the barrel aging. Powerful flavors of grapes, honeydew melon, toast and earth. Long finish. In addition to its wide availability, this wine is frequently available at substantial discounts. I got mine a couple of weeks ago at Randall's on Weslayan for $8.99. A steal and a half. 90.

2002 Louis Jadot Rully (White Burgundy)

Blech. Mercifully weak nose of oxidation, acetone, and a vague whiff of chemical infused pears. Flavors not quite as bad, with more pears, but still not pleasurable. Something wrong with this puppy. Can't tell if it was poorly-stored or poorly-made. Either way, 15 bucks down the drain. 55.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Mayo Family Winery 2001 Ricci Vineyard Zinfandel Port (Russian River Valley)

Interesting, but a disappointment. Straightforward, ripe, simple stewed raspberries and earth on the nose. Fleshy and sweet, but lighter and simpler in the mouth than I had hoped. Eh. 76.

2004 Cousino-Macul Riesling "Dona Isadora" (Maipo Valley, Chile)

87. I like this one a lot. It's a really good value in an Alsace-style Riesling. Intense nose of earthy-minerally scents, limes, and green apple. Really nice persistence in the mouth. In the crisp, dry style, this would be great with shellfish or shrimp. About $9 a bottle at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

1998 Gary Farrell Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

My bud Robert brought this over for dinner last night, and it was a real refresher course in Zinfandel's aging curve. Deep color, with a tad of lightening at the rim. Not identifiable as a Zinfandel. If I were to have been served this blind, I would have guessed it was a mature Barbaresco. Intensely winey, leathery nose, with some fruit hanging in there underneath, but not the spicy raspberries that mark a young Zin. After a bit of air, notes of menthol and maple syrup emerged. Very long in the mouth. Zin really changes its character quickly after 2 or 3 years in the bottle. I have to say, I am partial to the young ones, however.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Lolonis "Ladybug Red" Old Vines Cuvee V (Redwood Valley, California)

88. A blend of Mendocino County Zinfandel, Carignane, Merlot, and Cabernet. The Zin and Carignane take the starring roles, however. Rich nose of raspberries, plums, and sweet cream. Ripe, soft, fleshy fruit in the mouth. Full, balanced, lingering finish. Gutsy and smooth, if not very complex. Perfect with pasta with meat and/or tomato sauces, or braised meat dishes. Organically grown, to boot. $12.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire -- a very good value.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Two More Wines from Mom & Dad's Visit

All of the wines from back on November 17 are from Mom & Dad's visit. That explains why I've gotten into some of the "non-cheapies" in my wine closet. These will be the last two from the visit, and then it's back to more reasonably priced fare.

2002 St. Clement Carneros Chardonnay -- This was a really good California Chardonnay, and I'm not that big a fan of California Chardonnay anymore. It had a nice, lightly toasty, smoky nose with lots of ripe apply-pear scents. No cheap oak, cloying butterscotchy-ness. Huge body (15.4% alc.!), but nicely balanced and still fresh. Got it at Richard's on San Felipe about 9 months ago. Can't remember the price.

Three Rivers Winery "Biscuit Ridge Vineyard" Late Harvest Gewurztraminer (Walla Walla Valley, Washington) -- A moderately priced, light bodied, soft dessert wine, with nice, if not inspiring Gewurztraminer character. Auslese style. Very pleasant, but not very complex or deep. About $14 a half bottle at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

1999 Marziano Abbona Barolo "Pressenda"

THIS is old style Barolo. Black ruby color -- no sign of age. Very closed, tight nose. With significant decanter time, however, austere, tight, earthy baker's chocolate aromas reluctantly emerge, with minerally black fruits and prunes underneath. Long, austere, tannic, and very full-bodied. This wine was WAY too young. It needed at least another 5 years to open up and soften. This is truly an old-style, ageworthy Barolo. 89+. I ordered this from Zachy's in NY about a year and a half ago (Good Barolos are hard to find in Houston, for some reason; and other Piemonte wines as well). I think it was around $36.

2003 Dashe Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

Classic Dry Creek Valley Zin aromas of sweet, spiced, oozing raspberries and powdery crushed stones. Dense, balanced, rich flavors of raspberry syrup, fragrant briar-forest scents, and minerals. Absolutely prototypical. I just love Zin. 90. Got it at Spec's Warehouse on Smith. Can't remember the price, but I think it was between $20-25.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

2003 Allegrini Valpolicella Classico

Intense but simple nose of crunchy cherries and almond extract. Angular and vibrant in the mouth. Needs lots of exposure to air to calm down. Not bad, but not my style of Valpo. 84. About $10 or $11, I think, at Spec's (all stores).

2001 Patric LeSec Cotes du Rhone "Baumes" (red)

My last bottle of this superb value. Medium ruby color, tending toward brick at the edges. Big, juicy, earthy fragrances of peaches, plum juice, lemon, soy sauce, and roast pork. Rich, ripe plum & spicy raspberry fruit and earth flavors, with a hint of iodine. Silky textured and long in the mouth. Not particularly full-bodied, but very flavorful and complex. 90. Was about $12 at Spec's (on Holcombe and on Westheimer).

2002 Salomon Pfaffenberg Riesling (Austria)

Interesting greenish-pewtery gold color. Fascinating nose of limes, minerals, and Alsace Riesling-like "gout de petrol." Fresh, bright, citrusy/minerally flavors. Like a dry, austere style Alsace Riesling, but lighter in body and with higher acidity, like a German Mosel. Would be stunning with shellfish or shrimp. 87. About $15 at Spec's on Westheimer.

1999 Quilceda Creek "Red Table Wine" (Columbia Valley, Washington State)

This a Bordeaux-style Cabernet/Merlot/etc. blend. Great nose, although shy at first, of graphite/charcoal, oozingly sweet raspberry jam and blackberries, and spiced sweet cream. Flavors are nice, but don't quite meet the promise of the nose, with rich, full-bodied, smoky, peppery black fruit and scorched earth flavors. Long finish. 88. Bought this a year or two ago at Richard's on San Felipe. Don't remember the price, but it wasn't cheap.

1982 Chateau Leoville-Barton (St. Julien, Bordeaux)

Aarrgghh. Corked! And it was my last bottle, dammit.

2003 Josef Schmid Gruner Veltliner "Alte Reben Priorissa" (Kremstal, Austria)

Dad and Mom bought this in Austria on the recommendation of a Viennese wine shop owner. Grapefruit and green apple nose, with hints of sweet cream. Soft, alomost oily texture in the mouth, with contrasting flavors of ripe pears and peppery minerals. Clean, crisp, but hot finish. Maybe too angular as an aperitif wine (which is how we drank it) but I think it would shine with some shrimp or shellfish. 87.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

2002 Ridge "Geyserville" (Alexander Valley Zinfandel)

A really fine, but atypical Geyserville. Tastes more like an old style fully-extracted Napa Valley cabernet or a new style Amarone than an Alexander Valley Zin. Black ruby/violet color. Unbelievable but non-traditional nose of sweet graphite, prunes, blueberries, chokecherry brandy and scorched earth. Rich, tannic mouthfeel, with inky, Amarone-style fruit. Long, rich finish. Wow! 92. $22.50 at Spec's Warehouse on Smith. Would be amazing with a mesquite-grilled Porterhouse.

