Archive for July, 2008

This is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and Roussanne. Pale straw in the glass. The aromatics are a bit subdued with notes of pear, honeysuckle, white flowers, lime and macadamia nut.

On the palate, stone fruit, pear, honey, melon with some citrus, a touch of almond and toast. Very good minerality.

The owners tend to downplay and are quite modest about their white wine — and indeed are better known for their red blend. I found it to be a very good bottle of wine, and an excellent food wine. I was able to get this at about 40 percent off retail, and might have expected a bit more had I paid retail — though in wine, the phrase “you get what you pay for” does not carry much weight in the wine world.

Given the chance, I would probably have picked up more of their Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge instead, but it will be interesting to see how this wine evolves over the next couple of years.

About Le Vieux Donjon
Le Vieux Donjon is owned by Marie José and Lucien Michel, they have been in charge of the estate since 1978. The domain was founded by the father of Lucien Michel, Marcel Michel.

The domain covers just over 34 acres of Chateauneuf du Pape. They follow a traditional vinification process, including an extended maceration with stems, long aging in older foudres. The individual varieties are not vinified separately the way they would be at most Chateaunuef estates. They only produce one cuvée of red and of white Chateauneuf du Pape is made.

Average production is about 3,200 cases.

“I have been buying the wines of Le Vieux Donjon for well over a decade, and I continue to be impressed by how consistently classic they are. [This] continues to be the most underrated great estate of the appellation.”
Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate

“The style of the wines is unashamedly, ‘traditionelle’ – vins de garde with plenty of backbone and muscle to them. However, these are no clumsy blockbusters, but wines with real definition and elegance underneath powerful exteriors. … . These are well-constituted wines with great depth and extract, which manage to retain finesse. This is relatively rare in an appellation where size and clumsiness abound and one frequently looks in vain for subtlety…Sales of Le Vieux Donjon are not a problem for Marie-José and Lucien Michel. One can taste why.”
Remington Norman, Rhone Renaissance

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A Rhône-style white blend from Barrel 27 — 42% Viognier, 34% Roussanne and 24% Marsanne . All of the fruit comes from French Camp Vineyard in Paso Robles. The wine is a joint effort of winemakers McPrice Meyers and Russel From.

Meyers and From have their own, independent labels as well, Mac’s McPrice Myers Wine Company, and Russell’s Herman Story Wines Both produce Rhone varietal wines, focusing on Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and Roussanne.

Deep golden straw in color. An aromatic nose with honey, floral notes, lemongrass, wet stone and a touch of butterscotch and watercress. On the palate, lemonheads, citrus zest, honey, wet limestone, butter, cured ham — and there is something in the flavor profile that reminds me of Lillet Blanc. Good viscosity and weight with a silky, lush and oily mouthfeel. It is listed at 15.1% percent alcohol — and it certainly is a bit too present for my tastes. There is a lot of nice fruit, some flab and structure, but it’s just a bit too much for my palate.

I am sure there are those that will like this wine. I certainly had hopes given that it is a white Rhône blend from Paso Robles, and while there were many characteristics I liked quite a bit, but I think McPrice and Russel both had their foot on the accelerator. I would stop short of recommending the wine, but would note it is a very good value. I have seen this wine priced at a couple of places at around $15 a bottle, it may retail at about $18.

About McPrice Myers
McPrice Myers began his career working for specialty food retailers and grocery stores, giving him the opportunity to taste a lot of wine. In wine he found a passion and started dreaming of the day when he would make his own wine.

He started working harvests in Paso Robles, learning the trade and making the contacts that would lay the groundwork for the point at which he would eventually make his own wine. In 2002, Myers contracted enough fruit to make 250 cases of Santa Barbara County Syrah.

Read review of McPrice Myers Grenache L’ange 2005.

About Russell From
Russell got his start in wine while attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Agriculture program. Intending to become a farm equipment magnate, Russell began working at wineries mostly because they were hiring, but it wasn’t long before he ‘got the bug’ and began a serious study of winemaking. It wouldn’t be long before he met Mac Myers, and after several discussions, appropriate amounts of wine, and a punch-up or two, Barrel 27 was born to the wordsn“Each bottle of this wine represents a dream realized by two friends.”

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This week’s recipe is Thin Spaghetti with Basil Pesto and Tomato Salad from Meg Mateo Ilasco. View the recipe at Design*Sponge.

About Meg: Meg is a writer, illustrator, and the designer behind Mateo Ilasco, a stationery and home product company.

Her work often expresses a penchant for old-fashioned methods, humble materials, manual design, and physical craft. Meg is also known for her hit entrepreneurial book, Craft, Inc. and for Modern Economy, an indie design sample sale she hosts twice a year. If you’re in the Portland, OR area this weekend Meg will be holding Modern Economy: Portland this Saturday, July 19th from 10:30 am to 3pm at the Ace Hotel.

