Alsace-- Yes, every once in a while they make something red...

Pierre Frick Pinot Noir Alsace Rot-Murlé 2000 ($20) (Peach Tree Vines): Bright cherry-celery aromatics, touch of matchstickiness. Crisply acidic, on the lean side but tart and cheerful. Good, small, straightforward pinot. I ask what "Rot-Murlé" on the neck label means, if it's the vineyard or what. Dressner looks around, leans in and whispers conspiritorially: "Pierre Frick's dog." (4/03)

Bandol-- Mourvedre is the grape, and it reaches its zenith in Bandol

Château de Pibarnon Bandol 1994 ($18): Medium, slightly cloudy garnet; clear redfruit nose with light hints of leather & horsiness, not lush-smelling, but pleasantly intricate. In the mouth there is a lot of structure--this is a lean, racy wine with a light but meaty mouthfeel. Medium-weight, still seems a bit young and tight, but there is definitely pleasure to be had here from the interplay of the dark, slightly hard berryfruit, the smoky/earthy notes and the coiled spine of acidity. This is not a wine that reaches out to you, but one that takes a bit of figuring out. Nevertheless, I like it. (1/23/00)

Château Pradeaux Bandol 1991 ($23)(Robin in the Big City): Medium muddy garnet; light nose, hints of muted black raspberry & leather. Lean, elegant Bandol, a bit light in the midpalate, fades a bit at the end, but well-balanced and crisp. A quiet, whispery wine. (2/7/00)

Chateau Pradeaux Bandol Cuvée Speciale La Rose Folle 1998 ($13/.375 ml). (MoJoe): Smells sweetly smoky, dark raspberry, gravel and tar. A sip, and it's a muscular young thing, deceptively silky right up front, taut and intense in the middle and long and smoky-berried at the end. Here's another deep wine that's big enough to take on Joe's ribs and emerge triumphant, much more focused than the Ridge. Strong, impressive stuff in need of deep rest. One dark obsidian Prong smeared with ram's blood and motor oil and affixed to the shield of an extra playing a Roman Legionnaire in the first scene of movie 'Gladiator.' (9/23/02)

Château Ste. Anne Bandol 1998 ($15) (Joey): I'm a fan--Bandol is one of my favorite of the noble grapes. I've already gone through half a case of the '97, but this wine is one you might want to wait a little longer for. More spine than the '97, a bit tighter and deeper, with flashes of blackberry-raspberry fruit and an underlying streak of earthiness. Quite nice, will be nicer. (1/6/00)

Château Ste-Anne Bandol 2000 ($17) (Winterfest '03): Plum, blackberry, sod smells. Tangy spiced plum-pudding hints to the purply-red fruit, elegant and quiet, very soothing until some fine tannins grab hold on the finish. Small, a little too aggressively tart at first, but loosens up with a bit of dilution in the middle. Crisp but not snappy, a little laid back and shy. Very young, a little clenched. Nice, shy, a little puzzling. (1/22/03)


Franck Peillot Vin de Bugey Mondeuse 2004 ($20) (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): Medium garnet color, violet at the rim. Smells of warm plum compote and hot gravel, touch of lavender perfume. Pure, honest and rather soft, a medium-lightweight wine with great expressiveness and purity but without a lot of scope, like a really really good basic Bourgogne. More lavender on the finish, which is long and charming. Nice wine, very nice smallscale wine. (11/05)


Château De Gueyze Buzet 1993 ($15)(South of France): Medium ruby; muted cassis/earthy/light green bean; pleasant enough Bordeaux-type flavors, but it too is a little fat, a bit limpid. Just kind of sits in the mouth. Light, fine tannins. Where's the spine? (6/14/99)

Cahors-- Sometimes called 'black wine,' made from malbec

Château Cayrou Cahors 1982 ($25) (Recluse Convention): A little volatile, but there's muted raspberry and kind of a beef-blood-peppery-baked-yam orange streak that puts me in mind of a Northern Rhône with a little age on it. Youngish at the core but with a hint of age around the edges. Black pepper, something like old cedar chest in there too. Velvety, still somewhat primary but layering at the edges. Subtle, interesting and smooth going down. Some very fine tannins are present, but the wine is easy and balanced. Very nice, goes south with air and a few hours, turns shoyued, baked-bricky. (11/22/02)

