Tuesday, August 30, 2011

2009 MontGras "QUATRO" (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec, 15% Carmenere, and 15% Syrah) (Colchagua Valley, Chile)

I have had several vintages of this dark Chilean red and they have all been very good or better.  This is another winner, and it remains a very good value.

Completely saturated plasma color.  Wonderful nose of blackberry and ripe cassis, along with smoky balsa wood and lemony minerals.  Rich, mouthfilling flavors of blackberry syrup, graphite, and iodine-laced minerals.  Very full-bodied and tannic, but soft enough to drink now.  This wine will easily compete with California Cabernets costing three times as much, but this wine has less obtrusive oak and will go better with food.  Acidity is a bit low, but it doesn't feel flabby or out of balance.  B+.  I got this for around $13 at Kroger's on Westpark/Buffalo Speedway.

2007 Mas Champart SAINT-CHINIAN "Causse du Bousquet" (Languedoc, Southern France)

A really good and distinctive wine at its peak.*  65% Syrah, 15% Grenache; 20% Mourvedre.

Completely saturated black color with ruby highlights.  Deep, complex nose of blackberry compote, toasty, saline-tinged sandstone, and roast pork.  Mouthfilling, yet not as heavy as the color would lead you to expect.  It has intensely minerally/stony flavbors enveloping a core of very ripe cassis fruit.  Loads of tannin but it is so fine-grained that the textural impression is soft.  Very stone/minerally finish.  Surprisingly good acidity for a wine from this region (that's not to say the acidity is high, but that it's not too low).  Nicely balanced.  A-.  Imported by Kermit Lynch, I got this from Zachys.com several months ago for $16/bottle.

*  I say "at its peak" because while it was still good the second night, it started to noticeably deteriorate the third night, even though I had it vacuum sealed.  That generally indicates to me that a wine is at or near peaking.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cheap Bourgogne Rouge Death Match (Bout 2)

On the next card we have Domaine Pierre Labet (one of Spec's featured producers) versus the ubiquitous house of Louis Latour.

First Place:  2008 Domaine Pierre Labet Bourgogne Pinot Noir "Vieilles Vignes" -- Medium light ruby.  Medium intensity nose of sappy, sour cherries and sweet, moist, smoky earth.  Bone dry, but with decent concentration of fruit in the mid-palate, along with a pronounced stony minerality.  Thins out a bit on the finish, but is clean and quite pleasant.  Still a bit of tannin showing.  Drink with the next 18 months. B.  Imported by Horizon Wines, Houston.  Was $19 and change at most Spec's stores.

Second Place:  2009 Louis Latour Bourgogne Pinot Noir -- Medium light ruby color.  Shy but fresh nose of sour cherry and minerals, with some lemon coated rock dust.  Crisp, very light flavors of vague cherry fruit and brambly twigs quickly spread through the mouth but thin out quickly.  Some tannin but not much weight of flavor concentration.  This wine has a bitterness that grows as the finish wears on.  C.   $16 and change at most Spec's stores (and lots of other places).

Moral of the Two Deathmatches:  This Burgundian throwdown nicely displayed the difficult reality of searching for bargain Burgundian Pinot Noirs:  the ones that are worth it (like the '09 Bertrand Ambroise) are few and far between.  Many are OK, but I'm usually left wishing I had spent my $15-20 on a Chianti Classico, a Cotes du Rhone, a Zinfandel, a Spanish Grenache, or a small grower Beaujolais-Villages.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cheap Bourgogne Rouge Death Match

Since I wasn't able to do my Cotes du Rhone battle royale, when recent guests gifted me with a Joseph Drouhin "LaForet" Bourgone Pinot Noir -- a widely-available, reasonably-priced red burgundy -- I decided to pick two more at around the same price and open all three entry-level French PNs all at once.

The result:  CHEAP BURGUNDY DEATH MATCH.  I picked up the equally-widely-available and reasonably priced Louis Jadot Bourgogne, and, to throw in a David with these commercial Goliaths, a Bourgogne Rouge from the relatively smaller producer, Bertrand Ambroise.  Here are the results.

