Tuesday, December 26, 2006

2001 Ruffino CHIANTI CLASSICO "Reserva Ducale Oro" (Tuscany, Italy)

Infanticide. I committed infanticide. This highly-structured, concentrated wine needs at least 4 or 5 more years to grow up and settle down. I don't think I've ever had a Chianti this structured, backward, and concentrated (and it's already age 5!).

Saturated, youthful black ruby with magenta glints at the rim. Tight nose of spicy cherries, wood smoke, and lemony minerals. Tannic, austere, but concentrated and full-bodied flavors (mostly cherries, stones, and smoky earthiness). Long, tannic finish. A real keeper that will definitely improve with significant bottle age. 88++. Got this on sale at Fiesta (near Reliant Stadium) for $31. Also available at Spec's for $33.

Monday, December 25, 2006

2003 A to Z "OREGON CLARET"


A Bordeaux varietal blend, though it doesn't say anywhere on the label how much of what kind of grapes. Interestingly, it's from a state more known for its Burgundy and Alsace varietals (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris).

Medium ruby/garnet color. Interesting nose of herbal cherries, raspberry jam, and some pencil lead. Flavors of cassis and dusty baker's chocolate. Not a blockbuster, but everything in nice balance. Very Bordeaux-like . . . reminds me of a good Cru Bourgeois from the middle Medoc (Moulis or Listrac). Would go very well with grilled or roasted lamb. 87. Will hold a year or two. Was about $14 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

2004 Torbreck "Woodcutter's SEMILLON" (Barossa Valley, Australia)



I occasionally have a hankerin' for a Semillon. Semillon, typically blended with Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux, gives, to my taste, a broad, horizontal palate impression and has a unique aromatic profile.

This is a TEXTBOOK, ripe, fully-extracted Semillon. Light bright, brassy gold. Very assertive nose of waxy lanolin scents, with ripe figs and toasty butterscotch. Full-bodied, concentrated, with low acidity and flavors of bitter pear, butter, and minerals. Long, minerally finish, with a tad of alcoholic heat lingering with the flavors in the back of the throat. A no-holds-barred white wine. 89. Drink in the next several months. Was a very good value for $13.22 at Spec's on Richmond (just outside the Loop).

Saturday, December 23, 2006

2004 Trentadue PETITE SIRAH "North Coast" (California)

A nice, relatively accessible Petite Sirah. Dense black ruby, saturated to the rim, with purple highlights. Rich, sweet, earthy blackberry and cassis nose, with pencil lead notes . . . smelled almost like a densely-extracted Cabernet. Medium to full-bodied, with lots of ripe tannin. Concentrated, focused flavors of cassis, pencil lead, and charcoal (again with the Cabernet-like thing going on!). Fairly long finish. Will certainly keep and improve in a cool cellar over the next five years.

Although Petite Sirahs can be overly tannic and require lots of time in the bottle to drop that tannin, this one was clearly made to be friendly right away. Back label says the fruit was from Mendocino and Lake counties. 88+. Was $17.99 at Cova, on Kirby (which, by the way, looks to be an interesting wine bar/tapas joint/wine shop -- I'll have to eat there soon).

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

2004 EQUIS "Vinas Viejas" (Tierra de Castilla, Spain)

Too tannic and rustic for my taste. Dark black ruby. Very closed, astringent nose at first, but with an hour of air time, scents of blackberry and lemon juice, with a little cinnamon component, emerge from underneath the scorched earth scents. Full bodied, but with boatloads of coarse, rustic tannin obscuring the ripe fruit and stony mineral flavors. Another year or two in a cool cellar could result in the wine dropping some of this coarse tannin and make the wine more pleasurable. 82+. Was $9.99 at Central Market.

2004 Verasol GARNACHA (Campo de Borja, Spain)

Medium-light ruby color. Lively nose of strawberry, raspberry, and minerally candied lemon peel. Very light, with flavors of minerally red fruit, marred by some bitterness. Seems like a wine made with overcropped grapes that the winemaker tried to overextract to make up for the diluted quality of the juice. Still, I put it in the fridge for a few minutes and a slight chill took some of the bitter edge off. 82. Was $9 at Central Market.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

2004 Longwood SHIRAZ "The Sheep Shearer" (McLaren Vale, Australia)


This was really nice.

Deep, rich, saturated ruby. Very pretty, medium intensity nose of fragrant wood smoke, sweet black raspberries, and lemon squares. Round, incredibly soft, and fairly concentrated in the mouth, with flavors of salty blackberry juice, sandstone, and spice. Long finish, with soft, ripe tannins. With hold another year or two. A subtle but impeccably made wine. 89. Was $16.99 at Spec's on Westheimer (near Fogo de Chao).

2005 Verget du Sud PETITE SYRAH "Endes" (Rhone, France)

This was disappointing. It's actually been quite a while since I LIKED a red wine by this producer (who makes good, albeit minerally & austere, white burgundies as well.

Dark black ruby-purple color. Somewhat funky, stinky notes (burnt rubber & acetate) pervade the nose when first opened. With air, these off-notes dissipate somewhat, and some blackberry scents emerge. Rather bony in the mouth, however, with tannin and acid taking the lead, but a little flesh and fruit in the form a tart black cherries, and some chalky minerals. 73. Was $11.25 at Spec's on Smith.

No more Verget reds for me (except I have one more in the closet to try soon).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

2004 Calina CARMENERE Reserva (Valle del Maule, Chile)


This was an excellent value. Carmenere is a varietal that used to be grown in Bordeaux in the 1800s, but was largely wiped out when the phylloxera "plague" struck Europe's vineyards, and then not re-planted after that. But it had already been brought to Chile by then, and was thriving there even more so than in Bordeaux. So Chile is really the only place left on earth where this varietal is planted in commercial significant quantities.

Deep, purplish black ruby. With an hour of air time, exhibited a great, high-toned nose of ripe mixed berries (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries), sweet cream, and mocha. Medium to full bodied, with tight flavors of scorched earth and cassis, with lots of stony minerals on the finish. Some tannins to shed, though they are ripe and soft. This wine will only get better over the next 2-3 years. 88+ Can't remember precisely where I got it, but I distinctly remember it was in the $7 - $8 range. Outstanding value. (I'll update this entry if I see it in a store somewhere.)

UPDATE (12/11): I saw this yesterday at Whole Foods on Bellaire for $8.99.

2004 PILLAR BOX RED (57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Shiraz, 11% Merlot) (Australia)


A terrific buy in a big, full-flavored red. Fully saturated opaque black ruby color. Intense nose of cassis and hot sandstone, with some spicy cigar box scents. Concentrated, deep flavors of salty scorched earth and dry blackberry extract. Tightly wound and very dense, but with light, soft, tannins, and a lengthy, balanced finish. A somewhat lean, but muscular and athletic, full-bodied wine. It will keep nicely, and round out and soften, for at least another year or two. 89+ A great value at $9.59 at Richard's on South Shepherd.

2003 Rancho Zabaco Dry Creek Valley ZINFANDEL "Reserve"

Disappointing. I've had many bottles of RZ's regular Sonoma County "Heritage Vines" Zins -- which are cheaper -- that have been better.

Deep ruby color. Tart lemons and spicy raspberries and brambleberries on the nose, with cold steely minerals underneath. Lean and somewhat austere in the mouth, with more structure and acidity, but less fruit and flesh, than I want in a Zin. Feels overmanipulated by the winemaker. 83. Was $15.77 at Spec's on Holcombe.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

2005 Morin Père & Fils POUILLY-FUISSÉ (Burgundy, France)

Not bad, but not up to its pedigree.

Exceedingly pale brassy-gold color. Straw, sharp-ish chalky minerals, citrus peel and bitter, spiced peach on the medium intensity nose. Soft and straightforward in the mouth, with underripe peach and chalky-stone flavors. Not terribly concentrated, with a decent, but slightly bitter finish. Like a decent Macon wine. 84. Was $12.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Updating!

Thanks to some new features added to Blogger by Google, I'm in the process of updating all my old entries to add categories that readers can click on to see the entries arranged by region, varietal, "under $10," and other categories. I'll try to get this done ASAP.

2004 Concannon PETITE SIRAH "Limited Release" (Central Coast, Cal.)

Didn't like this one. Saturated black ruby-purple. Medium intensity nose of scorched earth, creosote, lemons, and blackberry extract (in descending order of magnitude). All structure and no flavor on the palate. Like drinking a wine skeleton. Some minimal tart blackberry fruit is discernable, but other than that, it's just tannin, acid, and alcohol. 69. Was $6.99 at Kroger's on sale, but even if free it wasn't really worth the effort of popping the cork.

2003 Turkey Flat Vineyards GRENACHE (Barossa Valley, Australia)


Dark, black ruby. Rich, sweet, pungent nose of spicy raspberries, rhubarb, and yeasty, gingerbready scents. Intense, herbal, berry, and iodine flavors. Fairly high acidity helps buoy it up. Long finish. Not as plush as the 2002, reviewed here, but gutsy and gawky at the same time. A flavorful lunk of a wine. 88. Was about $17 at Whole Foods on Bellaire some time ago.

2004 Robert Biale "Black Chicken" ZINFANDEL (Napa Valley, Cal.)

Rich-looking, saturated black ruby. Almost indescribably ripe, sexy nose of sappy, oozing blackberries and gingerbread. Soft, heavy palate impression, with huge body, great ripeness and richness, and almost port-like flavors (though it was dry). Some peppery heat at the end of the verrrrry long finish. My experience is that Zins like this crack up quickly, so, if you can find this limited production gem, enjoy it now while it's in full bloom. 91. I got this for around $30-35 at Richard's on South Shepherd a couple of months ago.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving Wines

I find it difficult to pair wines with turkey, so I usually don't break out the most expensive stuff on Thanksgiving. Generally, what I find I like best (or dislike the least) with the dang bird are deeply fruity, non-tannic reds (Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, 1-2 year old Beaujolais). For whites, I generally go with a German Kabinett Riesling, Alsace Gewurz, or off-dry to slightly sweet Chenin Blanc.

So for this Thanksgiving, I went with a coupla wines I've already reviewed here: the Lolonis Vineyards LADYBUG RED Cuvee V (Redwood Valley), previously reviewed here and here, and the 2002 Trimbach Gewurztraminer, previously reviewed here. Both were soft, fruity, and went (relatively) well with turkey.

For dessert, we had a 2004 Rudolf Muller Hainfelder Ordensgut RIESLING EISWEIN. It was surprisingly inexpensive for a true Eiswein -- $19.99 at Central Market. Not the most complex Eiswein around, but very nice. Piercing nose of contrasting smells -- honeyed peaches and tart granny smith apples. Fairly sweet, fruity and long in the mouth, with mouthwatering acidity keeping everything very fresh tasting and light. It was gone before I could go outside and take some more critical notes about it. I'm going to get more of this!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

2002 L'Aventure (Stephan Vineyards) Paso Robles ZINFANDEL

This was an elegantly-styled, but flavorful, Zin. Black ruby color. Sweet nose of mixed mountain berries, melted brown sugar, and balsa wood. Soft, but concentrated fruit in the mouth, in a medium-bodied format that seemed at odds with its 15+% alcohol. Not a blockbuster, but a very tasty, feminine-style Zinfandel. 88. Was $24.82 at Spec's on Smith.

2004 Beckmen Vineyards CUVEE LE BEC (Santa Ynez Valley, California)

This wine started out big and intense, but on the lean and austere side. After it was opened for about 2 hours, its nose became more fruity and accessible, and the palate rounded out nicely.

