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2006 Eric Chevalier (Domaine de l'Aujardiere) CHARDONNAY (Loire Valley, France)

Date: Fri, Aug 20, 2010

This is an outstanding value in a fresh, minerally, unoaked Chardonnay. Tastes a lot like a high quality Chablis.

Very light gold color. Nose of lemony-limey fresh grapes infused with chalky rock dust. Loads of lively, peachy fruit, with a clean, stony component throughout. Bone dry and very refreshing. Medium-light bodied, with a very pure-tasting finish. Very nice, and definitely a repeat purchase at $13 and change at Spec's on Smith. 88. A Kermit Lynch Selection.

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2009 Chateau Saint-Pierre de Mejans ROSE (Cotes de Luberon, France)

Date: Fri, Aug 20, 2010

This was a terrific, refreshing rose.

Very light, pinkish-copper color. Very fresh, ripe nose of earthy minerals and freshly-crushed plums. In the mouth, loads of ripe fruit and mineral flavors are delivered in a medium-bodied, dry format. Very good acidity, especially for a wine from southern France. 88. Was $14 and change at Spec's on Smith.

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2006 Masi "Brolo di Campofiorin" RIPASSO (Veneto, Italy)

Date: Fri, Aug 20, 2010

An example of what would have been -- if not for the use of small oak instead of the typical large casks -- an excellent wine. The influence of the small barrels made it too oaky for its own good.

Sultry, black ruby/crimson color. Rich but intensely oaky nose, with ripe, sappy black cherry and smoky earth underneath. Dark, chocolatey, and intense, with good balancing acidity. Unfortunately, the taste of oak overshadows the fruit, detracting from what otherwise were obviously good raw materials. 84. Was $16 at Nundini's Deli -- a great Italian import store on North Shepherd.

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2008 Zaumau (Priorat, Spain)

Date: Tue, Aug 10, 2010

This garnacha (grenache) and samso (carignane) blend was excellent. Very soft, ripe, and balanced.

Vibrant dark black ruby. Textbook Spanish grenache nose of crushed-stone infused spicy dark raspberries and black cherry. Richly fruity and velvety soft, this mouthfilling yet not-heavy red offered lots of rich, up-front berry fruit, full-body, and a lengthy, pure-tasting finish. Some very fine-grained tannin and good acidity added structure. Very nice. Imported by one of my favorite Spanish importers, Jose Pastor Selections. 90. $20 at Spec's on Weslayan.

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Coupla middlin' Italian wines

Date: Tue, Aug 10, 2010

Not really worth their own blog entry.

2008 Pieropan SOAVE (Veneto, Italy) had a bitterish and sour component. Nice medium gold color, but the nose was kind of pungent, with lots of pungent minerals and sour pear fruit, with an interesting caramelized sugar crystal component. Some pear, apple, and lemon fruit, but led to a short, pungent, minerally finish. Funky. 78. Kind of disappointing, as Pieropan was one of the first producers to bring Soave out of the insipid, industrial acid water that used to pass as white wine in the appellation in the 1970s.

2006 Barberani "POLAGO" (Montepulciano-Sangiovese blend) (Umbria, Italy) -- This had some character but was too rustic. Med. dark ruby garnet. Straightforward, vinous nose of winey, old cherries, smoke, and moist, funky gravel. Medium body, with basic cherryish flavors that faded quickly into an acidy, rough, drying finish. A decent peasant wine to quaff with basic spaghetti and meatballs. 80.

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A bunch of great wines drunk with Angy and Susan

Date: Tue, Aug 3, 2010

My brother Angy and his wife Susan were visiting for several days from Connecticut (which answers the question, who ever comes to Houston in summer for vacation?). To try to revive them from heat shock, we opened up several great bottles. But I was feeling too hot myself to do any serious analysis, so these are just quick impressions from memory.

First, the whites. A 2007 Domaine Weinbach SYLVANER Reserve ($17 at Spec's/Smith) was well-balanced but did not have inspiring depth or complexity. Sylvaner is a rather neutral tasting grape, so I guess I shouldn't have expected more than what I got, even from a great estate. The 2007 Domaine de la Rossignole SANCERRE "Cuvée Vieilles Vignes" ($19 at Spec's/Weslayan) was excellent: super crisp, lemony, and redolent of chalky minerals. None of the herbal, grassy side of Sauvignon Blanc on display. Finally, the 2007 Jacky Preys TOURAINE "Cuvée de Fie Gris Vieille Vigne" (ordered direct from North Berkeley Imports, which no longer ships to Texas thanks to the Texas wine police) was excellent and unique, bone dry and round, with a unique pumpernickel/rye bread component along with minerals and pear fruit.

A 2009 Lucien Crochet SANCERRE Pinot Rosé was a star, with unbelievable freshness, and a light mouthfeel yet with persistent ripe, crisp fruit.

Now for the sick reds we had. The 2008 Jean-Paul Brun MOULIN A VENT "Terres Dorées" was utterly classic Beaujolais, juxtaposing great freshness and lightness with very intense cherry fruit and crushed stone flavors. The 2004 Perticaia MONTEFALCO SAGRANTINO (previously reviewed) was holding beautifully, displaying soft, lush, mouthcoating fruit and crushed sandstone notes but with good balance and structure. A 2004 Nino Negri INFERNO "Mazér ($34 at Houston Wine Merchant) was a really fine example of a textbook Valtellina Nebbiolo, with a lightish color, and a lithe, austere mouthfeel serving as the delivery system for rose-scented intensely cherryish fruit.