1st Place:  2009 Bertrand Ambroise Bourgogne -- The nose was very youthful, like it had just been bottled, but it had more body and flavor than the other two.  Bright ruby with magenta highlights.  Big, youthful nose of concentrated, crushed cherry and pomegranate, along with rock dust and grated lemon zest.  Youthful and mouthfilling (for a Bourgogne) with tightly wound black cherry and brambly earth flavors.  Fine-grained tannin coats the mouth as the clingy finish wears on.  This will keep and improve over the next three years.  B(+) (which means it's a B right now, but with age should get better).  Imported by Robert Kacher.  $19 and change at Spec's on Smith.

2nd Place:  2008 Joseph Drouhin "Laforet" Bourgone Pinot Noir -- This was more developed in the nose, and had nice, correct Pinot flavors, but was a little light.  Medium-light ruby showing a little amber hue.  Bright nose of pure, sappy, crisp cherries and a hint of stoniness.  Bright cherry fruit at first impression in the mouth, followed by some light but kind of coarse tannin.  Clean, but short and thin finish.  This is a pleasant wine but needs drinking up over the next 6 months.  B-.  Imported by Dreyfus-Ashby, it sells for $16 and change at Spec's.

3rd Place:  2008 Louis Jadot Bourgogne Pinot Noir -- This was light on the nose, light and somewhat lacking in life in the mouth, but had a clean finish.  Bright, medium ruby.  Relatively closed nose reluctantly gives up scents of tart cherry candy and chalk.  Correct but somewhat flat cherry flavors, but diluted-tasting.  Clean, medium length finish.  Drink over the next 12-18 months.  C+.  Imported by Kobrand, it was $17 and change at Spec's.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

2009 Thibault Liger-Belair MOULIN-A-VENT "Vieilles Vignes" (Beaujolais, France)

This was a very good, very large-boned, soulful wine.  But I wasn't thrilled with it at first because it really tastes like it has little in common with Beaujolais from other towns in the region.  I think I am coming to the realization that, even though Moulin-a-Vent is considered by many the pinnacle of Beaujolais, it's just not a style I like as Beaujolais as much as the other communes (like Cote de Brouilly, Julienas, Regnie, etc.)  Moulin-a-Vents tend to be bigger, more structured, earthier, and do not have the crunchy, vibrant, granite-laced cherry fruit I love when I think of Beaujolais.

And perhaps that's my problem:  I'm measuring Moulin-a-Vents against a Beaujolais background, when, really, to me, it tastes like something other than Beaujolais.  Maybe I'd enjoy them more if I could purge my mind of "Beaujolais-think" when I'm drinking these.

Anyway . . .  This had an almost completely saturated, very black-hued ruby color.  It was extremely earthy at first in a dry, barnyardy kind of way, but after airing, intensely stony scents began to dominate, along with some crisp, dark cherry and plum skin fruit.  It was mouthfilling and bone dry, with intense acidity as well.  Exceedingly stony, minerally flavors dominate, but with blackberry fruit underneath all that terroir.  Long, dry, intense, and fairly tannic (for Beaujolais) finish.  This wine clearly needs some bottle ageing to settle down and let the flavors fill out to fit the physical structure of the wine.  Still, it's very enjoyable with food right now.  Just don';t think of it as a Beaujolais.  Think of it more as a Gigondas, but made with Gamay instead of Rhone varietals.  B+(+)*.  Was $25 from B-21 Wines in Florida.

* The "(+)" means that the wine may well improve with 1-3 years in a cool cellar or wine fridge.

NV Segura Viudas BRUT ROSÉ (Spain)

Our guests the Murphys brought this over, and it got polished off before I could take notes, so these impressions are from memory.

Very nice pink color and lots of fine, persistent bubbles.  Great, fresh aromas of crisp, cool strawberries and bread.  Very lively, fruity, and clean in the mouth, with really good balance.  Very refreshing.