You can also get a sneak peak into Meg’s Bay Area Home.

Suggested Wine Pairing: Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay

This would certainly make almost anyone’s list of top 10 California Chardonnays. Newton’s Chardonnay is unfiltered and fermented with wild yeast, native to Newton’s Carneros vineyards — still fairly small production and really a well made wine.

Stunning golden straw in color. More impressive (and complex) in the mouth than on the nose, soft citrus with some green apple, pear and a hint of jicama and almond, notes of mineral and wet stone — some exotic fruit, amazing balance with a pure and long finish.

A great food wine that would enhance any meal — or be totally memorable on its own. I like this wine pairing with the pasta, pesto and tomato given that it has very good acidity to cut through the flavors of the pesto and the minerality works well with the tomato and pesto components of the dish.

This certainly sits in my top 3 Chardonnays of all time and is a must. Highly recommended. BottleBuys.com was selling this for about $36 a bottle and I have seen it priced as high as $64 a bottle, so shop around for the best price.

A dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley or a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand would be great alternatives (and better values) — as both offer good acidity and minerality.

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Light ruby red with a touch of copper in color. Cherry and strawberries with some spice on the nose and just a touch of pine/eucalyptus/spearmint. I could almost mistake this for a Burgundy or Old World style Pinot given the color and aromatics.

On the palate, cherry, raspberry, some pepper, licorice and spice. There is some nice graphite, mineral and earthy elements as well. Really nice texture and structure. Fruit is well balanced with ample but soft tannins and lively acidity — with a pure, prolonged finish.

Steve noted on July 14th that he thought “the ’05 Rocks and Gravel is showing pretty nicely at the moment (he had a bottle some ten days ago). My sense is that in 3-5 more years it should be really quite nicely developed, though it will hold for many years beyond that.”

14.2% alcohol (without a touch of heat). 1,340 cases produced. This wine retails at about $18-20 a bottle, but it can be found at $10.20 a bottle (case price) at daryl wine shop. The wine is an outstanding value if you can find it for less than retail and strongly recommended. It is one of the top 5 quality/price plays I have seen this year at less than $11 a bottle.

Edmunds St. John is one the wineries that I will continue to purchase with every vintage. His wines are honest, well made and express the virtues of the varietal and the place they came from.

More about Steve Edmunds and Edmunds St. John

Steve Edmunds started Edmunds St. John in 1985 with his wife, Cornelia St. John, in an effort to explore the possibility of producing world-class, European-style wines in California, using Rhône varietal grapes: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Viognier, etc.

He quickly earned a lot of praise and by 1988, Robert Parker was calling Edmunds St. John perhaps the “finest practitioner” of Californians working with Rhone grapes. At that time, I was working at Bonny Doon Vineyard and was bitten by the Rhone bug and have probably bought some of Steve’s wines with each vintage since that time.

Edmunds is entirely self-taught and says he has only occasionally resorted to science in his 20-year career, “only when it was clear that I’d lose the wine if I didn’t, and not to create a particular effect.” As he explains on his website, “I’ve deliberately chosen not to court the market, i.e., the commercial context out of which so much modern wine is being formulated. I don’t always get it right, but what I do is done honestly.”

Edmunds has never bowed to the fashion or trend for oak and super-ripeness — and some may see this as being out of step. Parker certainly seems to have changed his opinion on Edmunds St. John.

In the August 2007 Wine Advocate (see issue 172), Parker took issues with Edmunds’ wine, reporting that Edmunds can no longer secure fruit from the same vineyards and also criticized his winemaking. Parker wrote, “What Steve is doing appears to be a deliberate attempt to make French-styled wines. Of course California is not France and therein may suggest the problem. If you want to make French wine, do it in France.”

It is worth noting that no such criticism was made against the Perrin family with Tablas Creek receiving praise in the same issue, and even comparing their wines to similar French wines. Parker applauded the Perrin family for their efforts to make French inspired wines in California.

In his notes, Parker claimed that Steve Edmunds hadn’t made anything good in recent years and called the 04 Rocks & Gravel a low brow version of a French Côte du Rhône and the 05 Bassetti Syrah to be an innocuous effort. The whole tone of his review seemed to take a very personal, negative and almost petty.

Response to Parker’s criticism has been very interesting, it includes a thread on erobertparker.com.

I can remember some wines from St. Edmunds that I thought were not his best effort — but that in part is a reality of wine making, there are unknown and somewhat uncontrollable variables from vintage to vintage. I think the ’05s I have tasted from Edmunds are wonderful. I’m not sure if they are his strongest efforts to date or if I appreciate his wines more, but I tend to think the answer is somewhere in the middle. The one thing I am quite sure of is that Parker missed the mark on his criticism of Edmunds.

