Archive for August, 2009

IMG_1359I poured this the same night as the Domaine Gramenon Sierra du Sud 2007. I thought both of the wines were brilliant — and while I might give a slight nod to the Gramenon, the Edmunds St. John impressed me as a more “serious” wine with greater longevity.

I would also go so far to say it was more Rhône-like in style. I would open the Gramenon if I had the opportunity to open a bottle tomorrow. Given the same choice five years from now, I would opt for Edmunds St. John Bassetti Syrah 2005.

Deep, dark purple in color. Vibrant aromatics of cherry, violet, garrigue and smoke. On the palate, black cherry and raspberry wrapped in smoke, black olive, earth, wild game and herbs. Optimal ripeness and impeccable balance — not overdone in any respect. Solid acidity and firm yet silky tannins with a persistent finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. 103 cases produced. Strongly recommended.

I have not had as good of luck since the great night of Syrahs last week. A bottle of Domaine de Boède Coteaux du Languedoc Les Grès 2007 was overripe and overdone — the bottle unfinished. Last night I opened a Rosenblum 2005 Zinfandel Snow Lake Vineyard Lake County that was hot, medicinal and ripe. I had a hard time finishing a glass and didn’t go back for more.

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.

Other wines from Edmunds St. John
Edmunds St. John Rocks & Gravel 2005

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IMG_1357Domaine Gramenon is one of the most respected producers in the Rhône. In his book on the wines of the Rhône valley, Robert Parker classified Gramenon in the same category as Beaucastel and Fonsalette. In 1998, owner Phillipe Laurent nearly doubled the area of his vineyards by purchasing some 50 acres in Vinsobres. A year later, he died in a tragic accident and his wife decided to sell some 35 acres the Perrin brothers at Beaucastel.

Michelle Aubery-Laurent and her son Maxim-François continue to make wines in a pretty natural way, with sulphur dioxide used just at assemblage. Their vineyards are farmed organically, and they never filter or fine their wines.

Their wines are not very well known in the United States as they are available on a limited basis. I found Gramenon’s wines through Kermit Lynch’s newsletter. He described them as a pure expression of biodynamically farmed, old vine Grenache with knock-out fruit flavors tempered by a core of strong minerality. Some might not want to pay $30 for a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, but I was able to pick up a sampler pack of their wine from Kermit Lynch at 25% off and each one of the wines has been a winner.

The Sierra du Sud is 100% Syrah, half aged for seven months in old oak. Very deep, dark inky ruby in color. Bright aromatics with a mash of red and dark fruit (cherry, blackberry) with some meat and red licorice. On the palate, completely seductive — approachable, beautiful ripe fruit, broad and expansive, smooth, great balance — and in no way overdone. Cherry, raspberry with pomegranate and plum, bacon and a little black olive, earth and bubble gum. They should only be allowed to bottle this in magnums and larger formats — it’s  nothing short of spectacular. Highly recommended. 14% alcohol. Imported by Kermit Lynch.

La Sagesse was my favorite of the 2007s from Gramenon, but this is just as good (and perhaps even better). The wines from Gramenon along with the Escaravailles Les Sablieres and Domain Richaud Terres de Galets are my favorite Côtes du Rhônes from the ‘07 vintage.

Favorites from Côtes du Rhône 2007
Domaine Gramenon Sierra du Sud
Domaine Gramenon La Sagesse Côtes du Rhône
Domaine Gramenon Les Laurentides Côtes du Rhône
Les Aphillanthes Côtes du Rhône
Domaine Richaud Côtes du Rhône-Villages-Cairanne
Domaine Richaud Côtes du Rhône Terres de Galets
Escaravailles Côtes du Rhône

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IMG_1353Teobaldo Cappellano is considered a legend and one of the last great traditionalist winemakers in Barolo. In 1983, he banished all journalists from his cellar unless they agreed to review his wines without scores.  As a result, he is not very well known in the United States — but is held in very high esteem in the wine world.

He was once quoted as saying, “If there is one thing that makes me crazy, it’s spitters of wine…the ones who taste a wine by rolling it around in their mouths and then they spit it out. I worked my butt off to make wine to drink, not to spit!”