2003 Tenuta Barche Soave "Marcato"

A wine about to flame out, living dangerously. Very evolved brassy copper/gold color. Looks oxidized, but doesn't taste as old as it looks. Intense nose of almond paste and pear extract, with a hint of oxidation in the background. Intense almond paste/lemon/apple flavors. Decent finish. DRINK IT YESTERDAY! Obviously the intense heat of the 2003 European summer has resulted in the precarious structure of this wine. 84. $9.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

2001 Quivira "Dry Creek Cuvée" (red)

Very nice Rhone style red from Sonoma County. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Zinfandel. Slightly evolved color -- dark ruby with some brick at the edges. Nose of sweet earthy, foresty, "garrigue" scents, with spicy plum juice and sweet creamy pastries. Rich flavors of earthy-licorice and inky blackberry essence, with a piney component in the background. Soft mouthfeel and long finish. Very nice and at its peak. 88. I've had this for quite a while. I vaguely remember getting it at Spec's on Westheimer a couple of years ago for about $13.

2000 Domaine du Pavillon-Mercurol Crozes-Hermitage (red)

A very classy red. Wonderful nose of earthy, licorice, Portuguese sausage, and spicy blueberries. Medium-bodied, intensely fruity flavors, good acidity (not noticeable but helping to provide a nice light mouthfeel). Long, fruity finish. Would go well with a wide range of dishes. One of the best Crozes-Hermitages I've ever had. 89. I think I paid around $14 or $15 at Richard's on San Felipe for this.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

2003 Hartford Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Intense nose of sappy cherries, cranberries, and cola syrup. Rich, intense, broad flavors, but a tad bitterish around the edges -- maybe trying to get too much out of the grapes. Long, intense cherry cough syrup and earthy/iodine finish. Lots of character, but lacking a bit of elegance. 88. I think I paid about $22 at Whole Foods on Bellaire a while back.

2002 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett

Beautiful crystal green-gold color. Reticent nose -- ripe apples, grapes, pear and custard. Intense, vibrant grape-appley fruit, with lively, buoyant acidity. A really intense but light-footed Riesling from the Mosel. Long finish of fruit and custard. Only drawback is some significant SO2. 88. $16.99 at Spec's Warehouse.

2004 Parker Station Central Coast Pinot Noir

Somewhat reticent nose of cherries and piney-eucalyptus scents. Austere, somewhat astringent flavors, with Pinot fruit underneath but sharp astringency taking the lead. The flavors almost make you want to sneeze. Interesting, but not particularly pleasurable. 80. $12.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Cost Plus World Marketplace: Off My List

This store--located on Richmond adjacent to Best Buy near the Loop--used to be one of my favorite places for wine bargain hunting. NO MORE.

Two primary reasons. First, and foremost, they've actually INCREASED their prices on many wines simply sitting on the shelf. What could possibly be the reason for doing that?? It's one thing if you re-order and your cost has gone up. It's entirely another to simply put a new sticker on an existing wine raising the price 20%. That ticks me off.

Second, the store has gotten much more commercial in its wine selections. My sense is that there are fewer and fewer off-the-beaten-path bargains, and more of the same stuff you see in Randall's or Krogers.

So, I'm crossing this store off my list. If I'm there for other things, I may look at the wine, but no more trips there just to check out the vino.

UPDATE (11/18): Roberto, in response to your comment: Cost Plus's pricing is, in my view, now higher than Spec's almost across the board.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

2001 Chateau de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône

This wine is a sentimental favorite. On my wife Liz's and my first date (in March 1987), I made dinner for her--grilled lamb chops (grilled on my fire escape), green beans with tomatoes, onion, and basil, and rice. The wine was a 1983 Chateau de Fonsalette. So each year, either on our wedding anniversary or the anniversary of the first date, we make this dinner and try to have a bottle of Fonsalette if we can find it.

To my taste, it's always been one of the top Cotes du Rhones most vintages, with flavors, texture, and complexity that surpasses most Chateauneuf du Papes (Fonsalette is made by the same family that makes the elite Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape.) But it's expensive and hard to find.

The 2001 was dee-licious! Medium ruby colored with a touch of brick. An amazing nose of sweet cream ice cream, fresh-squeezed ripe plum juice, and fragrant cedar-tobacco scents. (As I wrote in an earlier post, the nose was much more animated when sniffed outside on the porch rather than inside the house.) Not weighty or particularly full-bodied, but concentrated fruit and hints of iodine and lightly-bitter minerals in the mouth. Very rich, lengthy finish.

A very complex Cotes du Rhone. 90. I got this shipped in from Zachys (in NY) a year or two ago. Can't remember what I paid, but I'm sure it was at least in the $30-40 range.

2003 Thorn-Clarke Terra Barossa Shiraz (Australia)

A medium bodied Shiraz emphasizing baker's chocolatey and woody aromas and flavors over fruit. Hint of eucalyptus as well. Not very complex; lacking the concentration of fruit I want in an Aussie Shiraz. A little chalky-textured in the mouth too. All this seems to add up to an overcropped vineyard, thinning the wine a bit, and a winemaker who tried to compensate by overextracting the grapes. 83. Was about $15 at Whole Foods on Bellaire. Eh.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Excellent wines from Jonathan and Marge's visit

Our old friends Jonathan and Marge Levine from NY visited this weekend. Jonathan is an old friend who helped me get started in the wine business in New York. I've had some of the most memorable wines of my life at dinners at his house. At least I think I have. My memories of the dinners are not inexplicably spotty. Ahem. Anyway, here are the wines we had with truncated, scoreless tasting notes from memory.

2002 Domaine Vincent Girardin Meursault Narvaux -- a classic Meursault nose of smoky hazelnuts and straw. Great balance and richness, and a long finish. Very nice.

2001 Ansgar Clusserath Trittenheimer Apotheke Riesling Kabinett -- slightly corked, but you could still taste the vibrant, minerally flavors underneath the corkiness. Unfortunately, corkiness quickly gets worse with air, so we had to toss this one after the first glass.

2002 Domaine Ehrhart Gewurztraminer "Raisins Egrappes" (Alsace) -- Classic gewurz nose of spicy lychee nuts and fruit. A tad richer, lower in acidity, and sweeter than I would have expected from a 2002, but very good nonetheless.

1998 Eric Ross Old Vine Zinfandel Occidental Vineyard (Russian River Valley) -- Jonathan brought this one, and it was INTENSE. Really a prototypical Zin from old vines but grown in a cool climate region. Intensely ripe, peppery nose, but with acidity you could smell. The acidity helped buoy up what otherwise could have been ponderously heavily extracted fruit. At its peak and a real mouthful.

1998 Silvio Grasso Barolo Ciabot Manzoni -- A really good example of a well made modern style Barolo. Too bad I'm not a fan of modern style Barolo. To me, modern style Barolos taste like intense Merlots. They're soft, rich, have sedately rich fruit and even chocolatey flavors. But none of the piercing, dried rose petal, chokecherry, tarry fruit and mouthwatering acidity that made real Barolo so special. What I wouldn't give to drink some real Barolo again.