I was surprised how good this was, probably because of my own prejudices. When I was a wholesale wine rep in NYC in the early 80s, the most popular wine in my line was Freixenet (in the jet black bottle), and at that point Freixenet and the competing brands of Spanish sparklers were pretty characterless.

Spec's website lists this for $8 and change, making it a FANTASTIC VALUE.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

2009 Rabbit Ridge ZINFANDEL "Estate Grown" (Paso Robles, Cal.)

A bit too oaky and overripe for my taste.  Those who like massive, thickly-fruity Zins with lots of new oak will like this better than I did.

Dark ruby with a hint of brick.  Rich, very ripe nose: Sweet blackberry syrup and loads of smoky wood.  Low-toned in the mouth, with inky flavors of dark, dry blackberry syrup, sweet oak, and graphite.  Very low acidity and loads of body.  Concentrated, but a bit overripe and out of balance (the label says 14.9% alc., which isn't that far over the top for Zin, but it tasted far riper than that).  Very fine-grained tannin coats the mouth in the finish.  B-.  Was $15.57 at Spec's on Weslayan and Bissonnet.

2006 Tenuta Cocci Grifoni ROSSO PICENO "Le Torri" (Marche, Italy)

This was a good, fairly classicly-styled Rosso Piceno, but it was a year or two past its prime.

General background to this lesser known Italian red:  Rosso Piceno is the less distinguished, more common cousin of Rosso Conero.  Both wines feature the intensely-flavored Montepulciano grape, but Rosso Conero is pure (or nearly so) Montepulciano, grown in the volcanic soil surrounding Monte Conero.  Rosso Piceno is blended with substantial amounts of Sangiovese, and is grown is a more varied bunch of vineyard sites with more fertile, less volcanic soil.  The result, generally speaking is that Conero is more intense and complex, and Piceno a bit lighter, with less depth and mineral complexity (and less ageing potential).  Alas, however, producers in both regions are currently taken with the "international" style of winemaking (meaning stainless steel fermenters and ageing in brand new small French oak barrels), which tends to result in wines that have generic-tasting red fruit and scents of toasty oak.  In other words, it tastes decent but you have a hard time distinguishing it from decent reds made anywhere else in the world.  To my taste, the old school methods (fermenting in large wooden or concrete vessels and ageing in very large oak vats) tended to let the inherent qualities of the grapes and soil shine through much more.  But it's getting harder and harder to find any of the traditionally made Marche reds in the U.S.

Back to the wine:  Dark brickish ruby color.  Mature, reasonably complex nose of smoked sandstone and dry twigs overshadows some dark, brandy-macerated cherry fruit.  Inky but not heavy flavors of graphite and dark, low-toned plummy/blackberry fruit, along with gravelly notes.  Soft texture and full-bodied, but with a relatively light mouthfeel.  Those who like mature, rather than youthful, wines will like this more than I did.  I would drink this up before next spring.  B.  Imported by Empson USA, I got this for $19.95 at Houston Wine Merchant.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

2010 Chateau Routas "Rouviere" ROSÉ (Coteaux Varois en Provence, France)

Fantastic rosé and a great value!  But it tasted like a much more expensive Sancerre Pinot Noir rosé than a rosé from Provence -- which is strange given that this wine is a blend of Provencal varietals (Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet) and has no Pinot Noir in it.  But that's fine by me, since Sancerre rosés are my favorites.

Gorgeous, delicate light coppery color.  Fresh, high-toned nose of flowers, strawberry, and chalky minerals.  Beautiful, light-textured dry strawberry/cherry juice fruit in the mouth.  Medium-light body and excellent, crisp acids.  A little minerality in the clean finish completes it.  If I were served this blind, there is no way I would have placed it as a Provencal rosé.  This screams Sancerre.  A.  Was $11 and change at Spec's on Weslayan and Bissonnet.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Light summer pasta with vegetables

I improvised this because when I was at Spec's (on Smith) last week, they had these great looking little baby zucchinis.  I hope I'm remembering correctly what the heck I did.  It was very nice.