He has been described as a “wine artist,” and a “poet, philosopher and winemaker in his spare time.” He was also president of the influential Vini Veri group and a longtime leader of Italy’s sustainable agriculture movement. He was best known in Italy for his Barolo Chinato, a tonic of wine, spirit and herbs, chiefly quinine, invented by his uncle Giuseppe at the end of the nineteenth century. Endorsed by the House of Savoy, the former Kings of Italy, Cappellano’s Barolo Chinato became the standard by which all others were measured.

The estate produces 2 Barolos, 2 Barberas and a Dolcetto. Annual production is around 15,000 to 20,000 bottles. The wines are fermented along traditional lines for 2-3 weeks, without added yeasts, in stainless steel (designed by Cappellano himself) and glass-lines cement vats. Then they go into barrels for a minimum of 3 years, sometimes longer. They are bottled without filtration.

Teobaldo Cappellano died February 20th, 2009 after a serous illness. He slipped into a coma while undergoing surgical treatment and never recovered. He was 65 years old. His son Augusto will carry on his legacy.

I opened a 2004 Babera D’Alba last week and it was the highlight of the evening. Beautiful ruby color. Lots of red fruit on the nose with some floral notes and spice. Sour and dried cherry on the palate with cranberry and a little pomegranate. Good tannins and acidity, but also quite mellow — a true comfort wine. Recommended.

14% alcohol. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections.

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IMG_1346Stephane Robert began building his domain from the ground up in 1994. At the time he was only 24 years old.  Today, he has more than 18 acres under ownership and contract in Cornas, Saint-Joseph and Saint-Peray.

Stephane’s style is driven by his desire to showcase the intensity of fruit and his dislike for the masking influence of new oak. Stephane’s wines are well known in France, but just starting to get more visibility in the United States. After tasting Stephane’s offerings from the 05 vintage, Robert Parker said: “This is an impressive wine from one of the up-and-coming stars of the Northern Rhone.” My first experience with the wines came last year at Astor Wine & Spirits in New York.

Saint-Peray is a white-only Northern Rhone AOC that almost became non-existent in the 1970s.  Stephane is attempting to revitalize this unique terroir. His Roussanne is planted in in granite soils and aged for 11 months – 50% in used barrels and 50% in stainless steel.

Light, pale yellow in color. Aromatics of stone fruit, white flowers, sea foam and a little citrus. On the palate, peach and pear notes with a tease of pineapple, honey and tangerine. Good minerality, but perhaps lacking some richness, creaminess and distinctiveness — and maybe just a touch thin. I liked this but thought it fells short of recommendation given the price point. I opened a bottle of Mas des Bressades Roussanne-Viognier 2007 after this bottle, and while it was not as good, it is less than half the price — and for me it offers as much or more enjoyment for the dollar.

At this price point, I would opt for the André Perret Saint Jospeh 2007 or the Paul Jaboulet Chevalier Sterimberg Hermitage Blanc 2004.

13% alcohol. Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines.

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IMG_1341Arianna Occhipinti is from the Vittoria region of Southern Sicily. She has been making wine for ten years under the tutelage of her uncle, Giusto Occhipinti, who owns the well-known winery COS. She produces first rate wines from biodynamically grown local varieties such as Nero d’Avola and Frappato. In her mid-20s, Arianna already seems to know exactly what she wants to do with her life. She is the sort of driven young winemaker who is bound to be become an important figure in Sicilian wine.

Frappato is a local Sicilian red grape variety that always seems to yield wines loaded with fresh raspberry aromatics. Arianna’s Frappato is already legendary — and that status is very well deserved. The SP68 is a blend of Frappato and Nero di Avola. The SP68 name comes from a highway near Arianna’s home town of Vittoria.

Bright ruby in color. Focused aromatics  of raspberry, cherry and garrigue. On the palate, sour black cherry and rasberry with stony earth and a little twizzler. Great depth, purity and balance. Reminded me of a Gamay with a little extra meatiness. Very approachable — certainly a serious wine, but a lot of fun to drink. A perfect summer wine to serve with a slight chill with BBQ or probably a great pairing with lamb.

12.5% alcohol. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections. Strongly recommended.

Related post:
Arianna Occhipinti Il Frappato Sicilia IGT 2006

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