Archive for the Tasting Notes from the Underground Category

Bargain Hunter Bastardo

I’m always on the lookout for good buys in any wine department that my adventures take me through, and I’ve been fortunate to come upon five over the last few months. The first is one I reported on in August, the 2012 Domaine Laroche Saint Martin Chablis. It was a good buy at the Costco price of $19.99, but I guess it wasn’t moving fast enough for them, so they hung a closeout price price of $9.97 on it, and I brought home a dozen or more. I mean, where do you find quality Chablis for $10?! You may still find some of this at various Costcos in the metro Day-twah area, but I cleaned out the stash at our friendly neighborhood outlet on Stephenson Highway in Madison Heights.

There were two other terrific buys at the Madison Heights store, a white and a red, and while I took advantage of both, so did other intrepid buyers, so they were snatched up quickly. As to whether they’re still available at other locations, I can’t say, but I rather doubt it, especially, the Siduri Pinot Noir. Here are my notes on both, starting with the pale Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

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Two Late Model Cornerstone Reds

In March of this year, the folks at Cornerstone Cellars in Napa Valley announced their intention to begin releasing a series of single vineyard wines from the elite properties that they work with under their White Label. That was good news as far as we were concerned, since we’ve loved everything they’ve produced for that program for the last several vintages.

Then, in July, we received the first bottling of the series, or maybe it was the first two, I’m not sure. The Oakville Station Merlot is definitely one of the wines mentioned in the March announcement, but the Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon, named for Cornerstone founder Dr. Michael Dragutsky, was not on that list, and while it isn’t a single vineyard wine, it does include fruit from two of the sites in the new series, Oakville Station and Kairos Vineyard. (Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain has been a staple source for Cornerstone fruit for about as long as we’ve been tasting and reviewing them.)

Whatever the case, we didn’t get around to trying them until Labor Day, when I relented from my vegetarian druthers and bought a nice cut of C. Roy beef steak to grill and pair them with. As a great man once sang, “Time passes slowly when you’re lost in a dream,” but the wait was well worth it.

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Parting Gifts From Clos Roche Blanche

We’ve crossed paths with some very nice wines from the non-interventionist Loire Valley producer Clos Roche Blanche a time or two, but never paid them as much attention as we should have. This point was driven home a few weeks ago, when my buddy Jarred informed me that two of the wines I had in my cart (noted below) were from Didier Barrouillet and Catherine Roussel’s last vintage, 2014. The vineyards are sold, they have retired, and why in the hell didn’t I get to know their wares better when I had the chance? My bad.

The very short Clos Roche Blanche story is that that Catherine Roussel had owned and operated this estate since in 1975, having taken over from her father, and was later joined by Barrouillet, who tended the vineyards and made the wine. Both were and still are enthusiastic proponents of non-interventionist winemaking. Now, they just want to do whatever they want, instead of being tied down by the duties of the estate. You can read more about what they did here, and at this link to a worthwhile blog entry about a visit to the estate late in the game.

The first three wines are labeled as Vin de France rather than Touraine because, apparently, they wanted to make a statement with their final efforts about not bothering to endure the usual hassles from the appellation.

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Three From Brundlmayer

Just about every Thursday, Great Lakes Coffee Detroit, a cool little coffee shop, café and wine bar in midtown Detroit, has a wine tasting of selections you’re not likely to find at many other locations. When it comes to the coffee, wines, beers and ales or food stuff for small plates, James Cadariu aka Roastmaster General is uncompromising in his selections, focusing on small, artisanal producers he admires.

This past Thursday, Great Lakes offered three wines from the exceptional Austrian producer Bründlmayer. We’ve enjoyed Willi Bründlmayer’s wines quite a bit on past occasions, perhaps none more than on Monte Bello Ridge, of all places, back in about ’98 or ’99. It’s rare to get a taste of these in the Metro Detroit area, so we availed ourselves of the opportunity, saddled up with our good friend Gary Shea and trucked on down to the corner of Woodward and Alexandrine, where we hooked up with another good friend in the person of Noelle Lothamer.

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Mixed Bag

From the Not-Quite-Quick-and-Dirty Department: Each of the wines featured in this report bears a connection to one of our previous two reports. I tasted this first one with Luke McCollom from Left Coast Cellars last week; the wine was given to him by a generous Ann Arbor retailer, and then he sent me home with the bottle to share with Kim. As promised, here are my impressions.

2006 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 80% Roussanne, the balance from Grenache blanc, Picardan, Bourboulenc and Clairette, 14% alc., $69.99: Clean, rich color; stony mineral and a hint of beeswax over bone dry stone fruit in both flavor and aroma. Full bodied, with great acidity and outstanding presence. I had the opportunity to taste this over a couple of hours and the beeswax emerged to take a more prominent place in the wine’s personality. Quite tasty already, but not yet at its peak, perhaps not even close. Organically grown, 80% fermented in stainless steel, 20% in 225 liter oak casks. Find this wine

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Inc., Birmingham, AL

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Hangin’ with Luke McCollom of Left Coast Cellars

There are so many wine producers in so many regions of the world that fly well under our radar, it’s always a treat for us when we happen upon one that really impresses us. Case in point; we’d never heard of Left Coast Cellars until a few weeks ago, when their PR firm contacted us to inquire as to whether we’d be interested in meeting their winemaker and viticulturist, Luke McCollom, who would be in Michigan during the week of August 17.

