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 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?