1997 Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella "Ca' Florian" -- An extremely elegant and deep rendition of Amarone. Not pruney or raisiney at all. Soft, intoxicatingly rich, ripe nose of macerated plums, blackberries, and spices. Rich, deep, yet soft and not overextracted on the palate like some Amarones. An Amarone you can drink with a rich main course, rather than wait for the cheese.

R.L. Buller & Sons Premium Fine Muscat (Victoria, Australia) -- a superb nonvintage Solera method dessert Muscat from down under. Rich, syrupy in texture, yet with excellent balancing acidity. Flavors of maple syrup, dates, and ripe grapes. Long finish. Outstanding and reasonably priced (about $15 per half bottle at Spec's).

A great array of wines, just like the good ol' days in NYC. Thanks for a nice visit, J & M!

2002 Nugan Family Vineyards S.E. Australia Shiraz

91. A terrific Aussie Shiraz. Complex nose of wood smoke, blueberries, blackberries, and graphite. Rich, soft, intense flavors of blackberries, cassis, and pencil lead. Full bodied, soft textured, with a long, rich, balanced finish. And NO salty jamminess! Will last another 2 or so years. $12 at Spec's on Westhiemer.

2004 Rudolf Mueller Riesling (QBA, Pfalz)

A very good, inexpensive Riesling. Nice, lively nose of limes, apples, and ripe grapes. Rich and mouthfillingfruit (peaches, mostly). Crisp acidity, slightly sweet (Kabinett style). Good finish for a QBA. The label just has a drawing of a rabbit on it and says "Riesling." I'm not sure I remember where I got it, but I think it may have been Whole Foods on Bellaire for about $8 or $9. 86.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

2004 Carchelo Monastrell (Jumilla, Spain)

87. A very good buy in a flavorful, balanced, ready-to-drink red. From the ridiculously stony, hot Jumilla region of Spain, this wine is based on the Monastrell grape. Monastrell is the Spanish name for the Mourvedre grape, which is most famous for its role in the great French reds from Bandol (and some really good US and Aussie versions). I've noticed, however, that Spanish Monastrells tend to be a lot less earthy than their French counterparts in Bandol, with the Spaniards seemingly much more able to make wines that highlight the depth of fruit this grape can produce. This wine is no exception.

Lots of ripe black and red fruit on the nose, with some minerally tones underneath. Mouthfilling fruit flavors, medium-full body, and a good, clean finish. Not complex, but quite satisfying.

About $8 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

2003 Calvet Reserve (white Bordeaux)

90. My white wine find of the year so far! 80% semillon, 20% sauvignon blanc. Given the heat of the 2003 growing season, I was half-expecting this wine to be flat, alcoholic and out of balance, but boy was I wrong. Wonderful and multi-faceted nose of flowers, tangerine, lemon oil, and lanolin. Soft, mouthfilling flavors of white peach and crisp apples, with minerals in the background. Medium-bodied, with a silky texture and a long finish. Character filled and beautifully balanced! Semillon is one of the most underrated varietals around, particularly when judiciously blended with sauvignon. Paid $10 at Whole Foods on Bellaire for this one. I went back a got a few more immediately! Only drawback is the label is pretty lame.

2003 Guigal Côtes du Rhône (red)

The best basic Côtes du Rhône from Guigal that I've had in a number of years. Deep ruby purple color. Nose tight and earthy at first, but after time in a large volume decanter, beautiful scents of stewed plums, blackberries, crushed stones and foresty scents emerge. Soft deep fruit in the mouth, with nice balance and some soft well-integrated tannin in the finish. Will last and improve for a couple of years. 89. Widely available. I think I got this at Cost Plus World Marketplace on Richmond for about $11.

Friday, October 14, 2005

2003 Chateau Montroche Costieres de Nimes (Rhone Valley, France)

A terrific reasonably priced red. Inviting, rich and subtle nose of plums, blackberries and gingerbread spices. Rich full fruit and earth flavors. Not terribly complex, but lots of flavor & body; round, with a bit of tannin at the end. Will go with lots of different foods -- pasta with meat sauces or tomato sauces, pot roasts, stews, braised chicken or pork dishes. Just a good wine to have around. 87. I got it for about $10 at Richard's on San Felipe a couple of months ago, so I'm not sure it's still available.

Friday, October 07, 2005

2003 Crios de Susana Balbo 50% Syrah / 50%Bonarda (Mendoza, Argentina)

Deep purple-ruby color. Unusual but not necessarily unpleasant nose of grapes, cassis, Tums (yes, Tums -- it took me a while to place this component), and lead. Simple, kinky fruit flavors, youthful and rich mouthfeel. Some lighly chalky tannin in the finish. I can't see this weird aroma/flavor profile dissipating with age, but, if you're not wedded to classic flavor ranges, it's not bad. Parker rated this an 88, I think, but, unfortunately, I can't get past the Tums thing. 79. About $11 at Cost Plus on Richmond/610.

2003 Patrick LeSec Cotes de Ventoux "Domaine de la Camarette (Vieille Vignes)

Bright nose of cherry-blueberry-cassis fruit with a hint of pine forest that benefits from airing. Dense but lively cassis fruit in the mouth, with a bit of pepperiness and tannin in the back of the palate. Simple, satisfying, fresh, and gutsy -- a nice weekday dinner red. Will last and improve the next few years. 87. About $8 at Spec's Warehouse on Smith.

2002 Chateau de la Greffiere Macon-La Roche Vineuse (Vieille Vignes)

Classic Maconnais nose of crushed stones, straw, and white peach/pear fruit. Rich mineral and pear extract flavors, with a relatively long clean finish. A really nice Chardonnay that, unlike most California Chardonnays, is not-at-all tiring to drink. 87. About $14, I think, at Spec's on Westheimer.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

2003 Beckmen Vineyards "Cuvee Le Bec" (Santa Ynez Valley, California)

A superb wine! A blend of 4 Rhone varietals (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Counoise), this wine has a deep ruby color. Sweet ripe red fruits and spice on the nose; ripe, deep, and supple in the mouthy, with a teensy bit of earthiness in the background for a little complexity. Absolutely gorgeous balance, texture, and ripeness. $12 and change at Spec's (Westheimer, and at the Smith St. warehouse). 90.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

2001 Beaumes de Venise "La Chapelle Notre Dame d'Aubune" (Côtes du Rhône Villages)

Definitely the feminine side of the Rhône--not the earthy masculine side. Kind of like a cross between a Bourgogne and Côtes du Rhône. Fragrant nose of sappy blackberries and plums, with warm gingerbready spice notes. Soft, focused, and ripe in the mouth, with some soft tannin in the finish. Not a blockbuster, but a wine you want to keep drinking. 87. Will last another year or two. Made by the Beaumes de Venise growers' co-op. About $10 at Copperfield's on Bellaire in Bellaire.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

2003 Viña Antigua Sangiovese-Bonarda (Maipu, Argentina)

What a GREAT value. This was $3.99. Yup, four bucks. You can still actually get a good wine for four bucks. Took a chance on it because it's imported by Hand-Picked Selections (Dan Kravitz) -- a great importer. Medium ruby color, with a unique nose of earth, fresh whipped cream, and tutti-fruity bubble gum. Earthy plums and cherries in the mouth, medium-bodied, with a clean, mid-length finish. This would be a great choice for a big party or an everyday red that won't break the budget. 85. Picked it up at Copperfield's on Bellaire (in Bellaire next to Bellaire Burger).

