29 March 2009


Woollaston 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (Nelson) – Red fruit, black-hearted minerals. Incredible intensity. Very lightly sweet-seeming. Long. Huge. Impressive. One might even say tumescent. (3/09)

I once knew a girl named

Villa Maria “Cellar Selection” 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Intense, long, and ripe, with purity and balance. Hints of black fruit. The wine glows. (3/09)


Isabel 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Slate, cedar, and a fine particulate texture with laser-like intensity. Extremely impressive. (3/09)

Staete your purpose

Staete Landt 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Very mineral-dominated. grassy, with green apple skins. Long. Good. (3/09)

Wither or not

Wither Hills 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Greener than it has been in other vintages. Grass, leaves, and coal dust on the finish. Eh. (3/09)

Fast tree

Dashwood 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Thin, papery, and innocuous. (3/09)

Palliser around with sauvignons

Palliser Estate 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Martinborough) – Dense. Gooseberry with a significantly smoky component…or is it sulfur? Maybe a bit of both. Tropical fruit rinds and minerality (grey-toned), this wine is a little on the corpulent side. (3/09)


Saint Clair 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Pioneer Block 1 “Foundation” (Marlborough) – Vibrant, pure, and intense. Green mango, grapefruit, light orange. A slight bit of stick on the finish, but otherwise classic and very good. The class of the 2008s, for sure. (3/09)

Blank security

Whitehaven 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Pea soup with artificial sweetener; here are all the old flaws, presented in a modernistic, sludgy package. And in what universe does this deserve a $23 suggested retail price? (3/09)

Two ties

Matua Valley 2008 Sauvignon Blanc “Paretai” (Marlborough) – Green pea and black pepper do battle with ripe tropical fruit. There’s greenness, as well. The finish is weirdly sour, but until that point the wine’s good enough. (3/09)


Nobilo “Icon” 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Sophisticated and suave. Crystallized minerality, leafy. Not green. Good weight. Finishes a little flat, though. Just OK. (3/09)

Alexis, Cindy

Kim Crawford 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Sweet mandarin orange, mango, plum. Extremely tropical. I don’t care for this style any more than the capsicum-infused alternative. (3/09)


Vavasour 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Very solid with some quartz at the interior. Ripe, structured, and intense. Good. (3/09)

vs. Spy

Spy Valley 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Neon green aromas, ripe grapefruit, plum. A bit sweet. Nice enough, but meaningless. (3/09)


Saint Clair 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Intense pea and green bean aromas. Vivid. Fattens on the finish. (3/09)

One-dimensional senator

Kennedy Point 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Green dust and paper. Flat. Dull. (3/09)


Croney “Three Ton” 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Mango sorbet. Juicy. Finishes weirdly bitter. (3/09)

High fiber bed

Montana “Brancott” 2008 Sauvignon Blanc “Reserve” (Marlborough) – Cedar, ripe yellow plum. Soft, with a pinched midpalate, then expands. Very long, turning more expressive as it lingers, with a bitter edge emergent. This is a very polished style, perhaps too obviously so. (3/09)

Irrigation needed

Drylands 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Ripe red fruit, papaya, mango, and something that almost approaches lychee in its lurid stickiness. Way too sweet. (3/09)

Private dancer

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Electric green fuzz, clean green apple skin. Tight. Classic, but stretched thin. Not bad. (3/09)


Nautilus 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Simple. A little sweet, a little green. Banana candy finish. (3/09)


Goldwater 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Valley (Marlborough) – Intense gooseberry with lacings of asparagus. Crystalline. Rich but with sufficient acid, and thus balanced. Finishes greener than it starts. Good. (3/09)


Saint Clair “Vicar’s Choice” 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Clean, linear. Papaya, but not sweetly tropical. Light- to medium-bodied. Good, but only just. (3/09)

Rocky Vivian

Stoneleigh 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Vivid pineapple, ripe green apple, grass. Sour plum wine on the finish. Weird. (3/09)

X marks the wine

The Crossings 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Dry exposed rock. Grassy. Ungenerous. Very mineral-driven, with a long finish. An uncompromising style. (3/09)

The world is my

Oyster Bay 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Seashell, green apple. Intense. Short finish. Not bad. (3/09)

First names

Allan Scott 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Papery. Qualitatively, somewhere between innocuous and awful. (3/09)


Babich 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Sugared apple, pineapple. A goofy toy wine, not to be taken seriously. (3/09)


Nobilo “Regional Collection” 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Clean. Watery. Green and yellow citrus rinds, plus grapefruit. Underripe and dilute. (3/09)

Matua-t a time

Matua Valley 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Gooseberry, a little papaya, and a Styrofoam finish (which is, blessedly, short). (3/09)


Monkey Bay 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Light green pepper, asparagus, sweet greenness continues on the finish. A diagonal wine. Ultimately insignificant. (3/09)