Dense saturated black ruby color. At first, the most prevalent aromas were those of scorched earth, iodine, and balsa wood. With substantial air time, big aromas of blackberry liqueur came out. Concentrated sweet blackberry and scorched earth flavors. This wine needs full flavored food to really shine. Long finish, with substantial but ripe tanin. Will definitely improve over the next 2-3 years. 88+ . Was $13.60 at Spec's on Smith.

2001 Villa di Vetrice CHIANTI RUFINA RESERVA (Tuscany, Italy)


Vetrice is one of my favorite good value sources for Chianti in recent years. This reserva is excellent.

Deep, youthful, sparkling dark ruby. Very elegant nose of spicy, ripe cherries and smokey, earthy scents. Medium-bodied, yet concentrated flavors of earthy cherries and smokey minerals. Lengthy finish with very nice fruit/acid balance. 90. A very good value at $16.50 at Spec's on Smith.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

2000 Brigaldara AMARONE della VALPOLICELLA (Veneto, Italy)

A very distinctive wine from one of my favorite, non-stratospherically-priced Valpolicella producers. Dark ruby color with some brick at the rim. Unique nose of sweet, pruney fruit, gingerbread, and warm earth. Soft, intense and mouthfilling flavors of blackberries, choke cherries, and old barrels. LOTS of body, with some heat showing through. Some tannins remain but are relatively unobtrusive. Very long in the mouth. Essentially like a very good dry Port. Had this one with a unique and intensely flavored pot roast from Novara (braised in red wine vinegar with guanciale, anchovies, and garlic). Could age and round out a few more years because of the fruit density, but not too many years, what, with all that heat already peeking through. 89. Was $64 at Spec's on Smith -- cheap! compared to producers like Quintarelli and Romano dal Forno.

2004 Domaine Manciat-Poncet MACON-CHARNAY "Les Chenes" (Burgundy, France)

Startlingly deep, dark gold color. So dark I though the wine would surely be oxidized. It wasn't. Fresh nose of sweet flowers, grapes, white peaches, and earthy minerals. Velvety textured in the mouth, with ripe apple-pear fruit and lots of pungent mineral flavors. Still fresh, but with that dark color, I'd drink this one up soon just to be safe. 86. Was $11.99 at Richard's on South Shepherd.

2003 Vignobles Careme VOUVRAY Demi-Sec (Loire, France)

This was a nice, reasonably-priced dessert-style Chenin Blanc. Light, bright brassy gold. Ripe pears, quince, and chalky stones in the nose. Round, soft, ripe, and minerally in the mouth. Light body and very nice balance. Comparable to a Riesling Spatlese but a bit shyer due to Chenin Blanc's understated nature. 87. Was $11.99 on sale at Richard's on South Shepherd.

2002 Bodegas Castano SOLANERA "Vinas Viegas" (Yecla, Spain)

I've had some wines from this winery that have tended toward the overextracted, astringent side, but this 65% Monastrell 35% Cabernet was nice. Deep, saturated black ruby. Brooding nose of smoky charcoal embers and cassis. Inky, intense, masculine flavors of concentrated cassis and dry blackberry extract, with a chalky/minerally underlay. Almost austere, but concentrated enough to have some roundness. MACHO! Very good. 87. Will easily keep 2 to 4 more years in a cool cellar. Was $15 at Spec's on Smith.

2004 Talley Arroyo Grande Valley PINOT NOIR (San Luis Obispo County, Cal.)

This was a superb P.N. Light ruby color with purple glints at the rim. Sweet, seductive nose of spiced blackberry juice, flowers, and cigar box. Round and plush in the mouth, with concentrated sweet fruit, toasty warm earth scents, and some well-integrated wood. Great length and beautiful balance. Very sexy, seductive, feminine style Pinot Noir. 91. $33 at Spec's on Smith.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

2005 Cousino-Macul RIESLING "Dona Isadora" (Maipo Valley, Chile)


A great buy in an Alsace-style Riesling. Light, bright silvery-straw color. Terrific nose of fresh grapes, cold steel, and Earl Grey tea. Intense, yet balanced and light-textured flavors of grapes, pear skins, and pungent minerals (gout de petrol, as the French say). Long, soft, dry finish. 88. Was about $9 at Whole Foods on Bellaire, but I think Spec's locations stock this too.

2003 Chateau de Chatelard BEAUJOLAIS-VILLAGES "Les Vieilles Vignes" (France)

I reviewed this one before here. This was my last bottle, and it still is great. Medium deep ruby. No real signs of age. Gorgeous nose of sweet grapes and raspberries, butterscotchy notes, earth and stony minerals. A contradiction in the mouth: mouthfilling flavors of bright, rich fruit, yet a silky, tip-toey, light mouthfeel. Lingering finish and perfect balance. 90. Could last another year, but why wait?

2005 Georges Duboeuf MORGON "Jean Descombes" (Beaujolais, France)

A cleanly-made but not terribly interesting Beaujolais.

Medium dark, crystal ruby/purple. Bright, straightforward fruit nose of crunchy blueberries, with some cold steely minerals in the background. Bright, up-front crunchy berry flavors, but they fade quickly and leave lots of minerally notes in the back half of the palate. 83. Was about $13 at Spec's on Holcombe.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

2003 Elyse "Morisoli Vineyard" ZINFANDEL (Napa Valley)

Very good, but not nearly worth the price.

Black ruby-garnet. Lively nose of mountain berries, blood oranges, gingerbread, and earth. Concentrated, but not as fleshy as I expected, with tightly-wound berry fruit and good length. Some tannin still remains as well. Leave this another year to soften texturally, but not much longer than that, as my experience with Zinfandels is that they drop their vibrant fruit much faster than other big reds, like Cabs and Syrah-based wines. 88. Was $31 at Spec's on Smith.

2004 Bogle "Old Vines" ZINFANDEL (California)

A dark, but mature ruby color. Ripe, spicy nose of peaches mulled in raspberry/blueberry juice, with cinnamon and salt-air scents. Not classic Zinfandel aromas, but nice. Broad, low acid flavors of peach pit and gingerbread. Not terribly concentrated, but mouthfilling in a lighter way, with some heat in the finish. A nice quaffer to guzzle in the next few months. 86. Was about $8 and change on sale at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

2004 Bodegas Torremoron TEMPRANILLO (Ribera del Duero, Spain)

This wine is a good value. Though it's in a tighter, less fleshy style than I usually go for, I liked it -- it would go well with very rich meat sauces or stews or braised pot roasts.

Medium dark ruby, with magenta glints at the rim. Very bright, fruity/steely nose, with crisp raspberries and blueberries predominating. Medium-bodied, but tight and concentrated in the mouth, with good length and crisp acidity buoying up the finish. Flavors of dry essence of raspberry/blueberry liqueur. Maybe it'll soften and broaden over the next year, but I wouldn't bank on it, as wines with this level of acidity tend to stay pretty tight and focused, in my experience. Still, as I said, I liked it. 86. Was $8 and change at Spec's on Smith.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

2001 Fess Parker PINOT NOIR "American Tradition Reserve" (Santa Barbara County)

This was a fully mature, flavorful, Pinot Noir, though it wasn't that complex. Rich, sweet nose of wet earth, sappy cherries, and peaches. Rich, soft, earthy flavors, with lots of body. Very voluptuous and up front. Kind of a floozy, but floozies have their place, right? 87. Was $22 at Fiesta Mart near Reliant Stadium.

2004 Chateau de la Greffiere MACON LA ROCHE VINEUSE (Burgundy,France)

A notch above even the previous Mommessin Macon Villages, this was a superb unoaked Chardonnay. Had it at Farrago restaurant this past weekend. I've seen it around in stores -- not sure if it was Richard's, Spec's, or both. But I think it's around $15-$16 retail. It had more of everything that the Mommessin had going for it. More fruit, more body, more freshness, more length. Years ago, I preferred oaky California Chardonnays to the unoaked, more minerally and restrained Maconnais wines, but now I'll take a wine like this any day.

2004 Mommessin MACON-VILLAGES "Old Vines - Chardonnay" (France)

This is a dynamite buy in a cheap, well-made, unoaked Chardonnay. Didn't have time to take notes, but this wine had good body and ripeness, some nice minerality, and nice balance on the long finish. About $8 at most Spec's stores. GET SOME.

Coupla Mediocre Wines

2005 Domaine de Coccinelles COTES DU RHONE Rose -- Pretty, light bubble gum pink color, but things went downhill from there. Tight, austere, minerally nose, followed by tight, tart, austere flavors. Got some body, but unfriendly flavors. 74.

2004 Domaine de Gournier GRENACHE NOIR (Rhone region, France) -- An estate imported by Robert Kacher, which is usually a good sign. This wine, however, while it had good color, was austere and acidic, with sharp, scorched earth and tart cherry flavors. Lots of acid on the finish. Heartburn city. 70.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

2005 Trumpeter Mendoza TORRONTES (Argentina)

Torrontes is a white varietal that is a specialty of Argentina. I view it as a poor man's Viognier because it has lots of tropical fruit scents, fairly full body, yet falls apart within one to two years.

This one is very inexpensive, but not bad. Bright, crystalline light brassy-gold. Very fruity nose of tropical fruit (mango?), with apple and ruby red grapefruit scents as well. Medium bodied, with lots of up-front fruit and fruit-pit flavors, with citrusy notes. Fades fast in the mid-palate, however. Short, clean finish. 82. Was $7 at Spec's on Westheimer (near Fogo de Chao).

2005 "Red Guitar" Navarra "Old Vine" TEMPRANILLO/GARNACHA (Spain)

This wine has started to show up at a lot of stores. Apparently a big, well-connected company is behind this, although I can't tell which one.

Surprisingly for a wide-distribution wine, this has some character. A saturated dark ruby/purple color, with a fragrant nose of spicy ripe raspberries, cinnamon, stones, and cream. Medium full-bodied and pure in the mouth, with penetrating, tight fruit, some youthful, but soft, tannin, and a clean, spicy fruit and mineral finish. Will soften and expand in flavor over the next year. Very good value at $9 at Whole Foods on Bellaire (also available at Spec's and some supermarkets). 87+

2004 Chateau de Chatelard BEAUJOLAIS BLANC "Vieilles Vignes" Chardonnay (France)

The last wine (the Sancerre Rouge) was a rare red from a white region. This is a rare white from a red region.

Bright, light nose of crisp apples, pears, and chalky minerals. Tight, fresh and minerally in the mouth; not terribly concentrated, but very clean and balanced. A nice oddity, but not a repeat purchase. 86. Was about $10 at Spec's on Smith.

2003 Jean-Max Roger SANCERRE ROUGE "Cuvée Les Caillotes" (Loire, France)

A very distinctive Pinot Noir, displaying the minerally, austere capabilities of the grape.

Medium light ruby. Snappy nose of tart cherries, plums, and lots of sweet, pungent minerals. Dry and austere texture, this wine has lots of bone-dry cherry and mineral flavors, with some crisp acidity and peppery heat. Distinctive, and an interesting wine to sip and ponder, but not the most hedonistic of wines. 84. Was about $19 at Spec's on Smith.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

2004 Lolonis Redwood Valley ZINFANDEL (Mendocino County, California)


This was a beautiful, textbook Mendocino Zin.

Beautiful saturated black purple/ruby color. Classic Zin nose of crisp, ripe, penetrating mountain berries, creamed caramel, and lemony spice. Round, soft, and full, yet vibrant mouthfeel. Perfect fruit/acid/ alcohol/tannin balance. Ooodles of pure fruit with an undercurrent of toasty balsa wood. A big, beautiful, food-friendly Zin. I think it's organically grown too. 90. A very good value at $15.20 at Spec's on Westheimer (near Fogo de Chao).

