2005 Frédéric Mabileau St.-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil Les Rouillères

Price: $13.99 @ K&L Wines imported by USA Wine Imports

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “90 points Wine Spectator: “Solid, with lots of gutsy briar, black olive, black currant and tobacco flavors that pump through the finish, which puts it all together. Drink now through 2008. 3,000 cases made.” (12/06)

What I Think:

My third Cabernet Franc of late, doing a pseudo-tour through different countries ala the Malbec adventure previously. California whipped Italy and was now ready to square off with France. France was coming in with some big credentials. 90 points from the Wine Spectator and a nice review in the San Francisco Chronicle.

On my end this wine was nice. The nose showed some fruit. On the palate there were metallic hints overlaid with tobacco-ish flavors on a well balanced frame. The end was pleasant but short. A fine effort but there wasn’t much to set it apart from the norm. The Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Franc was a clear winner at half the price.

Rating: Pricey

2002 Navarro Anderson Valley Pinot Gris

Price: $12.60 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery Refreshingly vibrant, with lovely floral aromas of creamy nectarine, with a touch of fresh grain and fennel. Crisp, dry and intense, with pear and orange fruit and a finish that fans out. – Wine Spectator, May 15, 2004.

What I Think:

Had this one nearly a month ago when friends came over for dinner. As I was in charge of cooking I missed the majority of this wine as it was served with snacks/appetizers. That said, I put my friend Paul in charge of writing this one up. Here is what he had to say:

Light nose, hint of lychee (his favorite descriptor by the way)
Strong citrus with sharp lemon on the start
Fade reveals hint of strawberry lingering longer than a typical white.

What I didn’t get him to do was rate and score it. That said I’ll repeat my rating from last time I had this wine and call it “Pricey”.

Rating: Pricey

2005 Ventana Vineyards Arroyo Seco Gewurztraminer

Price: $16.00 @ Friend/Gift

What They Said:

Per the winery “Ventana models its Gewurztraminer in the off-dry Alsacian Style. With flavor characteristics of litchis, orange blossoms, cinnamon and nutmeg spice, it exudes a lively bouquet. The wine is medium bodied with a lingering crisp spice finish. The off-dry style matches beautifully with food. Try Gewurztraminer with mild creamy cheeses, spicy Asian cuisine, pork dishes and poultry, especially turkey.”

What I Think:

Following the winery link you learn that “Gewurtz” in German means “spiced”. “Ventana” is Spanish and means “Window”. You sure are learning a lot here. I had a friend bring this over when he stopped over to say hi. Good friend to have. If you are coming over for dinner maybe I expect something. Coming over to say hi, now that is going above and beyond.

My notes are sparse. but I would call this a typical gewurzt. Some floral undertones on the note with the terroir expressing minerals on top of citrus fruit. This wine is on the fuller side for a white and is not made in the old world drier style. While clearly a class or two above the JW Morris I wonder how it would compare to the Santa Ynez Valley Winery Gewurztraminer which I still have a bottle of left here. Guessing I’ll never know but it could be compelling in my quest for value. Speaking of value, this wine does not scream it but you will at a minimum get what you paid for. That said, should the opportunity present itself give it a try I recommend it.

Rating: Pricey

2004 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône Marselan Domaine l’Attilon

Price: $8.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Premier Wine Company

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “Marselan, a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, is a new grape variety being developed in the Aude and Bouches du Rhone areas of southern France. Vinified for the first time in 2002, Marselan has quickly become a darling of many French wine professionals and consumers. Domaine l’Attilon’s organic version of this new cepage is bursting with bright, crunchy black currant and cherry fruit balanced by violet floramatics and a vibrant acidity. This deliciously user friendly red is a wine you can feel good about on all levels, as it delivers delicious enjoyment at a fantastic price! Another terrific value from the South of France!”

They also said this in the May 2007 newsletter, “A dichotomy on the palate. Initially you get the levity and light temper of the grenache followed by the stern gravity of the cabernet. Overall this marriage is pleasing. Pronounced violets on the nose next to a mouthful of lively and snappy fruit with fresh, deep black currant flavors. There is nothing gushy or goopy about this wine. It’s got a strong acidic presence that mingles with dusty tannins. Enjoy this “little big guy” with bistro fare.”

What I Think:

A new grape, as usual, right up my alley. Anything to keep it interesting. As mentioned above this grape is a cross between cab and grenache mix. I had this one a few weeks back with steak while my wife was out of town. I sampled this side by side with the recently posted Guigal. My notes for this were more plentiful than for the other. Does that a winner make?

