A wine for winter

Greetings amateur winos, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Today’s post is a brief one – a nifty little find for winter. As the weather turns cold, we often turn to comfort food – like the turkey that many of us will have today or on Christmas, or hearty stews, or robust meat dishes with a bit of gaminess, like beef or lamb. Foods like these make me reach for wines that match, and often, red wines made from Rhone varieties fit the bill.

Today’s red is just such a wine. It’s a Cotes du Rhone from the Rhone Valley in France; Cotes du Rhones are modestly priced, usually between $10-18 and often have deep fruits imbued with peppery spice, making for a wine that can stand up up to the heartiest of foods. And, it’s not just any Cotes du Rhone, but one made by a famous winemaker, Louis Barruol. Monsieur Barruol is perhaps best known for his wines made under the label of his winery, Chateau de St. Cosme – and his Cotes du Rhones (including the terrific “Les Deux Albion”) are always among the best, and can disappear quickly from shelves because a lot of people know this.

For those of you who, like me, have sometimes had trouble finding the St. Cosme wines, I’ve got good news for you. A lot of people don’t know that today’s wine – the 2005 Oriel Courant Cotes du Rhone, is also made by Louis Barruol. Oriel is an interesting outfit – unlike the usual wine producer that farms grapes on its own estate, they source grapes and commission winemakers from all over the world to sell under one common brand. I don’t see their wines in a lot of retail stores, but you can find them here and there, and also on their website.

I tasted the Courant this week, and I’m pleased to report that it shares a lot of the same elements that are great about the Cotes du Rhones from Chateau de St. Cosme – tasty rustic fruit, peppery spice that punch up the wines, and nice Old World accents of leather, game and barnyard that add complexity but don’t dominate the wine. At $15, the Oriel Courant is moderately priced, and perhaps the best part is, the 2005 bottling is still available, and having a Cotes du Rhone with a little age on it is a real treat, as many CdRs are consumed in its first few years before they have a chance to evolve. Check this one out and you’ll get to see the work of one of the Rhone’s top winemakers for a bargain price, and get a sense of what Cotes du Rhones are like with a little maturation time. With the right food on a cold winter’s night, this wine, made from 100% syrah grapes, will warm you right up. :) Enjoy!

This wine was reviewed from a review sample bottle received free of charge.

Pricey California cabs: will they last?

This past week I had the opportunity to taste a number of pricey recent-vintage California cabs that represent various styles of winemaking, including heavyweight names like Shafer, Montelena, Spottswoode, Kapcsandy, Rivers-Marie, Conn Valley, Togni, Mondavi, Joseph Phelps, Heitz and Ridge.  Some were more austere, with tannic structure that makes them perhaps not ready to drink yet; most, however, were in line with a broader trend of wines that are made in a fruit-forward style that makes them more pleasurable to drink earlier.

So, which ones do I think are better?  Well, there were excellent examples of both styles, and I have enough range as a wine drinker to thoroughly enjoy both styles.  For some of the fruit-forward ones, I do have concern on how well they will age; many have a higher alcohol level than the cabs of yore that have aged very well.  The higher alcohol content may make the wines feel sweeter, lusher and more approachable today, but my experience has been that many wines with that high an alcohol level tend to fall apart once they start approaching ten years of age.  That may not be a problem for those who want to drink their wines earlier anyway, but for those who like the particular complexity that develops with age (think of, say, Heitz, Mayacamas or Phelps Eisele from the 1970s), where do you turn to today?

Unsurprisingly, one of the wines from the tasting that I have confidence in for its aging potential is the 2005 Chateau Montelena.  It showed a distinctly more herbal profile, with more tobacco leaf, olive, graphite, etc. than most of its counterparts, but definitely reminded me of the old-school 70s cabs that I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy.  Previous tastings I’ve had of their higher-end Estate bottling have been made in a similar style.  Other wines showing nice classic cabernet character included the 2007 Snowden Reserve, the 2003 Philip Togni cab, and the Santa Cruz Mountains bottling from Ridge, a classic bargain at under $30.

There were a number of wines that showed a fruitier, lusher style while keeping enough balance that I believe they will age well and be delicious throughout most of their lifetime.  These wines included the 2006 Shafer Hillside Select, my favorite wine of the tasting (though at its $230+ price tag, it better be pretty darn good!), which was refined and elegant without needing to be showy; the 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia, which Continue reading