As a wine producing region, France’s Loire Valley flies under the radar of a lot of North American wine drinkers. I’m willing to bet that most would not recognize the names of any of the Loire appellations, with the possible exception of Sancerre, and many wouldn’t not know that region is located in the far eastern end of the 170 mile long river valley. While probably best known for the Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc produced there, there’s a good deal of red wine coming out of the area as well. We’ve been drinking a lot of Loire Cabernet Franc lately, one coming from Bourgueil and the other from Chinon. Both wines offer exceptional value, and are deserving of greater recognition.
I first heard about the wines of Bourgueil, approved as an AOC in 1937, about 6 or 7 years ago; the buzz at that time was that these well-priced reds were all the rage in Paris bistros. We tried a few at that time, but never really found one that caught our fancy until we happened upon this little gem at Ferndale’s Western Market, from a cooperative that was founded in 1931.
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We got together not too long ago with our partner in crime, Alan Kerr aka Canadian Zinfan, to indulge in our favorite collective activity, that being eating and drinking great food and wine. We invaded Chez Kerr with four bottles sent to us for review from our friends at Cornerstone Cellars; we opened the two Cabs on the first night of our visit, and the Sauvignon and Bordeaux Blend on the second. We were joined by our old MoCool buddy Howie Hart and his friend Mary Jo Giambelluca on night one. Alan created a terrific dinner around a leg of lamb, which paired beautifully with the two Cabs.
Despite the fact that we both love fine wines of almost every kind, Kim and I have something of a disconnect when it comes to bubbly. I love them, while she can take them or leave them. Because of this, when a cork is pulled from a sparkler on any given occasion, she may have a glass, or opt for a still wine instead, so that the bubble-heads have more to enjoy. I mention this only because such was decidedly not the case with one of the two wines in this report.
I’m of the opinion that sparkling wine is not just for celebrations, but rather, they fit almost any occasion, much like most fine wines. I enjoy them at least twice a week, often more, and until very recently, my go to every day sparkler has been the Mionetto Prosecco, which I’ve been buying at our local Costco since 2009, for $9.99. It has remained remarkably consistent since then, and while I still enjoy it, I’ve found two selections from the Trentino producer Rotari that I like even more, and both are every bit as well-priced.
Following up on the 6 wines I reported on earlier this week, here’s the Rhône-down on the rest of what we’ve been enjoying lately, starting with our house red. (Click images to enlarge.)
2012 Domaine Sainte Anne Rouge Côtes du Rhône, 14.5% alc., $12.99: We’ve been fans of this producer for some time now; we went through quite a bit of the 2011 version of this wine over a two-year period, and we loved every bottle, but it finally dried up and we couldn’t find any more. This vintage showed up during the past summer, and in the short time since I first tried it in August, it has really come around nicely. At that time, it was a bit tight and quite earthy, but in just five months, the earthiness has softened some, and that violet character that I love so much has really come to the fore, along with a lovely core of dark plum and berry fruit and a subtle herbaceous note. Full bodied, well-structured and very nicely balanced, this is delightful now, and it should continue to age and develop gracefully over the next five years or more. This is my favorite everyday red, period. Frankly, I’d rather drink this than many more expensive selections. It has everything I could want from a good red wine. Find this wine
Imported by A.H.D. Vintners, Warren, MI
2012 Domaine La Garrigue Côtes du Rhône Cuvée Romaine, 14.5% alc., $13.97: Past vintages of this wine have been well-received here at Gang Central, so it’s always fun to see what new versions have to offer. This one shows clean, dark color, with rich, earthy black fruit on the nose that echoes and expands nicely on the palate. Big and burly, but by no means rough, it’s rich and delicious, with the earth and fruit playing terrific counterpoint to each other. Structured to age and improve for several years, but it’s so good already, from the moment the cork is pulled, and it just gets better and better as it opens over 4 hours or so. Take the journey yourself or give it an hour in a decanter; either way, I’m betting you’ll like this, as it’s one of the best Côtes-du-Rhônes I’ve had in the last year or more. Find this wine
Imported by European Cellars, Charlotte, NC
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We’re always on the lookout for red Rhônes we haven’t tried before, and our explorations often take us back to Ferndale’s Western Market, where our buddy Jarred Gild has a knack for coming up with out-of-the-way selections that, more often than not, are most enjoyable with not only Red Wings hockey, but with good food as well. (Food and wine, what a concept!) And so it was that we found the six wines noted here in the last month or so; all are good, with some being clearly better than others.
Domaine Saint Amant, located in the Beaumes de Venise AOC, is comprised of 32 acres of small plots of steep slopes, facing South-East, at an altitude of 1640 feet. Owned by the Jacques Wallut family, the domaine produces nearly 50,000 bottles a year. We tried the Grangeneuve bottling first, and when we liked that, went back to see what else Jarred had for us. Apparently, he had rescued the four Saint Amant wines from languishing in a local distributor’s warehouse. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that all four are somewhat older vintages than you’ll find on most area retail shelves.