Monday, October 09, 2006

2003 Reilly's "Old Bushvine" GRENACHE/SHIRAZ (Clare Valley, Australia)

Can't the Aussies come up with some phrase other than "bushvines" for "old vines." I've got it! How about "old vines"? Something about the name "bushvines" just rubs me the wrong way.

Anyway, this is a very distinctive wine, but it's not for everybody. It's like a big, plush ball of viscous fruit plasma . . . what some wine geeks now pejoratively call a "fruit bomb."

Medium dark ruby/garnet. Oozingly sweet peaches and raspberries on the nose, with steely minerals underneath. Plush and richly fruity in the mouth, with salty peach pit and raspberry flavors, and a nice hint of charcoal in the finish. Full-bodied and very voluptuous. Hedonistic, even. Drink right now. Do not age. 90 points based on pure pleasure, even if it's not very complex. Was $18.90 at Spec's at Richmond & The Loop.

2004 Domaine des Aubuisières VOUVRAY "Cuvée de Silex" (Loire Valley, France)

A very understated, elegant wine. Exceedingly pale gold. Delicate nose of sweet flowers, apples, and ripe white grapes. Faint stony minerality in the background. Soft fruit -- freshly-crushed grapes -- with chalky minerals in the mouth. Light-to-medium bodied, with some residual sweetness, but great balancing acidity. Persistent finish. Very good feminine style Vouvray. 87. Was $15.79 at Richard's on South Shepherd.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

2004 Altos de la Hoya MONASTRELL (Jumilla, Spain)

Yes, I've tried a lot of Monastrell-based wines from the Jumilla and other regions in southern Spain recently. Because there are lots of good values to be had there, that's why. This is another one.

Saturated black-ruby/purple color. Very unusual nose for a Monastrell: lemons,peach pit, sweet raspberry, sweet cream,and just a tad of earth. Big and intense, yet very nicely balanced, with flavors that emphasize the fruity rather than the earthy side of the Monastrell grape -- blueberries, cassis, and minerals. Lots of well-integrated tannin and good acidity too. Drinks well now, but I think it will soften considerably over the next two years. Less than $10 at Spec's on Smith. 88+

Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Note on Big Zinfandels and a Stupid Article

A couple of weeks ago I got the Spec's monthly or quarterly wine mag in the mail. In it, there was an article by someone I've never heard of about Zinfandel. One of the premises of the article was that they're too big, too full, too ripe, and too high in alcohol. The writer recommended that winemakers try to throttle back, and make them with less body, less ripeness, and more acidity so they'd be more "food friendly."

WHAT A LOAD OF IGNORANT CRAP.

Zinfandel is a wine that naturally ripens at higher sugar levels than other varietals. So guess what? When it's fermented, turning the sugar into alcohol, there's more alcohol and therefore more body. It's been my experience that it's hard to find it hard to find a Zinfandel that tastes like Zinfandel at lower than 14% alcohol. The lower alcohol Zins I've had tend to have less varietal character, because (all other variables being equal) they're picked earlier when they're less ripe. To try to produce a lower alcohol Zin than nature wants to give you is like trying to make Anna Nicole Smith or Queen Latifah look like Gwynneth Paltrow. It doesn't work, and the world becomes less interesting as a result.

And it's a false premise that big Zins don't go with food. Yeah, maybe if you're eating seared tuna, some fancy pants veal or chicken breast dish, or some restaurant pasta dish finished with the now ubiquitous "touch of cream," then a big fleshy Zin isn't the way to go. But I cook lots of stuff like braised lamb shanks, pasta with long simmered meat sauces, oxtail Roman style, steak grilled over mesquite, winey pot roasts and stews. With big boldly-flavored food like that, it's hard for me NOT to reach for a big, ripe Zin when I go to the wine closet.

If the writer wants lower alcohol, more restrained Zins, he or she can get some by being selective about what regions to look for. For example, I'm not a big fan of Zins from the cooler Russian River Valley, and they aren't usually as ripe as I 'd like and they tend to have higher acids. Some wineries are known for their more restrained style of Zins, too, like Storybook Mountain or Quivira.

If they aren't "restained" enough for for the writer of this ridiculous article, then my advice would be to drink a damn Cabernet or Merlot. But don't go trying to make my hound dog (we actually have a hound dog mutt named Zinny) into a miniature poodle.

2004 Di Majo Norante SANGIOVESE (Molise, Italy)

This winery makes good, solid, simple Sangiovese and Cabernet, which are widely available in lots of stores and supermarkets. Unfortunately, the best wine they make I usually can't find anywhere. That's their "Contado," a wine made from the Aglianico grape, which to my taste is the finest varietal grown south of Tuscany.

In any event, the Sangiovese was a solid, gutsy wine, but true to form it was simple, and really not recognizable as a Sangiovese. Dark black ruby color. Big, grapey, chocolately, resiny, smoky nose. Simple, rich, broad chocolate and cassis flavors. Lots of body and guts, but really simple and goofy. A great wine to guzzle at a big spaghetti supper. Widely available at around $8. 85.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

2005 Domaine des Corbillieres TOURAINE PINOT NOIR ROSÉ (Loire, France)

An OUTSTANDING rosé. Very light, bright, salmon-pink color. Phenomenal nose that vaults out of the glass -- freshly-picked stawberries, cherries, tropical fruit, and cold steel. In the mouth, this wine juxtaposes great fruit and concentration (for a rosé) with the ethereal lightness of a ballet dancer. Long, dry, pure-fruit finish. Easily the most pleasurable rosé I've had in several years. 92. WOW! Was only $10.99 at Richard's on Shepherd. GET THIS IMMEDIATELY! (I mean, after I go back and get a few more bottles).

1999 Domaine Tempier BANDOL (regular bottling) (Provence, France)

This was one of the best of the basic, non-reserve wines I've had from this excellent estate (which I used to sell when I lived in NYC and worked for Mosswood Wines). A classic Mourvedre based wine (with some Grenache thrown in), this wine had a deep black-ruby color with only the barest hint of age at the rim. Nose of earthy red fruits, classic Mourvedre "tree bark", and sweet cream. Big, athletic flavors of earthy raspberry liqueur and gravelly-minerals. Fine-grained tannins still remain, as does the vibrant fruit, both of which augur for nice ageing for a few more years. Very nicely balanced, medium/full-bodied. Would go well with stews and meat-based pasta sauces. We had it with risotto with red wine, prosciutto, and radicchio. 88. Got this from a very neat mail-order wine shop in Chicago, Flickinger wines, http://www.flickingerwines.com/, for about $20 a year ago.

2000 CHATEAU RAHOUL -- Graves (Bordeaux, France)

I used to see this wine a lot in NYC when I lived there in the early 80s. It was always a good value for a Bordeaux and still is.

Dark ruby/brick color. Plummy, sweet, curranty nose with lots of typical Graves cigar box and sandstone scents. Soft, rich, earthy flavors in a medium-to-light-bodied frame. Beautiful structure and texture, nice length. Not super-concentrated, but very well done. This is why I like Cabernet blends from the Graves region (or its sub-region, Pessac-Leognan) better than Cabernets from anywhere else on earth: the balance, softness, and earthy complexity. 87. I think this was about $20, but I can't remember where I got it.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

2004 Hewitson "MISS HENRY" Grenache Syrah Mourvedre (Barossa Valley, Australia)

Dark ruby garnet -- not young-looking, but not old-looking either. Substantial airing coaxed out a really nice nose of sweet cream, sweet mountain berries, and graphite. Medium-bodied, with flavors of salty, sappy raspberries and a hint of scorched earth way in the background. Not overly dense or fleshy, but good concentration and length nonetheless. No discernable tannin, but a little pepperiness (14% alc.) on the finish. 88. Drink in the next year, I'd say. Was $18 at Spec's Warehouse.

2001 Quinta do Alqueve "ANCESTRAL" (Ribatejano, Portugal)

Deep blackish ruby with no real signs of age. Wickedly high-toned nose of very spicy, mineral-laced raspberries and crusty bread. High-toned flavors as well, with lots of earthy/sandstone and spicy red fruit. Beautifully balanced, with a long finsh. Very distinctive. 88. Was $13 at Richard's on San Felipe.

2004 Verget MACON-VILLAGES "Mis Tardive" (Burgundy, France)

A nicely-rendered white burgundy in the "Verget" style (emphasizing mineraliness rather than fruitiness).

Beautiful light yellow-gold color. Medium intensity nose of minerals, honey, and marzipan, with some bitter pear-skin scents. Bright, intense flavors of stones, bitter pear again, and flowers. 87. Was about $13 at Spec's on Westheimer (near Fogo de Chao).

Saturday, September 16, 2006

2004 LUZON VERDE (Jumilla, Spain)

A good value Spanish red made from 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre) grapes, organically-grown.

Deep, saturated ruby color. Sweet aromas of crushed ripe blackberries, stones, and smoky cappuccino. Ripe and round in the mouth, with lots of fruit on entry and trailing off into a long, minerally/iodine, dry blackberry syrup finish. Lacking just that extra tad of concentration and weight in the middle palate that would have made it extra special. Nevertheless, lots to like here for the money. 87. Was under $9 at Spec's (several locations).

2005 Vida Organica MALBEC ROSÉ (Mendoza, Argentina)

Wow -- another great value from this winery (which is part of the Famiglia Zuccardi wine company in Argentina).

Light pink color. Lively, high-toned nose of strawberries, watermelons, flowers, and fresh-picked green beans. Fresh, light-bodied, but fairly intense fruit flavors cavort in the mouth: watermelon, strawberries, pear. Just barely off-dry, with a crisp, fairly long finish. Was $4.98 on sale at Whole Foods on Bellaire. 87.

Monday, September 11, 2006

2003 Marietta Sonoma County ZINFANDEL

A good, if rustic-styled, Zin. Deep ruby garnet color. Classic Zin fruit (spicy raspberry liqueur) on the nose, with crushed stone powder and a very slightly astringent charcoal note. Rich, ripe, peppery flavors, with a perceptible, but tolerable amount of rough tannin in the mouth. Long finish. Almost seemed a tad overextracted, but very good nonetheless in a rustic way. Lots of flavor, but throws a few elbows. 87+. Should soften a tad over the next year. Just under $15 at Spec's on Smith.

2003 Remo Farina VALPOLICELLA Classico Superiore "Ripasso" (Italy)

Disappointing. Either cooked in storage or aging way too fast.

Ruby garnet color with some amber at the rim. Spicy, winey, somewhat astringent nose. Some fruit in the mouth, but little concentration and a clipped finish. If you've got this, drink up, because it's on the way out. If this wine wasn't cooked in storage, then I'm not sure whether its mediocrity was the result of the torrid '03 vintage or just poor winemaking. 73. Was about $15 at Spec's on Smith.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

2005 Vida Organica MALBEC (Mendoza, Argnetina)

This is a ridiculous bargain. A $4.99 organic red that's cleanly made and fun to drink. Medium deep plum color. On the nose, it's plummy, with sweet cream and scorched earth notes. Soft, fruity, and leathery flavors, with a soft, medium-light bodied gulpable texture. Not very concentrated but open, friendly, and fun to drink, so who cares? Consider this a Beaujolais substitute at half the price of a good Beaujolais. Great for parties, summer cook-outs (go ahead and chill it a bit!), and pizza time. Got it on sale at Whole Foods on Bellaire for $4.-friggin-99. 85.

Friday, September 01, 2006

2004 "Bitch" Barossa Valley GRENACHE (Australia)

Yes, that is the name of the wine. And the back label repeats the word dozens of time. If you give this as a gift, make sure the recipient has a sense of humor.

Actually, the wine is very good. It reminded me of one of my perennial good buys from down under, d'Arenberg "The Stump Jump."