27 March 2009


Vodopivec 2004 Venezia Giulia Vitovska (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Even more orange than most of its “orange wine” cohort. But it still brings the insanity. Tannic as hell. Cloudy. Plus: citrus rinds, green olives, very old almonds, a touch of ammoniated walnut. And is that lard that I smell? Incredibly dense, complex…and, as usual, it’s impossible to get a real handle on a wine like this. It just defies every expectation, even when one knows what to expect. (3/09)


[vineyard]Dashe 2007 Zinfandel “l’Enfant Terrible” McFadden Farms (Potter Valley) – 13.8%, native yeast, etc. Served blind. Guesses range from Beaujolais to Clos Roche Blanche’s famous Côt/Malbec blend, but it’s been served because one of the blind tasters has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the wine. Here, he likes it…until the reveal, at which point he turns on it. Since this is just about the only useful thing one can learn via non-contextual blind tasting, I consider the experiment a success (he says with a self-satisfied smirk). As for the wine? Tastes carbonic – and yes, I know winemakers insist such a thing can’t be tasted, but the carbonated pop and zing is what I mean – with soft earth, gentle red fruit, lima bean, asparagus, and a fair structure despite the wine’s lightness. There’s a fade to the wine that it didn’t have last year, and the tannin’s a little more prominent, so I’d guess that wherever the wine’s going, it’s headed there. I like it, though I’m not enraptured by it, but I think it’s time to leave it alone for a while. (3/09)

Cornas game hen

Clape 1990 Cornas (Rhône) – Smoked beef, licorice. Hard and edgy, yet with plenty of complex elaborations around the perimeter; baroque in design, maybe, but a more rough-hewn country interpretation than the overly-precious, cherubic norm. Mature? It’s hard to say, but probably not. Time and time again, in the company of Rhônes (and Rhônish cousins) of greater alleged repute, the Cornas outperforms them all. There’s a lesson there, but – alas – one I should have learned back when the wines weren’t eyeing triple-digit prices with only a minor tilt of the head. (3/09)

A Cooke's tour

[logo]Ravenswood 1995 Zinfandel Cooke (Sonoma Valley) – 15.2%. Blackberry, pepper, and caramel (more a sign of age than something more sinister). The tannin’s slightly weedy. A hammer-blow, ultra-masculine wine, good but choppy and unwilling to be tamed. I’m not sure, given the tannin, there’s much of a future, either. Drink soon. (3/09)

Qu'est-ce Cuis?

Gimonnet Champagne Cuis “1er Cru” Brut Blanc de Blancs (Champagne) – Metal-jacketed apple, makrut lime, and rhubarb. Interesting, to say the least. I’m not sure how to describe the texture here, as it’s something a little out of the ordinary. Rhomboid? Sure, why not? Incisive, long, and strong-willed. Insistent stuff. Almost certainly needs age. (3/09)

Charmes school

[logo]Kreydenweiss 2001 Pinot Blanc Kritt “Les Charmes” (Alsace) – Creamy apricot, orangesicle, vanilla. The textures a bit gelato-like, but there’s enough acidity – just – to carry it off. Good, though it’s still Alsatian pinot blanc, and as such probably comes with a sort of qualitative ceiling. Still, the wine’s turning lush with creaminess, and you’ll probably want to drink this sooner rather than later. (3/09)

One bourbon, one Scotch, & one beerenauslese

[barrels]Anheuser 1999 Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl Riesling Beerenauslese 049 00 (Nahe) – Extremely sweet, of course, apple, grapefruit, spice, raspberry. A touch of alcohol, believe it or not. This has been opened specifically for me, because apparently I liked it too much in the past. Well, I still like it, though not as much as before. It’s not particularly complex, for sure. But it’s sweet riesling with red fruit notes. Where’s the bad? (3/09)

Bosquet of flowers

Boiron “Bosquet des Papes” 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Smoked bacon liqueur (aside: why hasn’t anyone made such a thing? I’d buy it). Porcine. Pretty straightforward aged CdP; this might have an upside, and it certainly doesn’t seem to be weakening in any way, but right now it’s a rather large but uncomplex portion of the pig. That’s never bad. (3/09)


[slate]JJ Christoffel 2001 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 004 02 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Apple, peach, and zing, though some cream is already in development. Achieving a certain coherency, which makes it quite appealing at the moment. (3/09)

The Würz of times

JJ Christoffel Erben 2001 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett 005 02 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Sharp, gravelly, with a soda-water finish. A little disjointed. OK, a lot disjointed. But there’s spice, and…oh, hell, I don’t know what to make of this wine. It doesn’t seem to want to help, either. (3/09)