2003 Georges DeBouef Fleurie (Flower Label)

Quite enjoyable, but not one of the stars of the DeBouef stable in 2003. Deep ruby. Sweet cherry-grapey nose, with a nice touch of earth in the background. Lots of pure, ripe fruit in the mouth, but with peppery alcohol and some tannin bullying away the fruit on the finish. 87. About $12 at Spec's on Westheimer.

Monday, September 05, 2005

A Sunday of Good and Great Wines

Had a superb bunch of wines Sunday. Started off at our friends the Murphys' new house, where they uncorked a . . .

1990 Dom Perignon -- a perfectly preserved, gorgeous, deeply flavored champagne. Nose of freshly baked Parisian baguettes. Tremendous depth a flavor and great balance, with a long finish. Haven't had a champagne this good since the mid 1980s!

Thence on to our house for fresh mozzarella/backyard basil/heirloom tomato salad, citrus-marinated skirt steaks, and Liz's not-so-Waspy potato salad, accompanied by . . .

2003 Domaine La Hitaire "Hors Saison" Côtes de Gascogne blanc -- A Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend from southwest France near Bordeaux. Deep gold color. Fresh, grassy, grapy, nose, and good balance. Very pleasant.

1998 Domaine Le Galantin Bandol -- Deep ruby, showing some brick at the rim. Unbelievable fragrance of incense, earth, spicy raspberries and plums, roasted meat and dried herbs. Great depth, length and balance. Bought 6 of these in 2000; this was my last one and was showing better than ever. Sad to see it go.

2002 Turkey Flat Vineyards "The Turk" (Barossa Valley, Australia) -- A very good wine (blend of Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet & Mourvèdre), but I thought it paled by comparison with the preceding Bandol. Nice earthy, jammy nose, but with some lemony acidity showing up. Good fruit in the mouth, but clearly acidified a bit, which somewhat shortened the finish.

2000 Alvear Pedro Ximénez -- A superb and unbelievably rich dessert wine from the Andalusia region of Spain. Intense and warmly alcoholic nose of maple syrup, raisins, and honey. Rich and viscous in the mouth, but with excellent balance and great length. Sweet but not cloying at all. (Still a few half bottles of this left at Copperfield's on Westpark!)

I'm not going to grade these, since, as you can tell from the fact that this roster was consumed by only 4 people, my critical faculties were taking the day off.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

2003 Messias Tinto (Setúbal, Portugal)

Here is a GREAT buy for a light but flavorful picnic, cookout, or party red. Youthful medium ruby-purple color. Ripe nose of black fruits, with a note of ripe peaches and hot granite in the background. Although it's light-bodied in the mouth, it's got impressive purity of fruit, nice roundness, and good balance. Nice finish, with a little youthful chalky tannin and some alcoholic pepperiness. Can't ask for more at $5.25 per bottle at Spec's on Westheimer. 86.

From the Setúbal peninsula, just across the Rio Tejo from Lisboa. Label says 50% Aragonês, 50% Castelão Françês, two grape varietals I am unfamiliar with. I remember a few years ago drinking the 2000 of this wine; it was excellent, with a tad more concentration than this one.

2003 Joseph Drouhin St. Véran (Burgundy Chardonnay)

Just misses being really special -- but pretty good anyway! Lots of pear extract, ripe apple, stone, and straw aromas. Full, ripe mouthfeel on entry, but then fades, with drier, minerally flavors taking over, and the pears sleeping in the back seat. Fairly long finish with the pears rallying. With a tad more ripeness and concentration in the mid-palate, this wine would have been really nice. 86. $13.99 at Cost Plus on Richmond.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

2004 Novy "Four Mile Creek" Red (California)

This is a VERY distinctive wine. Very light color, but a striking and vibrant nose of sappy cherries, plum juice, watermelons, and cinnamon. Fruity but firm, with youthful angularity in the mouth, finishing with lots of fruit and a prickle of unresolved CO2 in the back of the tongue. There's got to be fair amounts of both Pinot Noir and Grenache in this puppy, what, with the light color coupled with this kind of fruit. Good now, and will certainly get better in the next few months as it softens, settles down, and stops acting like a kid. 87+. $9 @ Spec's on Westheimer.

2003 Las Rocas Garnacha (San Alejandro, Calatayud, Spain)

90. Wow, what a hedonistic wine. No subtlety, just pure pleasure. Deep, soft ruby color. Strikingly intense nose of rich, ripe, raspberry/plum fruit. Full, lush texture in the mouth, with wonderful purity of fruit, and maybe a little minerally undercurrent. Full-bodied and slow to leave. Really nice. $9.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Some thoughts on Australian Shiraz (and a note on the 2000 Turkey Flat Barossa Valley Shiraz)

I'm coming to the conclusion that I'm just not THAT big a fan of Australian Shiraz. Whether the inexpensive, modest ones, or the more expensive, high fallutin' ones. My issue is a flavor component I call "salty jamminess." It's almost always there, and it's the one thing that makes it easy to differentiate most Aussie Shirazes from the French ones.

Not that I don't like them. I do, but I REALLY have to be in the mood for it.

I actually WAS in the mood for it the other night at The Palm. Had the 2000 Turkey Flat Barossa Valley Shiraz (the wine list listed it as the 2002, but I didn't mind trading the depth of the Aussie 2002 vintage for 2 extra years of bottle age). It's a really nice wine, and although that salty jamminess was there, it also has an overlay of oak, and some Bordeaux-like cigar box and pencil lead flavors as well. And great depth and serious length too (which I would expect from a vineyard reputedly of some of the oldest Shiraz vines in Australia). The only downside was a slight tingle of obviously winemaker-added acidity at the end. (Why add acidity to a wine whose ripeness and depth is its strong suit? It's like blowing a police whistle at the end of a great symphony.) Anyway, the wine went very nicely with a flavorful, crusty aged NY Strip.

And at some point in the future, I'm going to ramble a bit about what the heck ever happened to REAL Nebbiolo?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

2003 "Cuvée de Peña" VDP Pyrenées Orientales (France)

86. A perfect wine for weeknight dinners and big parties! Cheap and very good. Focused nose of ripe cassis and blueberries, with hints of hot stones and pine forest. Nicely-balanced, tight, concentrated fruit in the mouth, with hints of baking chocolate and some light, well integrated tannin for structure (and a year or two of nice ageing). Medium body, and a clean, fruity finish. This is the kind of wine that it's hard to get tired of. About $6 at Spec's on Smith and the Spec's on Westheimer. Imported by Hand Picked Selections (Dan Kravitz's company, a really good importer).