Deep, bright ruby. Richly and vibrantly fruity nose of raspberries, peaches, and lemons, with a steely minerality underneath. Round, rich, and soft in the mouth, with raspberry liqueur, iodine, and graphite flavors. Fairly long finish, with little tannin, but some alcoholic heat showing through. Not complex, but satisfying and full of character, and a good buy to boot. 87. Was $9.50 at Spec's out west on Westheimer (near Fogo de Chao).

2001 Morgante NERO D'AVOLA (Sicily)

About three years ago, I had the 2000 vintage of this wine, and it was excellent. The 2001 has held up very well.

Dark ruby garnet color. Wonderful nose of road tar, winey blackberries and cherries, with peachy and earthy components as well. It actually reminded me of the nose of the 60s and 70s Spannas from Antonio Vallana that I used to drink years ago. (Vallana was rumored to have "enriched" his Piemontese wines with bulk wine trucked up from the south of Italy, so maybe he was using some good Nero d'Avola!).

The taste didn't quite meet the expectations set by the nose, but it was quite good nevertheless. Lots of fruit, earth, and old wine barrel flavors up front, but it wasn't as concentrated and weighty in the mid-palate as I thought it should have been. Finish was a tad shorter than I like too. Overall, I would rate the nose as excellent but the flavors and texture as good. 87. I don't remember how much it was, but I think it was around $10 or $12. I'll have to try the latest vintage to see if this wine is meant to be drunk a little younger than 5 years old.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

It's Baaa-ack!

My best value of the last year is available at Spec's on Westheimer (out west, near Fogo de Chao). I just picked up a few more bottles of the 2004 "Carro" -- a Mourvedre blend from southeastern Spain -- for $6.99. Do your tastebuds and wallet a favor -- go get some.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

2002 Rocking Horse ZINFANDEL (65% Napa, 35% Sonoma)

This was a very satisfying Zin.

Dark black ruby. Tremendously exuberant nose of spicy black-raspberry liqueur, dry sandstone, baker's chocolate, and cream. Rich and intense, this wine has excellent ripeness (almost port-like, but dry), and a long, intense, richly fruity finish. Very full-bodied. Not great complexity, but lots of "oomph." Me likey, me. 89. Drink now. Zins like this don't age well at all. Good value at $14.59 at Spec's on Smith.

2004 Schlumberger PINOT BLANC "Les Abbes" (Alsace, France)

I've had this wine over several vintages, and this one was OK, but a bit disappointing given the track record of this producer. Usually, you can count on Schlumberger wines to be big, ripe galoots. Not a lot of complexity, but a lot of ripeness and character. This one was on the austere side.

Very pale straw gold color. Nose of chalky minerals, herbs, white grape skins, and tangerine peel. Crisp, minerally, bitter citrus flavors. Refreshing and nicely balanced, with a steely, crisp finish. A little more ripe fruit would have been welcome, but it wasn't bad, by any stretch. 84. Was $11.80 at Spec's on Smith.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Four Excellent Wines from a Steak Dinner

Dinner with the Murphys (+1) at our house. With mesquite-grilled steaks (no one on Marquette Street called the fire department on me this time!), we had the following line-up up excellent reds (abbreviated notes from memory, no scores):

2002 Landmark "Grand Detour" PINOT NOIR (Sonoma County) -- Earthy and oaky, with refined cherry/rhubarb fruit. Smooth and sophisticated. Reminded me of a good Nuits-St. George.

2003 Lake Breeze Langhorne Creek GRENACHE (Australia) -- A big, intense, old vines (71 yrs. old) Grenache, with concentrated earthy, iodine, salty raspberry flavors. Big and mouthfilling, but not tannic at all.

2003 MontGras "QUATTRO" Reserva (Colchagua, Chile) -- A very suave, subtle, and deep-toned blend of Carmenere, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Drinking beautifully. Last of three bottles I had of this. Sorry to see it go.

2002 Wynns Coonawarra Estate CABERNET SHIRAZ MERLOT (Australia) -- Leather and ripe berries on the nose, with a hint of eucalyptus. Medium-bodied and soft, but concentrated. Long, soft finish.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

2004 Vina Alarba Old Vines GRENACHE (Calatayud, Spain)

This wine is always at least a good value, and sometimes a great one. The 2004 is closer to the "good" end of the scale. Saturated dark ruby-purple. Intense nose of crushed, hot stones, sweet cream, and spicy raspberry/cherry liqueur. Tight, minerally, crisp, raspberry flavors, with relatively high acidity making for a nervous, edgy mouthfeel. Some tannin to shed as well. This wine should be a little softer in texture in a year, but time won't take away the acidity. A good, boisterous, but somewhat uncivilized glass of wine. 86+. Was $6.99 at Spec's.

2003 ZIG ZAG ZIN (Mendocino County Zinfandel)

Medium ruby color with some lightening toward the rim. Spicy, gingerbready nose, with spicy berries and scorched earth underneath. Lively in the mouth at first, assertive berry, mineral, and black pepper flavors. But some dryish tannins then quickly become apparent as the flavors quickly fade in the very short finish. Not bad, but nowhere near worth the price of $15.99 at Central Market. 83.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

2004 Chateau Calabre (Montravel, France)

This is a white Sauvignon Blanc (60%) - Semillion (40%) blend from an outlying region near Bordeaux. Very light brassy-gold color. Initially the nose featured grassy herbs, chalk, and gooseberries (which comes from the Sauvignon Blanc side of the family), but after it had been opened an hour or so, the lanolin scent of Semillion started to feel its oats. Large-framed with big, straightforward flavors of chalky minerals, cut grass, lime, and marzipan. Finishes clean, but with a little heat. 85. Not bad, but not a repeat purchase candidate. Was $9.99 at Richard's on South Shepherd.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

2004 Sebastiani Sonoma County ZINFANDEL

This is the best value Zin I've had in the last 3 years. Not a full-bodied blockbuster, but just spot-on Zin flavors and great balance. Black ruby color. Nose shy at first, but within an hour had blossomed to reveal classic ripe Zin fruit (brambly blackberries) and creamy, smoky molasses undertones. Medium-bodied, with ripe, soft blackberry fruit, and a clean, pure, and relatively long finish. A wine I could drink way too much of. At $8.50 a bottle at Spec's on Smith, this one is worth stocking up on, if you, like me, are a Zin fan. 88.

2002 Zaca Mesa "Z CUVEE" (Santa Ynez Valley, CA)

Zaca Mesa has for years been one of the most underrated wineries in California. I've never had a wine I didn't like from these folks, and they're usually not that expensive. This blend of 45% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 16% Syrah, and 9% Cinsault (all Rhone varietals), was very good and a pretty good value. Dark, bright ruby. Gorgeous, complex nose of cigar box, crushed rocks, baker's chocolate, earthy plums and blueberries. Intense, yet relatively austere flavors of iodine, dry blackberry extract, scorched earth, and salt. Long, dry, spicy & salty finish, with excellent length. A little heat and tannin on the tail. Drink now. 88. Would go very nicely with braised beef or lamb dishes. Was about $15 at Spec's on Smith, I think, a few months ago (I lost the receipt).

2004 VINA BORGIA (Campo de Borja, Spain)

This Garnacha (or Grenache)-based wine is usually a good buy in any vintage, and the 2004 is no exception. Medium blackish ruby color. Spicy cherry-raspberry fruit on the nose, with a scorched earth, minerally component. Solid, straightforward dry cherry-raspberry fruit, with decent amounts of character and concerntration for a wine this cheap. I think I got this at Central Market for about $6, but it's available elsewhere too. 86.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

1999 Domaine de Grand Tinel CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE (Southern Rhone, France)

(Truncated, non-scored notes from memory). I was expecting more from this one. It seemed just a tad past its peak. Earthy, leathery, cherry and raspberry scents. Full and peppery on the palate, but it seemed to lack the depth and concentration I expect from a good estate in Chateauneuf in a very good vintage. Interestingly, this 7-year old wine had thrown no discernible sediment, strongly suggesting that overzealous filtering may be to blame.

2004 Quinta dos Grilos DAO (Portugal)

(Truncated, non-scored notes from memory). This was a GREAT value. Got it for $7.99 at Pop 'N Cork in Ludlow, MA (which has a nice selection of interesting and moderately priced Portuguese wines). Deep blackish ruby. Great nose of ripe, spicy raspberries, peppercorns, and granite dust. Medium-full bodied flavors of ripe fruit and spicy minerals. Drink now or age a year or two.

2001 Finca Luzon ALTOS DE LUZON (Jumilla, Spain)

(Truncated, non-scored notes from memory). This was outstanding. 50% Monastrell, 25% Tempranillo, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. Inky black ruby color. Big, rich nose of chocolate, vanilla, blueberry liqueur, and earth. Massive, concentrated, yet soft on the palate. Reminded me of a mature high-end Petite Sirah from Northern California. Was $14.99 at Table & Vine (Big Y Liquors) in Northampton, MA.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Wines from a big family dinner

Well, we're in New England on a family visit. We had a huge Casagrande family diner at my brother's house in West Hartford, CT, on Sunday. Mom's home-made ravioli and lasagna, Susan's spicy portuguese shrimp, grilled steaks with fresh home-grown herb chimichurri. Lots of good wines, which, due to the festivities, I didn't have an opportunity to critically evaluate. But here are my impressions:

2005 A to Z Pinot Noir Rose (Oregon) -- Bright pink. Gorgeous nose of ripe cherries with earthy undertones. Big flavors.

My brother also uncorked several nice Spanish Albarinos -- a new favorite white of his:

2004 Bodegas del Palacios de Fefinanes ALBARINO d FEFINANES Rias Baixas -- Flinty, minerally, herbal, with gooseberry fruit on the nose. Crisp, minerally flavors -- almost Sancerre-like.

2005 D. Pedro de Soutemaior ALBARINO Rias Baixas -- Another, even more herbal, but still Sancerre-like Albarino. Citrusy and minerally.

2003 Vergadanes Rias Baixas ALBARINO -- An oak-aged Albarino. Like a minor new world chardonnay. I like the non-oak-aged style better.

And then some reds:

2000 Ridge "COAST RANGE" (California) -- A bare-majority Zinfandel blend, this wine was displaying how a well-made Zinfandel can age. Now, I like the young ones better, but this was very nice. Great fragrance -- almost like a Barbaresco. Complex, soft, and with nice balance.

Sean Thackrey PLEIADES XI "Old Vines" (California) -- A blend of about a dozen different grape varietals, all from small patches of old vines. Earthy and funky at first, this wine showed more fruit and less earth as it aired out. Large-boned, fleshy, and complex. Really good.

2004 Fess Parker Santa Barbara County PINOT NOIR -- Very good. Previously reviewed here.

And then a dessert wine:

R.H. Bueller "FINE MUSCAT" (Victoria, Australia) -- Figs and maple syrup. Nice balance. A very rich, if not particularly complex, wine.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

2005 "Loose Ends" Barossa Valley GRENACHE ROSE (Australia)

Startlingly bright and deep magenta-pink color. Sweet, vibrant nose of ripe watermelons, steely minerals, and cherries. Rich, round, yet lively in the mouth, this wine has boatloads of character. Finishes just off-dry, and is nicely balanced. A terrific wine to have with highly seasoned grilled foods on a hot summer day. 88. Was $12.61 at Spec's on Holcombe.

2003 Piping Shrike Barossa Valley SHIRAZ (Australia)

This was a superb, moderately-priced Shiraz. Saturated black ruby color. Rich nose of toasty dark chocolate, crushed blackberries, and new baseball glove leather. Rich, deep-toned flavors of black raspberries, graphite, and scorched earth. Powerful, full-bodied, yet soft mouthfeel. This puppy might even soften and improve over the next year. Very, very good. 89. Was $13.99 at Rice Epicurean on Holcombe.

