Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vincent Sauvestre, Sainte Victoire, Cotes de Provence Rosé, 2011

Again, a Keife and Co. wine find!  Had some with them at the shop before walking home in the dank darkness left behind by Isaac.  They could have charged me for the forty minutes of air conditioning I enjoyed while hanging out during my fruitless exploration for ice.
Mount Sainte Victoire is located in Cotes de Provence, close to Aix-en-Provence, near Marseille.  The region of Sainte Victoire was awarded its own AOC in 2005.  This wine is made from 50% grenache, 30% syrah and 20% cinsault.
The expected Provencal salmon hue is there, pink is present but it mixes with orange.  This is a tactile wine, there is a presence here that many other rosés can only hope to attain.  Richness, intensity, juiciness and focus are the hallmarks here.  Unlike many of the other Cotes de Provence rosés which almost come off as light red wines with a chill, this has some subtle power to it.
I found it lacked a bit of aroma, but then a good portion of the wine was swigged right out of the bottle on the way home.  There is a delicate waft of peach as if an orchard was just out of view but the wind was blowing the right direction.  The subtle aroma is not a flaw, the wine is just not exuberant.  By the time this bottle was finished, it was no longer chilled (I was out of ice) but still tasted great...a truly impressive feat.  Some stoniness on the nose hinted at minerality I often expect from the region but that can also make the wines more challenging for many people.
This wine is easily accessible without losing its identity.  If you expect a good regional example you will be happy.  The price is reasonable, $17 if I recall correctly.  Imported by Fran Kysela Pere et Fils.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Marques de Caceres Rosé, Rioja 2011

This is a radical departure from the wine I sold for more than a decade...and I dig it.
Marques de Caceres is a leading Rioja producer for good reason.  Their reds have always been the calling card and the inexpensive white has really come on the last ten years or so but the the rosé has always lacked something.  That's not quite right, it actually had something extra I did not care for...sweetness.  Not sugary but not dry enough for my palate.  A simple, throw-away style but inexpensive enough to get away with it.
The 2011 has a much deeper color, I wondered if they perhaps blended red and white wine to get that rich a hue but the website says the same thing it has always said.  They macerate with the skins for color and then keep it in stainless steel.  The blend varies a little from year to year, this one is 85% tempranillo and 15% garnacha (grenache), but not enough to explain the excitement this bottling created in my mouth.
Strawberry leaps from the glass with some floral notes, perhaps violet, and it is intense.  Some alcohol made my nostrils flare but it was not out of line.  The palate is big and rich, for rosé, and while strawberry continues here, darker fruits appear as well.  The other fruit is not quite blackberry but deeper than raspberry.  There is tannin here, it made my mouth water, which would be expected with the deeper color.  Acidity still tingles the roof of the mouth but the action is all on the tongue, the rich weight of this wine perches there happily.
Although it stops short about two-thirds of the way through the mouth, the flavor washes forward again so I didn't feel shorted at all.  It is front loaded in the mouth, often meaning simplicity and disappointment for me.  While it does lack some complexity, for $7 or $8 it makes a great porch or pool-side sipper and can stand up to a wide variety of food.  Excellent value!  Imported by Vineyard Brands. Find it at Martin Wine Cellar and some Rouse's locations.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Belle Pente Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2009

I am a sucker for Oregon pinot noir.  A friend who just opened a new wine shop in town (Keife and Co. Wine Merchants) let me know they found some of this gem.  The 2009 vintage in Oregon was an exciting one with good balance and richness too!  The winery's name, pronounced bell pont - though I like the gauche 'bell pentay' pronunciation, translates as 'beautiful slope' for their hillside location nearly midway between Carlton and Dundee.  They have some impressive neighbors, Soter, Scott Paul, Lemelson and Stag Hollow.  If those names are not familiar, you don't live in Oregon.  Locals love 'em.
Brian and Jill O'Donnell first planted in 1994, he made wine as a hobby starting in 1986.  I like their reds a lot but have little experience with their whites.
This vintage sits in the shadow of the 2008s but delivers in the glass.  The color is neither dark nor light and offers a floral, forest floor aroma.  That sounds counterintuitive but it's a lifted, pretty, dusty forest floor with fruit in the air.  It is not musty or earthy but it is clearly of the earth.  The palate is delicate on the entry with plenty of juicy red fruit, juicier than cranberry...perhaps tart raspberry(?), and it is expansive on the finish, a rare thing for young pinot noir.  It opens up and shows off before locking down a bit with a wash of acidity.  The fruit is short of jammy and snappy acidity keeps it fresh and makes it scream out for food.  This is not back porch wine but it is not hard or backward at all.  Roast a chicken and enjoy.  This is a wine that made me happy, especially for the price at Keife and Co. - $25? - a fantastic bargain for pinot noir.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

