Archive for May, 2009

IMG_1257The brothers Frédérick and François Alary are cousins to the legendary winemaker Denis Alary. Together, they represent two of the finest winemaking points of reference in the entire Southern Rhône.They are in fact the 10th generation of winemakers to tend this estate in the Côtes du Rhône over the last 300 years—with a family history that goes all the way back to 1692.

Vineyard work at Domaine de L’Oratoire is organic (and now certified), as well as natural (unfined and unfiltered), although the Alary brothers may prefer the term traditional, since they just continue to plow as their father did and his father before him and so on. They use no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. Robert Parker wrote that this domaine “is one of the finest estates in the Côtes du Rhône…and one of [its] most conspicuous overachievers, making wines that are far above their humble appellations…. This is the type of estate that brings smiles to consumers who happen upon their wines. They are reasonably priced and qualitatively equivalent to wines selling at two or three times the price.”

Cairanne is a picturesque hilltop village in the southern Rhône Valley, and is considered at the top of the several villages allowed to use the “Côtes du Rhône Villages” classification. The other top CDR villages include Rasteau and Seguret. Generally speaking, a “Côtes du Rhône Villages”—particularly from these three communes—has more class, complexity, and concentration than a straight Côtes du Rhône appellation and stricter standards prevail in terms of lower yields and alcoholic minimums. The best Cairanne wines (like the ones from Oratoire) can rival nearby Châteauneuf du Papes—at half the price.

Their Cairanne Blance is made from grapes that were harvested by hand, following immediate pressing and fermentation for 6 months in vats.  This special selection of the estate’s oldest, lowest-yielding vines—some 70 years old—from the lieu-dit “Haut Coustias,” the chalkiest, coolest part of the appellation, combines 40% Marsanne, 40% Roussanne, 10% Grenache Blanc and 10% Clairette. Aromatics of pear, quince, stone fruit and white blossom. On the palate, silky and rich with pear and white fruit, candied cirtus, vanilla, roasted almond and thyme. 13.5% alcohol. Recommended.

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For a hundred and thirty one years, three generations of the López de Heredia family have devoted themselves to producing unique and exceptional wines. The founder, Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic student in the art of wine making. He fell in love with the region and especially the area around Haro, the capital of the Rioja Alta region. There he observed a magical combination of soil and climate that would offer the perfect environment for producing wine. Around 1877, he began the design and construction of the complex that is today known as the López de Heredia, the oldest in Haro and one of the first three bodegas in the Rioja region.

Their rosé is aged in oak and is released only when Maria and the other members of the López de Heredia family feel that it is ready to drink. It is made only in better vintages, and it brings with it the ancient marine mineral bed that is the Tondonia vineyard.

The blend is mostly Grenache (60%), and the balance is Tempranillo (30%) and Viura (10%).

Copper with a tawny orange and pink hue. Intriguing aromatics of orange blossom, honey, dried fruit and a hint of wet cement. On the palate, oxidized with distinct sherry characteristics, orange marmalade, tangerine, apricot, dried flowers and toasted almond. Rich and very complex — pronounced mineral notes, good acidity and a pure, clean finish.

12.5% alcohol. 10,000 bottles produced. This is certainly the most complex rosé I have had and also one of the best. All of their wines are virtually essential in exploring Rioja, Spain and wine.In Europe they say that great stories sell wine (rather than points in the United States). This wine tells a great story — it’s complex, interesting, provocative, shows great depth — and will permeate your thoughts long after the bottle is empty.

Their rosé would be a great complement to Middle Eastern, Indian, Thai or any Mediterranean fare. Strongly recommended.

More rosé wines:
Mas des Bressades Rosé
Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé
Prieto Picudo Preto Rosado 2008

Also from Lopez de Heredia:
Lopez de Heredia “Viña Gravonia” Crianza Blanco Rioja 1999

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IMG_1235Gregory Perez began his winemaking career at the venerable Cos d’Estournel. With his foundation of great training in Bordeaux, Gregory has brought the to the areas of Tierra de Castilla and Bierzo. The Preto is his new project in Tierra de Castilla, just east of the Bierzo area.

Gregory features the regional specialty grape variety, Prieto Picudo. Prieto Picudo is responsible for lots of rosé wines in its native Castilla y León.

