Tuesday, February 28, 2006

2003 Bodegas Nieto Senetiner Malbec Reserva (Mendoza, Argentina)

87+. Nobody makes Malbec -- a minor league Bordeaux varietal -- sing like the Argentines can. Deep nose of earthy blackberries and cassis, with smoky oak and eucalyptus in the background. Rich, structured, full-bodied blackberry and earth flavors. Moderate, but fairly civilized (for Malbec) tannins and good balance. This wine is drinking well now but will easily keep and possibly improve for a few years. Reminds me of a good St. Estephe from Bordeaux. $10.99 at most Spec's, and is also available at Whole Foods on Bellaire for a tad more.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

1993 Antonio Vallana Boca (Piemonte, Italy)

This was holding up better than the 1989 Boca, reviewed a few days ago. Remarkably youthful color for a 13-year old wine. Nose of sweet & sour cherries, pewter, warm earth, and, if you think hard enough, a little of that Nebbiolo dried rose petal fragrance. Fresh, medium-bodied flavors, with winey sweet/sour cherries, metallic minerals, and a bit of barnyard. Lively, but not unpleasant acidity. Nicely done, in a rustic and lighter style for a Nebbiolo-based wine. 86. $13.99 from The Rare Wine Company.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

2003 Bodegas Ercavio Tempranillo Roble (Tierra de Castilla, Spain)

Wow! Here's a really great inexpensive red -- if you can find it.

Deep, saturated black ruby-purple color. Amazing nose of blueberry liqueur, sweet cream, and graphite. Rich, youthful flavors of ripe blackberries, cassis, and scorched earth. Full bodied, with well-integrated soft tannin and a long finish. Beautifully balanced too. Great now, and will only improve over the next 2 years or so (and last even longer). 90+

One of the richest Tempranillos I've ever had at any price. Having read about it in The Wine Advocate, I couldn't find it in Houston at my usual wine haunts, and so ended up ordering it from Zachys.com in NY at $7.99/bottle.

Monday, February 20, 2006

2003 Louis Latour Pouilly-Vinzelles "En Paradis" (White Burgundy)

84. This wine nicely displays some of the virtues and problems with the extraordinarily hot 2003 vintage in Burgundy.

Light, but not particularly bright (almost dull) brassy gold color. Nose of toast, straw, pineapples, butter and stones. Good start, right? Rich mouthfeel, too, but there was a pervasive bitterness throughout the palate, detracting from an otherwise nice set of flavors, consisting mostly of dried pear extract and minerals. Bitterness took over the finish too. If the bitterness weren't there, this wine would have been a lot more enjoyable, although it was pretty good even so.

I read (in Parker I think) that many growers faced a situation in '03 where the grapes had to be harvested because, with the intense heat, they were losing acidity at an alarming rate, yet weren't yet fully physiologically ripe, which manifested itself in the pips and seeds in the center of the grapes remaining greenly unripe and bitter. This wine would seem to be consistent with that hypothesis. Was $13.76 at Spec's on Holcombe.

1989 Antonio Vallana Boca (Piemonte, Italy)

Back when I was selling wine in NYC in the mid-1980s, Antonio Vallana was my favorite producer of moderately-priced Nebbiolo-based wines. His wines were a throwback to old-timey, non-interventionist, almost primitive winemaking, at a time when most wine makers were discovery the "virtues" of filtering, cold-stabilization, and a host of other flavor-denuding techniques. Always dark-colored (for Nebbiolos), fragrant, ripe, and throwing a ton of sediment, Vallana's wines were full of character. Even in vintages notorious for crappy weather, his wines had richness and character. I remember in particular a 1968 Spanna del Piemonte that was astounding for any vintage, let alone a hideous one like 1968. Some (many) in Italy accused him of secretly trucking up tankers filled with richly-colored wines from the south (like Aglianico), but regardless of whether that was true, the Vallana's "Spannas" were consistently delicious.

Well, his wines, as far as I could tell, had all but disappeared from the marketplace for several years, but I finally stumbled on a US retailer (The Rare Wine Company) that stocks (and will ship) a few Vallana wines. So I recently bought a few to try.

The 1989 Boca (from a small DOC near Gattinara), had held up relatively well, and smelled and tasted like real Nebbiolo, but was kind of on the lightish side. A light, evolved crystalline ruby color, fading to orangey-amber far from the rim (with some, but not a lot, of sediment -- was it bottled late?? decanted and recorked??). A lively, perfumed nose of spicy plums and old wine casks. Light bodied flavors with fairly high acidity. Not nearly as rich as the Vallana Spannas (Spanna is the Novara-region synonym for Nebbiolo) I used to drink, but, then again, Boca is a DOC that permits up to about 50% Bonarda and other grapes to be blended in with the Nebbiolo. I gave it 83 points. Was $9.95 as a "bin end" close-out.

