Every bottle has a story

I am not a wine expert, but with each bottle I try and share with friends, I learn more. Wine is an exceptional social drink; it is the marijuana of alcoholic beverages because it must be shared. I seek to share with you my thoughts and experiences as I drink the wine in my closet, as well as my enthusiasm for the finds that come my way and the excellent values that I find. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so please share!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A divine meal with divine wines

I don’t expect there will be many times I will be able to enjoy classic wine with friends served with a delicious meal cooked with care. Just such a time occurred when Curt, Tim, Todd, Dan and I enjoyed a stunning meal, prepared by Tim, complimented with equally stunning wines, the 1989 and 1990 vintages of Château Lynch-Bages, a Sonoma-Cutrer 2009 Chardonnay, and a 1986 Sauternes from Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey.

Both of the Lynch-Bages vintages are highly-rated, but each is distinctly different from the other. The 1989 is subtle, the flavors nuanced and delicate: there’s tobacco followed by a long finish that continued to deliver surprises. The 1990 has firmer tannin, the fruit more noticeable with cassis, blackberry. They were served with delicious beef tenderloin and roasted Brussels sprouts. Initially I thought the 1990 was pairing better with the beef, but as the wines continued to take shape, it became clear the 1989 was the star performer.

Wine Spectator’s tasting notes show that both these wines still have a lot of time left on them.

WS notes on 1989 (from 2010): Delivers so much blackberry, leather and dried fruits on the nose. Full-bodied, with ultrapolished tannins and a silky mouthfeel. The palate turns to leaves, cedar and dried berries on the finish, which goes on and on. This is still reserved for the vintage, suggesting a long life ahead. Just coming around now, but will improve many years ahead. I have always loved this Lynch.

WS notes on 1990 (from 2007): Aromas of tar, currant and berries follow through to a full-bodied palate, with silky tannins and a long, long finish. Still not completely ready, but so good anyway. Age this as long as you like.

For me, the 1989 was clearly a 10 using my scale at the left, and I would rate the 1990 with a 9.5. Both wines were classic.

The earlier course of the evening was a cocksnail, a preparation of mashed potato mixed with a bit of wasabi and white truffle piped into a martini glass upon which was a prawn poached in court bullion made with vermouth, and snails. With this we had a Sonoma-Cutrer 2009 Chardonnay that was light and crisp, showing a character very similar to a white Burgundy. Definitely very easy drinking. I rate this wine a 9 using my scale at the left.

For dessert we had a fruit galette paired with a 1986 Sauternes from Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey. We had this same wine the prior evening, served on its own with some shortbread cookies. At that time it was rich, creamy and buttery like flan. Served with the fruit pastry dessert, however, it was delightful, light, the richness still present but without the deep flan character. Delicious.

WS rated this in 1989 with score of 86, and remarkably noted that it was, “Drinkable now or in the next three to five years.” Clearly this wine had much more life to it than was thought back in 1989, and I would rate it much higher with a 9.5 using my scale at the left.

Graham’s vintage Port 1985

This was a handsome drink. Delicious with some softened Gruyère. This is the only true vintage port I’ve had.

Granted, Leelanau Cellars has a “vintage Port,” and while quite good, it cannot compare with the real McCoy from Portugal. With real vintage Port, a true vintage only comes around a few times in a decade. While each house may declare their own vintages, they don’t do so until the second spring following the harvest in question.

If I wasn’t already stuffed from the delicious meal and all the good wine prior to having this I would have considered drinking this far into the night.

Wine Spectator notes from 2008: Dark color, with intense aromas of blackberry, licorice and hints of flowers. Full-bodied, lightly sweet, with super-refined tannins. Long and caressing. Very youthful. Will improve for a long time. This is really excellent. Always has been. Just starting to come around.

I rate this with a 9 using the scale at the left.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Clos du Mont Olivet 1989

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a wine worthy of the cellar, a wine that you can lay down for years provided you have reasonable conditions. My cellar – er closet – does not provide the ideal cellar conditions necessary for holding a wine for decades, so even the ones I hold for a few years are still consumed quite young. My friend Curt’s cellar isn’t ideal also, but he manages a fairly constant temperature in the low 60s, which has allowed him to hold on to some really breathtaking wines.

On Christmas Day we enjoyed one of them with dinner.

The 1989 Clos du Mont Olivet was a beautiful bright ruby. The cork came out smoothly and had the luscious inky stamp of age. But here’s where this wine really became intriguing. The nose held barely a hint of fruit, but was filled with earthy scents of forest duff, truffles and rich soil. Supremely drinkable, velvety smooth and filled with earthy flavors that went exceptionally well with our two entreés, the first being a poached Scottish salmon with morel mushroom, the second a delectable duck confit served with roasted Brussels sprouts.

The tannin just about disappeared with the salmon, but when it came to the duck, the tannin returned firmly as well as a bit of pepper. And the finish on this wine was long and complex.

I had to look up what Wine Spectator had on this wine, and I was surprised at what I found. WS rated the wine in 1991 and scored it with an 85, rather a pedestrian score for a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And incredibly, their review announced that it would best from 1992-94!

Parker was a bit more serious with his rating of 92. At the time of release, the wine retailed for $29. It is available still at some retailers for about $45 to $55, which seems like an outrageous bargain to me. But who knows what conditions it was stored in with these sellers.

Regardless, it was a wonderful experience. I rate it 9.5 out of 10 using my scale at the left.

Altos las Hormigas, 2010 Malbec Clásico, Mendoza

The nose right from the beginning signals a light and delicate aroma, minerally, but then you begin to wonder: will it be subtle and delicious, or thin and weak?