I think this might be the darkest rosé I have had — dense and bright ruby red in color. Cherry, lychee and some jolly rancher on the nose. Fresh, bright fruit of  watermelon, pear, cherry, raspberry with some rhubarb and herbs. Medium weight and dense, nice acidity — good purity and precision with some substance on the finish.

Though I still prefer the Mas des Bressades Rosé, Lopez de Heredia Rioja Tondonia Rosé 1998 and the Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé — this is delicious and a great choice for BBQ or burgers.

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IMG_1242I was very excited to see this wine on the shelf and I showed great restraint by only taking a single bottle home with me. The restraint was short lived as this was opened within 24 hours of being brought into its new home. Perhaps not quite as good as the Le Petit Chambord 2006. If memory serves me (and please understand that is a big if), the 2006 had more zing and fruit….but we are talking pretty subtle nuances and the 2007 is a really lovely bottle of wine. Great aromatics, very good acidity with pronounced citrus and mineral components. A great food wine — and especially well paired with seafood given the citrus and acidity — and  a good value at $15-$17 a bottle.

This wine is made by Francois Cazin. It is from the appellation of Cheverny, one of the most recent new appellations in the Loire Valley (1991). By legislation, a Cheverny wine has to be a blend of varietals, and François Cazin’s white is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Chardonnay.

Another gem in the tried and true portfolio of Louis/Dressner. Recommended — and buy more than just one bottle.

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IMG_1232Another wine from René Rostaing, one of the great names of Côte Rôtie. He started out in 1971, with a little more than an acre of vineyards, split between the Côte Blonde and La Landonne. Since that time his holdings have expanded considerably and today his estate stands at over 20 acres of Côte Rôtie.

Rostaing leans to the modernist camp of Côte Rôtie producers; however, he goes easy on new oak, using a maximum of 15% in the maturation process. All of his wines are bottled unfiltered.

Recently, René and his wife purchased a modest estate, Domaine Puech Chaud, in the Côteaux du Languedoc. Located in a relatively cool micro-climate, the zone’s limestone gravel seemed perfect for the Rostaings’ love of Syrah.

I believe this is 80 percent Syrah with equal parts Mourvedre and Grenache. Dark ruby in color. Aromatics of cherry and earth with some wet pavement, cut hay and meatiness. On the palate, sour cherry, plum, leather and some earthiness and minerality. I would classify this as very good and even better at under $20. Not sure I would be as pleased had I paid above $20. 14% alcohol. 1,000 cases produced.

Not the easiest bottle to find. I got this from Primo Vino and it is currenty on sale at $18 a bottle. Wine Exchange has the 2005 at $27 a bottle. Chez Panisse has the 2006 on its wine list at $48 a bottle. I would recommend this at under $20 a bottle — but I was more impressed with the 2005 Puech Chaud Blanc.

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IMG_1223René Rostaing is one of the great names of Côte Rôtie. He started out in 1971, with a little more than an acre of vineyards, split between the Côte Blonde and La Landonne. Since that time his holdings have expanded considerably and today his estate stands at over 20 acres of Côte Rôtie, including some highly valued plots, featuring in several cases some ancient vines.

He has the reputation as being one of the finest winemakers in the northern Rhone, crafting some of the finest Côte Rôties and Condrieus on the market today. From several parcels of old vines that immediately adjoin Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu, Rostaing produces a gorgeous non-appellation white and red called Les Lezardes. In Condrieu, he holds a tiny parcel in Côte Bonnette that yields some of the region’s most refined Viognier. Most of his Côte-Rôtie parcels are blended to produce the Cuvée Classique and there are his two prized Côte-Rôtie special cuvées, La Landonne and Côte Blonde.

Rostaing is in the modernist camp of Côte Rôtie producers; however, he goes easy on new oak and uses a maximum of 15% in the maturation process. All the wines are bottled unfiltered.

Recently, René and his wife purchased a modest estate, Domaine Puech Chaud, in the Côteaux du Languedoc. Located in a relatively cool micro-climate, the zone’s limestone gravel seemed perfect for the Rostaings’ love of Syrah. Bolstered with small amounts of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, and Vermentino.