I'll report on the other two Vallana wines I bought soon.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Best "$10 and under" wines of the last 9 months

Since I can't yet figure out how to do neat sidebars with categories, I figured compiling a list of the best cheap-o wines I've had since starting this blog 9 months ago would be the next best thing. (Just reds and whites, since rosé reviews from several months ago may not still be valid because of how fast rosés lose their freshness.) Here they are, with links to the reviews. As you can see, I find it easier to find good, cheap reds than good, cheap whites.


2003 Dominio de Eguren "Protocolo" (Tierra de Castilla, Spain) 87.

2004 Oxford Landing "GSM" (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre) South Australia. 86+

2003 Château de Chatelard Beaujolais-Villages "Vieilles Vignes." 90+

2001 Zumaya Tempranillo (Ribera del Duero, Spain) 87. (under $5)

2004 Carchelo Monastrell (Jumilla, Spain) 87.

2003 "Panarroz" Monastrell (Jumilla, Spain). 88.¹

2003 Chateau Montroche Costieres de Nimes (Rhône Valley, France) 87.

2003 Patrick LeSec Côtes de Ventoux "Domaine de la Camarette (Vieille Vignes) 87.

2001 Beaumes de Venise "La Chapelle Notre Dame d'Aubune" (Côtes du Rhône Villages) 87.

2003 Messias Tinto (Setúbal, Portugal) 86.

2004 Novy "Four Mile Creek" Red (California) 87+

2003 Las Rocas Garnacha (San Alejandro, Calatayud, Spain) 90.

2003 "Cuvée de Peña" VDP Pyrenées Orientales (France) 86.

2002 Paringa Shiraz (Murray River, South Australia) 87.

2003 "Full Circle" California Zinfandel (organic) 87.

2003 "Tres Ojos" Old Vines Garnacha (Calatayud, Spain) 89.

2003 Vina Alarba Old Vines Grenache (Spain) 87.

2003 DeBouef Regnie (Flower label) (Beaujolais) 90.²

2003 Villaroya de la Sierra "IA" Garnacha (Spain) 86. (under $5)


2004 Cousino-Macul Riesling "Dona Isadora" (Maipo Valley, Chile) 87.

2003 Calvet Reserve (white Bordeaux) 90.

2003 Georges DeBouef Mâcon-Villages (Flower Label) 86.²

2003 Chateau St. Jean Sonoma County Fume Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc) 90. (usually a little over $10, but frequently on sale for less that $10.)


¹ -- I haven't yet formally reviewed this wine, although I've had two bottles in the last couple of months, and it's full, ripe, gutsy, and balanced. Very well made, and available at pretty much all the Spec's locations.

² -- It's possible that these wines, based on their softness and lack of aging structure, may have changed and lost freshness, if not well stored, since my review.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

2003 Vecchio Greppo Rosso di Salento (Apulia, Italy)

A rustic, inexpensive southern Italian red, but not up to the standard of prior vintages I've had of this wine. Interesting nose. Started off overly earthy and animal-ly, but with air, aromas of sweet cherries emerged. Medium bodied and soft, yet with startlingly dry (the nose led me to think it would be sweeter and rounder) flavors of cherries and leather. Clean, medium intensity, winey finish. 83. Was $7.98 at Spec's on Holcombe.

2004 Vieux Clocher Cotes de Ventoux Rose (Rhone, France)

A refreshing rose that would be great during a mid-summer heat wave. Pale salmon-pink color. Youthful and contradictory nose of tropical fruit, creamed tomato skins, and sharp minerals. Light-bodied, soft, fresh flavors of bone-dry watermelon extract. 86. Was $6.99 at Spec's on Holcombe.

2003 Lake Sonoma Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

Good, but not up to the standard of the 2001 and 2002, reviewed previously.

Deep ruby color. Medium intensity nose of briary spice, blackberries, black pepper, and lots of sweet oak. The aromas are very pleasant, but not identifiably Dry Creek Zin. Soft, creamy texture, with full body but only medium flavor intensity. Notes of blackberries, plum juice, and oak. 84. Was $11.98 at Spec's on Smith.