Monday, August 22, 2005

2003 Bodegas Castaño Monastrell (Yecla, Spain)

72. Another bitter, astringent 2003 from Spain. Deep blood red color, but the overwhelming component on the nose and in the mouth is scorched astringency. Sharp, burnt earth scents and flavors smother the clearly ripe fruit underneath. Painfully sharp tannins. Too bad. It seems to me that Spain is very definitely a mixed bag in 2003, a year of record-setting heat. I've had some really nice wines, and some clearly flawed ones. This falls into the latter camp. Parker rated the 2002 and 2004 of this wine highly. I guess this one's the runt of the litter. Luckily, it was only $7.99.

2003 Bodegas Ochoa Garnacha Rosé (Navarra, Spain)

A flat, over-the-hill wine. Glints of orange at throughout the remaining pink hues. Flat strawberry jam aromas. Fleshy, but flabby and flat (alliteration!) in the mouth. 66. Read more detailed tasting notes, if you want, in the Obituaries.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

2002 Lake Sonoma Winery Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

88. Lake Sonoma has done it again. Another value-priced, large-framed, voluptuous, jiggling hussy of a Zin -- Rubenesque is maybe a nicer way to put it. Black ruby color. Explosive nose of chocolate, oozingly ripe blackberries, peppercorns, caramel, and a hint of prunes. Rich, ripe -- almost overripe -- mouthfilling fruit. Long finish. Denser and fleshier than the 2001 (reviewed a couple of months ago here), but maybe a tad less complex in the mouth. I would drink this within the next year, as it is my experience that Zins of this style don't last long before they start to fall apart. But while they last, boy are they fun. About $12 at Spec's on Smith and on Westheimer.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

2001 Quinta do Carmo "Dom Martinho" (Alentejano, Portugal)

78. A kinda complex, but austere, unfriendly wine. No sediment at all, indicating that they filtered the crap out of it. Earthy, gravelly, cigar box, dry leaf nose. Little fruit in the aromatics. Austere, yet flavorful in the mouth, with tight structure and lots of acidity. Reminds me of a basic Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux from a middlin' vintage. Like most affordable Bordeaux, this is not my cup of tea. Took a chance and paid $10.99 at Cost Plus World Marketplace on Richmond. Won't make that mistake twice.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

2001 Brigaldara Valpolicella Classico

90. One of the best straight Valpo's I've had in years. Unusually dark ruby color. Intense nose that runs the gamut from dark chocolate and prunes to flowers, exotic spice and chokecherries. Medium-full body, with deep, still youthful flavors of earth, cherries, and bitter chocolate. There's a substantial amount of soft tannin remaining, which, together with the still youthful color and vibrant fruit, says that this wine still has a couple of goods years left -- very unusual for a straight Valpo DOC. I wonder if this is made via the ripasso technique? -- it says 13.5% alcohol -- which would explain its intensity and vigor. Whatever the reason, this is plain excellent. If I were to taste this blind, I think I'd place it as a Brunello or Morellino di Scansano rather than a Valpolicella. I think I paid about $12 at Spec's on Smith for this.

2003 Georges DeBouef Mâcon-Villages (Flower Label)

86. A character-filled, satisfying wine. Darkish gold color, spicy baked apples and talcum powder nose. Full and mouthfilling, with low acidity and lots of alcohol, and with abundant (if simple) apple/pear extract and mineral flavors. A good value for about $9 at Spec's on Smith.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

2003 Edmeades Mendocino County Zinfandel

What a fun wine! The medium ruby color belies the pure fruit and intensity of this wine. Exuberant sappy mountain berry nose, with intense notes of gingerbread and fresh, warm vanilla bean extract. Full-bodied and richly fruity in the mouth, with some peppery heat (15% alc.) in the long, pure finish. Not as complex as, say, a Ridge Geyserville, but a heck of a kick to drink. 89. About $15 at Spec's Warehouse on Smith. Pure joy with a mesquite-grilled steak or an Italian braised pot roast (stracotto). (I have to disclose that I've been a real fan of Edmeades' reds since I sold them as a Mosswood Wines rep in NYC in the early 80s -- but this really is a cool wine!).

Sunday, August 07, 2005

2003 "Arcs" (Terra Alta, Spain)

This is the second flawed bottle I've had of this wine, which was rated pretty highly by Robert Parker. Both bottles were marred by excessive volatile acidity and an acetate aroma, which got worse as the wine sat. Although it's cheap (about $6 at Specs), and obviously ripe and concentrated, it's not drinkable. 60. Yuk.

2002 Paringa Shiraz (Murray River, South Australia)

Dense, saturated black ruby color. Intense nose of ripe blueberries and blackberries, lots of toasty oak and a background note of eucalyptus. In the mouth, lacks some concentration and presence in the mid-palate, but full-bodied, and meaty on the finish, with oak and berry fruit vying for attention. Lots of soft tannin. 87 (which would have been a lot higher with if this wine didn't have a hole in the mid-palate). About $8 at Spec's (and lots of other places, as Paringa seems to be widely available).

2003 Domaine des Fortières Beaujolais-Villages

84. This Beaujolais doesn't show the characteristics of a super-hot, ripe year like 2003. Hard cherry/plum candy and mineral nose. Not as ripe and plush as I would expect from a 2003. Firm texture, like a typical Chateau Thivin Côte de Brouilly, but without the refinement or depth of that wine. In other words, eh. Also, it oxidized very fast (within 48 hours) for a wine under a Vacu-Vin vacuum seal. That would indicate to me that this wine needs to be drunk up and fast.

Doesn't measure up to the standards set by the DeBoeuf Regnié or Pierre Chermette Beaujolais reviewed earlier. About $9 at Spec's Warehouse on Smith.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

2002 d'Arenberg Cabernet Sauvignon "The High Trellis" (McLaren Vale, Australia)

An intense but sharp-elbowed wine. Nose has ripe grapes, bitter baker's chocolate, and sharply pungent dried leather scents, with a hint of eucalyptus. Lots of hard tannin in the mouth, overwhelming the fruit (which there is actually quite a bit of). Fairly long but bitterish finish. Needs a fatty red meat dish to counteract the hard tannin and help this wine "self actualize." Got it on sale for $14.79 at Cost Plus World Marketplace on Richmond. 80.

2002 Sierra Cantabria Rioja

A good, modern style, elegant Rioja. Medium dark ruby color. Nose of milk chocolate and high-toned spicy red fruit. Medium full-bodied in the mouth, with dusty, minerally flavors on center stage, and spicy cassis fruit playing a supporting role. Reasonably long, lean finish with chocolatey notes the theme, and texturally discernable tannin that would seem to augur for a couple years of ageing. 85. Got this one for $14.99 at Cost Plus, but then kicked myself because I saw it for under $10 at Spec's Warehouse on Smith.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

2004 d'Arenberg "The Stump Jump" White (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne) McLaren Vale, Australia

87. This is a really good wine to have with lighter fish and shellfish dishes. Unusually light silver-tinged gold color. Exuberant nose of limes, Alsace-like "goût de pétrol" (a distinctive earthy smell associated with Alsace Rieslings that reminds one of gasoline -- in a pleasant way!) with minor notes of grapes and peaches. Ripe pears and minerals in the mouth, with the minerals shining through on a relatively long finish. Smells like an Alsace Riesling/Sancerre hybrid, but on the palate the Marsanne seems to take over. $7.49 on sale at Cost Plus World Marketplace on Richmond.

