Archive for the Tasting Notes from the Underground Category

A Pretty Pinot From Etude

It had been a while since we last tried anything from Etude, perhaps as long as 10 years. I had a most interesting and informative chat with founder Tony Soter back in 2004, and usually liked what I tasted a lot, but, for whatever reason (price maybe?), I haven’t gotten (or taken) the opportunity to try another until last week, when I found this in a bin at my friendly neighborhood Costco. As is so often the case, I was curious and asked myself, “How bad can it be?” Turns out it’s pretty damned good!

2013 Etude Pinot Noir Carneros Grace Benoist Ranch, 14.4% alc., $33.99: Medium dark in color, with a beautiful perfumed Pinot Noir black cherry nose, with hints of tea leaf; the rich, earthy flavors generally echo, finishing decidedly dry, a little green and somewhat astringent. Medium full bodied and well-structured, which is a good thing, because this should benefit from some years in the cellar.

I like this. The green aspect isn’t imposing enough to be a detraction; it actually fits in well as a complementary component of the greater whole. It opens nicely with air, and offers real drinking pleasure now, but give it five years to develop and it will be even better. The vineyard site obviously produces superior quality grapes, and the winemaking team of Soter, Jon Priest and Franci Ashton knows just what to do with them. Given the quality here, I have no problem with the price tag, and plan to go back for more. Find this wine

Reporting from Day-twah,


Mr. Ridge Goes to Mudgies

Our old partner in crime, Putnam Weekley, gave me a shout a few weeks ago to let me know about an upcoming Ridge Vineyards tasting at a cool little Detroit deli called Mudgies. Mudgies is a classic Corktown joint, old school and charmingly so. The focus is on local products whenever possible, in-house roasted meats, fresh soups and high quality cocktails, meads, craft brews and, of course, wines. Putnam bartends afternoons and also extends his considerable knowledge toward the selection of the alcohol that is served. There’s a different wine theme each Tuesday evening, and last week, it was the aforementioned Mr. Ridge. Lord knows, I have more than a little experience with this producer, and while I might have passed on some other such events, I know that anything Mr. Weekley has his fingers in is bound to be good, so I saddled up and drove down to take it all in. Turns out I was right, because not only were the wines terrific, I also ran into and renewed acquaintances with my old friends Steve and Robin Kirsch and Rick Lopus. (Click images to enlarge.)

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Red Rhone Rangers from Bonny Doon

As always, our tradition of pairing Red Wings hockey with Red Rhône wines is not exclusive to libations from southern France alone. All a bottle needs to qualify for Hockey Night in Day-twah is to be full of Grenache, Syrah or any other variety native to that region, be they grown in California, Australia, Argentina or wherever. We have our favorites, of course, and it should come as no surprise to longtime readers that Bonny Doon Vineyard is at the top of the list. (Click on image to enlarge.)

We got our hands on these three recently, and yes, they were all enjoyed while rooting for our boys with the winged wheel on the front of their jerseys. Here are our impressions.

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White Stuff

Our wine fridge in the basement died a while back, so I spent some time a few weeks ago transferring the bottles from it into our passive Cellar From Hell. I had to move some things around to make everything fit, which is a good problem to have in this case, because it occurred to me that what had been a somewhat depleted collection a few years ago has become fairly substantial once again. Perhaps most surprising is that there’s a good deal of Chardonnay down there now, which was never the case before, and it ain’t from California, baby, it’s all from the Chablis and Maconnais wine regions. Nothing “high end” (except for that one Raveneau), just solid and damned tasty stuff. We can live with that.

I’ve already blogged about the Collovray & Terrier Mâcon-Villages Tradition, Domaine de Roally Macon Vire-Clesse and Laroche and Picq Chablis, all of which are now well represented in our stash. In the past few months, the following three selections have also been very well received here at Gang Central.

I know that we’ve enjoyed previous vintages of this next wine at our good friend Anne Keller-Klump’s house; it’s out of the Vineyard Brands portfolio that she represents here in Michigan. This is the first time I’ve taken notes, though, and I’m glad I did, because it’s a keeper. (Click images to enlarge.)