2003 Artazuri NAVARRA (Spain)

This 2003 Grenache (or Garnacha)-based wine is still drinkable, yet on the way out because of its flabby constitution. Another victim of the 2003 European heat wave, the heat obviously cooked the typical Grenache vibrancy out of this wine. Color a bit dull; medium ruby, tending toward brownish at the rim. Flat nose of cooked raspberries, caramel, and milk. Soft, round, low acid "winey" flavors, with a soft, flabby, barky-mushroomy component on the finish. Not unpleasant, but you can't help but see how much better this wine would have been without all that heat. 80. Was about $9 at Central Market.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

2000 Belle Pere & Fils CROZES-HERMITAGE "Les Pierrelles" (Northern Rhone, France)

A syrah-based wine from France, this guy was earthy and very good. Black ruby color with virtually no browning or fading. At first, soft, funky, earthy scents predominated (everyone at the table agreed it smelled like a hair perm -- given my follicular challenges, I wouldn't know). Over time, however, blackberryish fruit and blood-like scents emerged, with some almost mushroomy smells underneath. Very distinctive and full of character. Excellent balance, and a velvety texture, with good length. 88. I think this was around $15 at Richard's on San Felipe several months ago in the "sale bin."

2001 Di Majo Norante "RAMITELLO" (Molise, Italy)

This southern Italian wine is a blend of Prugnolo and one of my favorite Italian varietals, the Aglianico grape. More Prugnolo, I think. Medium dark ruby. Surprisingly delicate and high-toned nose of strawberries, cherries, flowers, and some light, loamy earthiness. (I usually expect southern Italian reds to be a lot earthier and deeper-toned.) Dense, but high-toned cherry fruit in the mouth. Nice balance and softness, but the finish fades too quickly. Overall, a pleasant and fun wine, but not as serious as I expected. 86. Was about $13 at Spec's on Smith.

2000 Robert Mondavi CABERNET SAUVIGNON "Oakville" (Napa Valley)

This was an excellent Cabernet. Elegant yet powerful at the same time. Medium deep ruby color, with some brickishness at the rim. Subtle nose of spicy cigar smoke, earth, and cassis liqueur. Intense flavors explode in the mouth, with concentrated fruit, tobacco, crushed rocks and earthy blackberries. Full-bodied, with little tannin left, this wine is peaking. 89. Not sure how much it cost, as it was a gift from a very thoughtful professional colleague. I know it was beyond my usual price constraints, however!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

2003 Carlisle Dry Creek Valley ZINFANDEL

Deep black-ruby/garnet color. Heady nose of rich, spicy raspberries, crushed granite, and black peppercorns. Very full-bodied with minerally, dry raspberry extract flavors. A fair amount of heat shows through in the mid-palate (the wine is 15.9% alcohol, for Pete's sake), but great richness on the finish. 88. Drink now, before it self-destructs -- my experience is that in Zins with this much alcohol, the alcohol tends to kill off the fruit in a few years. I haven't seen this available in Houston. I got mine several months ago from zachys.com. I think it was around $30, which is very expensive for a Zin.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

2002 Benziger Sonoma County CABERNET SAUVIGNON

A very pleasant, but not very serious, Cabernet. Deep blackish, brickish ruby. Rich nose of cigar box and milk chocolate, with plummy blackberry fruit in the background. Round, soft, earthy/plummy flavors are very nice, but don't last long and aren't that complex. Full-bodied, but lacking concentration and length. A decent enough wine for casual occasions. 85. Don't know how much it costs because it was a gift, but I think I've seen it around for about $14.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

2004 Arthur Metz RIESLING "Cuvee Anne Laure" (Alsace, France)

Here's a good value in a crisp, fresh, dry Alsace Riesling. A light, greenish gold color, this wine has a spritely nose of lemon-lime fruit and chalky minerals. Bright, fresh lemon-lime flavors carry over onto the palate, with a clean hint of steely lemon peel at the end. Medium-light body, with excellent balance. Simply a super summer sipper with shellfish by the seashore. 87. Was about $13 at Cost Plus World Marketplace on Richmond (I had gone back there for some home furnishings and they actually had a couple of interesting wines there again (finally!).

Saturday, July 01, 2006

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

I reviewed this organically-grown Zinfandel-based wine back in December, giving it an 88. It's still drinking beautifully and still available at Whole Foods on Bellaire for $12.99. What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

2004 Almira "Los Dos" Grenache (93%) - Syrah (7%) Old Vines (Campo de Borja, Spain)

I took a chance on this one because it's: (a) a 2004 Spanish wine; (b) mostly Grenache; (c) from a region that's known for good Grenache-based wines; and, most importantly, (d) imported by a very good importer. Winebow is known for its great value Italian wine portfolio, and I've never even known them to import a Spanish wine, but what the hey.

And this educated guess paid off. This is a really fun summer red. Medium ruby purple color. Sweet, ripe nose of oozingly sweet raspberry juice, sweet lemons, and fresh whipped cream. Velvety soft, round, and ripe in the mouth, with pure flavors of raspberries and an undercurrent of minerality. Not complex, by any stretch, but impeccably made, full of character, and FUN -- it would be a particularly cookout or party wine. 88. And a really good value to boot: $7.99 at Cost Plus on Richmond. Stock up on this one!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

2003 Nino Jesus "FIGARO" Calatayud (Spain)

Although the label doesn't say, I believe that this wine is mostly or all Grenache. It is "an inconvenient truth" that the 2003 vintage was the hottest ever recorded in most of Europe, including Spain, with the result that many of the reds -- particularly from hot growing regions -- are a bit out of balance. And despite the fact that I've said "caveat emptor" as to these wines, I just can't resist a cheap Spanish grenache brought in by a good importer (in this instance, Kysela). This one was pretty good, but the heat of 2003 baked it a bit too much. Dark ruby softening to brick at the rim. Fragrant nose of warmed sweet cream, mulled raspberry juice, and white pepper. On the palate it was soft, rich, and peppery, with low acid flavors of baked raspberries. Some heat and astringency on the finish (which, along with sharp tannins, can peg southern European wines as being from the 2003 vintage) keep this one from being a repeat purchase. 85. Was $7.99 at Central Market.

2004 Cambria Santa Maria Valley PINOT NOIR "Julia's Vineyard" (Santa Barbara County, California)

This ubiquitous wine seems to be available in every wine shop and supermarket I've been in over the last several months, so my curiosity finally got the best of me. Too bad, as my reaction is "eh." Medium ruby color with a tad of amber at the rim. Nose has lots of sappy, overripe cherries, and a cola/Dr. Pepper component, but it also has some sharp, green stemmy smells and a tad of eucalyptus. Likewise, the flavors are ripe and earthy, but with a pervasive, bitter stemminess, particularly in the mid-palate and through the finish. The wine would have been pretty good otherwise. I'm not sure where the stemminess comes from, as the winery's winemaking notes for this wine state that all the grapes were de-stemmed. 78. Was about $16 on sale at Randall's on Weslayan.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

2003 Cuvee des Messes Basses COTES DU VENTOUX (Southern Rhone, France)

Made by a large growers co-op in Ventoux, this wine is a very good buy and kind of atypical for a 2003 from this region. Sparkling dark ruby color. Gorgeous nose of freshly crushed raspberries and ripe cherries, sweet cream, and caramel. Soft, richly fruity but lively flavors of cherries, with a nice, clean mineral component. Excellent balance, freshness, and length. Tasting like it was from a much cooler, more normal year than hellish 2003, this wine is not particularly deep, serious, or complex, but it is just plain fun to drink. Very good value, since it's hard to find any wine from the Rhone region for under $10 these days. Was $9.79 at Spec's on Smith (and available at other Spec's, I think). 88.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

2003 Bodegas Castano HECULA (Yecla, Spain)

This is a very dark, intense wine. I think this one is mostly (or all) Monastrell grape. Inky-black ruby-crimson color. Gorgeous, powerful, masculine nose of blueberries, steel, warm bread, brick, and pencil lead. Rich, tannic, full-bodied flavors of earth, iodine, and cassis. Long, tannic finish. Very good now, but I'm guessing that 2-3 years of cellaring will help some of the tannin drop out and smooth out the texture. 87+. Was $10.99 at Central Market. I know I've said to exercise caution with the 2003s from Spain (in fact, I reviewed and didn't like a different 2003 from this estate last year here), but this one turned out very well.

2004 Andre Brunel GRENACHE (VDP Vaucluse, Southern Rhone, France)

A decent, refreshing party wine. Dark ruby with glints of purple at the rim. Medium intensity nose of tart raspberries, Old Spice, and bubble gum. Light, refreshing flavors of minerals, cherries, and a little bit of raspberry. Short, clean finish, with good but unobtrusive acidity. This wine would be nice with a little chill on it and served with mesquite-grilled hamburgers. 83. Was $6.99 at Richard's on Shepherd.

2004 Domaine de Gournier ROSE (Southern Rhone, France)

Great looking, simple label on this one. And the wine is very good too. Bright salmon pink color. Great nose of smoky tomato skins, minerals, and tart strawberries. Very flavorful, dry, and assertive in the mouth, with excellent length (for a rose). Crisp, refreshing, and intense. A really nice wine for a hot summer day cookout. Was $7.99 at Richard's on Shepherd. 88.

2002 Lucien Albrecht Alsace RIESLING

Drink 'em if you got 'em. This wine is just beginning its decline, although it's still pretty good. Medium yellow gold. Nose of petrolly-minerals, grape skins, and grapefruit. Austere, minerally flavors, with just the barest bit of oxidation, and a relatively short, citrusy finish. 84. Was $9.74 at Richard's on Shepherd.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Great dinner & wine in Newport Beach

I was out in Orange County Monday for a hearing, and was able to catch up with my friends, the Sedigh's, while I was out there. They took me to a really cool place called Mastro's Ocean Club Fish House, which is located right on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway in a relatively undeveloped area between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. The food was excellent (I had the blackened sesame seed-crusted seared "Big Eye" tuna -- it was amazing!), and we had a bottle of the 2004 Patz and Hall Sonoma Coast PINOT NOIR, which, too, was excellent. It was a deep, saturated (for a Pinot Noir) ruby-purple color, and had an intense, if youthfully undeveloped, nose of ripe cherries, with hints of earthy, cola-y scents in the background. Very concentrated, with depth and balance that would augur well for 3-4 years of cellaring. Try the butter cake for dessert if you go -- it's like a Frenchified version of "tres leches."

2002 Peachy Canyon "Westside" ZINFANDEL (Paso Robles, California)

Continuing my week-long streak of somewhat undernourished wines, here's a very good, but lean, Zinfandel. Dark ruby color. Spicy nose of mountain berries, sweet cream, and steely minerals. Inky but somewhat austere flavors of iodine, chalky scorched earth, and dry black raspberry extract. Lean mouthfeel, with some noticeable tannin hanging around. I usually like a Zin with more voluptuous fruit and texture, but this is still very nice, and would go well (as a counterpoint) with a rich, robust meal, such as oxtail stew, or braised lamb shanks. 87. Was $18 at Central Market, but I'm sure I've seen it elsewhere.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

2004 Nine Stones Hilltops SHIRAZ (New South Wales, Australia)

Deep black ruby color. Interesting nose of camphor, baker's chocolate, toasty oak, and blueberries. Not as fleshy in the mouth as I typically expect from an Aussie Shiraz. Austere flavors of minerals, iodine, and cassis. Rather short finish. Not bad, but I usually am looking for more flesh, fruit, and length in a good down-under Shiraz. That being said, this wine actually went very well with the tomato-based pasta amatriciana we had for dinner. Was $11.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire. 85.