2002 René Muré Pinot Blanc Tradition (Alsace)

A good, fleshy, but simple wine. Medium-to-darkish gold color. Rich but simple aromas of tangerines and straw, with a slight whiff of peach underneath. Mouthfilling at first, with an oilier texture than usual for a Pinot Blanc (texturally, it feels more like a Pinot Gris), but fades quickly on the palate. 85. About $14 at Richard's on San Felipe.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Wines from the New Orleans trip

My wife Liz and I just returned from a 2-day trip to New Orleans. It was the first time either of us had visited N'Awlins. Since I didn't bring my laptop, I'm going to blog from memory, so these notes will be a little less detailed than usual. And no scores, either.

2003 Domaine William Fevre Chablis -- Had this at The Gumbo Shop with a cup of gumbo and a bowl of jambalaya for lunch the first day. I remember it being a good example of the Chablis style of Chardonnay: steely, apply, straw-like elements on the nose; crisp minerals, apples, and a hint of peach in the mouth. Nice finish.

2002 Qupé Santa Barbara County 75% Marsanne, 25% Roussanne -- This one we drank with dinner the first night. Intense, brooding nose, with floral and minerally notes. Intense and full-bodied on the palate; not a show-off, but very deep. Had a flavor component that reminded me of dry essence of pears. A good choice with the intense food we had at Bacco, which is a phenomenal Italian restaurant.

2003 Talley Arroyo Vista Vineyard San Luis Obispo County Chardonnay -- A very Meursault-like Chardonnay. Toasty minerals on the nose, with great depth, balance, and length. I'm normally not a great fan of California chardonnay, but this was excellent. No sweet butterscotchy cheap oak; no watery overcropped finish. Had this one with excellent braised rabbit (Liz and her friend Flo had seafood, hence I went with a white) at Mr. B's Bistro.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

2002 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (Estate Grown)

This is a rarity, of sorts. A really high quality California Cabernet that is widely available and reasonably priced (for Sonoma County Cabernet, that is).

Dense dark saturated ruby color. Intense nose of pencil lead, charcoal, and cassis. On entry, sweet, round, ripe blackberry and cassis flavors hit you first, but on the finish the peppery charcoal notes predominate. Medium-full bodied, with noticeable quantities of soft tannin on the fairly long finish. I got this for $16 (I think) at Richard's on San Felipe (at Voss) -- the San Felipe/Voss location is the best Richard's store in the city in my view -- but I believe I've also seen it at various Spec's and Whole Foods on Bellaire. 88.

Friday, July 22, 2005

2000 Kempton Clark "Mendo Zin" (Mendocino County Zinfandel)

Mendocino County is one of my favorite appellations for Zinfandel. They usually feature penetrating ripe berry fruit with good, but not excessive acidity, sometimes undergirded with a fresh forest floor component.

This one has a bit of bottle age on it, which, with Zinfandel, doesn't really add complexity, but instead sort of shuffles around the existing flavor components to de-emphasize the fruit and bring out leathery, earthy scents. And while I usually like my Zins younger than 5 years old (I love the ripe fruit), this one has held up pretty nicely.

Ripe berries along with that Italian "winey-ness" on the nose. The ripe berries carry through in the mouth with a streak of leathery earthiness underneath. Full-bodied, with a medium long, slightly hot finish. 85. I'm not exactly sure where I got this one. I think it may have been Whole Foods on Bellaire for about $10, but don't quote me on that.

2003 Penascal Tempranillo Rose (Castilla y León, Spain)

87. A really refreshing and lively rosé. Light vibrant pink color. Scents of strawberries and cool watermelon on the nose. Vinous, fresh, light-to-medium bodied, fruity, with some minerally accents in the background. Even though this is entering its second summer, it's still a really refreshing rosé. Available at both Spec's ($6) and Whole Foods on Bellaire ($7). Either way, a good buy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

2003 Selbach Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling Spatlese

81. A simple fruity Riesling that tastes more like a QBA than a Spatlese. Primary aromas of apples and ripe grapes. Simple, fruit flavors in a light-bodied format. Clean, short, finish. I know this is a simple regional appellation, but from a good producer in a good year, I expected more. Paid about $13 at a Whole Foods in Austin (off Route 183 in in the northwest part of the city).

2003 Parker Station Central Coast Pinot Noir

82. A simple but relatively flavorful Pinot. Aromas of Dr. Pepper and cola dominate. Soft broad flavors of plums and cola fill the mouth. Finishes a bit flat, with a bitter, stemmy note. The 2002 Parker Station, which sported the Santa Barbara County appellation, was superior to this edition. About $13 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

2003 "Full Circle" California Zinfandel

Here's your party red for the summer! $6.99 @ Whole Foods on Bellaire. Never heard of this label before (it may be a private label for Whole Foods), but took a chance on it because the back label says most of the fruit was sourced in Amador County (the Sierra Foothills), a very good area for Zin. (Most simple "California" appellation Zins are sourced from the Central Valley, where the wines tend to be dull and characterless). Plus it's cheap.

Intense and lively bramble-berry, raspberry & spice nose -- classic Zinfandel profile. Medium-light bodied, with beautiful sappy berries and foresty-cedar flavors in the mouth. Decent balancing acidity and a pretty long, clean, fruity finish. Not an especially complex or powerful Zin, but really fun to drink. Could take a little chill if desired. An unbelievable value, really, and organically-grown to boot! 87.

2003 Chateau de la Ragotière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine

88. An excellent Muscadet. I'm usually not a big Muscadet guy; most are too unripe and acidic for me. But in hot vintages, I'll spring for a few bottles to try. 2003, of course, was a year of record-setting heat in France, and as a result this Muscadet is very much to my liking. Intense ripe crisp apple-pear nose, with a note of sweet almond extract underneath. Rich, yet light-bodied and fresh in the mouth, with a silky mouthfeel and lots of crisp apple-lemon and mineral flavors vying for attention. Long finish for a wine of this modest genome. I think this one was around $9 a bottle at Spec's on Westheimer if memory serves. (Each bottle comes wrapped in paper -- nice elegant packaging!). A really good choice for hot summer day sipping.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Two Rhônes and a Rant

2001 Domaine de l'Espigouette Côtes du Rhône Vieille Vignes. Mid-quality, gutsy Rhône. Medium deep ruby color, showing no age yet. Intense nose of berries, spice, earth, forest floor, with a hint of menthol. The mouth shows less fruit and more of the earthy component and alcohol than the nose would suggest, but pretty mouthfilling. Medium length, slightly hot finish with some dry, harsh tannin. Drink up, as the remaining fruit will fade and the tannins and alcohol will increasingly take over. Purchased in Austin, TX at Grapevine Connection (off MoPac) for about $15 last summer. 84.

2003 Château Maucoil Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A rip-off. Medium ruby color. Gangly nose of overripe cherries (cherry cough syrup?), pepper, and foresty scents. Lots of somewhat flat cherry cough syrup flavors in the mouth. Big, but a bit hot and disjointed. Fades quickly in the mid-palate. 82. Reasonable price for Châteauneuf these days ($19.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire),

but . . .