Monday, February 13, 2006

2002 Marquis Phillips "Sarah's Blend" (Southeastern Australia)

A great, big wine! Deep black ruby color. Gorgeous nose like a really good Bordeaux from the Graves region (my favorite Bordeaux area), but on steroids: Cassis and blackberries, sweet, tobacco-y cigar box and pencil lead scents all compete for attention. Rich, deep flavors of cassis and burnt graphite. Long, long, dense finish, with perfect balance and no discernible tannin left. Just soft, lingering flavors. A really big, seductive mouthful. 92.

I think this one is supposed to be a blend of Cabernet, Shiraz, and Merlot, but the label doesn't say. Was about $16 a year ago at Richard's on San Felipe. The 2003 is available now, but I've read in Robert Parker that that vintage of this wine is equally good.

2002 Vila "Tinto Fundacion" (Cruz de Piedra, Mendoza, Argentina)

Cheap, but a disappointment. I bought it because it was cheap and imported by Hand Picked Selections, one of my favorite importers, but this wine was so acidic as to be nearly undrinkable. A blend of Bonarda, Malbec, and Cabernet, and weighing in at 13.5% alcohol, the acidity was a jolt that obliterated whatever flavors were there. 67. Was $5.10 a bottle at the new Spec's on Richmond, but isn't even a good buy at that price.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

2002 Ringbolt Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon (Western Australia)

This was a big disappointment. Nose smelled of old meat and baker's chocolate. As it sat, it got a bit cardboardy too. On the palate, high acidity overwhelmed the flavors, leaving a narrow, pinched feel. 60. Avoid. Was $14.99 at Cost Plus on Richmond, but I wouldn't take another bottle even if they were giving it away.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

2002 Clos des Rochers Pinot Gris (Wormeldange Nussbaum Grand Premier Cru) (Luxembourg)

When I first opened this bottle, I got a funky smell of Parmesan cheese rinds. But with air time, that blew off completely to reveal spritely fruit aromas of tangerines and tart granny smith apples, as well as stones. Austere mineral and citrus flavors dominate on the palate. A tad riper in the mouth and I could have really fallen for this wine. It's the antithesis of Pinot Gris wines from Alsace, which to my taste frequently are so buttery and viscous as to be cloying and undrinkable. Overall, a very nice, unique, and food-friendly (particularly shellfish-friendly) wine. 86. Was $12.85 at Spec's on Smith.

2003 Dominio de Eguren "Protocolo" (Tierra de Castilla, Spain)

87. Another character-filled cheap Spanish red (supposedly 100% Tempranillo). Deep saturated ruby color with purple glints. Bright nose of ripe cherries and cherry liqueur, bubble gum, and sweet hickory smoke. Intense, medium-bodied flavors of dry cherry brandy and graphite. Nice, clean, fruity, but somewhat hot finish. A gutsy, fun red at a great price. About $6 at Spec's on Holcombe.

Monday, February 06, 2006

2002 Turkey Flat Vineyards Barossa Valley Grenache (S.E. Australia)

WOW! This wine was amazing. Rich, saturated ruby color. Decadent nose of raspberry & blackberry jam, seashells, and warm bread, but with tart, crisp apples in the background. (The tart apples component must be the telltale hint that the winemaker discretely added some acidity, since the wine was 15% alcohol, and at that level of alcohol, the wine probably wouldn't have any appley characteristics on its own). Deep, inky flavors of salty raspberry liqueur and loamy earth. Rich, long, palate-coating finish, with everything in balance. 93. Made from 90 year-old Grenache vines. Except for France's Chateauneuf du Papes, nobody does Grenache like the Aussies. Was about $22 at Whole Foods on Bellaire about a year ago, so this vintage is no longer available (sorry) at that location.

Rene Mure Cremant d'Alsace (degorgement 12.03.04)

Cremant d'Alsace is sparkling wine from Alsace, made in the same way that Champagne is made ("methode champenois"), but from varietals indigenous to Alsace -- Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Sylvaner, etc.) -- rather than the main Champagne varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This is a beautiful, character-filled example. Great, intense nose of tangerines, peaches, stones, and freshly-baked bread. Rich, full-bodied appley, peach, brioche flavors, with great length and nice balancing acidity. The best Cremant I've had to date. 90. Was about $16 at Richard's on San Felipe.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

2003 Louis Latour Marsannay (White Burgundy)

A really good value in a classy white burgundy. From the northernmost town in the entire Cote d'Or -- just south of the city of Dijon. Gorgeous nose of fresh-baked croissants, tangerines, and peaches. Intense, full-bodied steely-minerally flavors, with fruit that tastes of dry-pear extract. Fairly long in the mouth, with marzipan the last note in the finish. 88. About $14 at Richard's on Westheimer (in the Taco Milagro plaza).