As it turned out, this wine, a great find at $10, is a fairly complex drink that combines strong fruit with blackberry and cassis, but is delivered on a wonderful mineral beam giving it a light presence more like a Burgundy rather than a Malbec from Argentina.

It has a rich, purple coloring like grape juice, but despite that it delivers a spicy nose, a little hot with the 14.2 percent alcohol, but the tannin on the finish is smooth and leaves a delicious snap.

I had this with a rib eye steak, mashed potatoes with goat cheese mixed in, and mixed vegetables – a very basic meal. And it was superb!

Seriously, you can’t beat the $10 price, and it wouldn’t surprise me if you could find it a bit cheaper.

I rate this an 8.5 using my scale at the left.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Three grapes of deliciousness

There's a wide selection of wines that do well with lamb. Many will think of Brunello di Montalcino, and Borolo is a good choice as well. But the wines of the Southern Rhône are exceptional matches with lamb. And there’s such variety! Recently I prepared a boneless leg of lamb stuffed with goat cheese and spinach, served with the 2007 Domaine les Aphillanthes Côte du Rhône-Villages Cuvée 3 Cépages.

Despite my fail on the entrée – the rolled lamb came undone in the oven and overcooked a bit – this Côte du Rhône-Villages matched wonderfully with the lamb, goat cheese and spinach. Domaine les Aphillanthes has produced some great wines over the years, most scored in the high 80s and low to mid 90s by Wine Spectator. It has delicious fruit that comes across smooth, velvety, with just the right amount of tannin giving it a long, memorable finish.

The name 3 Cépages refers to the three grapes used in this blend: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. The 2009 currently out is highly rated as well and you ought to be able to find it for less that the suggested $25 retail price. I paid $16 for the 2007, which was rated 91 by WS.

I rate this with a 9 using my scale at the left.

Despite the over-doneness of the lamb, the leftovers made excellent stew. As I revealed here, the secret to great lamb stew is the wine you use to cook with. With this particular batch, I used a 2009 Ventoux, an appellation in the Southern Rhône. The Cuvée des 3 Messes Basses is an inexpensive blend that you ought to find for about $10. It’s good drinking on its own, but it was also great in this stew. Of course, nothing comes close to the batch I made with a 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape. That was one awesome stew!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thanksgiving holdovers

I guess I kind of dropped the ball with my posts about all the wine we drank for Thanksgiving. I managed to get the post written about the Gruet sparkler we had, but there was a lot of wine that day that I have written about.

Two wines we had were both quite good, although perhaps we drank them in the wrong order.

The first of the two was a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, the 2007 Estancia Reserve. A very nice drink; full-bodied with a hint of spice that often comes with good Pinot Noir. Definite dried cherry, and my brother-in-law Jack added he thought there was a bit of tobacco too. All in all I nice wine that probably would have done well paired with the turkey.

What we did have with the turkey was a Moulin-à-Vent, the 2009 Domaine Diochon, a nice Beaujolais with good mineral and a light, racy flavor. Perhaps too light, however, to go with the turkey. Jack suggested we probably should have drank the Beaujolais first and followed up with the Pinot Noir with the turkey.

Either way, they were both good wines. The Beaujolais had a rating of 90, while the Estancia was scored an 88. I give both of them an 8.5 using the rating scale at the left.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Winter nights and Port

There’s freezing rain falling outside. It’s nights like these that have my mind at times thinking of Port. I don’t have a lot of experience drinking vintage Port, but one I recall enjoying came from Michigan. Yes, Michigan. I had the Leelanau Cellars 2002 vintage Port, and I would gladly purchase their Port again. The 2007 vintage is currently on sale now for $22. I don’t recall what I paid for the 2002, but I know I held it for a few years before opening it. I think that was last year, or maybe the year before. Who knows?

It’s a good, stout pour, smooth and not sickly sweet. It’s a really good match with dark chocolate, and on a cold, drizzly, sleety night like this one, I wish I had some around.

I went to see their website tonight and saw that they are sold out of their Raspberry Port and the Cherry Port. I recall that when I bought the 2007, I wanted to buy the Raspberry and Cherry ports, but they were sold out of the raspberry. I was seriously disappointed. I did pick up a bottle of the Cherry Port, however.

Later that same day I was wandering about downtown Traverse City when I happened to find a story that had one – yes one – bottle left of the Raspberry Port. I snatched that up right away. I think I held on to it for a year before I finally opened it. It was divine. Distinctly raspberry, but not jammy or cloyingly sweet.

I just may need to make another trip to Leelanau Cellars next year and this time I hope I’m there in time for the Raspberry Port.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A New Mexico sparkler

Ever since my trip to Arizona in September, I have been intrigued by wines made from grapes grown in the Southwest. A Nebbiolo grown in Arizona? The intrigue continues with a sparkling wine from a New Mexico producer.

I first learned of the Gruet Blanc de Noirs when Wine Spectator featured it recently as a Smart Buy. Not only is this relatively inexpensive sparkler rated a 90 by Wine Spectator, it’s also ranked 43 in that publication’s Top 100 wines for 2011. I picked this up for less than $14 to enjoy with my siblings and their spouses for Thanksgiving.

Wine Spectator uses terms like “elegant and focused,” but for our gathering, we found this wine exceptionally good, light and toasty with delicious fruit. And oh was it drinkable!

It’s not recommended for cellaring, as most NV sparklers are usually designated “drink now.” But I have had good success in the past holding a NV wine for as long as 3 years. Wine Spectator suggests you ought to be able to hold this one until 2014.

This was a delightful find and I expect to pick up 1 or 2 more to have around. I rate this with a 9 using my scale at the left.