[here comes the rant]

I'm really unhappy with the trend that has begun to take over among Châteauneuf estates to make two or three cuvées. It used to be that only the real, de facto "first growth" Châteauneuf domaines (Rayas, Beaucastel, Bonneau, etc.) put out two or three cuvées. And that was OK. The regular cuvée would still be really good and relatively affordable. The reserve or special cuvée, while expensive, would be correspondingly above and beyond the normal Châteauneuf.

Nowadays, however, it seems that everyone and their chien in Châteauneuf puts out at least two, and sometimes more, cuvées. While the regular cuvée remains "Châteauneuf-priced," the price of the special cuvées has gone through the roof. The problem is, the regular cuvées taste like second wines rather than real Châteauneuf. The Château Maucoil reviewed above is a case in point. It's more like a decent Côtes du Rhône than a real Châteauneuf. None of that special fragrance, depth, and "tèrroir" one expects from Châteauneuf. Instead, it tastes like what it probably is: leftover barrels and wine from young vines thrown together after all the good stuff was chosen for the more expensive cuvées.

Of course, there are (mercifully) still many exceptions to this rule. But this seems to me to be the increasing trend. And I don't like it un peu bit.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

2003 "Tres Ojos" Old Vines Garnacha (Calatayud, Spain)

89. What a find! This wine, produced by the San Gregorio cooperative and imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, has a bright, medium light ruby color. The fragrance of this wine is of the purest kirsch, ripe raspberries, and a hint of white pepper. Unbelievably soft and pure in the mouth, this wine coats the palate with fruit and minerals, and has a long, velvety soft, clean finish. Garnacha, of course, is Spanish for Grenache, and this wine is a textbook example of what kind of pure fruit the Grenache grape is capable of. This wine will go with a wide range of foods, from grilled meats, braised meats and stews, and pasta with tomato or meat sauces. $8.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Just Sniffin' -- Outside/Inside

Over the last year or so, I've noticed that a wine's nose is much more easily discernable outside my house than inside. When I really want to analyze and/or savor a wine's nose, I go out on to my front porch or back deck for a little "quality time" with the glass.

I think the reason may be that inside spaces, whether a house, a restaurant, or some other building, have their own unique baseline "ambient" smell. Ever notice that first smell as you walk in your house after being away several days? Each of the places I've lived has had a different characteristic baseline smell. But I only notice it when I've been away for a while. I think we tend to get used to it and, like ambient noise, only notice it when we go without it for a period of time.

Granted, I live in Houston, where people generally tend to keep their houses hermetically sealed nearly all year round to keep out that sticky humidity we have grown to know and love, but I think I remember the same phenomemon when I lived in Connecticut in the 1990s and had meals where we drank wine al fresco. So I don't think it's just a Houston phenomenon.

Nor do I think it's solely due to temperature differences. Sure, the hotter the surface of the wine becomes, the more volatile and noticeable its aromatic components become, but I have found the outside/inside dichotomy to occur even when the temperature is the same outside or in, or even is a bit lower outside.

Try it yourself. Swirl and sniff inside. Take note of the intensity and detail. Then go outside and try again. I bet you'll get more out of it. It's pretty neat.

Monday, June 20, 2005

2003 Saintsbury "Garnet" Carneros Pinot Noir

86+. Light, bright ruby color. Lovely, if relatively straightforward nose of strawberry and cola. Soft, fleshy, relatively simple flavors, with pretty good length and some soft ripe tannin. I suspect this one will improve and gain a bit of complexity over the next 2-3 years.

$16.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

1999 Cortes de Cima (Alentejano) (Portugal)

89. Very nice wine at its peak. Dark ruby with a thin line of brick at the rim. Nose of ripe cherries, Indian spices, incense, and tobacco leaf. On the palate, ripe chokecherries and mineral notes, good balancing acidity, and a reasonably long finish with some dusty tannins remaining. This wine reminds me of a mid-weight Barbaresco or Nebbiolo/Barbera blend such as Bricco Manzoni.

The back label says it's a blend of Aragonez (primary varietal), with some Trincadeira and Perequita. Most Perequita-based wines I've had are relatively simple, tart, cherryish wines, so I'm guessing it's the Aragonez -- a varietal I am unfamiliar with -- that made this wine as good as it is.

This was a gift from a friend, so I don't have purchase info -- thanks for the nice wine, Antonio!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

2002 Trimbach Gewurztraminer (Alsace)

88. This is one of the nicest basic Trimbach wines I've had in years. My usual complaint is that their entry level wines are on the thin and austere side. Not this one, though. Textbook gewurztraminer nose of lychee nuts, rose water, and a hint of grapefruit. Richly flavored, medium bodied, and balanced in the mouth. Off-dry in style. While not necessarily reflecting any particular terroir in Alsace, it represents a classic example of Alsace gewurz. With its balance, it will hold for another 2 years at least. $11.69 (a steal!) on sale at Cost Plus World Marketplace on Richmond. It went really well with spicy Thai squid with basil and peppers.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

2001 Lake Sonoma Winery Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

90. A big, fleshy, ripe, flagrantly fragrant Zin at its peak. This is a hedonistic wine. The color isn't especially deep, but the fragrance of this wine is incredibly rich and brash. Raspberries, spice, minerals, and some toasty oak in the background. Mouthfilling, full-bodied, with flavors that strut all around your mouth. Rich, long, loose finish. If this wine were a woman . . . . shwinggg! Drink RIGHT NOW, as there's no place left for this one to go. About $12 at Spec's on Westheimer.

2003 Pierre Chermette Beaujolais

90. An ethereal wine. Gorgeous freshly crushed gamay grape and stone aromas. A fascinating contradiction on the palate: ripe, fresh, flavorful, and long, but with a silky soft texture that is so light-bodied it feels like it's hovering above your tongue. Superb summer red. And a from a simple Beaujolais AOC. About $11-12 at Spec's on Westheimer.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

1 for 3: Good in baseball; bad in wine

Had a rough wine day yesterday. Had to open 3 bottles to get something good for dinner (Spanish chicken stewed with chick peas).

1st at bat: 2003 Onix Priorat (Spain). Oxidized, dammit! Color seemed OK, but make no mistake, this wine is on the way out. No ullage (cork leakage), bottle filled up to proper level -- so how does this happen? Beats me. Caught looking.

2nd at bat: 2001 "The Fifteen"Grenache (VDP Pyrennes Orientales, France). Smelled like tired old plum juice. Flabby, no structure. Cloying finish. The 2000 of this was way better. Weak pop-up to pitcher.

3rd at bat: 2003 St. Cosme "Little James' Basket Press" (VDP from the southern Rhone). 87. Very nice, gutsy red with some complexity. Ripe grenache (sappy cherry) scents augmented with lots of earthy, animal, and garrigue notes. Balanced and medium full, with a relatively long finish. I'm going to get a couple more of these for the closet this summer -- I think I paid $10 or $11 for this at Spec's on Westheimer a couple of months ago. Double down the right field line.

