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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,

Alan Kerr’s Vintages November 14th Release Notes

There were many great wines released on the 14th, all just in time for gifting and drinking over the holidays. Big wines, big bottles and of course big prices, but the “Star Studded” line up and the “Big Bottles For Entertaining” both have some stellar wines. (Click on images to enlarge.)

November 14th release.

186171 DECOY CABERNET SAUVIGNON, 2013, Sonoma County, California $35.95
A lovely nose showing ripe dark fruit, but with accents of dusty soil, mineral, dark chocolate and leather. Superb balance, gorgeous layers of dark fruit, some tannins, but drinking nicely already. Find this wine

206409 CONVENTO SAN FRANCISCO CRIANZA 2009 Ribera del Duero, Spain $19.95
A heady wine boasting aromas of black cherry, plum, black licorice and sweet oak. It has purity on the palate; black fruit and plum are discernible, acids are fine-tuned, there is some tannin, but time in a decanter will soften. Find this wine


265090 LA CHABLISIENNE MONTMAINS CHABLIS 1 ER CRU 2012, Burgundy, France $32.95
Tight nose at first, some apple and unripe pear aromas appear and meld well with the shingle, stony and mineral elements. Acidity is sharp, but not over the top and the fruit is in the background. Needs a little time I think. Find this wine

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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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Tasting The Wines Of Massolino

It’s always a special treat to dine at Bacco Ristorante in Southfield, Michigan, and it’s all the more memorable when flights of brilliant Italian wine are included on the menu. I’ve had the good fortune to attend three such events, the most recent being a presentation of most of the selections currently available from the Piemonte producer Massolino.

Franco Massolino was in the neighborhood for two days prior to the event, working the market and promoting and selling his family’s wines with our good friend, Anne Keller, Midwest Sales Manager for Vineyards Brands. I was quite jazzed to be included in a select group of invitees to taste these wines in the best possible setting, with great food. (Click images to enlarge.)

The family estate was founded in Serralunga d’Alba in 1896, by Giovanni Massolino, and successive generations have carried on by continuing to expand vineyard holding and refining oenological and agronomical techniques that make these wines truly superb. Besides producing great Barolo, including three single cru vineyard selections tasted on this occasion, Massolino also makes terrific Chardonnay, Dolcetto, Barbara and Moscato.

Upon arriving, we were greeted by Franco and Anne with glasses of some delicious Chardonnay.

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Alan Kerr’s Vintages October 31st Release Notes

Sophisticated, singular wines. That is the heading on the brochure of the Vintages release on October 31st. This release features some of the “Super Tuscan” wines of Italy. There will be some really tasty wines that should complement any super scary Halloween bash or would be nice to sip a glass whilst handing out Halloween treats to the kiddies. (Click images to enlarge.)


Cherry and alcohol at first, then some notes of red fruit, cigar leaf and black raspberry arise. Not too much excitement on the palate either, it lacks oomph, has some heat and it finishes thin. Find this wine

Lovely earthy, sewer, mineral and clay aromas are soon overshadowed by wave after wave of dark berry, blackcurrant, anise and sour cherry. It has great texture; the Asian spice, black cherry and currant flavours shine. There is tannin, but it is silky. A super Halloween counterpart for liver and fava beans. Find this wine

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Sipping in Cincinnati

One of the numerous benefits to living in a country where one can experience the value of non-government controlled wine sales is being able to sample wines in store. Should they chose to, a privately run business can offer customers the opportunity to experience, learn from and enjoy an in-store public tasting.

I know several product consultants working for the LCBO who have amazing palates. I have been fortunate to taste with them on many occasions. However, due to the LCBO’s backward and archaic methods of retailing wine in Ontario, wine shoppers never get to witness and benefit from the skills these product consultants could convey.

On a recent visit to the land of Cincinnati, and home of great friends Cyndi and Mike Hughes, we were able to visit one such store. The Wine Merchant on Cincinnati’s East Side is one of several stores in the city that offer a more progressive means to retail their wares. Here one can taste numerous wines for fifty cents at the tasting bar or grab an ounce or two of something premium poured from their nifty Napa Technology Wine Station. Early on a balmy Saturday afternoon in late October we attended the store’s “ultra-premium” tasting that is held every Saturday from noon to five or until the wines run out.