Château Cayrou Cahors 1982($25) (No Hook): Sweetly volatile, the acetone hints adding a high note to the wine's aromatics. Does any wine carry volatility better than Cahors? (Well, besides Musar, of course...). Under that there's the telltale pepper/bouillon/baked yam hints over a bricky muted raspberry base and light overtones of cedar. Smooth, balanced and complex on a compact scale, a very pleasing wine that I don't have enough time to dwell on, because the Burgundies are flowing this way. (6/7/03)

Château Cayrou Cahors 1985 ($22) (Iron Winegeeks): Medium garnet, with light browning at the rim, a bit of age here... muted dark raspberry fruit with leathery hints, I'm thinking France definitely, maybe mourvedre-based. The wine has very decent fruit, but is surprisingly tannic. There is some wondering about a pruniness that I don't really see, and there is a whimsical notion tossed out that it might be an old Amador zin. As it opens up it seems a bit more Bordeauxlike, which is where the consensus among the Iron Geeks is going (an 83 Pomerol is suggested), but I've got mourvedre in my head and finally vote for late-80s Southern France, which is as specific as I'm willing to be. (2/19/00)

Château Cayrou Cahors 1988 ($23) (Sleeping Cats): Powdery blackberry and shoyu hints on the nose, smells light and quiet. A sip, and there's smooth dark fruit with that dark shoyu streak that turns towards licorice on the finish. Middleweight and focused, lean, balanced and decent. An unassuming wine that does its job without fanfare. Two sturdy fired red-clay Prongs that, if inverted, can be used as planters. (9/17/02)

Château de Cayrou Cahors 1990 ($18) (South of France): Muted cherry/earthy flavors; slightly round in the mouth, okay, I'm starting to see a theme developing here. Not much of an impression, I'm afraid. (6/14/99)

Le Cèdre Diffusion Cahors 'Heritage' 2003 ($13) (Boatloads VII): Dark garnet color. Hint of menthol over dark blackfruity aromatics, smells dark and deeply coiled. A sip, and it tastes aggressively tannic and rough-edged, I'd probably make this out to be a Madiran were I tasting blind. Still, the roughness is amiable, the gritty edges couched somewhat by dark blackberry/black raspberry fruit. Medium-plus acidity, a little loose at the edges but generally firm and focused, turning genuinely sandpapery as it heads into the finish. Shines with a grilled porterhouse, the gritty wine and the burnt/raw meat warring wonderfully in my mouth, finally declaring a draw. A wine with a real sense of self and no shyness about being rawboned. Nice stuff if you don't mind flat-out roughness. [Buy again? Yup.] (4/06)

Clos de Gamot Cahors 1989 (Spuds, We Hardly Knew Ye...): Smells smoky-flinty, blackberry and yam, a hint of iodine-type volatility ("Continuing the theme!" says SFJoe), just the beginnings of complexity. A sip, and it's on the semiplush side, surprisingly easygoing for a Cahors, blackberry-yam flavors, smooth and velvety and unusually grabless. I keep sipping at it, expecting some kind of an edge to come along and pull things into focus, but it just keeps being a calm, medium-low-acid blackfruity wine, still fairly primary and in need of time. (12/05)

Château Les Ifs Cahors Cuvée Prestige 1994 (South of France): Okay, finally some spine. Crisp earthy cherry/tobacco & bright lettuce-water notes; tart, toasty & slightly oaky, but good grip & firm tannins. (6/14/99)

Clos Siguier Cahors 2003 ($8) (Boatloads IX): I've liked past vintages of this consistently underpriced wine, but this one is another vintage victim. Smells generically blackberry-cherried, , quiet hints of earth underneath blandly ripe fruit. Tastes watery, vague and slightly metallic on the finish, with some agressive glassy tannins. Pass. [Buy again? I said pass, right?]