Monday, May 30, 2005

2001 Perrin Rasteau Côtes du Rhône Villages L'Andéol

89. A really nice, big, rustic Rhône. Intense nose, with ripe blackberries and earthy, iodine, tree bark and garrigue scents competing for prominence. Big and mouthfilling, with noticeable but realtively soft tannins. Long finish. I've had three bottles over the last year and a half, and based on its evolution, I think this wine will peak within the next year or so, if it hasn't already. Drink with rich stews and pot roasts. About $12 at Spec's.

2003 Chateau Menaut (white Graves)

83. A nice wine to quaff on a hot day. Nice fresh, grape/lime fruit on the nose. Light-bodied, very clean and refreshing in the mouth, with decent balancing acidity for such a hot year. I marked it down, however, for being significantly diluted, with a short (albeit pleasant) finish. If they hadn't overcropped the crap out of this, it would have been real winner. About $9.50 at Spec's.

Friday, May 27, 2005

2003 Vina Alarba Rosé (Calatayud, Spain)

86. Though into its second summer, this is still fresh and drinking well. A big, structured rosé, it whacks you with strong aromas of tomato skins right away, but with some scents of raspberry and cherry underneath. Full and intense for a rosé, and bone dry. Where the dish calls out for a vigorous young red, but it's just too damn hot, this would be a good choice. About $6 at Spec's on Westheimer or Holcombe.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

2002 Domaine Schlumberger Pinot Blanc Les Abbes (Alsace)

88. I love this wine. It is consistently one of the best buys in the market, and the 2002 is really tasty. Bright light gold color. Big nose of ripe peaches, straw, and apple. Lots of fruit, mouthfilling, low acidity, with a nice clean dry finish. Not a lot of complexity, but with all that fruit, who cares? A great summer white that would go well with grilled mild fish such as flounder, sole, or red snapper, or other mild seafood. I also like it with Chinese food. About $12 at Spec's on Westheimer.

Artificial corks and screw caps

Love 'em! I applaud the switch to these kinds of closures.

What's the benefit of real corks? To my thinking, the most logical (but still unproven) explanation I've heard is that they permit air into the wine (facilitating oxidation) at such a slow rate that the wine, as it ages, gains complexity.

But I've given up buying wines to lay down for more than a year or two at the most. 95% of what I buy I plan to drink within a year. And I drink a lot of stuff in the $6 - $15 range. In my experience, inexpensive wines are more frequently corked than expensive ones -- probably because producers want to keep costs down and buy lesser quality corks. So I've gotten more and more corked wines recently, it seems.

For these two reasons, I am positively ecstatic when I take off the capsule and see an artificial cork. I am less happy with screw caps for the simple reason that the aperture of the bottle is wider, and my "Vacu-vin" rubber stopper for unfinished bottles doesn't fit them well. Still, I'll make that trade-off to get fewer corked wines.

Monday, May 23, 2005

1998 Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Reserva

86. Very nice quasi-old style Rioja. Light garnet color. Fragrant with lots of American oaky, spicy scents on the nose. Medium light body, with beautiful balance and a reasonably long finish carrying flavors of oak and plums, with a little pruney component thrown in lightly. Drank it at "Rioja," a very nice, authentic tapas place at Westheimer and Kirkwood. Try the Madrid style tripe and the lamb stew -- both are really rich!

And, yes, I'm on a Spanish kick recently.

2003 Bodegas Ochoa 50% Garnacha/50% Graciano (Navarra)

75. Very disappointing. The 2002 of this wine was very good, but the 2003 was marred by way too much old leathery scents, bordering on wet cardboard (lots of brett?). Rich, but lots of coarse tannin in the finish. If you see the 2002 on the shelf, it's a balanced, clean wine with lots of pure raspberries in the mouth and a nice minerally quality peeking through on the finish, if memory serves.

UPDATE (5/30): Just had my last bottle of the 2002, and it was still drinking beautifully. Ripe, focused, and concentrated fruit. Beautiful balance. Too bad it's no longer available.

2003 Vina Alarba Old Vines Grenache (Spain)

87. This is a REALLY good buy. Deep, bright ruby color. Ripe, high-toned raspberries and cherries, with scents of crushed stones, on the nose. Ripe focused fruit in the mouth, with full body and a clean, medium long finish. Ready to drink, though seems like it will soften and broaden in the next year. Will go with lots of foods, and could take a little chill for summer drinking. About $7 at Spec's.

Friday, May 20, 2005

2002 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Zinfandel

88. Not quite the level of color saturation I like to see in Zins, but pretty deep ruby purple. Nose reticent at first, then offering minerally/stony ripe raspberry scents that deepened with air time. Full bodied, but lacking the level of concentration in the mid-palate that would have made it special. Lengthens out a bit on the nice fruity finish. Drunk at Greystone in San Diego with superb seared sesame blackpepper crusted ahi tuna.

2002 Martinelli Zio Tony Ranch Pinot Noir

95. WOW. Double WOW! The best Pinot Noir I can ever remember drinking. Intensely penetrating blueberry-cherry, mineral, and spice nose. Large-framed, intense, yet silky in the mouth, with a ridiculously long finish of fruit and spice gently waving good-bye as it sails slowly into the sunset of your tummy. Enjoyed this one with a phenomenal bone-in strip steak at Donovan's in La Jolla. Pretty amazing dinner.

Monday, May 09, 2005

2001 Rafanelli Dry Creek Valley Zin

86. While Rafanelli is, for reasons I won't bore you with, a sentimental favorite of my wife and mine, the 2001 isn't one of its best efforts. Lots of leather (brett?) on the nose, but with some nice brooding ripe red fruit underneath. Leather again, and ripe, sappy raspberries in the mouth, with a long, somewhat hot finish (kind of surprising, given that it's only 14.4% alcohol, which is pretty middle of the road for Zin). 36 bucks (ouch!) at Richard's on San Felipe. 2002 Rancho Zabaco Sonoma Heritage is a better wine at 1/3 the price, and a heck of a lot easier to find.

2003 DeBouef Regnie (Flower label)

91. Now THIS is Beaujolais. Big nose, with raspberry, grapey, hot stone scents. (None of that banana cookie-cutter crap DeBouef used to produce.) Fleshy, bright, rich, vibrant fruit in the mouth, with a ripe juicy long finish. I could drink this with anything! $9.79 at Spec's on Holcombe.

Friday, May 06, 2005

2003 DeBouef Julienas Prestige

88+ Very nice. Big and structured for a Beaujolais. Juicy nose. My younger daughter said it smelled like chicken, too. I couldn't quite identify chicken, but there is a little something animal in the nose. Broad ripe middle palate, narrows on finish. Little bit of tannin at the end. Will easily last for another year or more. In fact, the finish will probably broaden out by the end of 2005. $11.79 at Spec's on Holcombe.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

2000 Edmeades Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

88 Light color, but not showing much amber (age) at the rim. Very fragrant, with sappy & snappy cherry fruit and a little earth on the nose. Rich fruity middle palate, carrying through to a relatively long finish. Medium body. Good acidity (noticeable, but not too high) creates a bouyant mouthfeel that lends this one to a lot of different foods. For $16.99 at Cost Plus World Market, pretty good!