1 lb box of pasta
Eight 2” baby zucchinis, cut into thin matchsticks
One good size carrot, peeled, cut into 2” pieces, then cut into matchsticks
One stalk crisp celery, cut into 2” pieces, then cut into matchsticks
¼ cup chopped onions
Three green onions (scallions), white part cut into thin rounds and green part into 1” long pieces
1/3 cup dry white wine
Two cloves garlic, lightly crushed
10 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
A few sprigs parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup good olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Get pot of water boiling for pasta.  While it’s heating, you’re going to slightly soften the veggies to “crisp tender”.  You don’t want to brown them or make them mushy.  Start with the ones that take the longest to soften and progress to the ones that cook quickest:

In 12” sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat, add carrot, garlic, and onions, and soften for a few minutes.

Add celery and soften a few minutes more.

Add zucchini and green onions and soften.

Watch the heat and time to avoid browning or making veggies too soggy.

Add white wine, salt and red and black pepper, bring quickly to a boil then simmer for a minute or two to reduce the wine a little.  That’s it, veggies/sauce is done.  Turn off heat.  Drain pasta when done and toss with veggies/sauce and herbs.

Top with grated cheese if you like.

Serve with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc-based wine or a dry rosé.

2009 Chateau Magence GRAVES Blanc (White Bordeaux)

This blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (the typical white varietals that are blended together for most whites in this region) has LOTS of character--maybe too much for some--but is kind of a clumsy bruiser of a white.

Light gold color.  Big, open, chameleon-like nose that changes on every sniff.  First intensely grassy and burnt herbal (from the Sauvignon Blanc), then showing lots of waxy, lanolin scents (from the Semillon), then golden delicious apple and gooseberry scents.  Big and mouthfilling, with loads of grassy/herbal fruit, but an intense bitterness hits the palate quickly and stays throughout the finish.  It's dry and low in acidity, giving it a fleshier texture than many other whites from this region.  If Alex Karras's Mongo character in Blazing Saddles was a white wine, this would be him.  This wine will definitely polarize people.  B-.  Got it at Whole Foods on Bellaire for $13.99. 

2007 Castello d'Albola CHIANTI CLASSICO (Tuscany, Italy)

This was a solid, correct, if unexciting, Chianti.

Clear dark ruby color.  Medium intensity nose of winey cherries and licorice, along with notes of scorched gravel.  Lots of straightforward dark cherry fruit and scorched earth flavors.  Soft texture and medium bodied, with just barely enough acidity to prevent it from being dull-feeling.  A bit of gritty tannin in the mouth.  Not complex, but identifiably Chianti and possessing decent character.  B-.  Was $16.99 on sale at Randall's on Buffalo Speedway and Holcombe.  Imported by Zonin Imports.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why I typically don’t drink certain stuff

I’m prejudiced.  I admit it.  Against certain kinds of wines.  I have stereotypical notions of them, and as a result, I just don’t buy and drink many of them.  I don’t give them a chance to break the stereotype.  I have a limited wine budget, and there are so many other kinds of wine I like better.

So in an exercise of reverse wine-blogging, I’m going to list the kinds of wines I typically don’t even consider buying and why.  I’m not saying I’m right.  It’s just my preferences and my opinions.  But I thought it would be useful information for my 15 loyal readers.

California Cabernets

They tend to be expensive.  And got tired of them.  They all seem to be shooting for the same style.  Big mouthcoating cassis/graphite and new oak flavors.  No acidity, virtually no sense of where it came from.  Plus, I don’t cook a hell of a lot that oaky, ripe, large-scaled Cabernet-based wines would complement.  

California Merlots

I don’t buy these for a lot of the same reasons I don’t buy Cal Cabs.  Plus, during the 1990s Merlot explosion, Merlot was planted all over the damn place, willy-nilly, to meet uncritical demand.  So there’s just a lot of crappy Merlot, grown in places unsuited to it, floating around.