2005 Domaine Saint Amant Beaumes-de-Venise Grangeneuve, 13.5% alc., $15.99: deep and dark in color; rich, earthy and intense, with lots of black plum, berry and currant, all shaded with a good dose of mineral. Mouth coating and still quite tannic, almost burry, this really wants a good hour in a decanter before serving. Once it opens up, it delivers more than enough fruit to pair well with a variety of grilled red meats, and there’s no reason to think that it won’t age effortlessly for 5-8 years and beyond. Kim commented that “it’s a little poopier than the Saint Jaume,” noted below. This is our clear favorite of the four Saint Amants we tried, and we went back and bought the last four bottles in the store. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Viogner. Find this wine
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The wines of Spain take centre stage for the January 24th release. Spanish wines are usually fairly priced in the LCBO and many of these wines offer the consumer great wines at reasonable prices. Lots to buy so please read on……
Wines of Spain
392522 FINCA LOS ALIJARES GRACIANO 2009 Vino de la Tierra de Castilla $17.95
Very concentrated, laden with dark fruit, sweet rhubarb, caramel and nutmeg; plenty of blackcurrant flavours, with a touch of cherry, mineral, aggressive tannins and a touch of heat. Give it time. Find this wine
393140 DOMINIO DOSTARES ESTAY PRIETO PICUDO 2011 Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León $15.95
Dark fruit, Fry’s chocolate cream bar, a touch of mocha and mint; juicy plum flavours, earthy, great acidity and gentle tannins. Find this wine
391896 VINESSENS SEIN 2011 Alicante $17.95
Sweet blackberry and currant, dark chocolate, thyme and Herbes de Provence; sweet chewy fruit, pings of anise and cardamom, good acidity and a decent finish. Find this wine
$17.95 SUEÑO TEMPRANILLO 2011 DO Ribera del Júcar $18.95
A lovely combination of blackberry, cherry and plum, mostly fruit focused nose, but the touch of lavender is pleasing; luscious chewy palate, good structure, some spice and mocha cream on the finish. Find this wine
392993 MACHO MAN MONASTRELL 2012 Jumilla $18.95
Chunky and clumsy, jammy black fruit, sweet oak and sandalwood; low acidity, sweet chewy texture, little hint of spice and an overly sweet finish. Find this wine
398685 BURÓ DE PEÑALOSA CRIANZA 2009 Ribera del Duero $23.95
A forceful mix of French and American oak, plenty of dark fruit, blueberry, tar, fresh flowers and coal dust; nicely balanced palate, some anise and bay leaf and a touch of heat on the finish, but overall a very good wine. Find this wine
It’s January, things are a little less hectic, the holiday haste is done and life is supposedly back to some sense of normality. Cellars tend to get depleted over the jovial season and if that is the case, one can stock up with a few of the wines from Vintages “Smart Buys” release.
WINES OF THE MONTH
256693 CONCHA Y TORO SERIE RIBERAS GRAN RESERVA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 Marchigue, Central Valley, Chile $17.95
Blasts out aromas of Cassis, Ribena, polished wood, Asian spice, anise and bay leaf; strange soapy/cardamom taste, dark fruit does come through, with good structure and gentle tannins. Find this wine
657411 VIÑA REAL PLATA CRIANZA 2010 Rioja, Spain $18.95
Lots of mocha, dried flowers, black raspberry, bitter chocolate, black tea, and forest floor, but a musty note interrupts. Good chewy dark fruit, but the musty note hits on the finish. A bad bottle perhaps. Find this wine
SMART BUYS LISTINGS
234518 LAMADRID SINGLE VINEYARD RESERVA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina $15.95
Very tight; some sweet spice, red fruit and raspberry start to show, light palate, with some currant flavours and low tannins. Just a simple wine. Find this wine
123489 CHÂTEAU HAUCHAT 2011 AC Fronsac, Bordeaux, France $15.95
Mushroom and a little earthy beet, with plenty of ripe dark plum fruit; low acid palate, where blackcurrant shines, with some grip and spice on finish. Find this wine
395053 12 E MEZZO PRIMITIVO DEL SALENTO 2012 Puglia, Italy $13.95
Juicy dark fruit, cough candy medicinal notes, black sweet licorice, dusty, pleasing sweet berry flavours; good acidity, a little cloying on finish. Find this wine
124883 CLOS DU BOIS MERLOT 2012 North Coast, California $16.95
Dark with some mineral notes, black cherry, chocolate shavings; palate shows black raspberry and dark fruit. Simple structure, gentle tannins. Find this wine
171025 PUIG-PARAHY CUVÉE GEORGES 2011 Côtes du Roussillon, Midi, France $16.95
Maltesers, creamy coffee crisp bar, Asian spice, tar and black fruit. The disappointing palate shows light in comparison to its nose; dark fruit is there, but pales and the finish is rather light. Find this wine
395236 LAFAGE CÔTÉ SUD 2012 Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, France $14.95
60% Syrah and 40% Grenache, showing lovely floral aromas; layers of dark fruit and tar, blackberry and currant flavours are ripe and chewy, with a silky texture sweet spice on the finish. Find this wine
Now that Christmas and New Years Eve/Day have come and gone, it occurred to me that I really should report on the wines we indulged in on Thanksgiving. (That’s right, no flies on me, folks.) Dinner was enjoyed at the home of our dear friends Brian and Anne Klump. It was traditional holiday fare, and deliciously so, which created what seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity to open two wines that were sent to us for review by our friends at Cornerstone Cellars. Our previous experiences with samples from Cornerstone’s Oregon operation had been positive, and these turned out to be every bit as good as their predecessors. After a glass or two of a tasty Delamotte Champagne Anne poured us, we moved on to the Chardonnay. (Click images to enlarge.)