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Good Mojo Down The Road

Over the past several years, Domaine Sainte-Anne, located in Saint-Gervais in the southern Rhône valley, has become one of our favorite producers. Their regular Côtes-du-Rhône is our #1 go-to everyday red wine, and going up from there, the wines just get better. We’re always up for trying something we haven’t had from the Steinmaier family’s operation, and so it was that we picked this up selection during a recent visit to one of our friendly neighborhood Plum Markets. We hadn’t tried this particular bottling since 2008, and based on our recent tasting of the regular Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, I had the feeling that it might be another tannic beast. It is all that and them some; here’s my Rhône-down on what I found whilst sampling a few glasses and taking in a solid 3-2 Detroit Red Wings victory over the Nashville Predators last Saturday evening.

2011 Domaine Sainte-Anne Rouge Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Notre-Dame des Cellettes, 14.5% alc., $18.99: Deep and dark in both color and flavor profile, with a huge core of black fruit and lots of earth and tar. Seriously tannic, with a pretty good acidic bite to boot. This has all the goods, it just needs LOTS of time in the cellar; I wouldn’t even consider opening another for at least five years, and waiting a decade might be an even better option. Having said that, Kim said the last two glasses were pretty good the next day, so it had opened, and maybe you just need to decant this for several hours if you want to try it now! 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre, aged in cement tanks after a relatively short maceration period of 8-15 days. Find this wine

Imported by AHD Vintners, Warren, MI

Reporting from Day-twah,


A Beautiful Christmas Claret

I don’t know what a perfect wine is, and these days, I don’t much give a damn. I do know that this “reclassified” First Growth, gifted to us by our friend, John Blackwood, more than 10 years ago, is as fine a wine as we could want to enjoy with Christmas dinner. I knew when John gave this to us that it would need considerable time in the cellar, and I decided last night that, at 20 years of age, it was time to see what it had to offer, and it proved to be a lovely match for perfectly grilled (I get it right every once in a while) medium rare Niman Ranch rib eye steaks, mashed potatoes with mushrooms in a red wine sauce and a mélange of multi-colored organic carrots, haricot verts and garlic.

1995 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion Pessac-Leognan, 13% alc.: Still clean and dark in color, showing no bricking as of yet, and exuding copious amounts of saddle leather and mahogany aromatics, which follow through beautifully on the palate with subtle earth underneath. Rich, intense and still on the way up, this gives immediate pleasure from the moment it’s poured after half an hour in a decanter, and it continues to open and become ever more generous as long as there is some left (I savored two and a half glasses over four hours or so). Harmonious and immensely satisfying, yet structured for many more years of further development. If you have some of this, it’s more than safe to drink now, but I’d love to try another in about 5 years to see where it’s at. Thanks a million, Blackie, this baby rocks, and so do you, my friend! Find this wine

Imported by Wine Markets International, Inc., Woodbury N.Y.

Reporting from Day-twah,


A Cru Beaujolais Quartet

With the memory of the delightful 2013 Chateau Thivin Brouilly “Reverdon” still fresh in my mind (yes, I keep purchasing more and enjoying it again and again), I’ve been keeping an eye out for other Cru Beaujolais with which to whet our proverbial whistles and I’ve been pleased with the four in this report. The Foillard and Breton Morgons are two that we’ve quite enjoyed a number of times previously, but hesitated to purchase until recently because of price issues. They’re both worth every penny of the tags on the bottle, but I’ve been focused more on budget-friendly selections for the past couple of years. I finally decided that it was time to see what the current models has to offer, and wasn’t disappointed in the least with either.

The Château des Jacques, a Louis Jadot property, is something that I happened upon in a Costco bin. While not a big fan of the parent négociant, in this case, I figured “how bad can it be,” and was pleasantly surprised with what I found in the bottle. But the best find has undoubtedly been the Domaine Moulin d’Eole, which was recommended by Jason Kugel at Plum Market.

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A Bargain Bin Crozes Hermitage

We first learned to love the wines of Crozes-Hermitage back in the summer of ’95, when friends opened a bottle of 1978 Paul Jaboulet Aine Domaine du Thalabert for us. That bottling and those of Alain Graillot soon became some of our favorite wines for more than a decade. We gradually drifted away from them, one major reason being that the more reasonably priced Jaboulet pretty much disappeared from retail shelves around here. (Click image to enlarge.)