I did some quick research, and found that this family owned winery seemingly had much to admire, starting with a commitment to sustainability. 150 of the 353 acres on the property, located in Rickreall, Oregon, are planted to nine vineyards, with a focus on exclusively estate-grown Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Viognier and Syrah, with several single vineyard wines in their lineup. Besides growing grapes, Left Coast Cellars has also undertaken a project of growing European truffles (mostly Périgord, with some Italian whites) on a four acre site of hazelnut trees, shrub roses and holly oaks. There are also oak groves, fruit orchards, organic gardens, bee hives, streams and a small lake which adds to the site’s biodiversity and provides water for gravity fed irrigation. (Click images to enlarge.)

The vineyards themselves contain a wide variety of clonal and rootstock combinations, elevations, row orientations and soil compositions, which provide for a significant range of nuance to what we’ve quickly come to recognize as a distinctive LCC house style. Based on what I discovered on the winery web presence, we decided that this was an operation we’d like to learn (and taste) more about, so we accepted their kind offer and a time was set to meet with Mr. McCollom last Wednesday, at Birmingham’s The Bird & The Bread.

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A Pair of Swans

Every so often over the past few years, I’ve been struck by the following thought: we don’t drink enough Pinot Noir at our house, not nearly as much as we did back in the late ‘90s and on through the turn of the century. For whatever reason, we just kind of drifted away from the variety, which is a shame, because it can be so very, very fine.

So it was that, when I celebrated a certain annual milestone last week, I pulled the first wine in this report from the cellar, almost as an afterthought. I eat almost no red meat these days, but I look more favorably upon good seafood and decided that wild caught salmon would make for a nice dinner, and so we procured a nice filet that fed both Kim and me very well. I could have chosen a nice Morgon, since we have several of those down in the Cellar from Heck, but I decided to go with one of the very few Pinot Noirs in our possession instead. I had no idea how fortuitous my choice would be.

As far as I can tell, we haven’t talked about any of the wonderful wines from Joseph Swan Vineyards since late 2007, which is too bad, because, A. they’re SO good, and B. that means we’ve been missing out on a lot of mighty fine drinking.

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Three Wines From The Mitten

I had the distinct pleasure of going on a five day northern Michigan musical road trip over the last weekend in July. I performed my music on four successive evenings, starting off at two of my favorite wineries, Left Foot Charley and Shady Lane Cellars. (I finished up with my first ever appearance at Short’s Brew Pub in Bellaire, and finally at the quaint old one-room Green River Schoolhouse, in Mancelona. Both were tons of fun, but those are stories for another occasion.)

The appearances at the two wineries gave me the opportunity to try fresh new versions of a couple of my favorite wines from the Mitten, and they do not disappoint in the least.

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My Kind Of Zinfandel

2013 Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel Benito Dusi Ranch, 100% Zinfandel, 14.8% alc., $26.99: I ran across four of these at an area Kroger store last week, so I dropped two in a mixed 4-pack for the discount, tried one a few nights later and went back for the other two the day after that. Here’s a perfect example of why I still love Zinfandel after all these years.

Clean and dark in color, with big, beautiful Draper perfume, all sweet oak in perfect proportion to the rich black raspberry, shaded with a hint o’ lavender. The luscious flavors echo boldly, with a wonderfully creamy texture that still can’t disguise the ample structure that will take this several years down the road in the cellar. Full bodied, with a nice long finish, where the tannins and a certain earthiness show themselves the most. Rich, ripe and gorgeous, with great balance, and, of course, it’s quite primary at this stage. Just a pleasure to sip already, but you know it’s going to get better with some age. I’d be wise to bury the other three so as not to touch them for a few years. We’ll see…

From the Ridge website: “Benito Dusi Vineyard grapes, hand harvested; destemmed and crushed; fermented on the native yeasts, followed by full malolactic on the naturally occurring bacteria; oak from barrel aging; minimum effective sulfur for this wine (35ppm at crush, 166ppm over the course of aging). Pad filtered at bottling. In keeping with our philosophy of minimal intervention, this is the sum of our actions.” Find this wine

Reporting from Day-twah,



Two from Clos Cibonne

The first thing that caught my attention about the wines of Clos Cibonne were the lovely labels, with their classic old style and grace. I saw one on a retail shelf last autumn, but didn’t get around to trying any until late May, and since then, we’ve become more and more delighted with them. We’re no strangers to the wines of Côtes de Provence, but we’d never tried anything (that we know of) that was so predominantly composed of the Tibouren grape. More usually employed as a blending grape with such varieties as Grenache and Cinsaut to make rosé, it takes on a much more dominant role in the wines of Clos Cibonne.

The character of both of these wines is obviously a direct reflection of the character of the Tibouren grape itself, and we really like what we taste in them. We got our first taste of the rosé courtesy of our way cool wine buddy Rebecca Poling.

2013 Clos Cibonne Côtes de Provence Cuvée Tradition Rosé, 90% Tibouren, 10% Grenache (sourced from 30+ year old vines), 13.5% alc., $25.99: Pale rose petal pink with a tinge of orange; mineral driven peach and watermelon flavors and aromas, and, at first, you can almost taste those 100-year-old foudres. As it opens and warms in the glass, more of the old wood and old school character emerges, and I like it even better. Fairly rich and ripe, more so than some we’ve had from Provence; medium-to-medium full bodied, with ample acids and good length. This is priced at the upper limit of what we’re willing to pay for rosé (we don’t buy Tempier anymore), and it’s worth every penny. We’ll drop a few more in a mixed 6-pack for the discount and enjoy again. Tasted three times with consistent impressions. The wine was aged on the lees for 1 year in those 100-year-old foudres. Find this wine

This next selection is described as “Clos Cibonne’s easy drinking red,” but, as much as I enjoy it now, it seems to show good aging potential as well.

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Geo’s Picks