February 2012

Purely by coincidence, wines sometimes come to my door in pairs, like animals entering the Ark, or I encounter a pair of wines at a tasting event that naturally fall together. Such was the case with the duos of wines that I will be writing about over the next few weeks, each from the same winery or estate. You could say that such a categorization is artificial, but so is the allocation of wine into cases of 12 bottles or, for that matter, the divisions of time into seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years. Don’t forget that September is not the seventh month, nor is October the eighth month; how arbitrary is that? What I’m saying is that reviewing pairs of wines together may be whimsical, but it’s fun and convenient and educational, and besides, this is my blog.

The first pair is from Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe in Chateaunef-du-Pape. The estate is named for a late 18th Century communications tower that stood on a nearby hilltop and aided in the transmission of semaphore signals from Marseilles to Paris. The property was established in 1898 by Hippolyte Brunian; since 1988, his great-grandsons Daniel and Frédérick have run the estate, which is somewhat larger than it was more than a 100 years ago. Of the property’s 173 acres, 65 are devoted to red grapes and 5 to white.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, California. Tasted at a wholesaler trade event. Image from wineblog.goedhuis.com.
“Télégramme” is the second label for Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe and is typically made from vines that are 25 years old or less, primarily being between 20 and 25 years. Télégramme tends to consist mainly of grenache grapes with up to 10 percent mourvèdre, but for 2009 it’s 100 percent grenache. The wine ages 10 months in concrete cuves and 6 months in foudres, that is large oak barrels of varying size; the point is that the wine does not age in small barriques and sees no new oak. The color is dark ruby-purple with a hint of violet-magenta at the rim. The bouquet is extraordinary, ravishing, beguiling, a finely-knit amalgam of crushed violets, potpourri, smoke, cloves and sandalwood, with a wild, unfettered strain of ripe and roasted black currants, blackberries and plums; give this a few minutes in the glass and notes of mulberry, blueberry and fruitcake emerge; a few more minutes and you sense a vast undertow of dusty tannins and graphite-like minerality, a profound character that anchors the wine to your palate from start to finish, because these tannins are gigantic, formidable, dense, chewy, leaning toward austerity but always keeping a foothold in the wine’s deep, spicy, fathomless fruity nature. 14.5 percent alcohol. Great stuff for drinking 2013 or ’14 through 2019 to ’24 with roasts, braised meats or, um, pork belly tacos. Excellent. About $35.
So, could the Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, be better than Télégramme ’09? “Better” is not precisely the word; how about even more profound, denser, darker, deeper, more intense and concentrated, even more tannic, more powerfully permeated by sleek and finely-sifted mineral qualities? Yet, despite the air of Stygian depth and vast dimension, the wine is hypnotically beautiful because every element is precisely focused and exquisitely balanced; the bouquet is practically deliriously seductive. The blend is 65 percent grenache, 15 percent each mourvèdre and syrah and 5 percent cinsault, clairette and other permitted grapes; it aged 10 months in cuves and 12 months in foudres. The plateau of La Crau is where Hippolyte Brunian planted vines 114 years ago; the designation “La Crau” on the label does not indicate a special cuvée or grande marque, since all the grapes for this wine and Télégramme derive from the vineyard, some parts of which now go back 65 years. Rather, Télégramme exists to draw away the younger grapes from the primary wine, while certainly, as far as I’m concerned, asserting its own pronounced and complex character. It will take a decade for the brooding, austere Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009 to unfurl its more beneficent nature and company manners; try from 2016 to ’18 through 2024 to ’30. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $85.

Blended with 10 percent fiano grapes, the Tormaresca Chardonnay 2010, Puglia I.G.T., ferments 90 percent in stainless steel and 10 percent in second-use French oak barriques, followed by three months aging in French and Hungarian oak. The result is a pure yet delicate expression of the chardonnay grape subtly supported by a tinge, a sheen of oak that infuses the wine with spicy nuances and a supple, almost evanescent texture. Aromas of apples, pears and pineapples are gracefully spun with notes of jasmine and honeysuckle and a hint of ginger. Light as a feather this citrusy, slightly smoky chardonnay trips across the palate, but don’t mistake its delicacy for fragility; it’s finely knit with bright acidity and a clean, vivid limestone element that lend both structure and appealing personality. 12.5 percent alcohol. A lovely aperitif for drinking through Summer 2012. Tormaresca is the Antinori property in Pulgia; the name means “tower by the sea.” Very Good+. About $12 (A Real Bargain), though in some parts of the country marked down as low as $9.

Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Ltd., Woodinville, Wash. A sample for review.

