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.