Jasmin 1996 Côte-Rôtie (Rhône) – Very tight and strappy. Hard. Thyme (maybe?), but muted. Corked? The last bottle was. We check back on it later, and the matter’s still undecided, so who knows? This is the opposite of fun. (3/09)

Durell Owens

Edmunds St. John 1994 Syrah Durell (Sonoma Valley) – Corked. Holy crap, is this corked. It’s like an entire year’s worth of TCA took up residence in this bottle. (3/09)

Séguret squirrel

Texier 2000 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Séguret “Vieilles Vignes” (Rhône) – Dead, with some oxidation. Synthetic cork strikes. (3/09)


Texier 2001 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages St-Gervais (Rhône) – Dead, with minor oxidation. Synthetic cork strikes again. (3/09)

It's a fair Kanonkop

[logo]Kanonkop 1989 Pinotage (South Africa) – The appellation seems to be as the bottle indicates, though of course under current law this would be from Stellenbosch. The cork is an absolute mess, takes an epic effort to remove in the tiny pieces into which it disintegrates, and by all rights should herald a damaged and prematurely decrepit bottle. But if so, there’s no sign of it in my glass. The wine looks much younger than it is, and tastes so as well, which makes me wonder if pinotage is the South African version of petite sirah…eternally youthful and forever consumed too soon. Quite heavily-fruited still, in the form of a baked fruit compote without distinct elements, though the first stirrings of maturity appear as old, time-burnished furniture and a loamy mushroom quality. Very soft, yet far from unstructured, and seemingly not yet mature by its mouth-filling headiness. Very impressive. (11/08)

MCC hammer

Constantia Uitsig 2005 Méthode Cap Classique Brut Blanc de Blancs (Constantia) – Highly polished, and presenting itself with sophistication rather than ego. Clean, dry lemon forms a tight cylindrical core, around which are layers of delicate foil that don’t obscure transparency. Finely-beaded and quite impressive. Still, what I’d really love to do is revisit this after a few years, because it’s very primary. (11/08)

Constance craving

[bottle]Klein Constantia 2004 “Vin de Constance” (Constantia) – Pretty. Sweet, classic muscat with a bronzed quality. (Almost) very good, but the finish is abrupt. Doesn’t live up to its legend. (11/08)

Paper late

Constantia Uitsig “Noble Late Harvest” (Constantia) – Light and pretty, showing sweet apples still shaded by their leaves. The finish is of reasonable length, though there’s not a great deal of complexity. (11/08)

Asara, storms are brewin' in your eyes

[bottle]Asara 2003 “Noble Late Harvest” (Stellenbosch) – Botrytized chenin blanc. Aromatically beautiful, lush, and creamy, but it falls away on the palate. About halfway to being a truly great dessert wine; as it is, it’s very pleasant but uninspired. (11/08)

25 March 2009

Grosjean lady

[vineyard]Grosjean 2007 Gamay (Vallee d’Aoste) – Almost everywhere it’s grown, gamay is an appealing, “easy” grape, and where it’s lent complexity, the source is the terroir or meddling winemaking. Not so here, though I think the same is true of many Aoste wines; there’s no getting around the fact that this is a difficult wine. Reddish fruit takes on a grey hue as viewed through veils of layered minerality. Yet there’s a rough-hewn element as well, one that counters the rocky strata with an unevenly textured chunk of dirt-clad darkness. It’s a light wine, but it’s most certainly not a gentle one. I think age might bring greater clarity here. For now, the intellectual interest alone is enough to recommend this wine, though I can’t promise actual enjoyment; that will depend on the taster. (3/09)

Delta of Venusio

[vineyard]Cantina di Venosa 1999 Aglianico del Vulture “Carato Venusio” (Basilicata) – It’s not always clear with aglianico at which point in the wine’s maturity you have encountered it, because the structure and the “fruit,” which can seem to work at cross-purposes even at the best of times, mature in ways that are largely unlike other, more familiar, grapes. One must be prepared for a certain rusticity and no lack of scraping aggression, usually from the tannin…at which point, one will usually encounter one of those beautiful, fully-resolved, almost “elegant” (for aglianico) bottles that defies all expectations. Here, however, is something a little more standard. The fruit’s reddish, thinning, and drying, but still appealing if one is willing to embrace fruit-as-dust, while the tannin lingers and scrapes, and still-emerging acidity begins to add its own warbling treble descant. It’s appealing, but the appeal is predicated on a disposition to like wines of this type. Drink now? I guess. (3/09)

Private dancer

[vineyard]Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2007 Riesling (Marlborough) – As the years have passed and the need to shave margins to maintain a price point on the incredibly popular “Private Bin” sauvignon blanc have slowly chipped away at the value proposition of that wine, this has become Villa Maria’s secret budget star. No, it won’t put you off your Ürziger Würzgarten (or even your Pegasus Bay), but it will bring you exactly what the grape promises: clear light shone on rock, pristine apple, a nice bite of acidity, and a little fillip of stony/acidic bitterness on the finish. It’s simple and direct, and one could – and frequently will – do far, far worse. (3/09)