It is worth adding that I did taste the ’05 Rocks & Gravel against an ’06 Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah Rhône blend from Australia at about the same price point. It is from a winery that Parker routinely praises for making French inspired wines in Australia and rated the wine 91 points. While I thought it showed a bit more fruit (which is, in my opinion, not a negative or a positive in and of itself). The wine showed quite a bit of heat, was a touch candified, and while it was a good bottle of wine, I thought the Rocks & Gravel showed quite a bit better.

In addition to being a great winemaker, Steve is also an accomplished musician, songwriter and a wonderful writer. He contributes to Vinography (I strongly recommend reading his posts) and his newsletters offer up insights on wine, winemaking and reflections on life.

The picture of Steve is from October 2005. He is standing in the receiving hopper waiting for the last bin of fruit from the vintage. The photo seems to capture the essence of Steve and also reflects the spirit found in his wines.

In short, I enjoy his wine and his writing. He really is one of this country’s treasured winemakers — and someone I would enjoy sharing a glass of wine with and I am certain it would include an interesting and thoughtful conversation.

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Serpico is the critically acclaimed signature wine of Feudi di San Gregorio. Some have gone as far to say that this is probably the best red wine from southern Italy (with Parker rating this vintage a 98 and the Spectator a 94). The name of the wine is dedicated to the home town of the winery, Sorbo Serpico.

It is made with 100% Aglianico grapes from Irpinia in the region of Campania, from three different vineyards of old vines. 5,000 cases of this vintage were produced.

It has been called a super-Aglianico wine, with substantial barrique aging — though Feudi chooses to age it less than the minimum three years required for DOCG Aglianicos because it wants to emphasize the concentration of fruit.

Concentrated, powerful and deep, this wine has great balance and quality that ages well in the cellar. In Parker’s review of the wine, he noted that this had 30 years of cellar potential.

Deep, dark ruby in color. Blueberry, blackberry, cassis and meaty aromatics. Black cherry and dark fruit with graphite, tar, leather, earth, dark chocolate, rose petal and dark roasted coffee. Mouth-filling and chewy with lots of depth and fruit, but also dry and a bit austere (which I like). Pronounced acidic and mineral levels with very ample tannins — all well integrated.


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Chateau Grande Cassagne is a small estate run by the Dardé brothers (Laurent and Benoît). The property is near the village of Saint-Gilles. The Dardé brothers produce very good Rhone-style wines at value prices. Their wines are hand-made and the fruit is hand-farmed and organically-grown. Their first vintage was in 1988 and their wines have been imported by Robert Kacher since 1994.

The Cuvée Cassanus is a blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Marsanne. 80% is stainless steel fermented and 20% is done in French oak barriques. Golden straw in color. White flower, citrus, melon and a touch of honey aromatics. Green apple with pear, lemon, green olive and limestone on the palate. It is a little flabby, but shows good richness and minerality. Very food friendly.

I bought this on sale at Calvert Woodley for $6.99 a bottle. Note that this wine sells at $8.99 on sale in the store, but is available at the sale price of $6.99 on their website.

The wine normally retails at $10-11 a bottle. At $10 a bottle this is a good value, but at under $7, it is one of the top 10 white wine values I have encountered this year.

It is often difficult to find something serviceable at under $7 a bottle, but I actually would have called this a value play at $10 a bottle — and would not have been surprised (or disappointed) to have learned I paid $13 a bottle. Not a bad little quaffer this one….

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The 2005 Cuvelier Los Andes is a blend of 70% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Syrah, 7% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot.

Dark violet in color. Black cherry and dark fruit compote, graphite and a hint of soy sauce on the nose. Black fruit, plum, licorice, pencil shavings and espresso on the palate. Very dry, broad with good concentration and well integrated/structured with ample, soft tannins.

The wine was aged in French oak for 12 months and bottled unfined and unfiltered. Cuvelier Los Andes is owned by Leoville Poyferre (a 2nd Growth Bordeaux property in the Medoc) and the wine was produced with consultant Michel Roland — and is part of the Clos de los Siete, a collaborative project by seven producers in Argentina.

I bought more of this wine after tasting it to put down and would expect this to mature over the next 7-10 years or more. Very sophisticated and well made. Another example of Argentina’s leadership position of producing the best wines in South America, though I suspect many would not identify this as an Argentine wine in a blind tasting.

Be careful buying this wine, I have seen it priced as low as $22 a bottle and as high as $34 a bottle. It may not be as good of a value as the Clos de los Siete, but I would be inclined to go with the Cuvelier if I had to choose between the two — and it is certainly the more age worthy of the two. Strongly recommended.

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