On the nose you were greeted with aromas that tended towards barnyard and dust. On the palate the fruit was subtle. Overall I would say the wine has sturdy flavors and dry overtones. The finish was a bit on the tart side. Given the uniqueness factor perhaps this wine may have seemed more compelling than it otherwise could have been. I am guessing the second bottle I have will tell the story. For now I will remain on the fence.

Rating: Pricey

2004 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone

Price: $9.99 @ The Wine Club imported by Ex Cellars Wine Agencies

What They Said:

Per Wine Advocate “The Wine Advocate A strong effort, the deeply-hued, seductive 2004 Cotes du Rhone (primarily Syrah with some Grenache included in the blend) displays loads of berry fruit, not a great deal of complexity, but beautiful texture, softness, and silkiness. Guigal’s master blends are always consistent and uniform despite different bottling dates. Most of these wines drink well for 3-4 years. If readers can still find any, 2003 was a very strong vintage for Guigal, with the 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape meriting a solid 90 points. It is a slightly more tannic version than the 2004, with more meat, kirsch, and body. I also thought the 2003 Gigondas (89) was better than the 2004. You can’t go wrong with the 2003 Cotes du Rhone (88) as it offers loads of berry fruit. Guigal, who also owns fabulous vineyards in the Northern Rhone, is a superb blender when it comes to his Southern Rhones. He is turning out enormous quantities of high quality Cotes du Rhone reds, whites, and roses as well as fine Chateauneuf du Papes, Gigondas, and a terrific rose from Tavel. Score: 87. —Robert Parker, February 2007.”

What I Think:

I still remember E. Guigal from when they received the #1 ranking in Wine Spectator’s top hundred wines of the year back a few years ago. I knew their offerings ran the gamut but it isn’t often you see them in front of you. Given it was there I grabbed it. With my wife out of town a few weeks back I was on back to back steak dinner nights which seemed like an opportune time to put this on the table. The notes are sparse but this wine falls into the upper tier of the ho-hum category. It isn’t manufactured; it is nice and starts to show something of interest. Unfortunately it stops along the way. Given that I would say that it is nice but not exceptional. This price point makes it particularly difficult; I give it a pricey rating. Good intro to Rhone wine, for those that can use this. As for me I’ll be trying to find a better version at TJ’s. This Pont du Rhone is the best I know of now, but I will be trying some of the others soon.

Rating: Pricey

2006 Burgans Albariño

Price: $9.99 @ K&L Wines imported by European Cellars

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “89 points from the Wine Advocate! They say, “The 2006 Burgans Albarino, a custom cuvee chosen by importer Eric Solomon, is a candidate for Best Buy in the Albarino category. Medium gold-colored, the wine has excellent honey, mineral, orange marmalade and peach aromas and flavors in a just off-dry format. Drink it over the next 12-18 months with grilled salmon, tuna, and roast chicken. 6/18/2007″ ”

What I Think:

A friend of mine had just returned from fishing in San Diego and came home with a cooler full of fresh albacore. He invited us over to dinner and I certainly didn’t take me long to agree. As we were headed out the door I shuffled through the whites and pulled this one out. When I saw this one in the K&L email it was a no-brainer. It was albarino which I have much enjoyed in the past and it was imported by Eric Solomon how has a perfect track record with the many bottles of his Masia M that I have enjoyed.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about this wine because the food was so incredible. I do remember the pairing being great. From what I can recall this wine was on the dryer side with a mineral backbone and flavors of fruit rinds (orange or lemon) with a hint of hay. Looks like K&L has some more at this point so perhaps I will give it another go and pay more attention. That said for the time being will give it a pricey designation but this poor bottle was just a victim of circumstance.

Rating: Pricey

1997 “Che Storia” Barbaresco Riserva

Price: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Santini Fine Wines

What They Said:

I’ve spent more time searching for a write-up on this than anything else on the site…With that time I turned up nothing. Not that it matters, even if I love this wine none of us will ever find it again.

What I Think:

As mentioned above this one took some investigating to track down. There were lots of random markings on the bottle. It was imported by Santini but they had no information available this far back. Eventually I was able to track down, or at least I think, that it was bottled by Casa Vinicola Bosco Malera. This is only the second bottle I have had from Santini but when pulling the cork and seeing their name upon I recalled the other had the same. I wonder to what level their involvement goes. It appears as if they are custom making these wines for export.