Georges Vigouroux Cahors 1998 ($11) (Wasted Hours): Medium-light garnet color, smells very lightly of cherry-cassis and oregano, lightly herby. Tastes crisp but thin, a bit dilute and rather sterile, with some fine sandy tannins eventually strolling by. Mr. S____, who is now on hiatus and hence unable to respond to any possible misquotings, compares it to a cheap merlot, but I find it more like a cheap malbec, unfortunately not a particularly interesting one. (7/15/00)


Domaine du Traginer Collioure Cuvée D'Octobre 1998 ($14)(Motor Oil): Medium-dark garnet color. Quiet but pleasantly ripe nose, smoky raspberry, fairly tight but with nice dark red fruit. Tastes tight, lightly smoked, young and ripe. Tangy, nice balance, lightly creamy, very young and a bit hard, but promising. (6/29/00)


Château La Baronne Corbières Montagne D'Alaric 1999($11) (Joey): Ooh, this smells rich and ripely cherry-cassisish, sweet to smell, lightly toasty-smoky underneath, rich and happily lush, with one, maybe one and a half gobs. Fine balance, rich ripe fruit, tangy and crisp. Really tasty and juicy, shame it didn't make the top ten. I'd drop this in at Number 9 instead of the Bois du Boursan, but that's just the hedonistic gob-lover in me speaking. (1/6/01)

Domaine des Deux Ânes Corbières 2001 ($10) (Boatloads IV): Two asses is one ass too many, if you ask me. Actually, the name makes sense as there's a good whiff of barnyard up front, along with a band-aid brand adhesive bandage strip streak as well, on top of some dark blackberry-plum fruit. I don't mind a bit of brett, and this is within my funky-tolerance range. A soothing leathery-mineral aspect wells up quietly in the midpalate, the blackfruit flavors acquiring a deep cherrypit tartness that carries through the earthy-dark finish. Medium-bodied, with firm acidity and a slightly rough tannic bite, a very pleasant, compactly built wine with some good character if you don't mind a bit of funkiness. [Buy again? Yes.] (6/05)

Domaine Faillenc Syrah Corbières Cuvee SYRH Conference de Presse 1997 ($15): Medium to medium-dark garnet color; soft dark grapey/blackberry aromas, light tough of menthol wafts up. A sip... medium-rich, medium-crisp, light in body. Soft, purplefruity, light notes of soft blackberry fruit, decent crispness, some surprising dry tannins come out of left field. Small, soft, moderately pleasant, very unremarkable. (10/99)

Château du Mansenoble Corbières 1995 (September 15, 2001): This is distinguished by its weighty, California-style bottle. Silky-smooth and ripe, plum-berry and smoky hints on the nose, plum-berry and smoky hints on the tongue. Nice enough, but rather generic. (9/15/01)

Domaine Mont Retiré Corbières 2002 ($11) (Boatloads VI): Smells shy, light bandaid-barnyard hints over a quiet earthy blackberry base. Loose, wan and watery; there's acidity at the core, but the wine is vague and uninteresting. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? No.] (12/05)

Domaine des Pensées Sauvages Corbières 1998 ($10)(Cape Mayhem): This is a wine that has been brought to three separate jeebuses only to have it be brutally corked each time, so it's a relief to finally have the dice fall our way. Denyse points out that the winery had problems with taint in the past year's corks, but this one seems fine, a dark berry-peppery smelling wine with plenty of structure. In fact it's on the hard side, but only just, and there's a good deal of spicy black and red berry fruit to smooth things out, with a velvety-dark licoricey streak underneath. Good, flexible stuff. (5/26/01)

Domaine des Pensées Sauvages Corbières 2001 ($11) (Boatloads IV): An old friend, although not as corked as I remember. Light whiff of Band-Aid/quonset hut brettiness over blackberry-black cherry-earthy fruit, streak of barnyard that emerges more with air. Medium-bodied, with a juicy blackberriness that I don't remember from the late-90s versions, comes at you rather forward at first, turns quieter and stonier in the middle, then turns earthy-dirty on the finish, dirt and blackberries, yum. Lots of character, fine balance, buoyant acidity, a real nice little wine. {Buy again? You bet.] (6/05)

Château Saumade Corbières 2001 ($8) (Boatloads II): Bit of reductive funkiness blows off after a few hours. A tight, leathery wine, hard and minerally, cassis-berried at the core and sternly tannic. There's a gravelly undercurrent, traces of dirt and maybe a hint of oregano. Medium bodied and compact, abrasive finish, relatively short, but not alarmingly so. Taut, quiet wine with rough edges, not giving a whole lot but certainly worth eight bucks. [Buy again? Tossup, which means probably not.] (11/04)