Each week the wine consultants showcase a different theme. On this visit we tasted generous pours of four wines entitled “Undiscovered Italians”. All had been decanted in the early hours of the day. To stifle any hunger, there was cheese, an assortment of salumi and baguette included for nibbling. The cost of this event is a mere $15.00 and should one decide to purchase any of the wines, they are offered at a seriously discounted prices.

These are my observations. All were exceedingly good, but my notes are in order of my personal preference, starting with my least favourite, although I must point out I enjoyed them all, but one has to come in fourth spot, does it not?

Capezzana Ghiaie della Furba, Tuscany 2008. $54.99 Tasting price $48.99
A rustic wine showing plenty of spice, cigar leaf, black pepper, cherry and Kirsch aromas. The palate starts out as a power house, tannins are still quite evident, it parades its fruit nicely at first while anise and sweet spice enhance. It is tasty and chewy, but the fruit soon fades as the tannins overpower. Find this wine

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Red Wings and Red Rhônes All Over Again

Yes, it’s that time of year, and about the only two things I really like about October is Detroit Red Wings hockey and those big red Rhônes that we drink while rooting for the boys with the winged wheel on their jerseys. We started this tradition almost 20 years ago, and I’m happy to report that it’s still going strong, as we kicked off the new season with some solid mojo.

The two Châteauneuf-du-Pape selections were enjoyed during pre-season games. (Click images to enlarge.)

2012 Domaine de Fontavin Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Empire, 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 15% alc., $22.99: Clean and dark in color, with earthy black plum and hints of the barnyard and some iron on the nose; the flavors echo, with a rich, chocolaty texture and earthy chocolate overtones. Deep and very well structured, and despite the big tannins, this has tons of flavor too, and there’s already plenty to like here. It really opens nicely after an hour or so, becoming even more enjoyable, so decanting is a good policy for near term drinking. With extended air, it takes on characteristics not unlike a theoretical blend of saddle leather and cocoa powder; strange, but true, and quite tasty! Our friendly local Costco sold out of this before I could get more, but it may still be available at other outlets. Find this wine

Imported by Misa Imports, Inc., Dallas, TX

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Alan Kerr’s Vintage’s October 17th Release Notes

It has been too long since I had the privilege to shoot to London and taste some of the juice flowing onto the LCBO’s Vintages shelving this coming Saturday. As a bonus, the feature release is Napa Gold Rush, a region I have many fond memories of travelling around and tasting. Also there are several Piedmontese wines from the highly touted 2010 vintage to be had. Overall, there are many great wines to be found, the prices are steeper than some of the Napa valley slopes, but Napa has always carried high price tags for their premium wines. (Click images to enlarge.)

Wines of the month.

256768 BLACK STALLION CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 Napa Valley, California $32.95
Minty and chocolate aromas, toasty oak, currant and dark fruit, mocha and nutmeg; the palate shows plum and dusty tannin, with good acidity to keep it lively, but mid palate struggles to live up to the nose. Find this wine

222877 CAYMUS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2013 Napa Valley $99.95
Sweet dark berry pie, vanilla, buttery and laden with aromas of cola, thyme, black toffee and black licorice; showing heaps of blackcurrant, blueberry, sweet chewy nougat and chocolate in the mouth. A bit of a monster, but showing well already. Find this wine

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A Crown of Cab Vertical

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of taking part in a vertical tasting of the Lake Michigan Shore winery Domaine Berrien Cellars Bordeaux-style dry red blend, Crown of Cab. The tasting, open to invited members of the Michigan wine press and a limited number of ticketed wine lovers, was held at Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room’s Royal Oak location, and featured vintages 2006 through 2010, pulled from MBTBTR proprietors Shannon and Cortney Casey’s personal cellar, along with the current vintage, 2012. Domaine Berrien Winemaker/Co-Owner Wally Maurer and Co-Owner Katie Maurer were also on hand, and they brought along the 2005 vintage to add to the lineup. (Click images to enlarge.)

Up until this tasting, my experience with Domaine Berrien had been limited to trying some of their wines at the two MBTB tasting rooms (they’re one of the wineries that partnered with the Caseys to create these establishments) and evaluating some of their offerings as part of the tasting panel some years back. I’d been impressed with what I’d tried previously, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get to know one of their premier bottlings a lot better.

Domaine Berrien Cellars is a small, boutique winery specializing in estate-grown, handcrafted wines, and, depending on the ravages of recent winters, annual production can be as much as 4,500 cases. Readers can learn more about the history of this fine producer at their website; for my purposes, I’ll focus on the wines featured at the tasting.

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