[vineyard]Dog Point 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Grass and ground-crystal minerality. Modern strength paired with traditional restraint. Suggestions of yellow-green fruit, bold but never aggressive. There’s a lot to like about this wine, and people who don’t think they like Marlborough sauvignon should probably give this a try. (3/09)

Orazio cookie

Cantina di Venosa 2004 “Terre di Orazio” Dry Muscat (Basilicata) – This doesn’t work for me at all. It feels like one of those fortified southern French muscats, except that the fortification has replaced the muscat, leaving the wine (which is not fortified) bereft of the necessary aromatics. Smells, tastes, and finishes like lead. (3/09)


[vineyard]Montevina 2005 Zinfandel (Sierra Foothills) – 13.5%. Sort of a sangiovese-esque take on zin, with spotlit raspberry/strawberry fruit geysering forth on a crest of acidity. This is neither as brambly nor as spirited (pun intended) as zins from this area usually are. Juicy, tasty, fun, and under $20. Not many of those left, at least among zins worth drinking. (3/09)

Suore thumb

Monastero Suore Cistercensi S.O. Trappiste 2006 “Coenobium” (Lazio) – From a bottle that’s been open for a little while, which has contrasting effects. On the one hand, the occasional diffidence of the foamy, tanned soil nose is less combative, leaving old stone fruit and the purer version of the soil a little more exposed. On the other, the fight to get at this wine is, in a way, a stand-in for some of the balancing structure that this wine doesn’t always have enough of. I like Coenobium a lot (though I liked it even more when it was under $20), but it often feels like a junior, training wheels version of the crazy “orange wines” that seem to flow like water from Italy these days. (3/09)

Rollr drby

[vineyard]Yorkville Cellars 2006 “Hi-Rollr Red” (Yorkville Highlands) – This, rather than the usual confected android soup, is the sort of cheap California wine that should be produced in zillion-gallon quantities: a huge burst of easy-to-understand fruit, a little off-dry (or at least, so it seems)…round, plush, and fun. Unfortunately, it’s about twice what I think one should pay for such a wine. At a shade under $20, a price that asks for a certain amount of seriousness, it’s too goofily simple-minded and sticky. (3/09)

Bajoz the dwarf

[bottle]Bajoz 2004 Tinta de Toro “Joven” (Castilla & León) – There’s little reason to think this is still drinking well, but for $3.99 (on closeout) the cost of failure is pretty low. And indeed, the first half-hour or so of this wine’s uncorked life is a mess of embittered dark red fruit and scraping tannin of the sort common to drink-now wines taken well past their expiration dates. But then, surprisingly, the tannin smoothes a bit, and the fruit hefts up to something a little darker and a lot rounder, and suddenly the wine’s fully mature and drinking beautifully. Who’d have guessed? (3/09)

Not a man, not a Plan

Costières & Soleil “Sélectionné par Laurence Féraud” 2005 “Plan Pégau” Vin de Table (Rhône) – Muted at opening, then delivering a slow, slow, so slow process of cabernet-ization; by the end of the bottle, it would be the sheerest luck to identify the wine’s Rhônish origins. That’s not a bad thing – it’s a vin de table for a reason, after all – but what isn’t quite so good is the way the wine never rises above tediousness, albeit a tedium delivered via sledgehammer. Every single bottle of this wine has been worse than the last one. (3/09)


Smuttynose “Gravitation” Quadrupel Ale (New Hampshire) – Accomplished. Even though it manages to give what is always a very, very heavy style of ale life and lift. Still, it’s a bruiser, so drink carefully. Spice abounds. (3/09)

Here's mud in your eye

[label]Otter Creek “World Tour” Mud Bock (Vermont) – Billed as a seasonal ale, which is wise, because this is incredibly heavy, overwhelmingly spicy, and tastes of grade C syrup boiled down to a balsamic concentrate. Mud, indeed. (3/09)

Otter Creek “World Tour” Otter’s Dubbel (Vermont) – While I wouldn’t exactly call this beer “lively,” there’s a certain verve to it, despite the weighty baked apple and stickiness inherent in the style. Or maybe it’s just overly light. I do like it for a while, but each glass after the first is progressively less interesting, and that’s never a good sign. (3/09)


Les Brasseurs de Gayant “La Goudale” Bière Blonde à l’Ancienne (Flanders) – Boring, boring, boring. I wasn’t aware they could carbonate tedium. (3/09)

Les Brasseurs de Gayant “La Divine St-Landelin” Bière Dorée (Flanders) – All acute angles and upthrust pinkies, yet worth a guzzle when refreshment is a more immediate goal than taste. (3/09)