Classified Growth Bordeaux

They’re expensive.  Many are over-oaked and picked too ripe, in an effort to please affluent wine drinkers who think in terms of the magnitude of fruit and easily discernable new oak.  And like Cal Cabs, this style of Bordeaux doesn’t go with much that I cook (and as to those that might complement things like steaks and chops, I like other stuff better).  That said, I do like a less expensive, non-oaky, non-overripe Cru Bourgeois every now and again.

Italian Whites

Now here I’m being very unfair.  Since the 1980s Pinot Grigio craze (when every soiree or party featured PGs that were so diluted they tasted like barely acidified slightly bitter alcohol water, leading everyone and their dog to produce wines of this ilk), the general quality level of Italian whites has increased.  But I don’t drink a ton of white, and when I do, I want something I know I’ll like better, like a German or Alsace Riesling, a Loire white, or an unoaked minerally Macon or Chablis. 

Aussie Shirazes

I generally find them tiring and uninteresting, with jammy, thick fruit and oak hiding whatever earth-driven virtues they may have—particularly the more expensive ones.  Still, I’ll occasionally buy a cheaper one from a good producer, figuring that they wouldn’t waste new oak on them or try for maximum extract on a cheaper offering.


What, you say?  How can an Italian, Italo-vinophile, amateur Italian cook not buy Brunello?  Well, the rent is too damn high, for one thing.  Beyond expense, I find that the clone of Sangiovese used for most Brunellos (which is different from the clone used for Chianti Classico) results in a very low-toned, dark fruit character, usually augmented by liberal use of oak, which together results in wines that don’t go particularly well with food.  At least the food I cook.

Rioja and other Tempranillo-based Spanish reds

I find Tempranillo to be a bland grape.  It typically doesn’t do a lot for me.  Plus, the better Riojas tend to be too oaky for my taste.  The old school uses too much American oak; the new school uses too much French oak.  I don’t like too much of any oak.  Except when I smoke a brisket.

“Super Tuscans” and Bolgheris

I don’t drink these almost on principle.  Grow Sangiovese and other indigenous varietals in Tuscany.  Leave Cabernet and Merlot to the Bordeaux and California guys. 


I usually find them to be too acidy, too rough, too simple, and too short-finished.  There are much better options in the $10-20 range for wines to complement rustic foods.

Grand Cru Burgundies (red and white)

Can’t afford them.  That’s the only reason.  I actually love them.  But the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us has put them out of my reach.  I blame George Bush.

Hermitage and Cote Rotie

Same deal.  Love ’em.  Can’t afford ’em.  Thanks, Tea Party, er, I mean Wine Spectator.  Actually, this is probably the result of my career not following the stratospheric arc I had hoped for.  Thanks, George Bush.  (I can’t help myself, apparently.)

Anything a renown “oenological consultant” made or consulted on

I like wines that reflect the idiosyncrasies of the soil and the individual grower/winemaker.  I have no use for cookie cutter recipes.  I try to avoid wines which celebrity consultants like Phillipe Cambie, Michel Rolland, Riccardo Cotarella had a hand in.  I’m sure some of their wines are quite good.  But I’d rather support individuals making individualistic wines.


I know, I know, I’ve grossly overgeneralized here.  But as I said, these are my prejudices.  I can’t afford on a limited budget to seek exceptions to prove my rules wrong.  But please let me know if you know of exceptions!

That’s it for now.  I may augment or change this list in the future.  I hope that revealing my prejudices might provide additional context for my wine choices and my tasting notes.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

2009 Hesketh GRENACHE "Wild at Heart" (South Australia)

Not the deepest or most complex Aussie Grenache I've had, but flavorful, balanced, and satisfying.  I think Grenache goes with many of the Italian dishes I tend to cook, which is odd, given that it's a grape that is grown only in one small area in Italy (a clone of Grenache called Cannonau is grown on the island of Sardinia).