The Puech Chaud Blanc is made from 50% Grenache Blanc, 35% Vermentino (also known as Rolle) and 15% Viognier. Raised entirely in stainless steel (like his acclaimed Condrieu), it offers stone fruit, melon, white flowers and citrus. Full bodied, concentrated and rich, with stone fruit, pear, some spice, saline and bay leaf. Nice minerality and acidity with some zing and a focused finish. 500 cases produced. 13% alcohol.

I got this on sale at Primo Vino on sale for $16.00 a bottle. It might only be May, but I’ll put this on my top ten whites for under $20 for 2009. Recommended.

Related post:
René Rostaing Vassal de Puech Noble Coteaux du Languedoc 2007

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img_1217The 2008 vintage of the Tablas Creek Vineyard Vermentino is their seventh bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal. Vermentino is a late-ripening white grape originating in or Madeira, or perhaps Portugal. It is now widely planted in Sardinia and the coastal arc running from Tuscany through Liguria and into southern France (where it is known as Rolle). Vermentino produces a wine that is bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character, refreshing acidity and surprising richness. Tablas Creek was the first to introduce the grape to California in 1993.

Light golden straw color. Citrus, stone fruit, melon and spice aromatics. Light to medium body. Crisp and acidic. Refreshing green apple, pear with lime, citrus and mineral notes. The weight, citrus and acidity makes this a great pair for seafood and Mediterranean fare — or a great apéritif. 13% alcohol.

Recommended. Another example why Tablas Creek is one of my favorite producers in California. Others include:
Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc 2006
Tablas Creek Vineyard Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2006
Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Rouge 2006

Of their whites, I think I may have liked their Grenache Blanc the best, but this was probably the most versatile and would give it a nod over the Côtes de Tablas Blanc.

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IMG_1212Tablas Creek Vineyard was founded by the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, the longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. Tablas Creek is dedicated to the production of wines made from Rhône grape varietals. All of their wines are made with grapes from their 120-acre certified organic estate vineyard. Each varietal is hand-harvested and fermented separately using native yeasts.

The 2006 Tablas Creek Vineyard Grenache Blanc is Tablas Creek’s third national release of its 100% Grenache Blanc. Grenache Blanc, is a little-known but widely-planted Southern Rhône varietal. Very light yellow in color. A touch reticent on the nose but provocative on the palate. Apple, peach, nectarine and some spice on the nose. Green apple, pear, almond, and citrus on the palate with a generous serving of white pepper, bay leaf and anise (something also left me a bit perplexed on the palate). Medium body, creamy with bright and zesty acidity. Complex with a focused and lasting finish. 15.3% alcohol ( well integrated). 550 cases produced.

I thought this was rather unique and provocative. While it might have a little too much personality for some, I was quite impressed with it. Recommended.

Related posts:
Côtes de Tablas Creek Vermentino 2008
Tablas Creek Vineyard Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2006
Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Rouge 2006

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IMG_1222Maxim-François works with his mom at Domaine Gramenon and also produces two wines under his own label. Il Fait Soif is violet purple in color. Just the color of this wine makes an impression…and it only gets more interesting on the nose. Great aromatics — lots of sour cherry, pepper, wet leather and herbs. Candied fruit dominated by notes of cherry and raspberry, loaded with pepper and a smear of grape jam, some graphite and pencil shavings.  Juicy, meaty and very approachable, perhaps a bit one dimensional, but a total Côtes du Quaffer. The meatiness and the peppered red fruit lead me to believe this is mostly Syrah and Grenache.  This was a perfect pizza wine or great pairing for BBQ and grilled meats.

All of his wines are produced from organically farmed grapes. 14% alcohol. Imported by Kermit Lynch. This would get a stronger recommendation from me if it were in the $12-15 a bottle range, but I am still very pleased to have a couple more bottles put away — but at $15 there would be a case downstairs.

Related post:
Domaine Gramenon Les Laurentides Côtes du Rhône 2007

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090504_drink_wineguide51Great article, plus a wallet-size cheat sheet detailing some of the wine world’s most trusted importers. Two of my favorites, Louis/Dressner and Kermit Lynch, were rightfully included. Also nice to see Neal Rosenthal, Peter Weygandt and Robert Kacher on the list. Check out the article, it’s worth a read — plus these names belong in your cellar and perhaps your wallet as well…

View article.

