May 10, 2008

March 2008 Wines of the Month

Tier One

White:

Chateau Grande Cassagne Cassanus Costieres de Nimes 2006 (France) $13.99 - This is a wonderful white blend from one of my favorite importers, Bobby Kacher. Even with the dollar getting just killed by the Euro, Southern France is still home to many great values.....especially if you step away from pricier areas such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage and Cote Rotie......the Costieres de Nimes is one such place on the western edge of the Rhone Valley.

Blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Marsanne. 80% is stainless steel fermented and 20% is done in French oak barriques (small barrels). This gives the wine a tingle of oak that is definitely a backdrop to the bright floral (lavendar and white flowers) aromas, the citrus and green Provencal olive aromas with hints of honey. This is crisp AND rich! This wine SPEAKS of the South of France! Flavors of tart and sweet green apples, lemons, plenty of minerals and notes of herbs. Nice balance to the acidity and fruit. Nice finish. This may be my summer wine!

Chateau Grande Cassagne is a small estate run by the Dardé brothers, whose first vintage was in 1988. They ripped out the cheap table wine vines planted on the family estate (80 acres) and replanted with traditional Rhone Valley varietals, including Roussanne and Marsanne. The property is near the village of Saint-Gilles, where the land rises to expose a boulder-riddled plateau much like the one at Chateauneuf-du-Pape. They produce wonderful Rhone-style wines at great prices! Hand-made, hand-farmed, organically-grown.

Food pairing - Great as an apéritif and accompanying simple fish and chicken dishes with herb seasonings. Drinks well without food. Wonderful wine for a party!

Red:

Bonny Doon Vineyard Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato D.O.C. (Piedmont, Italy) Reg. $18.99 Sale $9.99 - This is an EXCELLENT wine from a truly OBSCURE grape – Ruché (I‘d never heard of the grape as of February). It's at this great price because no one knows what Ruché is and that makes it a tough sell at nearly $20/bottle!

This is what I call a "TWO PERSON" bottle of wine! What I mean by that is this wine will really evolve and change over a couple of hours.....so you want to drink this slowly and enjoy it! Less than 100 acres of Ruché are planted in Piedmont (this is the only place it is grown).....this makes it one of Italy's smallest produced grape varietals. Some same Ruché vines were imported from France 100 years ago; others say it is indigenous to the Monferrato hills around the city of Asti.... I don't have a clue! It's only been produced commercially for a few decades and less than 10,000 cases are made from the entire area (about 35 different producers).

This wine starts with nice rose petal aromas….then, it really evolves over the next 90 minutes plus – that’s one of the things we really like about this! Medium-bodied. Distinct notes of pepper and wild berries. Soft tannins and nice acidity. I really like this A LOT! Jessica liked it enough to take home 6 bottles. Food pairing - Goes well with beef, lamb, grilled meats, truffles or mushrooms and cheeses such as Piave Vecchio or Gorgonzola.

Tier Two

White:

Spann Vineyards Betsy's Backacher "Bottle Blond" 2006 (California) $17.99 - I love the Spann wines! Mo Zin is one of my favorite reds! This is one of my favorite whites! Blend of 67% Chardonnay, 22% Semillon and 11% Viognier. Spann farms organically. Peter and Betsy Spann just represent what a "family-owned" winery should be!

Aromas of crisp, ripe apples and anise. The flavors are creamy, soft and rich with no one varietal dominating the others. The Semillon and the malolactic fermentation help create the rich, soft, lush texture. Flavors of apricots, green apples and anise. This has such a rich and pleasing textural quality to it. Nice length on the finish.

The Chardonnay is from the Yorkville Highlands in Mendocino County. The Semillon and Viognier are from Dry Creek Valley. 75% of each varietal is barrel-fermented in French oak and 25% in stainless steel. 50% of the Chardonnay and all of the Viognier and Semillon complete malolactic fermentation. Each varietal is aged in neutral French oak barrels for 6 months. 448 cases made. Food pairing - lighter seafood or poultry dishes. Drinks great without food as well!

Red:


Potel-Aviron Côte de Brouilly Vielles Vignes Cru Beaujolais 2004 (France) Reg. $16.99 Sale $13.99 - I'm a little under the price threshhold for Tier 2 for this month - the distributor had a deal on this wine and I had to take it! Like most of the big distributors in Maine, this one just doesn't sell "Cru Beaujolais" well - most of their sales reps don't know what it is.....I do....and I appreciate their value, their flavors and their aromas!