Moving on, this bottle had been in my basement for quite some time. It may even have been the eldest member of the closet. On this Sunday I started making my Bonarda based pasta sauce at about three in the afternoon. Expecting good things I wanted to open a nice bottle of Italian wine. I have two that are in the $50 plus category around and outside of those two this was the best available. My frustration with my ability to truly enjoy Italian wines has been covered often here, given that the pickings were thin. I bought this long ago @ TJ’s which has carried it throughout the vintages (think they have the ’03 now). Given that the ’97 vintage from Piedmont was near perfect my hopes were running high!

Now to the tasting, after the first swirl and sip I found myself thinking could this be the one? Pulling the cork out I found it wet about half the way up, thought that may be of note. Hey it’s not often I open bottles of wine that are ten years old. On pouring into the decanter it may a good impression. Nice nose, interesting ruby/brown color. In the glass the nose seemed complex. It smells like, what I believe, an Italian red wine should. There are plum and cherries commingling but brooding with a hint of mint and loads of spices toward the end. On the palate the flavor profile reflects the aromas before a nice, complex, thick textured finish leaves tannins tingling in the mouth. As I was enjoying I began to wonder if my lackluster history with Italian wine make this seem better than it is. As it sat in the glass it seemed to be getting lighter in color (more brown) by the minute.

Either way, you are never quite sure what it is but the mystery is intriguing as it keeps you constantly guessing but you can never quite figure it out. This alone made it worth the experience. At $12 it is a little to expensive for a 12th bottle so we will upgrade to a rating of “Pricey” I have a bottle of the same wine from 2001. I’ll open that soon to see what a difference ten years in the bottle makes. If given the opportunity to buy the ’97 now I would do so again, as I don’t we will wait for the ’01 results before passing a verdict on these offerings.

Rating: Pricey

2005 Navarro Mendocino Chardonnay

Price: $13.30 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “There is a distinct reason that winemakers like making Chardonnay. It puts their craft, and consequently them, front and center stage. Unlike other white varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, which is herbal and grassy or Gewürztraminer, which is heady with floral aromas, ripe Chardonnay is more chameleon. That means the winemaker’s choices in the cellar become paramount. These decisions include whether to encourage a secondary malolactic fermentation that adds buttery tones, the length and temperature of the fermentation and perhaps above all the choice of oak cooperage including which cooper, which forest the wood should come from, how long the wood should dry, the toast level, whether to toast the head of the barrel, not to mention how long the wine should rest on the yeast, if it should be stirred and how much time it should spend in oak.

This Mendocino bottling is less buttery than the Première Reserve and the lovely apple-melon flavors and moderate price tag entitle Navarro’s winemaker Jim Klein, to take a bow. Gold Medal winner.”

What I Think:

Another bottle from Navarro, as many of you I am a big fan of theirs (full disclosure: I am a member of their wine club). They called this one “What’s the difference?” My history with their Chardonnay’s has been decent. Given that I don’t have an inclination to this style to begin with they haven’t been able to create one for me. Given that I use their basic Mendocino Chardonnay as an annual benchmark to make sure that my overall opinion towards these wines hasn’t evolved since our last encounter. That being said, they have an Anderson Valley Reserve label that I have been showing to the cellar for the last three or four years, maybe one of those could change my opinion.

Now, let’s get back to this bottle of wine. On the nose you think typical chardonnay; there is butter at the forefront followed by the aromas of the barrel with some fruit lingering way off in the distance. On the tongue, it dances a little before starting to show some apple flavors. The wine is rich and full bodied through the mid-palate before finishing slightly tart on the backbone. A nice wine to drink but given my general disdain for the butter and barrel that dominate these wines I won’t be signing up for more. Above you can see some of the many decisions that go into making these wines. I wonder how they could be made to suit my palate profile. Seems like me the first thing I would do is barrel them in stainless steel. I have had a few of these unwooded chardonnays that let the fruit do the talking and while I haven’t loved them I have enjoyed them better than most. Let the fruit do the talking! The second thing I may do is skip that secondary malolactic fermentation which introduces the buttery tones. Once I get a hint of these I think I almost mentally shut down on giving the wines a real chance, quickly chalking them up as typical. Lastly, I’d play with the degree of toasting. I am guessing that for me less would be more. No all I have to do is get someone to hire me as a winemaker and we could my theories to practice. Who’s got connections for me?

Rating: Pricey

2006 Castle Rock Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Price: $10.99 @ Friend/Gift

What They Said:

Per quaffability “Is anybody doing bargain Pinot Noir better than Castle Rock Winery? Not that I know of. Trader Joe’s has been running their wines of late, and I have been impressed by every one I have tried. Too bad this one has crept up in price one dollar compared to the previous vintage.