2004 Grange des Rouquettes MARSANNE-VIOGNIER (Southern Rhone, France)

Straw-gold color. Shy nose of spiced ripe pears. Bone dry, broad flavors, primarily of minerals, marzipan, and pear skins. Medium body, with a clean finish. This wine definitely favors its subdued Marsanne side, displaying little of the floral, tropical fruit characteristics of the Viognier grape. Still, not bad for a change-of-pace white. 85. Was $9.99 at Richard's at Weslayan & Bissonett.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

2003 Domaine des Nugues BEAUJOLAIS-VILLAGES (France)

Medium ruby color, with a bit of maple syrup-looking brown towards the rim. Nose kind of shy at first, but with air it gradually developed light, sweet scents of strawberry candy, sweet cream, and stones. Light in the mouth, with some astringency and peppery heat, however. Flavors were of stones, cherries, and minerals. Relatively short finish. Kind of disappointing from this normally top-flight domaine. 82. Was $10.99 at Richard's on Shepherd.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Wines from the DC./Northern VA trip

Just some brief "from memory" notes on some nice wines I got at Arrowwine (a very good wine shop just off of Lee Highway in Arlington, VA) while in the DC area the last few days.

2004 LUDOVICUS (35% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo, 25% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) (Tierra Alta, Spain) -- this was a very good value at $11. Lots of ripe cherry fruit and minerally flavors. Medium full body, with a nice finish and very good balance.

2004 "Yasa" GARNACHA (Calatayud, Spain) -- This was a GREAT buy at $6.99. Textbook grenache nose of spicy ripe raspberry liqueur. Good concentration and loads of clean, ripe fruit in the mouth, with a soft finish with lots of fruit and mineral flavors.

2005 Seifried GEWURZTRAMINER "Nelson" (New Zealand) -- This was my second Gewurz ever from New Zealand, and it was very nice. Ripe, lychee fruit nose. Full and round in the mouth. Off-dry, with great balance and tremendously pure fruit. Was $15.99. This wine has moved up "learning more about New Zealand's wine regions" on my "to do" list. Apparently, Nelson is the northern-most wine region on New Zealand's south island.

2003 Venta Mazzaron TEMPRANILLO (Zamora, Spain)

A rustic but flavorful wine from the planet Mercury-like vintage of 2003. Saturated black ruby color. Nose was meaty and leathery at first, but with air some nice, ripe raspberry and cherry fruit took over, with sweet cream and a bit of scorched earth. Chewy, full-bodied texture, with small but noticeable amounts of gritty tannin. Flavors were mainly ripe, plummy fruit, with scorched earth and leathery undertones. Finish just a tad hot, with some astringency. Not bad, but not a repeater. 85. Was $13.49 at Spec's on Smith.

The meatiness, leathery, scorched earth flavors, along with the not-so-soft tannin, the heat, and the astringency in the finish are all, to my mind, trademarks of the 2003 vintage in regions that are usually hot to begin with, and thus were REALLY hot in 2003. I'm thinking the southern Rhone, Provence, the Languedoc and other parts of southwest France, many areas in Spain, and pretty much all of Italy. More and more, my instincts are "caveat emptor" concerning wines from these regions in '03. (And best to avoid taking chances on 2002's from these regions as well for just the opposite reason: too much rain and lack of sun leading to unripe, diluted wines.)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

2004 "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" Cabernet (20%) Syrah (20%) Monastrell (60%) (a/k/a Bodegas y Vinedos Murcia Jumilla) (Spain)

Some marketing "whiz" obviously gave this wine a made-up name, used the now-popular-in-America Aussie synonym for Syrah (Shiraz), and then listed the Cabernet and "Shiraz" grapes before the "Monastrell" grape (even though the Monastrell component is 60%) on the label, thinking that us "Muricans" wouldn't buy a Spanish wine labeled Jumilla or Monastrell. Thanks for your high regard of our wine savvy.

Apart from the condescending label, this is a large-bodied lunk of a wine. Not real complex, but darn mouthfilling. Deep ruby color. Sweet, ripe nose of sweet cream, ripe blackberries, prunes, and sweet pipe tobacco smoke. Rich, port-like fruit in the mouth -- dense and full. Some perceptible residual sugar in the mid-palate and finish. With its lack of complexity and very slight residual sugar, it wasn't very enjoyable on its own before dinner, but it actually went very well with the whole wheat pasta and sauteed peppers and bacon dish (recipe below) I made for dinner. I could see this going well with lots of different pasta dishes. 85. $10.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Peppers and Bacon

1 red, 1 yellow, and 1 green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips

1/2 bunch green onions, roughly chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 pound good quality bacon (or pancetta, if you don't want the smoky flavor), sliced into 1/4 inch strips

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 pound good quality whole wheat (or regular) pasta

1/4 cup good quality olive oil

1/4 cup chopped parsley

freshly-ground sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste

Get a big pot of salted water boiling. While it's getting there, fry up the bacon in a 12" saute pan until crisp or chewy, whatever you like. Remove bacon, pour off all but about 1 or 2 tablespoons of bacon fat and reserve it. Add the olive oil to the remaining bacon fat, then add the sliced peppers, the green onions, and the clove of garlic, and saute over medium high heat until the peppers start to soften a bit. Add back in the bacon, pour in the white wine, turn up heat and boil off for a minute or so, then add sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. When the pasta is done, drain, pour into a big dish, add the sauteed pepper sauce (sans the garlic clove), chopped parsley, and toss. To add some richness, you can listen to the bad angel on your left shoulder and drizzle in a little of the bacon drippings you poured off earlier. A bit of freshly grated parmesan is a nice addition at the end.

Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon 2004 MACON (White Burgundy)

This wine is amazing for its lowly "Macon" pedigree. A light straw-gold with a slight greenish glint. This wine has a nose more like a good Meursault or Chassagne-Montrachet than a Maconnais wine: aromas of hazelnut, straw, ripe pears and grapes, undergirded with a terrific stony/earthy foundation. Rich, earthy, pear, orange peel, and marzipan flavors attack the palate. Texture is unctuous and buttery for a Macon, and the finish is pretty darn long. One of the best Macons I've ever had. 90. Was about $16 (I think, since I lost the receipt) at Richard's on Shepherd.

Monday, May 22, 2006

2002 Hazyblur Adelaide Plains GRENACHE (Australia)

I just love what the Aussies can do with Grenache. This is a rich, intense, and voluptuous wine. Dark ruby color. Gorgeously perfumed nose of incense, raspberry liqueur, gingerbready spice, and iodine. Rich, fleshy, exotic mouthfeel, with salty, dense, lingering flavors of raspberry liqueur and minerals. Lengthy finish, but with no discernable tannin left. Drink now for a real treat. 91. Got this a little over a year ago at Richard's on San Felipe, so I'm not sure it's still there, but I think it was around $23.

2004 Domaine Pichot VOUVRAY "Domaine le Peu de la Moriette" (Loire Valley, France)

A great value, very prototypical Chenin Blanc. Bright, light straw color. Nose musty at first, then with air, gorgeous pear/melon fruit and sea shell scents emerged. Crisp but ripe apple and honeydew melon fruit, together with flowers and chalky mineral flavors. Slightly sweet in style (as traditionally are many Vouvrays), but with crisp acidity to keep everything in harmony. Very nice summertime white. 87. About $10 per bottle at most Spec's stores.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

2004 Rioja "Cortijo III"

Another Spanish wine with a minimalist, pumpkiny colored label. Hmm.

This wine was very much like a Spanish version of a well-made, but straightforward, DeBouef Beaujolais, although it is 100% Tempranillo. Medium garnet ruby color. Bright cherry, strawberry fruit on the nose. Soft, lush fruit flavors with wet stone, minerally elements in the background. No tannin at all -- for drinking this summer, perhaps even with a little chill on it, just as with Beaujolais. 87. Was $7 at Spec's on Smith.

1997 Antonio Vallana "Colline Novaresi" SPANNA

Antonio Vallana was one of my favorite Italian producers back in the 80s, and I recently found and reviewed two older vintages of his Boca D.O.C. wines here and here. They weren't quite up to the old standards, and neither is this one.

1997 was a highly touted vintage in Northern Italy, so I was expecting a wine of substantial concentration and still a bit on the youthful side. But this wine showed significant browning at the edges. It was also quite fragrant, but definitely showed up the funky/earthy side of the Spanna (Nebbiolo) grape, with chokecherry and barnyardy, earthy scents competing for attention. Earthy, evolved flavors with cherries again, with noticeable acidity. I would drink this up, as any more aging will only play up the earthiness and acidity. 84.

Friday, May 12, 2006

2005 (yes, 2005) Cartlidge & Browne California PINOT NOIR

This reminded me of a nicely done entry level Bourgogne -- in other words, it was more French in style than Californian. Light ruby color. Nose somewhat stemmy at first, but with air it brightened up with lots of lively cherry, mineral, and cola scents. Light-bodied cherry and mineral flavors. Texturally not as fleshy as many basic California Pinot Noirs. 86. Was a very good value for a PN at under $10 at Spec's on Richmond.

2002 Columbia Crest Columbia Valley CABERNET SAUVIGNON "Grand Estates" (Washington State)

This is a characterful, food-friendly, great value of a Cab. I'm usually not much of a Cabernet fan, since I believe it matches well with few dishes, but this one would go well with a broad range of foods. Inky, fully saturated black ruby color. Really nice nose of chocolate powder, minerals, overripe cherries, cassis, and gravel. Rich, full-bodied, and intense flavors attack the palate with smokey, cherry cough syrup, and mineral components. Very soft, yet packed with flavor--a real mouthful of wine with lots of character. 89. Would go GREAT with grilled lamb chops, pasta with meat sauce, lots of stuff. Was $8.50 at Spec's on Richmond, though I suspect it's available in all Spec's locations and lots of other stores.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Toronto Trip

Just got back from the annual International Trademark Association (INTA) spring conference, which this year was in Toronto. Apart from official stuff, I was able to sneak in two very good meals with my Connecticut buddy Frank Duffin. We walked a good 45 minutes from the Convention Center at lunch time to a section of Toronto called "Portugal Village." Not knowing anything about where the good restaurants were, we stopped into a small Portuguese shop, and asked the woman proprietress, who obviously was from Portugal, where we could get good Portuguese food. She directed us to a place called "First Choice Restaurant," located at 1102 Dundas St. W, (416-588-3851), where I had a bowl of "caldo verde" -- potato and kale soup -- and we split a huge order of Pork Alentejana -- pork and clams. Sounds weird, but it was really good. We were the only non-Portuguese speaking customers in the place.

For dinner, we had our traditional Tuesday night steakhouse trek. Each year, Frank and I "stake" out, as best we can determine, the best steakhouse in whatever city the INTA conference is in, and this year our research led us to Barberian's Steak House, 7 Elm Street, (416) 597-0335. While wicked expensive, the steaks were excellent. The wine list had pages upon pages of great wines from everywhere, but the prices were outrageous -- which I think has to do with the Ontario government-run distribution system. It was hard to find anything first rate that was under $100. Although these were Canadian dollars, the poor exchange rate meant that we were only getting $1.05 Canadian dollars for each U.S. dollar.