Hoeven hoof

Koningshoeven Bock (Netherlands) – Powerful and metallic, but perhaps overly jacketed. The expected density is not overwhelming, but the beer never really goes anywhere interesting. (3/09)


Bosteels Tripel “Karmeliet” (Belgium) – A really good beer with just a little bit too much sticky toffee pudding, which keeps it from truly soaring. A shame, because there’s a lot to like here. (3/09)

17 March 2009

Fromenteau loaf

Josmeyer 2001 Pinot Gris “Le Fromenteau” (Alsace) – Pristine and mineral-driven, fruited with crisp pear and ripe apple, and seasoned with just a bit of salt. (No, really…there’s a hint of salinity that I’ve never found in an Alsatian pinot gris, though it’s fairly common in certain coastal whites.) Neither fat nor aggressive. The finish is long, suggesting hints of the spice that will emerge with more age. While this is drinking well now, were I to own any I’d wait a while, because it’s still holding back, and because the crystalline minerality that’s slowly being revealed is a little more zirconium than diamond at the moment. (9/08)


Collet 2002 Chablis Montmains 1er Cru (Chablis) – Fattish nose of seashells. Good structure. Simple. Disappears rather abruptly on the palate. This is mostly bones, with precious little flesh. (9/08)

12 March 2009

Unidentified flying wine

[bottle]Bonny Doon 2004 “Le Cigare Volant” (California) – 38% grenache, 35% syrah, 12% mourvèdre, 8% carignan, 7% cinsault. Surprisingly Rhônish. Meat, underbrush, herbs, and sap. Juicy and approachable, but very well-knit. I like this a lot, less because the elements are superior than because the wine carries itself with palpable confidence. (9/08)


Bonny Doon 2004 Recioto of Barbera (Monterey County) – 14.5% alcohol, 7.2% grams residual sugar, 500 ml bottle. The nose here is lovely – full of crushed raisins – despite the bottle being open for twenty-four hours. This probably explains the bit of fade to the palate and a perimeter that’s more enticing than the center, but the wine retains a certain crispness and edge, with apple-toned acidity. More remarkably, this lacks the persistent (and to me, a sensitive, often deal-breaking) flaw of recioto-styled wines: volatile acidity. If there’s any here, it’s below my threshold of detection…and that threshold is legendarily low. Nicely done. (9/08)

And Clyde

[bottle]Bonny Doon 2006 “Le Cigare Blanc” (California) – 75% grenache blanc, 35% roussanne, from vineyards in Arroyo Seco. Stone fruit, sand, and spice…then intense apricot and blood orange with slightly less spice…then slight vegetation as the wine winds down. This sort of phase-shifting isn’t, I find, unusual with Rhônish whites that aren’t pushed to (or past) the limits of ripeness. All that said, the most appealing element of the wine is actually its gravelly texture. There’s enough acidity for balance, and great persistence, but I think this wine is not everything it could strive to be. (9/08)

Bonny Doon 2006 “Le Cigare Blanc” (California) – Honeydew melon, pear, spice, and tan earth rumbled with gravel. Warmth does not help the wine, though air seems to, so I’d suggest decanting and then the fridge. (9/08)


Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2005 Sangiovese (San Benito County) – There are dollops of nero d’avola, cinsault, and colorino here. What do they add? I’m not sure. An intense nose of mixed jellies – plum, blueberry, blackberry – fades to simpler multi-hued cherries by the finish, there’s a tannic bite that grates with underripeness as the wine lingers, and a fairly significant amount of acidity adds to what eventually becomes a general and growing sensation of off-putting weediness. Eh. (9/08)

Have a Cigare

[bottle]Bonny Doon 2006 “Vin Gris de Cigare” (California) – A pinkish blend of grenache, cinsault, syrah, grenache blanc, and roussanne. Dried grapefruit and other citrus rinds, with some of them in candied form. Lavender, as well. Good weight and balance. Long. The wine turns more rind-dominated on the finish, but this is only to its benefit. Elegant and quite tasty. (9/08)

Nacido bite

Bonny Doon 2005 Syrah Bien Nacido (Santa Maria Valley) – Soulful. A beautiful nose (a sequel to the tedious Russell Crowe flick) of blackberry and leather, plus mint, promises much. The texture is plush, but without sacrificing a pleasantly herbal earthiness not usually found amidst this level of luxuriance. Balanced and very structured, with the clear intention of and potential for ageability. If there’s a flaw, it’s a touch of stretch and green to the tannin, which is worth keeping an eye on as the wine matures. (9/08)

Orange you glad?

Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2007 Orange Muscat (Monterey County) – Less than 1% residual sugar despite all organoleptic evidence to the contrary, which actually isn’t all that unusual for muscat. Orange peel perfume and medium-sweet fruit make this overwhelmingly approachable, but the wine’s fatness is only broken by acidity late into its finish. Some crystals – which they just love at Bonny Doon – are perhaps present as a sort of foundation. This could be better. (9/08)

Doux date

Bonny Doon 2005 Viognier Doux (Paso Robles) – 12.2% alcohol, 12.8 grams residual sugar, 500 ml bottle. All the aromatics here are in the honey genre. While big, the wine’s got an extremely appealing silken texture with a little edge of bitterness on the finish. There’s little more to it, but it hardly seems to matter. Pure fun. (9/08)


Beauregard 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (High Valley) – A little cross-promotion from the winery up the driveway from Bonny Doon’s tasting room. I can’t say I’m a fan. Coconut, dill, and stale chocolate are not aromas I crave. A juicy texture, sour acidity, and overly-rounded tannins aren’t the droids structure I’m looking for, either. And the finish is weird. Don’t just avoid, run away. (9/08)

11 March 2009

Tulocay, three to go

[tree]Tulocay 1999 Zinfandel (Amador County) – 15%. And: wow. I remember drinking zin like this. Ridge used to make it, and then we’d let it age, and much later on it would taste like this. Rolling tumblers of soft red fruit, spice (mostly of the baking genre, though there are various hues of pepper as well), earth, cinnamon cap mushrooms, and that delicious sensation of fruit-weight so crucial to zin, but without the all-too-common burn of Scotch on the finish. Long. I’d call this at very early maturity, but with emphasis on the mature aspect. More, please. (3/09)

Puffeney the magic savagnin

Puffeney 2002 Arbois Savagnin (Jura) – “Is this sherry?” asks the first person who tastes this without knowing its identity. A very reasonable guess, though the wine’s bigger than most sherries with this particular bony profile, and there is rather more limestoney, pale green fruit – especially on the finish – than any dry sherry of my acquaintance would dare show. This achieves terrific presence and pressure without ever seeming heavy, which is quite a trick, and as each layer of intensity is peeled back, a new one emerges with ever-so-slight shifts in emphasis. Fantastic stuff. (3/09)

Sheik Gabutti

Cappellano 2005 Dolcetto d’Alba Gabutti (Piedmont) – Something here just reaches down into the soul. Analytically, there’s a rough start to deal with – some chunky tannin, powerful (but not imbalanced) acidity, a textural chew to the fruit – and while the wine never coheres in the way modern oenologists would wish, it’s all the better for it. Red tones abound. This cries out for food, and some of that missing cohesion appears when the marriage is finalized, but there’s a style here that will carry great appeal for certain drinkers (and much less for others; one dining companion absolutely hates the wine until there’s food on the table). Me, I think it’s gorgeous. (2/09)

Altenbourg states

[vineyard]Blanck 2002 Gewurztraminer Altenbourg (Alsace) – After a closed period, this has re-emerged. But to what, I wonder? It’s even more forward than it was in its youth, with the complexing elements of gewürztraminer pushed towards an easier-to-understand burst of golden yellow fruit, especially sharp yellow apricots and still-yellow peaches. (Did I mention the yellow?) Residual sugar is present but not overwhelming, and the wine’s overall bearing is middle-of-the-road in terms of body and intensity. Yet, just lurking in the background, there’s some salt and a hint of bacon. Signs of things to come, or things passed? I guess we’ll see. (3/09)

A Forez into the unknown

Verdier-Logel 2006 Côtes du Forez “Cuvée des Gourmets” (Loire) – Unmistakably gamay. Red fruit done in metallic shades, hints and dashes of herb, and a lively freshness full of spark and verve. There’s some dusty lead around the edges, as well. Quite linear, and the wine doesn’t reward careful study, but it’s certainly tasty. (3/09)

Boutin up

[region]Boutin “Château La Roque” 2004 Pic Saint Loup “Cuvée les vieilles vignes de Mourvèdre” (Languedoc) – Totally disjointed for its first ten minutes of life, though this is hardly an unusual trick for a mourvèdre to pull. Eventually, it calms down, though it’s no smooth-talker. Rough-grit sandpaper is the texture, earthy-smoky aromas of an old, wood-beam attic fill the glass, and the palate is thick without being sludgy. If there’s “fruit,” it’s the sort grown from freshly-laid macadam, though there are suggestions of some deep black residue that might once, in another life, have been the last desiccated offspring of a berry. None of the preceding is particularly unusual for this wine at this stage, though there are some worrisome frays at the edge; coupled with a well-stained cork, I wonder if there might not have been a little more heat than would be ideal in this bottle’s history. (3/09)

Clara beau

Bergqvist “Vale da Clara by Quinta de la Rosa” 2001 Douro (Portugal) – Dark cherries and tobacco smoke, showing some resolution (in terms of maturity, not fortitude). Very pretty. This wine is gentling into maturity, yet retains a dark streak that speaks of its origins. (3/09)