It seems awfully early in the day to be bringing 2007 red wines to market, but that’s part of the philosophy behind these wines. They are light, fresh, and do not see a lot of oak aging.

The 2006 Willamette Valley is clone of the 2005. Not quite as light and transparent, the wine shows smoky, earthy, and sandalwood aromas, along with bright strawberry and raspberry fruit. The palate is simple, but it’s clean, without any green or other off flavors, leading to a nice but short finish. Like the 05, the texture as a bit of silk to it. To be clear, this isn’t great – it’s just a clean, nicely made wine. Regrettably, that’s the most you can hope for at this price point, and it’s more than many producers can provide.”

What I Think:

I had been eyeing this bottle at TJ’s for some time now so when our friends brought this one over on the 4th of July I was excited. We popped it open and drank it with some good old fashioned hamburgers. Given that we had guests my notes are extremely limited. The one thing I seem to remember most about this wine is strawberries. This wine is light and delicate, almost reminding me of a rose. Perhaps the burgers were a bit much for it. I certainly don’t feel that I spent enough time focusing on this wine to pass a verdict but given my initial impressions it has certainly lost some of the mystic that it once had. Next time I see it on the shelf at TJ’s it won’t hold my glance as long, but some day it may find its way to my house again. Typically I would rate this as a “12th Bottle” but at this price point I don’t find that relevant. Faced with labeling it as “Skip It” which seems unfair I decided to bend the rules and call this one “Pricey” though it doesn’t quite meet the arbitrary $12 price barrier.

Rating: Pricey

2005 Navarro Anderson Valley Riesling

Price: $14.25 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “Navarro’s Riesling style has evolved over the last thirty years thanks to the increasing availability of better clones in California. When we started growing Riesling in the 70′s there wasn’t much choice of what to plant. Historically many California clones of this variety had been selected for high yields rather than high wine quality. We planted our first clonal trials of Riesling in 1990 when the nurseries started to have a wider choice available and now Navarro’s fields are planted to some of the world’s most flavorful clones. 84% of this wine was produced from Navarro’s expanded plantings; there’s bright apple and stone-fruit flavors that are reminiscent of ripe German Rieslings from the Rheinpfalz. Because we are now starting with more flavorful grapes, we’ve found ourselves crafting drier versions of Riesling but a drier finish requires careful winemaking in order to avoid extracting astringency from the skins, seeds or stems. After destemming, the free-run juice was cool fermented in oak ovals where it rested on the lees for six months, contributing to a rich mouth feel and hints of charcuterie.

There is a tad of residual sugar but it’s just enough to balance Riesling’s naturally high acidity; the wine finishes deliciously tart and dry with no perceptible sweetness. The captivating floral bouquet has just a touch of Germanic petrol and the lush flavors hint at apple, tangerine and apricot. Try it with thinly sliced Westphalia ham on pumpernickel. Prost! Gold Medal winner.”

What I Think:

The winery called this one “Quest” in reference to their long journey towards developing the desired style for their bottling. I left the majority of what they said though it wasn’t directly related to this wine as I found it interesting.

This wine was very pale in color, on opening like the Pinot I had a few day backs, this one didn’t jump out of the bottle at you. It took the subtler approach and grows on you over time. What do you reckon that means, when the wine shows such a drastic improvement with just a bit of air? Should Navarro have kept these out of the bottle for a bit longer? Should I have kept it in the bottle a little longer? Or would neither have mattered and the wines just needed air… This always makes me wonder if I catch a wine at an “in-between” time. This is purely conjecture but I think when some wines are bottled they offer a drinking window before closing up to become to age a bit, again becoming drinkable at a later time. That wouldn’t seem to make sense here as it is such a young wine. It was bottled only 10 months ago. Back to the wine, one interesting thing was that it never had much of a nose at all. In fact I was trying so hard to pick something up I got my nose wet a few times. Initially the taste was hard to discern but there was certainly a tart, racy finish. It seemed a bit of lemon leading on to a mineral like finish. As it opened this went from the dominant force in the wine to a mere afterthought as the texture became more supple apples, pears and a hint of peach (or is apricot, nectarine…) came to the front before fading to that same tart, minerally end. . Looking above I see a mention of tangerine; have to remember that one moving forward.

Hmm, now for the rating part. This is a really nice wine. It was great with the Asian fare and held up to some Mexican a few nights later. Just not sure that I am willing to pay this price unless my socks are knocked off. Especially with the similar structured and tasting Marcel Hugg wines available at TJ’s. I feel like I am slighting this one by calling it “Pricey”. Maybe the winery should have called this on “Tough break”.

Rating: Pricey