Medium dark ruby.  Direct, big nose of kirsch, crushed stones, and lemon juice.  Full-bodied, with straight-on ripe, spicy raspberry fruit and a dry, saline, gravelly minerality that comes on in the finish.  Pretty big, but with good acidity for a Grenache from down-under, and a long, juicy finish.  B+.  Was $13 and change at Spec's on Smith.

2008 Domaine d'Ardhuy LADOIX "Chagnots" (Burgundy, France)

One of my two "Holy Grails" of wine is a good, inexpensive (which these days means under $20) red burgundy (Pinot Noir).  This is one.  On the leaner side but with real character, particularly the second night.  The village of Ladoix is one of those less well-known "sleeper" appellations in Burgundy (along with Santenay, Auxey-Duresses, and Pernand-Vergelesses) where values, as rare as they are there, tend to be more frequent.

Light ruby color with a touch of amber beginning to show at the rim.  Fragrant, high-toned nose of peat and ripe but crisp crushed cherry, along with stony gravel.  Crisp, penetrating flavors of tart cherry, with powdered limestone and granite.  Not a lot of concentration or weight, but clingy flavors and very nice purity, energy, and minerality.  Good length. B+.   Was $19 and change at Spec's (cash price).  A Becky Wasserman Selection (she represents several excellent French estates, as an exporter I think, and her selections are imported by various importers in different regions of the U.S.)

Saturday, August 06, 2011

2009 Bonnet MUSCADET DE SEVRE ET MAINE Sur Lie "Les Dabinieres" (Loire, France)

I drink a fair amount of Muscadets in the hot weather.  Good ones are crisp, refreshing, bone dry, with loads of mouthwatering crisp fruit and razor-sharp, clean stony minerality.  This one was excellent -- slightly riper and fuller than typical, but still very much identifiably Muscadet.

Light, bright silvery-gold color.  Intensely chalky, lime and green apple nose.  Crisp, tart apply fruit attacks the palate.  Extraordinarily pure stony minerality. Excellent fruit and acids too.  Very lively.  The texture actually displays some very light tannin -- very unusual for whites from this region, or any whites, actually.  Clean, zesty, relatively long finish.  B+/A-.  Imported by Weygandt-Metzler.  Can't remember where I got it or how much it costs.  I'll look for a receipt and update if I can find it, but I know it wasn't more than $15 because I simply don't spend more than that for Muscadets.

2009 Frei Brothers ZINFANDEL Dry Creek Valley (Cal.)

Dry Creek Valley is arguably the best area in the world for Zin, and this one has a nice nose but in the mouth is overripe, overblown, ponderous, and sweet.  It's not expensive, but don't bother unless you like that style.

Soft, dark black ruby.  Rich nose of earthy, ripe, slightly pruney blackberry syrup, roasted sweet baking spices, and smoky coals.  Rich and fleshy in the mouth, but heavy and one-dimensional.  Impressive amount of extract, but there's no acidity and a substantial amount of residual sugar, making it a cloying mouthful.  C.  Was $14 at Spec's on Weslayan.

2007 Domaine Pommier CHABLIS 1er CRU COTES DE LECHET (Northern Burgundy, France)

This was one of the most uncompromisingly, desicatingly bone dry Chabliseses I've ever had.  But I liked it.

Stunning color:  luminous and crystal clear medium dark gold, with a nice greenish glint.  The nose changed substantially over three nights (closed each night with a Vacu-Vin closure), which indicates to me that it can age and improve a few more years at least.  Closed and showing a sharply talc-y/minerally initially, by the third night it offered up really nice toasty, talc/chalk scents over intense pear and ripe apple fruit.  Bracingly bone dry, with medium light body and great, mouthwatering acids.  Intense sea shell/minerally-tinged green apple and lime fruit, along with light clear chicken broth, in the mouth.  Razor sharp, pure, stony/lemony finish.  A challenging wine to drink, but fascinating if you like the more austere versions of the Chablis style of Chardonnay.  B+.  Imported by Robert Kacher, I got this for around $26 at Spec's on Smith several months ago.