And then there was the king: the 2004 Renatto Ratti BAROLO "Rocche" ($69 at Spec's on Weslayan) was mind-blowing, old fashioned Barolo, the likes of which I haven't drunk in literally decades. Ridiculously rich and complex nose, which featured ripe chokecherry liqueur fruit and a constantly-evolving, earthy, peat-like like component, and staggering length, richness, and balance. This will likely age for several more years, but I can't imagine it getting any better than it is now (keep in mind that my personal tastes veer decidedly toward younger rather than more aged wines). The contrast in this Nebbiolo with the Valtellina Neb from Negri of the same vintage was really instructive.

No scores, but the Sancerre Rosé, Moulin a Vent, Inferno, Sagrantino, and (especially) the Barolo, would all have been 90+ wines for sure.

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Sorry about the lack of activity . . . .

Date: Mon, Aug 2, 2010

. . . a hectic summer vacation travelling schedule (visiting family in New England) and heat/humidity in Houston have conspired to both prevent me from having the time, and to sap my energy, to blog.

Stay tuned for a possible guest blogger post on some recent, slightly-more-expensive-than-usual treats I have enjoyed, however . . . .

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2007 Hopler RIESLING (Burgenland, Austria)

Date: Sat, Jul 17, 2010

A really refreshing, bone-dry Riesling. Very good value. Not as complex and deep as a good Alsace, but terrific for a hot day.

Very light gold with gorgeous greenish glints. Fun, lively nose of perfumey, powdered stones, crisp cool pears, and crunchy Macintosh apples, along with a peachy note. Light-bodied, mouthwateringly refreshing, and dry, it sports crisp, apply fruit and a clean, stony streak. Clean, crisp, medium length finish. 88. Was $16 at Houston Wine Merchant on South Shepherd.

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Boots GRENACHE "Size 07" (nonvintage) (Barossa Valley, Australia)

Date: Sat, Jul 17, 2010

A decent, fleshy, but fairly simple Grenache.

Dark ruby. Ripe but kind of galumphy nose of tangy berries and pungent stone powder. Gutsy, straightforward, ripe fruit in the mouth, with full body and a moderately long, minerally finish. Not bad. The Aussie equivalent of a solid, entry-level Cotes du Rhone. 85. $13 and change at Spec's on Smith.

(Sorry: "Size 04" pictured).

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2006 John Robert Eppler ZINFANDEL (Paso Robles, Cal.)

Date: Sat, Jul 17, 2010

Eh. Decent, but a bit out of balance.

Very dark black ruby. Disjointed nose showing some ripe berries, but very low-toned, almost bitter minerals underneath. Very full-bodied, with low acid ripe Zin flavors marred by too much alcoholic pepperiness and not enough acidity. Slightly bitter finish. All the earmarks of being picked way too ripe, particularly for a Paso Robles Zin -- whose best features are their vibrancy, crisp berry fruit, and stony minerality. 79. Was $15 at Spec's on Weslayan.

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2008 Viu Manent "Secreto" CARMENERE (Colchagua Valley, Chile)

Date: Sun, Jul 4, 2010

Another well-made, good value wine from this consistent Chilean producer. Lots of flavor and body for the money.

Thickly saturated ruby mulberry color. Ripe, highly extracted nose of sticky blackberry oozings and graphite. Mouthfilling, full-bodied flavors of very ripe blackberry and cassis, with significant notes of baker's chocolate. Lots (a bit too much) of peppery heat from the alcohol intrudes on the finish. A massive bruiser of a wine. Subtle as a sledgehammer. Some may like this style better than I do. I find it just a tad overdone, particularly in the heat of summer. Still, 86, for oomph, mostly. Was under $10 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

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2009 Yves Cuilleron SYRAH ROSÉ "Sybel" (Rhone Valley, France)

Date: Sun, Jul 4, 2010

A very nice, fleshy rosé. Just barely off-dry.

Light, peach-tinted pinkish color. Beautiful nose of just-picked grapes, watermelon, and peach, with a hint of flowers and dry, stony minerals. Round, ripe, yet lithe flavors of crisp berries and fruit salad. Decent acidity and freshness for such a ripe style of rosé. Absolutely pure tasting, just off-dry finish. Very nice summer sipper. 88. Was $15 at Spec's on Smith. Imported by Neal Rosenthal Selections.

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2007 di Lenardo REFOSCO "Dal Vigneto da Lis Maris" (Friuli, Italy)

Date: Sun, Jun 27, 2010

A very interesting wine and a good value. Very chameleon-like, changing dramatically as it aired out.

Dark black ruby. Closed at first, but with air and poured through a Vinturi, it developed a gorgeous nose of cinnamon-scented, warm, moist, intensely minerally gravel, along with very nice blackberry and plum fruit. Very soft and mouthfilling, yet with a certain weightless character. Medium-bodied, nicely balanced, with lost of ripe berry fruit and spiced sandstone in the finish.

(The next day, it was still very good, but had developed an incredibly intense dried herbal streak, and with some noticeable green bell pepper flavors in the mouth.)

89. Was about $12 at Central Market. Imported by Virtuoso Selections, Austin.

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Rosé Time!!

Date: Thu, Jun 24, 2010

I love good rosé in the Houston summertime. It gives some of the flavor of a light red, but you can drink it well-chilled on days when it's just too damn hot to pop a red.

But make sure they're fresh. 99% of rosés need to be drunk young. By summertime, rosés from the prior year's vintage should be arriving in stores. So be looking for the 2009s, and avoid any more 2008s or older. I've finished off a few of my remaining 2008s recently, and they have been flat and starting to taste over-the-hill, so I haven't written them up. I've just picked up a few 2009s and plan to be reviewing them in the next month.

Cent anni!

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