2012 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Chardonnay, 13.5 % alc., $40.00: Clean medium straw in color, with a nice little spicy touch from the oak that is the driving force for the wine’s personality at this point; otherwise, the fruit is somewhat under-ripe and austere, but in a good way. Brian commented on a note of pinewood, adding that he finds it very “fall-y,” as in autumn-like. Lean and crisp, this opens nicely as it warms in the glass, and I found it more to my liking than the Morey Chassagne-Montrechet that Anne opened. Nice with appetizers and dinner now, and it should drink well for at least the next few years. Find this wine
Once we sat down to dinner, it was time for some Pinot Noir.
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Recently, we had the opportunity to taste through 6 wines from Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Le Cigare range. The reds, designated “Le Cigare Volant,” are probably better known than the whites, “Le Cigare Blanc,“ but whether pale or dark, the wines in this series are some of the finest, and most underrated, produced anywhere on the Left Coast, in my not-so-humble opinion. They are also some of the most Euro-styled wines produced anywhere in North America, not surprising when one considers Doon head honcho-winemaker Randall Grahm’s vinous preferences.
We tried both regular and reserve bottlings of the 2011 Le Cigare Blanc , and likewise for both the 2009 and 2010 vintages of Le Cigare Volant. We started with the two whites, on one of the last comfortable evenings that we could still comfortably grill and dine out on the back deck.
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I am happy to write that this release is full of some very good wines at more affordable prices than the previous two I reported on. Rarely do we see good quality Beaujolais in this part of the world, but there are a couple that caught my interest and several Spanish wines show particularly well too. There is only a single release this month, but it is a big one, thus there will be a lot of wines on the shelf to sort through. Notes are brief, but to the point. Please read on, buy some good stuff for your stockings and have a great holiday season.
WINES FROM THE UNCORK THE FESTIVITIES RELEASE
130195 13TH STREET SANDSTONE GAMAY NOIR 2011 Niagara Peninsula $29.95
Lots of dried currant, licorice root, elderberry, dark cherry and a tar/smoky note, with good concentration and acidity; plum and red currant flavours, toffee and pure fruit on finish with a touch of peppery spice. Find this wine
276477 GEORGES DUBŒUF DOMAINE MONT CHAVY MORGON 2013 $21.95
Ripe, full of damson, sweet plum , pepper, a lovely hit of flowers and some juicy plum. Quite a fleshy palate, some tannins, but non offensive. Find this wine
643239 DOMAINE DE BILA-HAUT OCCULTUM LAPIDEM 2012 Côtes de Roussillon-Villages $24.95
A bold fruit driven wine, showing blueberry, blackberry, red licorice and sweet oak; the palate has a chewy texture, tight, creamy, silky tannins. A complex fruit bomb. Find this wine
298612 CHÂTEAU DE LA GARDINE CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2012 $39.95
Plenty of sweet spice, cigar leaf, barnyard, Dutch licorice and pure blackberry aromas. Chunky and creamy palate, a little disjointed now, but acids are perfect, tannins and serious, as is the level of fruit. Not to be rushed, needs much time. Find this wine
658351 CANTINE DUE PALME PRIMITIVO 2012 Salento $15.95
Sweet, zinberry aromas, black toffee, tar, maple syrup and blueberry; juicy and spicy, fruit laden great acidity and lovely creamy chocolate on the finish. Note to self-buy lots. Find this wine
388678 CASTELLO DI SPALTENNA CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011 $19.95
Earthy, eggshell aromas, raisins coffee grounds, balsa, solid red fruit, some plum and cherry aromas. Plenty of fruit on the palate, a note of anise and dried cherry on finish. Find this wine