Lend me your Barrère

Barrère “Clos de la Vierge” 2005 Jurançon Sec (Southwest France) – Beeswax, sand, dried pineapple bereft of all its sweetness, and beige minerality left naked by a great transparency of fruit. There’s some summer sweat, as well, but mostly the wine stands, stark and silent, waiting. Ready? Nowhere near? Wines like this are so deceptive. (3/09)

Fromm here to there

[vineyard]Fromm “La Strada” 2002 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Smoother than the last few iterations, with the cottony tannin still very present, but less oppressive in relation to the fruit than it usually is. The fruit remains dark and brooding, yet with a clear eye of light in its midst that makes it more pinot noir than something heavier, and the finish is pure textural sensuality, albeit of a highly masculine bent. Despite the differences, there’s nothing here that makes me question my general suspicion that this is a wine for earlier-term drinking, no matter the structural clues to the contrary. (3/09)

Basque salad

Amesguren “Ameztoi” 2007 Getariako Txakolina (Northwest Spain) – Very spritzy and electric, but strangely vacant. It’s like a freezing wind barreling down a skyscraper wind tunnel, bringing nothing but a cold hollow to one’s bones. With a lot of air, there’s some hints of chalk and paper, but this never really develops into anything except a persistent live current. By a huge margin, the most disappointing bottle of this wine I’ve ever tasted. Hopefully just bottle variation. (3/09)

Catamount to much

[label]Harpoon “100 Barrel Series” Catamount Maple Wheat Ale (Massachusetts) – There’s an odd sleight-of-brew here, in that the maple is less present as a flavorant than as a weight-lending agent, which means that the resulting ale moves into the heavier realm of (say) Scotch Ale rather than a non-traditional wheat. It’s quite intriguing, and I like this a great deal. (3/09)

A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup

Long Trail “Brewmaster Series” Coffee Stout (Vermont) – They got the coffee part right, lending just enough of it to meld without dominance. Unfortunately, the stout portion is a little lacking; it’s wan, without the heft it needs to bring enough substance to the mix. Just OK. (3/09)

Anlandroal sense of humor

[bottle]Alandroal “Pontual” 2004 Alentejano (Portugal) – 65% touriga naçional, 35% trincadeira. Straightforward dark berries, walnut skins, some unsweetened chocolate, and what appears to be a thick, enveloping sheathe of oak (expressed more as tannin than aroma, so I could be wrong about this). There’s a lot of density here, but to little end, and I can’t see anything source-specific about the wine either. Perhaps age will help. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s no joy to drink either. (2/09)

Just a Secca

Brovia 2006 Langhe Freisa “La Villerina Secca” (Piedmont) – Corked. (2/09)

09 March 2009

Para dox

[vineyard]Seppelt 1939 “Para Liqueur” (South Australia) – One of the first press tastings to which I was ever invited was a Southcorp portfolio event that toured the U.S. Each represented producer was asked to bring something from their library stock. Seppelt brought two. The first was an aged sparkling shiraz, which I didn’t know was possible before that bottle. And the second was a Para Liqueur from the very late 1800s (the date is lost to memory). I still remember that wine: fig syrup, molasses, balsamic vinegar (the real stuff, not a cheap knockoff), and finish that seemed to last for hours. I mean that literally: two hours later, back at my desk, I could still taste the wine.

Thus, there’s extra meaning for me in this bottle, which is incredibly rare and an expression of remarkable generosity on the part of our hosts. It tastes of pure distilled brownness, dusty/particulate and burnished with antiquity, but still alive with remarkable intensity and persistence. There’s brown sugar, molasses, the sharp cling of balsamic something-or-other, to be sure…but also, a lively hint of honeydew melon, and a perfect note of bitterness contrapuntal to all the well-aged sugar. The finish is beyond incredibly long, it’s endless. An absurdly great wine. (3/05)

Birks in stock

AP Birks “Wendouree” 1997 Shiraz (Clare Valley) – Shocking. That’s mostly a comment about the nose, which is a little insane: blackberry dust, volatility, and a huge stonking wallop of eucalyptus. It’s as if someone distilled the air in the Blue Mountains into shiraz form. Once one gets past the eucalypt, however, there’s a lot more to discover: the darkest possible black fruit streaked with anise, a dusty tannin that develops increasing bitterness as the wine lingers (and boy, does it linger), though eventually this bitter streak starts to grate a bit. Striking and incredibly individualistic. Probably not mature, but I have absolutely no baseline for that judgment. I’m not sure I would say it’s a “great” wine, nor would I want to drink it every night, but I absolutely love it. All wines should have this much character. (3/05)