Happily, we “rediscovered” Crozes-Hermitage a few years ago, after encountering Graillot’s wines once again, and then, discovering the lovely wines of Domaine des Hauts Chassis.

So, I was pleasantly surprised to find the following selection during an expedition to an area Costco a few weeks ago. I reviewed several wines from Maison Nicolas Perrin (a collaboration between Nicolas Jaboulet and the Perrin family of Chateau Beaucastel fame) three years ago, but it wasn’t until I got it home that I realized this was the same vintage that I had tasted back then, so that made it all the more interesting.

2012 Maison Nicolas Perrin Crozes-Hermitage, 13% alc., $19.99: Looks like a glass of bloody ink; all leathery and briar-bramble on the nose. Shows obvious young Syrah black fruit character on the palate, somewhat sour and astringent, and it quickly offers more and more “garrigue” with air. A sizable and well-structured wine with the depth of fruit to get a lot better with age, and, at this price, a no-brainer to pick up at least a few more and lay them down for 5-8 years. Interestingly, it shows none of the barrel character that was so obvious three years ago. Find this wine

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, AL

It’s a bit of a shame that these have ended up in Costco bins here in southeastern Michigan. I could speculate that the wine has been a hard sell around here at the original $28-35 retail price range. I’m not saying it isn’t worth that, but it’s a lot more attractive at $20, and I’m nothing if not a bargain hunter. It won’t supplant the Domaine des Hauts Chassis Les Galets as my current favorite from Crozes-Hermitage, but I’ll certainly be going back for a few more to put down for a while and see how they develop with some age.

Reporting from Day-twah,

A Tablas Creek Trio

Well, we received some new wines from Tablas Creek Vineyards and, no surprise to us, they’re really  tasty. Longtime readers know we’re big fans; we haven’t encountered anything but really fine wines from this producer since I first met and tasted with General Manager Jason Haas back in 2006, and these three more than keep that streak alive. (Frankly, I’d be surprised to taste something I didn’t like from these folks, because they always have their A Game going.)

This latest batch consisted of two whites and a red, and while we didn’t have them with food, they’re all very food friendly. (Click image to enlarge. Click wine names for tech info and suggested food pairings.)

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Four Domestic Rieslings

In my last Riesling report, I focused on four North American entries from such diverse territories as Washington, California, Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula and Michigan. Unfortunately, there has been precious little in Day-twah to be had from another Riesling hotbed, New York’s Finger Lakes, at least until I happened upon the first three noted below at, where else, Ferndale’s Western Market. Jarred Gild is a Riesling freak, and he offers a number of selections from all over the world, and after a brief chat with him about these, I brought one of each home to try.

Located in Lodi, New York, on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, Boundary Breaks produces only Riesling, focusing on four specific clones; Geisenheim clones 110, 98 and 239 (identified by Germany’s Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute), and clone 90 from from the Neustadt Research Institute in Germany. Labor-intensive vineyard practices include using the Scott Henry trellis system, early shoot-thinning, cluster-thinning, hedging and leaf removal and hand-picking all fruit, usually in three phases. Vines are planted on sloping ground, in calcareous soils which are ideal for aromatic white wines like Riesling. Boundary Breaks limits their activities to growing the grapes; the actual winemaking is done in collaboration with some of the best wineries in the area, producing small batches of single vineyard Rieslings. Based on what I tasted from these three selections, this arrangement seems to be working quite well.

2013 Boundary Breaks Finger Lakes Dry Riesling Single Vineyard No. 239, Residual Sugar: 0.9%, Alc. 11.6%, $19.99: Clean, medium color, with a dusty mineral nose that follows through on the palate, offering rich Riesling character. It’s not bone dry, but it’s close, being medium bodied, with zippy acids and good length on the finish. Not as “green” as many dry Rieslings, and faintly vegetal, though not necessarily in a bad way. The mineral sets the tone here, and a wee hint of something like petrol bodes well for more of the same as it develops with some age. A solid, if unspectacular entry into the the varieties of the Riesling experience. Find this wine

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