One feature of writing about wine that I especially enjoy is trying products from wineries that I’ve never encountered. Such a one is Manzoni Vineyards, a small family-owned and operated estate in Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands. The winery traces its origin to Joseph Manzoni, who left Switzerland for the New World in 1921 and established a dairy business in the Salinas Valley, an area south of San Francisco that supplies a huge amount of the vegetables that Americans consume. (The town of Salinas is the seat of Monterey County.) Manzoni eventually shifted to cash crop farming, a tradition his descendants continue even as the third generation, Mark and Michael Manzoni, maintain their vineyards and make their elegant, understated wines. The winery was founded in 1990, with imported clones planted in 1999.

These wines were samples for review.
The Manzoni Home Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, is an individual but not eccentric rendition of the grape, one that embodies pinot noir’s innate balance between elegance and power. The color is dark ruby with a tinge of magenta at the rim; seductive aromas of melon ball, rhubarb and black cherry with a hint of cranberry are woven with cola and sandalwood, earth and leather, rose petal and camellia. You could stop right there and just smell this wine, except that you would miss a lovely satiny texture that robes slightly spiced and macerated black and red fruit flavors beautifully poised and integrated with a subtle, supple oak influence and enough tannins to give the wine a firm but unobtrusive framework and foundation. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 441 cases. Drink now through 2014. Excellent. About $26.
What a pleasure to try a syrah that doesn’t think it has to grab your tongue, plow your palate and run over you with a Harley to make its effects known. What I first want to point out in respect to the Manzoni Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, is that its tannins are beautiful; I don’t think I have said that about a wine in almost 28 years of writing about the subject. These tannins feel as if they had been sanded with very fine sandpaper and buffed with chamois; they fill the mouth, formidably yet softly, almost cloud-like yet with a particular intensity of purpose and integration. These tannins are married to piercing minerality in the infinitesimally-grained granite and graphite range, all of this subject to the authority of lively acidity and deep mossy earthiness. Red and black currants, blackberries and blueberries form the core of the wine’s fruit aspects, permeated by notes of lavender and licorice, smoky potpourri and bittersweet chocolate and, in the finish, a slight bite of wet fur and ash. Absolutely classic. I would rather drink this wine than a thousand over-ripe, over-oaked, high-alcohol blockbuster syrahs. 14.2 percent alcohol. 494 cases. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $26.

Sunday is the Big Day, and millions of Americans will gather in their caves around open fires, er, I mean, in their dens, media rooms and home theaters around the hypnotic glow of large-screen televisions to watch Super Bowl XLVI and devour billions of chicken wings, pigs-in-blankets and cheesy barbecue nachos. Many will drink beer, of course, yet there are wines perfectly suited to the hearty, fat-and-calorie-laden snacks that will be crammed into mouths, er, I mean, politely nibbled during the hours when the Giants and Patriots are pummeling each other in Indianapolis. Here, then, are 10 deep, dark, spicy, wild and/or brooding wines that call out to your bowl of chile, your platter of grilled sausages.