I LOVE "Cru Beaujolais." It's one of the truly undervalued areas in the world. People hear "Beaujolais" and immediately think, "Beaujolais Nouveau." This couldn't be even compared to Beaujolais Nouveau. This is much more like a Burgundy than it is the candied fruit of Nouveau. Cote de Brouilly is predominantly granite soil. Up on the hill of Mont de Brouilly you can kneel down and pray at Notre Dame du Raisin ("Our Lady of the Grape"). "Cru Beaujolais" designates the 10 villages in Northearn Beaujolais that comprise the best growing areas - Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Saint-Amour, Chenas, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin-a-Vent, Julienas and the "new kid on the block," Regnie. These areas are hillier than the rest of Beaujolais and have much rockier soils.

I love this wine! This is not like a “fruity” Beaujolais Nouveau – this is much more like a good Pinot Noir! Great fruit, great flavor, loads of black cherries, violets, and dark fruit in the nose and mouth. Notes of chocolate throughout. Nice, long, rich finish. This is not quite medium-bodied, but it has a depth and elegance and length that make for an impressively rich wine!

Cote de Brouilly has distinctive "blue-hued" stones in its soil. Only about 80 producers. Potel-Aviron farms organically. What sets Potel-Aviron apart from most Beaujolais producers is that they DON"T use carbonic maceration - carbonic maceration means the grapes are tossed into the vats in whole clusters and not crushed....the weight of the grapes starts to crush them....this gives Beaujolais a unique flavor (candied fruit). Potel-Aviron applies Burgundy production standards (they crush, manual harvest, oak barrels for up to 10+ months - 6 months longer than most, but they never use more than 20% new oak).

Food pairing - Outstanding wine for Thanksgiving Dinner type meals, with roasted poultry, pork and similar meals. More Burgundy/Pinot Noir-like than Beaujolais (Gamay).

Tier Three

White:
Richard Partridge Chardonnay 2005 (California) $48.99 - This is a big, rich and elegant California Chardonnay that is mind-bogglingly good! Beautiful golden color. This is a complex, layered wine with lots going on....while it has "big" flavors and aromas, it is also elegant and refined. This has floral and tropical fruit flavors and aromas and a hint of minerals. Additional aromas of honeysuckle, baking spices, lemons and oranges. Flavors of pineapples, lemons, stone fruits, green apples and melons with nice minerality and spices.

This is a small winery - focusing on only Chardonnay and Cabernet. They make less than 1,000 cases of wine each year. The winemaker, Jeff Fontanella, has worked at such major California "cult" wineries as Opus One, ZD and Saddleback Cellars. At Saddleback, Jeff work under the tutelage of Nils Venge, whom Robert Parker called "one of the 20 most influential winemakers in the world." Jeff knows his way around both the vineyard and the winery!

All of the 2005 Chardonnay grapes come from the State Lane Vineyards in the Yountville District of Napa Valley. Barrel fermented in new and one-year Allier oak. Aged "sur lees" for six months. Uses a Burgundian yeast. 286 cases made. This is only sold in 20 states! Food pairing - duck, chicken, salmon.....keep it good and simple.....I wouldn't do wild, spicy sauces with this wine....let its elegance and complexity help your good, simple food really shine!

Red:
Tir na N'og (Land of Youth) Old Vines Grenache 2005 (Australia ) $26.99 - Doug from SOPO brought this around and I knew I'd found the wine of the month for Tier 3!

This is big and deep, dark purple! Aromas of spices, black cherries, dark berries and dark chocolate. It's ripe, lush and full-bodied in the mouth! Velvety texture. Lots of layers and complexity to this. Notes of strawberries and raspberries in the flavors with dark chocolate. This has a silky finish to it with notes of black pepper and dark chocolate. This should age well for at least 10 years, but it is drinking darn good right now! This wine comes with a wonderful Gaelic legend - Oisin. The wine's name is a tribute to importer John Larchet's Irish/Gaelic heritage! Tir na N'og (Tier nah Nohg) is Gaelic for "Land of the Youth." Irish legends and myths tell of a land where mortal time was suspended and everyone was young and beautiful. Aged 18 months in oak barrels. 20% new and 80% old French oak barrels....so the oak doesn't dominate the wine. Food pairing – grilled meat, mushroom dishes, etc. Sitting in a nice room with a good friend would work as well! Robert Parker, Wine Advocate, 91 points; Wine Spectator, 91 points; Stephen Tanzer, International Wine Cellar, 91 points

The Other

Dutschke Old Codger Fine Old Tawny Port (Australia) $19.99 - This is a blend of wines from a slew of grapes from Langhorne Creek and the Barossa Valley. The wines average age is 8 years. This shows wonderful depth and complexity. It has butterscotch flavors with hints of molasses and red berry (strawberry & raspberry) that makes this uniquely different from many tawny ports. This is delicious and a GREAT value at $20! Made using a Solera system, this results in consistent quality from year-to-year. Blend of Verdelho, Grenache, Shiraz, Palomino, Frontignac and Muscadelle.