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Everyone is trying to get the most for the dollar given the economic environment — and wine is no exception. Where to look for the best values? The Loire Valley continues to offer wines of tremendous quality for the dollar. 2006 was a great vintage for white wine throughout much of France and there are many great value plays as well. Finally, a lot of great 2007s from Côtes du Rhône are starting to hit the market, that are offering some of the best wines in the marketplace dollar for dollar.

A lot of retailers are sending out emails with special offers on closeouts — so it is a good time to get on retailers mailing lists. There is a  huge glut of supply in Australian wine and not much demand resulting in a lot of downward pressure on pricing.  Spain and South America also offer a lot of value for the dollar.

I also wanted to provide links to some of the best buys (often termed QPRs –Quality/Price Ratio) from the last year. Here are some of my top picks from the last year. Most of these are under $20 a bottle, some as low as $10 and nothing above $25.

Montirius Vacqueyras Garrigues 2005
Domaine Richaud Côtes du Rhône Terres de Galets 2007
Domaine Depeyre Côtes du Roussillon Villages 2007
Breton Chinon Beaumont 2004
Edmunds St. John Rocks & Gravel 2005
Jean & Agnes Foillard — Morgon Cuvée Corcelette Vieille Vigne 2007
Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Rouge 2006
René Rostaing Vassal de Puech Noble Coteaux du Languedoc 2007
Domaine des 2 Anes, Premiers Pas 2005
Pierre Laplace Madiran 2005
Sean Thackrey Pleiades XV Old Vines Red
Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Côtes du Rhône 2004
Domaine Guion Bourgueil Cuvee Domaine 2006
Cuvelier Los Andes 2005
2006 Clos de los Siete
Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2007

René Rostaing Puech Chaud Blanc Coteaux du Languedoc 2005
McPrice Myers Viognier Larner Vineyard 2006
Cheverny, Le Petit Chambord, Domaine Francois Cazin, 2006
Mas des Bressades Roussanne-Viognier 2007
Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2007
Tablas Creek Vineyard Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2006
Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2007
Melville Estate Verna’s Viognier 2007
Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Sauvignon Blanc #5, 2006

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img_1167The original Super-Tuscan, Tignanello is produced exclusively from the Tignanello vineyard, a 47 hectares (116 acres) southwest-facing, calcareous rocky-marl and limestone soil plot, planted between 1,150 and 1,312 feet above sea level at Antinori’s Santa Cristina Estate. It was the first Sangiovese to be aged in small oak barrels, the first red wine in modern times to use a non-traditional grape variety, Cabernet, in the blend, and among the first red wines made in Chianti with no white grapes.

Tignanello, originally a Chianti Classico Riserva labeled Vigneto Tignanello, was first vinified as a single vineyard wine in the 1970 vintage, when it contained 20% Canaiolo and 5% Trebbiano and Malvasia, and was aged in small oak cooperage. With the 1971 vintage the wine became a Vino da Tavola della Toscana and was named Tignanello after the vineyard from which it originates. Beginning with this vintage, Tignanello stopped adhering to the rules laid down by Chianti Classico Disciplinare, and with the 1975 vintage, white grapes were totally eliminated. Since the 1982 vintage, the blend has been 80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.

I had been sitting on this waiting for a special occasion. Fortunately, a nice dinner with friends from California provided more than such an occasion. Open and decanted the wine for 3 hours. Deep garnet color. Aromatics of cherry, tobacco, cedar and floral notes. Cherry, strawberry, spice, leather and forest floor on the palate. Full bodied, but more elegant than a heavyweight –structured, fairly complex with good acidity and focus. This was the second favorite wine of the week, after the Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 1999. 13.5% alcohol. Imported by Remy Amerique.

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img_12111Kunin Wines was founded in 1998 with wine production growing annually from 400 cases to a current 5,800 cases. Winemaker Seth Kunin produces his wines made with grapes purchased from the vineyards of the Central Coast region of California. Kunin’s varietals include Syrah, Zinfandel, Viognier and blends of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah.

Dark violet in color. Very aromatic nose of dark fruit, cassis, violet, burnt rubber and black olive. Opulent, ripe and velvety on the palate, black currant, cassis, licorice root and graphite. 14.9% alcohol is pretty well integrated with fruit, but a touch of heat. Seemed to have a bit of restraint, but very close to being too much. Served with the right fare this would show quite well.

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