New Zealand Part VIII Wairarapa and Martinborough

We now journey to the southern end of the North Island to the region of Wairarapa and the town, and sub-region, of Martinborough.  Martinborough is what you will see more often on labels in the U.S., but Wairarapa is coming on.  I profess to knowing little about the latter and have only tasted a few wines labeled as such.  There are two other sub-regions, Masterton and Gladstone.  We will focus on Martinborough exclusively since, as far as America is concerned, Martinborough is all there is.
The soils are deep and made up of silt and stone over gravel.  The summers are warm to hot and the autumns are generally dry and long.  While sauvignon blanc has been a calling card internationally, pinot noir gets more lip service.  Sauvignon blanc has over 14,000 acres planted while pinot noir tips the scales next at just over 1,800 making it a distant second but an important marketing point.
Martinborough makes good pinot noir, although I still tip my cap to Central Otago as the best New Zealand has to offer.  For a long time, this was a region of small production, low-yield wineries.  Quality appears to still be the focus but numbers have increased.
As a general rule, I find the sauvignon blancs less exotic than Marlborough but also less complete.  They still offer vibrant fruit but it's a bit tarter without offering much more complexity.  Some have impressed, but mostly I view this as pinot noir country.  That being said, I stop short of endorsing the region wholeheartedly.  I have found way too many of the light, cranberry fruited wines that appear almost more like white wine on the palate.  For comparison, this is a complaint I have about many Carneros pinot noirs as well.  They have the tart acids of white wine and lack the body or structure to draw the taster in further.  There are exceptions...
Ata Rangi pinot noirs are outstanding, and expensive.  I have not had the pleasure of exploring the rest of their portfolio as I have never sold the wines and have only seen pinot noir available.  They are rich, fairly extracted and impressive, but they better be for the price.
Palliser Estate impressed me with their riesling and sauvignon blanc.  The former offered deep flavors and a dry palate with lip-smacking, soft lemon acidity.  The sauvignon blanc serves as my hallmark for the style from Martinborough - balanced but exhuberant and more food friendly than their neighbors on the northern part of South Island.  Their pinot noir served as a great example of what I dislike about the reds from this region.
Te Kairanga's pinot left me in a similar state but I liked their sauvignon blanc.  The chardonnay from this winery impressed me the most with a delicate approach, but not shy, with some true intrigue on the finish.
That wraps up New Zealand, feel free to place requests for the next destination...

Monday, September 3, 2012

New Zealand Part VII Gisborne and Hawke's Bay

Isaac has distracted me from this for a while, expect some more frequent posts to take us through New Zealand and then to some wines consumed during the storm...

We move from the Bay of Plenty to the southeast and the Bay of Poverty.  Gisborne sits on this bay while Hawke's Bay, both a region and body of water, is located to the south.  Gisborne is best known for chardonnay while Hawke's Bay focuses on red Bordeaux grapes and syrah.
Gisborne has more clouds and rain than Hawke's Bay and white grapes are the focus.  More than half of the plantings are chardonnay.  As an interesting aside, Gisborne, located close to the International Date Line, has the easternmost vines, which get to be the first on the earth to bask in each day's sunlight.  The fruit, or juice, has been used as an addition to many region's local production but I am unfamiliar with wines carrying a Gisborne designation.  Chardonnay is a very competitive category and New Zealand has been stuck on one grape name recognition (sauvignon blanc), preventing easy diversification in the U.S.
Hawke's Bay stands the best chance of changing the paradigm of public perception about New Zealand wines.  Yes, they make some sauvignon blanc there but the style is much riper and more tropical, sometimes even barrel fermented.  However, their calling card is red.  Cabernet sauvignon has been planted here since the late 1800s along with its Bordeaux companions merlot and cabernet franc.  Syrah has blazed a trail but remains a small portion of plantings.  Chardonnay and merlot dominate the acreage totals.
What makes this area so different?  Although a wide variety of soils and subsoils exist in the region, the main ingredient for success is gravel, more specifically, Gimblett Gravels.  The stones retain heat from sun, and this region enjoys more sunshine than any other wine region in New Zealand, then radiates that heat out over night.  This allows full maturation of the red grapes and explains why they thrive here and not elsewhere.  Many have compared the look of the area to that of Chateauneuf-du-Pape with many vineyards absent any visible dirt.  More Rhone varieties may be seen in the future.
Many wineries produce Hawke's Bay designated wines but are not located in the area.  I find the style of reds here Bordeaux-like, meaning they are structured, not generally opulent but usually pleasantly ripe.  I have found numerous lean examples and even some I would describe as under-ripe.  I view the region as having huge potential but with lots of learning still needed.
I mentioned Mills Reef before and will do so again here, but with the warning that they produce a lot of  different wines and have never blown me away.  Villa Maria's reds fall under the same general description, but some of them have been the under-ripe, disappointing offerings I mentioned above.  Overall, I recommend a sample when available to decide if the style is right for you.  To my palate, there is little consistency but the wines may merit more focused attention in the near future.