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.)