Pink falcon

Peregrine 2004 Rosé (Central Otago) – A non-saignée rosé of pinot noir. Sand and strawberry start light, but develop hints of complexity with air. That said, it neither aspires to nor achieves elevation. Nice enough, but ultimately forgettable. (3/05)

Shiraz on the Mount

[vineyard]Henschke 1990 Mount Edelstone (Eden Valley) – Rich and mature, showing some of the familiar soy, but this time infused with black pepper and soaking into the wine’s leathery texture. There’s blackberry and a good measure of black dirt as well. Starts sorta triangular, but as it airs it reforms into a more appealing roundness. The finish is long and earthy, with beautiful morel and black trumpet enhancements. And a hint of vanilla, perhaps? Fully developed. Very good, though I don’t think I’d hold it any longer. (3/05)

Tah for now

Tahbilk 1999 Marsanne (Central Victoria) – Honey, but more verdant than that. Honeysuckle might be more accurate. Rich peach flavors, well-spiced, rest over a foundation of clay. Nice early maturity, though there’s no hurry. Quite appealing. (3/05)

08 March 2009

I don't know why you say goodbye, I say Galhaud

Galhaud “Collection” 2006 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Viognier-Muscat (Roussillon) – 12% alcohol, which is probably a vague approximation. It’s in a fat, heavy bottle…which is a little unusual for a relatively inexpensive wine (around $10 or so).

The varietal composition – 70% viognier, 30% muscat – pretty much promises a world of perfumed soap in the glass, the deliverance of which I’m not sure is a promise I want kept. And I admit to some surprise at the blend. I’ve had an occasional viognier of quality from around the world – there was a Passage Rock from Waiheke Island in New Zealand that comes to memory, and a few Californian versions from Edmunds St. John, Alban, and Domaine de la Terre Rouge have been worthy – but it’s a grape that really, really seems to need its famous “home ground” of Condrieu to develop any superlatives. And even there, it mostly underachieves, especially given the usual quite-high tariff. Elsewhere, it seems to provide more of a sticky, soapy texture than much complexity or site-reflection…which, I guess, makes it the cilantro of the wine world. If every viognier in the world not made by Christophe Pichon were to disappear tomorrow, I can’t say I’d be overly sad about it, and I actually claim to like Condrieu. Maybe I should revisit that notion.

Then, add to one perennially-underachieving grape some muscat, planted absolutely everywhere to more or less OK-ness (it’s a hard grape to ruin), and rarely enjoyed other than at some level of residual sugar. Its role in blends…well, it tends to dominate them, which is why it’s rarely a good idea to employ as a partner. It’s just too perfumed.

I know nothing about the producer, and the web is no help. That right there is a little unusual, and often indicates layers of ownership, some sort of shadowy négociant, or a cooperative. The wine’s an Alain Blanchon import. I don’t get the sense from the packaging and presentation that there’s much else to know, but I could be mistaken on that score.

As for the place, it’s hard to say what it brings. The Côtes Catalanes are becoming a fairly reliable source of good value, fruit-forward wines. Perhaps there’s not much complexity in most (though I understand that an occasional old-vine carignan can bring the noise), but there’s a lot of drinkability. However, there’s no uniformity to the terroir – it is a vin de pays, after all – and so who knows where or how this was grown? At $10 in the States, I doubt we’re talking viticultural fanaticism at any stage.

It might be my own failing, but I don’t care much about color unless it’s unusual, and this wine’s light, washed-out sun hue seems completely normal. Aromatically, it’s actually not all that muscat-y. In fact, the dominant aroma is that of a soap. Not soap itself, but the sort of semi-anonymous blend of laundering aromas used to aromatize soap. And maybe some banana? It’s vague, if so. The wine’s still a little cold, so we’ll see what happens later, but I’m surprised at the lack of aromatics. It’s not corked, but it’s awfully shy for the grapes used. They definitely weren’t pushed to the limits of concentration before harvest.

A sip, a swirl. Texturally, it’s viognier – that stickiness again – with a sort of soda-like prickle that I often find in muscats, even those without any pétillance. There’s enough acidity, which can be a problem with both grapes. And there’s some alcoholic burn, too…even in the wine’s well-chilled state. That’s likely to be a problem as it warms.

…OK, it’s later, and the wine’s at temperature now. The aromas are a little more pronounced, but I still think they’re viognier-dominated. Such as they are, and they’re still not much. Now there’s a bit of banana-skin bitterness to the finish. The wine’s very wet, even watery, and that heat hasn’t quite gone away, though it’s no more intrusive than it was at the outset.

There’s just not much to be impressed by here. Neither of the grapes are used to potential (and the general lack of muscat character suggests a sort of shocking indifference; I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a more wan and insignificant muscat), nor is the wine fun or fruity enough for its lack of character to be ignored. It just sort of sits there, growing increasingly bitter and more watery to little purpose. I’d suggest avoidance.