Anyway, we settled on the 2000 Dessilani Fara "Lochera," a full-bodied Nebbiolo-based wine from the Novara region west of Milan (the most famous wine from this region is Gattinara; Fara is less well-known but can be just as good, in my view). This wine was deep in color, very fragrant of cherry liqueur, leather, and earth, with lots of body and concentration. It had some tannin, but they were ripe and smooth. This wine will improve over the next five years. For dessert, we tried two glasses of 2004 Henry of Pelham Winery Ontario Peninsula Riesling Icewine. My expectations were not that high -- Canadian Riesling Icewine??? -- but this wine was amazing. Intense, rich, honeyed peachy nose, with bracing acidity to balance the intense richness. Absolutely classic Icewine, which I would happily compare to the Germans'. It was so good I made sure to find a state wine shop (the "LLBO") before I left so I could buy a half bottle ($54!) to bring back. State-run wine distribution, with its attendant high wine prices, have got to be the single biggest negative about living in Toronto, which really otherwise impressed me as a sophisticated, diverse, HUGE, and very interesting city.

Friday, May 05, 2006

2002 Capcanes "Mas Donis Barrica" (Montsant, Spain)

This's wines evolution once I uncorked it was just bizarre. When I first opened it, I thought it was heat damaged. The color showed some brownish at the rim, and the nose was of stewed fruit and warm raw meat. Not very appealing. So I put it away and opened up a bottle of something else. Hours later, I tried another small glass, just out of curiosity, and the color and nose were better. The brown was gone, and cassis fruit and smokey, gravelly scents (almost Bordeaux-like) emerged. Medium-bodied cassis and minerally flavors. Somewhat tightly wound but good. Two days later (under the Vacu-Vin seal) it was even better. This wine seemed to go from its deathbed to the flower of youth the more air time it got. 87? Hard to say. Was about $12 at Spec's on Smith.

2004 "Carril de Cotos" (Tierra de Castilla, Spain)

This is Spain's version of great Beaujolais. Deep purpley-ruby color. 100% Tempranillo, this wine's nose is pure ripe fruit -- disarmingly fruity, in fact. Fresh-crushed plums and ripe berries jump out. Soft, medium-full bodied, and concentrated, with plenty of soft, ripe tannin in the finish. Oodles of fruit in the mid-palate. A terrifically fun and very food-flexible wine for cookouts, pasta, sipping, whatever. 88. Was a great buy at $7.99 at Central Market.

2002 Sausal Alexander Valley Zinfandel "Old Vines"

An evil wine! A really good wine! Dense black ruby color. Fabulous nose of spicy, minerally raspberries and sweet brambleberries. Some toasty oak in the background too. Powerful, and full-bodied, with excellent concentration and fruit, with some well-integrated tannin in the finish. 89. Was $18.99 at Houston Wine Merchant.

I said evil at the beginning. After half a bottle the first night, I was totally zonked. As it was a Friday night, I chalked it up to a hard week. Two days later, finishing the remaining half of the bottle, I was zonked again! The label says only 14.3% alcohol, which is middlin' for good zin, so I don't know what's going on here, but, in any event, C. Everett Koop's warning about not operating heavy machinery applies to this one.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Central Market (near Highland Village Shopping Center) -- I surrender . . . . I liked it.

Well, despite my general dislike for what I perceive as "hoidy-toidy" (sp.?) stores, I went to visit Central Market (the hoidiest of the toidiest) for the first time in over a year on Monday evening. I didn't wind my way through the whole store, but focused on the wines and the produce, my two favorite subjects. As to wines, I have to admit that Central Market has a very interesting -- even eclectic -- selection. That's a big plus with me. I like stores that put some serious thought into their wine selection. And they clearly do. Lots of my favorite regions were well-represented, including the Rhone and southwestern France, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese wines. Prices weren't as good as Spec's, but they weren't bad either. I picked up a cheap, interesting Tempranillo to try.

Their produce selection is amazing, and very fresh-looking too. All manner of greens (I picked up some broccoli rabe for pasta). Prices a bit high (like Whole Foods, but seemed even a tad higher). But probably worth it for the selection and the freshness.

And, on a Monday after work, it wasn't that jammed with the high-fallutin', moneyed crowd that usually gives me the willies. (That's why I usually avoid formal wine tastings these days -- I really need to talk to a therapist about this "issue.") So, the bottom line is: I'll be back.

Monday, May 01, 2006

2003 Brigaldara Valpolicella Classico (Veneto, Italy)

Yet another wine displaying the problems with the historic heat of 2003 in central Europe. Color good -- dense black ruby color, with purple highlights. But nose not as "friendly" as Valpolicellas should be: angular, with scorched earth and crunchy cherry, almond and chalky spice scents. Full-bodied, but somewhat angular in the mouth too, with sharp flavors of scorched earth and cherries. Sharp tannin and some astringency in the finish. (Gee, I used the term "sharp" a lot. Guess this was a sharp wine.) 82. Was $15.53 at Spec's on Smith. Not nearly as good as the 2001 edition, which I reviewed here.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

2003 Chateau Reynon Bordeaux Blanc "Vieillles Vignes"

An 80% Sauvignon Blanc/20% Semillon blend. Rich, grassy, gooseberryish nose, with hints of green bell peppers or fresh artichokes. Full-bodied, with a broad, low-acid, relatively flat mouthfeel. Straightforward flavors of grass and earth, with some peppery heat in the finish. Definitely showing the effects of this unusually torrid growing season, but clean, simple, and satisfying nonetheless. 83. Was $12.32 at Specs on Smith.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

2003 Domaine Les Grands Bois "Cuvee Les Trois Soeurs" Cotes du Rhone

Soft (not bright, of course, because it's a 2003) medium black ruby color. Very leathery and sharp-scented at first, but with air time it opened up to show bright cherry-raspberry fruit, with lemony and dry leather scents underneath. Earthy raspberry fruit in the mouth, with some (but not unpleasant levels of) hotness and astringency. Pretty good, as 2003s from the southern Rhone go. 86. Was $10.99 at Richard's on Shepherd.

2001 Redhouse Shiraz Grenache (McLaren Vale, Australia)

Medium black ruby, with some lightening at the rim. Nose of smoky blackberries and loamy earth. Full-bodied, peppery flavors, with raspberry, blackberry, and iodine flavor elements. Lacking that little bit extra jammy concentration and density I expect from Australian version of these Rhone varietals, this wine is more Chateauneuf/Cotes du Rhone in style than Australia. A bit of tannin shows through in the finish, leading me to believe that its in the process of dropping some of the jammy fruit I bet it had a couple of years ago. So I'd say drink this one up, as it's still drinking well now, but my bet is it's going to lose more flesh as time goes on. 87. Marked down from $24.99 to $12.99 at Houston Wine Merchant at Westheimer & Shepherd.

2002 Clos des Rocher Riesling Grand Premier Cru "Wormeldange Nussbaum" (Luxembourg)

This was a superb buy in a really nice classic Alsace-style (dry, austere, intensely-flavored) Riesling. Bright, very light straw-gold color. Great nose, which developed with significant air time, of lemon-lime, stones, green apple, and peach. Just a hint of Alsace-style "gout de petrol" minerality. Crisp, minerally, and bone dry in the mouth, with fresh lemon-lime, green apple fruit and medium body. Nice length, balance, and finesse. 89. $12.94 at Spec's on Smith, which makes it a great buy compared to its $18 - $35 competitors from Alsace.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Houston Wine Merchant . . . not a bad choice if it's payday

A commenter asked me what I thought of this store (at the Randall's plaza at Westheimer and Shepherd). Since I hadn't been there in literally years, I stopped in briefly the other night on the way home from work. I was more impressed than I thought I'd be. This store has a well-chosen selection of wines from several countries. I was most impressed with its Australian section, and its Burgundy selection was interesting as well. The mark-ups seemed relatively high for most items (though not nearly as high as Christopher's), but there were still several notable values interspersed throughout the store. This would appear to be a good store to go to if you wanted to find something interesting in the $18 -$50 range, as that seems to where the bulk of its wines are priced. For value, I'm still a Spec's and Richard's guy, but this store certainly fills a niche (albeit a niche for people who like to spend more on wine than I typically do).

2001 Vega Sindoa Cabernet/Tempranillo (Navarra, Spain)

Vega Sindoa is a reliable source of many well made, if unexciting and generically-styled, cheap Spanish wines. Kind of like the Lindemanns, Kendall-Jackson, or Clos du Bois of Spain. This one had been sitting in my wine closet for a while, and I just pulled it out to get rid of it. It actually wasn't too bad. The nose displayed the herbal side of Cabernet, with vegetal notes of green tobacco leaf and some oak. Medium bodied, with simple cherry and herb flavors and a decent, though slightly acidic finish. 81. Vega Sindoa wines are a good choice if you're in a crappy little store and looking for something -- anything -- drinkable. Otherwise, show a bit more effort and try to pick up something with a bit more character.

2000 Forchini Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel "Proprietor's Reserve"

Never heard of this winery before, but the price and appellation were right, so I picked it up on a lark. Medium deep black ruby with no sign of age. Rustic nose of pruney berry fruit, with lemon compote and caramel scents too. Intense, but somewhat angular in the mouth, with flavors of dry raspberry extract, lemon peel, and scorched earth. Full bodied, with some heat in the finish. It was like drinking a cubist painting of a zinfandel. I recognized many of the elements, but it was like an angular amalgam of those various elements. I rated it an 84 at the time. But after three days under the "Vacu-Vin" closure, it had softened its angular edges (both in the nose and in the mouth) considerably, and was more enjoyable and identifiably Zin. On the third day ..... I rated it an 87. That leads me to think that a good 3-4 hours in a big, roomy decanter might help this one. $14.99 at Spec's on Smith.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Dinner/Wines

We had our Easter dinner Saturday evening, so our guests the Hughens, who were in from Austin, could get back at a reasonable hour on Sunday. The tasting notes are from memory, since I didn't do anything but enjoy the food, wine, and company on Saturday. We had these wines with Oma's Egyptian Lamb, the recipe for which follows the tasting notes.

2005 Vida Organica Malbec Rose (Mendoza, Argentina) -- I think I previously reviewed (and definitely remember liking) the 2004 version of this wine, and this one is just as good. Fresh nose of strawberry and cherry fruit, with a tad of earthiness too -- unusual for a rose. Great balance, and clean, refreshing flavors. Very nicely done dry rose for drinking throughout the summer months ahead. Was about $8 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

2000 Tardieu-Laurent Cotes du Rhone "Guy Louis" -- Tardieu-Laurent is probably THE best negociant in the south of France, in my view. Their wines are always more expensive in every appellation, but are frequently so far superior to the competition (particularly in the less prestigious appellations) so as to warrant the extra cost. This wine was amazing, and not only would blow away almost any other Cotes du Rhone I've had in the last 20 years, but also most regular Chateauneuf-du-Papes as well. Remarkable nose of rich blackberry, cassis, incense and earthy-iodine scents. Still young in the mouth, with some tannic structure for a few more years' development (if you've got a cellar or good temperature controlled wine storage unit -- I don't). Great length and concentration. I think I paid about $24 a couple of years ago for this, but Specs on Smith still has some left, albeit at $29 now.

Recipe for "Egyptian Lamb" -- This is a recipe I got from Liz's mom, and it's become our Easter tradition. We had it yesterday with the wines listed above. It results in a well-done roast (not rare, so beware), but it's very flavorful and moist. The presentation is nice because you've got a leg of lamb surrounded by neat piles of many different-colored roasted veggies, all of whose flavors have mingled with the roast juices.

1 6 to 8 lb. leg of lamb
1 large clove garlic (crushed)
2 onions or leeks, roughly minced
1 lb green beans
2-4 eggplants, depending on size (I like smaller ones), cut into 1" cubes
1 1/2 lbs zucchini, cut in half, lengthwise, then into 1/2 " slices
2 green bell peppers
3-4 tomatoes, cut into large chunks
1/2 teas. marjoram
2 bay leaves
2 tblsp. chopped parsley
3 tblsp. tomato paste
oregano (dried)
salt, pepper

Preheat over to 450. Bone leg of lamb. Rub lamb all over with crushed garlic. Sprinkle and rub in salt, pepper, and oregano. (Optionally, then put bone back in and tie meat up around it since bones add flavor).