As is the case with these “Friday Wine Sips,” I go straight to the brief review and offer no technical, historical of geographical data. What you see is what you get. Unless otherwise indicated, these wines were samples for review. Image from 123rf.com.
Alamos Red Blend 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. 40% malbec, 18% tempranillo, 14% bonarda, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 7% petit verdot, 7% syrah. Very tasty; robust, hearty, deep, dark and spicy; ripe black and blue fruit scents and flavors permeated by briers and brambles, dense and chewy tannins and sifted mineral elements, all bolstered by vibrant acidity. Not a blockbuster, but definitely a bruiser. Very Good. About $13.
Zanthos Zweigelt 2009, Burgenland, Austria. 13% alc. Black as the night that covers me from pole to pole, this one radiates tarry, earthy spicy black currant, boysenberry and plum fruit edged with leather, graphite and wild mulberry jam. These boots were made for drinking. Very Good+. About $14 and Worth a Search.
Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Paso Robles, California. 13.5% alc. Miles better than most cabs at the price; loads of character and integrity; weaves the requisite strands of vivid, fresh black currant, black raspberry and plum aromas and flavors supported by spicy oak and clean, tightly-drawn acidity, all spread over a bedrock of earthy, graphite-like minerality and a bit of forest. Delicious intensity and simple purity. It’ll ring yer bell. Very Good+. About $14, a Real Bargain.
Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Rio Tinto 2009, Alta Mesa, Lodi. 13.4% alc. Made from Port grapes: tinta roriz 34%, touriga nacional 28%, alvarelbo 19%, touriga francesa 19%. Blackish ruby-purple color; spicy oak, spicy black currant, black raspberry and blackberry fruit; did I say spicy yet? Deep and dark, yet placid, smooth, despite grainy tannins and elements of underbrush and earthy graphite; then, a whiff of violets. Manly but not muscle-bound. 400 cases. Very Good+. About $16.
Lenore Syrah 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington State. (Corvidae Wine Co., by Owen Roe) 14.4% alc. Big, shaggy, juicy; black currants, blueberries and blackberry jam infused with Port; smoke, ash, roasted plums, furry tannins set amid earthy, glittering iron filings-like minerality. A fountain of fortitude. Very Good+. I paid $16, but you see it around the country as low as $12.
Modern Wine Project Malbec 2007, Columbia Valley, Washington State. (Sleight of Hand Cellars) 14.5% alc. 100% malbec. A Rough Rider of a red wine, robust and rustic, a bit shaggy in the tannin arena, but bursting with dark, smoky and spicy black currant, blueberry and black plum flavors — a little fleshy, a little meaty — framed by polished oak and dusty graphite. Neither bashful nor apologetic. Very Good+. Prices all over the map, but look for $19 to $22.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Anka 2008, Maipo Valley, Chile. (Vina Pargua) 14% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 57%, merlot 16%, cabernet franc 15%, carmemère 7%, syrah 4%, petit verdot 1%. Wildly floral and berryish; black and red currants, mulberries; licorice and lilac; smooth but dense, chewy texture, full-bodied, sleek and sculpted yet vibrant, something untamed here, woolly and roguish. Luaus and late dates. Very Good+. About $20.
Maquis Carmemère 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Dry, dusty and earthy; blatantly spicy, earthy and mineral-laced; very intense and concentrated; the blackest and bluest of fruit, spiced and macerated, a little roasted and fleshy; lots of stones and bones, bastions of fine-grained tannins. Needs a bowl of chili to unleash its testosterone. Very Good+. About $20.
Vale do Bofim Reserva 2009, Douro, Portugal. (Symington Family Estates) 13.5% alc. Mainly touriga nacional grapes. Fresh, spicy, another wild, uninhibited wine; penetrating and poignant aromas and flavors of blackberry, black currants and plums with clear tones of blueberry and mulberry, etched with floral elements and leather, vivid acidity and polished tannins; dry, dense, chewy. Excellent. About $23.
Owen Roe Ex Umbris Syrah 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington State. 14.1% alc. If deep purple had a smell and taste, this would be it. Rich, warm, spicy, enticing bouquet; black currants, black raspberries and blueberries; deeply imbued with leather, underbrush and forest floor; hints of wet dog and damp moss; ripe, fleshy, meaty; dusty granite and a touch of rhubarb and boysenberry. Cries out for barbecue brisket, ribs, osso buco. “Ex Umbris” means “from the shadows.” Excellent. About $24. (I paid $30.)

This series doesn’t always focus on rare and expensive wines. At least the wine featured in today’s post is inexpensive, though not widely available. Still, here we go….

LL brought home a piece of wild sockeye salmon from Whole Foods, and we smoked it over loose lapsang souchong tea, which turned the salmon deeply smoky and richly succulent. She made a three “bean” salad with edamame, blackeyed peas and black beans, chopped red onion, celery and cilantro, and with the salmon, that was our simple and delicious dinner last night.

I opened the terrific Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Verdelho 2010, from the Alta Mesa sub-appellation of Lodi. The Lee Family Farm label is a personal project of Dan Lee, owner of Morgan Winery in Monterey County. The verdelho grape is found in Portugal’s Douro Valley, where because of its high sugar and acid levels it’s generally made into white port, and on the island of Madeira, where it is both the name of the grape and the term for a style of Madeira. Experiments at making verdelho into a table wine in Madeira have not been successful; perhaps the producers there should follow Dan Lee’s lead and lend the grape a little softness and subtle spice by aging four months in neutral French oak barrels, “neutral” meaning that the barrels have been used enough times that their influence is mild and nuanced.

The Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Verdelho 2010 is a pale straw-gold color, while the bouquet feels fresh, clean and wind-blown, spanking brisk with apple skin, fennel and thyme, roasted lemon and lemon grass, ginger, lilac and camellia and an off-shore whiff of sea-salt and flint; I call it irresistible. In the mouth, the wine displays gratifying tone and presence, balancing crisp acidity and modest austerity with the languor of softly ripe lemon, melon and peach flavors, lightly spiced, and a hint of dried rosemary, with that slightly resinous quality for which the herb is known; the bracing finish teems with limestone minerality. 13.2 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or into 2013. Production was 387 cases, so mark this Worth a Search. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

I love the simplicity and elegance of this label and the understated by-play among the typefaces.

« Previous Page