Allow 30 minutes per pound total cooking time. Place leg in a LARGE roasting pan in oven, and roast at high heat for 20 minutes or so. Then reduce heat to 325. When you've got about 2 1/2 hours to go (which may be right away if you've got a smaller leg), add the onions or leeks, and soften them in the roast juices for 10 minutes or so. While that's going on, parboil the green beans in 1 cup water, reserving the water. Push the onions/leeks into a pile, then add the green beans and all the other veggies, in separate mounds surrounding the leg. Season with salt and pepper. Add marjoram, bay leaves, and parsley. Dissolve tomato paste in reserved green bean water, and pour over all veggies.

Roast, uncovered, until lamb is done, basting occasionally.

Carve into thick slices and arrange on plates with desired veggies. Spoon on pan juices.

VARIATIONS: Yesterday, I tried a few variations, and we all liked them. First, instead of rubbing with one clove of garlic, I pressed three finely chopped cloves of garlic into the meat (both outside and inside where I replaced and tied in the bone). Second, instead of oregano, marjoram, and bay leaf, I used the leaves of several sprigs of fresh rosemary, again, pressed into the meat. Third, I've taken to using Indian eggplant (available at Fiesta near Reliant Stadium). They're smaller (about the size of an egg), firmer, and have a better flavor than the big spongy monstrosities that pass for regular eggplant these days.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

2004 Frey Vineyards Redwood Valley Zinfandel (Mendocino County)

Bright medium-deep ruby purple. Tangy nose of mountain berry fruit. Tart, straightforward berry fruit in the mouth -- but the simple fruit is overwhelmed by the acidity of the wine. The label, which proclaims that the wine is totally organic and has no detectable level of sulfites, suggests to me that the acidity is the result of picking too early, rather than a manipulative winemaker adding acidity to the wine. 82. $11 at Whole Foods on Bellaire. If the pickers had just waited a bit longer . . . .

Sunday, April 09, 2006

2004 Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir

The fragrance of this wine alone is worth the price. Pure dark ruby color. Wonderfully rich nose of mountain berries, earth, rhubarb, and root beer. Still some some youthful angularity in the mouth, but rich flavors of berries and cola, smoky oak and earth. Full-bodied, with a relatively long finish, with a little heat (14.9% alcohol!). Nose a 91; flavors at 88, but with potential to improve over the next year.

I got this wine a couple of months ago at Spec's, when it was first released, at $19.10, but Spec's is now selling it for $22 and change. Still, given how hard it is to find Pinots this good for under $30-35, this is an excellent buy.

2004 "Carro" (Southeast Spain)

Another great buy from Spain!

This wine is 50% Monastrell (Mourvedre), with Syrah, Tempranillo, and Merlot blended in. Deep black ruby color. Rich, deep aromas of ripe blackberries, roasted meat, and vanilla spices. Concentrated, intense blackberry, plummy flavors, with some earthiness way in the background. Full-bodied, with a long, pure finish. Some soft, ripe tannin in the back of the mouth. Will soften and improve over the next couple of years. An unbelievable value at $7 and change at Spec's on Smith. 90+

To help you find this, the label is very simple looking -- it's a chestnut brown, with a stick figure drawing of a old-fashioned farmer's cart, and simply says "Carro" on the front.

One more thing: To show just how ludicrous Christopher's Fine Wines' pricing is (see my post immediately below), this wine is $12 there. That's about 70% more expensive than at Spec's.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Christopher's Fine Wines on West Gray: I don't get it.

What is with this place (formerly known as "Christopher's Wine Warehouse")? Is its motto "Why Pay Less?" Sheesh. I get their newsletter in the mail, and there's no doubt they stock some interesting wines, but their business model seems to be: focus solely on wines generally unavailable elsewhere in the city, and then charge almost restaurant magnitude mark-ups. Between the many Spec's and Richard's locations alone (putting aside other places like Whole Foods on Bellaire and Copperfield's), there simply is no reason except precious pomposity to go to a place like this.

Coming up soon, I will bite the bullet and go rub shoulders with the swells from River Oaks to see what Central Market is doing these days with their wine selection. I was last there about a year ago (I really don't like the crowd there--too many Jags, Range Rovers, and surgically altered bodies), and from what I recall they had a very good selection with generally high prices. I'm interested to see if that's still the case.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

2004 Bodegas Ochoa 50% Graciano/50% Garnacha (Navarra, Spain)

Incredibly youthful deep ruby color, with bloody magenta right up to the rim. Tart nose of barely ripe cherries and raspberries, lemon juice, sweet cream and steely minerals. The palate was dry and somewhat tart as well, medium-bodied, with underripe raspbberry, lemon, and chalky flavors. This wine will probably soften up and mellow a bit with a year or two in the bottle, but I think the grapes were picked just shy of being fully ripe, so it will never change enough to be really special. Nevertheless, this tart style would lend itself as a nice counterpoint to very rich, braised meats such as coda alla vaccinara (oxtail Roman style, one of my favorite dishes). 84+. Was under $10 at Spec's on Smith.

2002 Chateau Souverain Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Chateau Souverain has for years been one of my favorite wineries for consistent, high quality Sonoma County wines. I still remember picking up half a dozen bottles of their excellent 1990 Dry Creek Zin at Yankee Spirits in Massachusetts for about $5.99/bottle. While such prices are long gone, this winery still beats most of the larger, high quality California wineries on price.

The 2002 Alexander Valley Cabernet is typical of the region, typical of Chateau Souverain's style, and darn good. Sporting a deep, saturated black ruby color, with a purple tinge to it, the wine leads with terrific, deep-toned scents of sweet cassis and blueberries, with caramelly-sweet, smoky, gravelly scents as well. Very concentrated smoky fruit, with full body, nice length, and great balance. Very drinkable now, this wine will easily last and improve for 3 to 4 years, minimum. 90+

I got this for $19.50 on sale at Fiesta (the one near Reliant Stadium, which, by the way, is my favorite grocery store in the city! . . . incredible selection of fresh produce, diverse ethnic foods, and unusual cuts of meat). It was my "Saturday night splurge" wine, but that's still a great price for Cabernet of this quality.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

2003 Patient Cottat Sancerre "Vieilles Vignes"

Since good Sancerres (one of my favorite expressions of the Sauvignon Blanc grape) tend to cost between $15 - $30, this wine was a pretty good value at $14.88.

Because of the hot 2003 vintage, I expected this wine to have slightly lower acidity than typical Sancerres, and that was indeed the case. Bright greenish-tinged pale gold. Spritely nose of lemon-lime, ripe grapes, and sea shells. Round mouthfeel, medium-full body, with apple/pear and herb flavors. Good length, though there was a little pepperiness on the finish. Got it at Spec's on Smith. 87. Drink over the next year or two.

2004 Coron Pere & Fils St. Veran "Domaine de Montagny"

This wine is usually a good value in a soft, flavorful, unoaked white burgundy (i.e., French Chardonnay). The 2004 is no exception (though the 2003, which I had just before I started this blog, was flabby, tired, and out-of-balance, no doubt due to the ridiculous heat that year). Coron's style -- at least for the Maconais wines I've tried from this producer -- seem to play up the soft, ripe (even peachy) fruit that ripe Chardonnay can produce. This style is in sharp, stark contrast to the style of the Verget white burgundies I've tried. Verget is another producer whose wines are featured at Spec's. While both producers' wines from the Maconais taste unoaked, it's clear, at least to me, that Verget clearly strives for the austere, minerally side of Chardonnay. I definitely favor the Coron house style.

Bright yellow gold with greenish glints. Gorgeous nose of white peaches, smoky minerals, and talcum powder. Soft, rich fruit in the mouth, with lingering minerally flavors in the long, low acid finish. Soft, friendly, and accessible. Drink before the year is up. 87. Was $13.22 at Spec's on Holcombe (and I've seen it at other Spec's too.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission Engaging in Petty Protectionism

I'm on the e-mailing lists for a bunch of retail stores around the country from which I've ordered small amounts of hard-to-get wines over the last several years. One of them, Sherry-Lehmann in NYC, sent me an e-mail today saying that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission had sent them a cease-and-desist letter threatening criminal prosecution if they continued to ship wine to Texas consumers. As a result, they'll no longer ship to me.

Here's an excerpt from the e-mail:

An Official Announcement from Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits

WE ARE SORRY, BUT WE CAN NO LONGER SHIP TO TEXAS

In spite of a recent Supreme Court ruling (Granholm v. Heald) in favor of free trade, the state of Texas has passed new, anti-consumer legislation forbidding out-of-state retailers and auction houses from shipping wine to their customers in Texas.
Sherry-Lehmann has just received a formal cease-and-desist letter from the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission. The letter states that if we continue to ship wine into Texas, we will be subject to criminal prosecution.

This law violates the United State's Supreme Court's ruling that practices permitted for in-state wine businesses must also be extended to out-of-state wine businesses.
It is unconstitutional to permit in-state wine retailers the right to ship wine, but to prohibit the practice for out-of-state retailers.


What a colossal waste of my Texas taxes. Threatening hoidy-toidy, high-end wine retailers who sell what must be miniscule amounts of classified growth Bordeaux and snooty Burgundies to a few Texas connoisseurs is ridiculous.

While Sherry-Lehmann says this is contrary to the US Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Granholm v. Heald, I don't know if that's right. Granholm says that a state can't treat out-of-state wineries worse than in-state wineries by allowing the in-state ones to ship out but not the out-of-state ones to ship in. I don't know if Texas liquor stores can ship out-of-state, so I don't know if Granholm applies to the Texas scheme. Be that as it may, the point is: THIS IS A STUPID RULE. What is the cost to benefit ratio here?? By going after Sherry-Lehmann, and probably others, Texas is essentially saying, "Oh my God, we need to stop this influx of Premier Cru Cotes de Nuits from leading to the decay of the moral fiber of the state! Whatever will we do if too many people get their lips on a glasses of limited production Brunellos or single vineyard "garagiste" Pomerols? Heavens to Betsy!"

Get a grip. Doesn't the state have better ways to spend its money?

(UPDATE): And another thing. Even as protectionism, this fails. I don't order wines from out of state retailers unless I CAN'T get it from the several Houston (and sometimes Austin) retailers I patronize. I mean, why have to pay the expensive additional shipping if you can get it at your local retailers? Extrapolating from my own experience and using common sense, does the sporadic ordering by wine collectors from out-of-state retailers REALLY have any economic effect on Texas wine retailers??? The answer is pretty obviously NO.

Monday, March 27, 2006

2002 Yalumba "Bush Vines" Grenache (Barossa Valley, Australia)

Despite the word "Bush" in the name of this wine, I really like this one a lot. It will be hard to find the 2002 vintage of this wine in stores, however, as most of the places I shop have been stocking only the 2003 for a several months now. But if you see some 2002 lying around -- SNAP IT UP!

The last bottle of this I had was about a year ago, and it's held up really nicely since then. Almost fully saturated black ruby color (more like a Shiraz than a Grenache). Beautiful nose of smoky balsa wood, raspberry liqueur, and minerals. Rich, soft, concentrated mouthfeel, with flavors of salty raspberry extract and a hint of iodine. Long, intense finish. This would blow away most Chateauneuf-du-Papes (the most famous Grenache-based wine) costing 3 times as much. 90. Was about $12 at Spec's on Westheimer (near Fogo de Chao) when I got this about a year ago.