Costières de Nîmes

Château Grande Cassagne Rosé Costières de Nîmes 2003 ($9) (Boatloads IV): Poofy cotton candy and cherry candy on the nose, simple and frooty-smelling, very light minerality. VERY light. Tastes big and lightly jammy, a plump little rose that seems almost like a cocktail, like Chambord on the rocks. [Buy again? I'd say no, but I actually did buy it again, so yes, I guess.] (6/05)

Château Mas Neuf Costières de Nîmes 2001 ($10) (Boatloads V): Medium-dark purply-garnet color. Just a hint of paint in the nose. Sweetly ripe and rather plump--the acidity is there, but there's a good deal of pillowy fruit surrounding it. Rich aromatics--lavender and rosemary, a touch of saddle leather and plenty of ripe plum-berry fruit to hold it all together. Very nice, rather broad but very nice in its broadness. Broadosity. [Buy again? Yup.] (10/05)

Domaine de la Petite Cassagne Costières de Nimes 2001 ($9) (Boatloads II): Medium to medium-dark garnet. Cheerfully berry-plummy-smoky aromatics, light hints of lavender, black pepper and tree bark. A pleasant medium-bodied wine with some moderately ripe fruit and decent structure. Quite tannic, actually, mouth-dryingly so. But pleasantly composed and balanced, if a bit overgrabby. Quite pleasant, a lot of richness and precision for the wine dollar. [Buy again? Yes.] (11/04)


Gilbert Alquier Faugeres 'Maison Jaune' 1996 ($13) (August Is the Cruelest Month): The nose of the wine is dominated by a Quonset hut metallic streak that infuses the dark berry fruit and rudely elbows it out of the way. What has happened to an old favorite? Could this be a damaged bottle? Disjointed and skittering all over the place, a disappointment. (8/7/01)

Gilbert Alquier Faugeres 'Reserve Les Bastides D'Alquier' 1996 ($17): Sweet, medium-rich nose of plum, earth & smoky meat, with a light and not off-putting whiff of barnyard. Medium-bodied, but very full flavored, nice and smooth, with smoky, beefy, plum/black cherry notes, crisp acidity and light tannins. Flavors intertwine and carry through to a nice, complex finish--well integrated & supple; a really tasty, interesting wine. Ran right out and bought four more. Really damn good, especially at this price. (4/99)

Mas des Capitelles Faugères 1999 ($10). (Boatloads I): This smells strongly of curry powder. I don't think I've ever smelled curry in a wine before, and I don't like it very much. There's also a weird raspberry-cat-litter streak; this smells like one of Lisa's chemistry class experiments gone wrong. Tastes a bit better than it smells: loose, glyceriney and a bit fat, but I can't get past the nose. Plus, the finish is short and sour. Actually, this is a pretty unpleasant freaky little wine, perhaps the third bottle in five years that I've actually poured down the drain. Big pass. [Buy again? Not even under threat of torture.] (8/04)


Château d'Espigne Fitou 1989 ($10) (August Is the Cruelest Month): Light raspberry-leathery nose, hints of sweaty saddle and eucalyptus. Tasted muted and berryfruity, another middle-of-the-road, quaffable wine that says little but goes down easily and smoothly. Small and undemanding, with enough traces of layering to get by. (8/7/01)


Domaine des Terrisses Gaillac 1995: (80% Braucol (Braucol?), 20% Syrah) (South of France): Ahhh, the classic Braucol nose... bright cherry, with undertones of smokyness. Tart cherry flavors rush the palate, then melt away a bit; firm fine tannins. Kind of sharp in the mouth--does it need time? (6/14/99)


Alain Paulat Coteaux du Giennois 'Les Belles Fornasses' 1996 ($11) (Boatloads III): I don't know this producer, I've never heard of the appellation, there's a fairy on the label and the wine is eight years old. What could go wrong? Well, it could be cooked, I suppose, which it in fact is: light sherry and metallic notes over bricky tea-laced redfruit. Not undrinkable if you're thirsty and that's all there is in the house, it's medium-light bodied and seems to have been balanced and light, but baked-brick-and-tea flatness to the mouthfeel and tired sourness on the finish make it less than pleasant. [Buy again? No.] (2/05)


Pierre Overnoy Arbois Pupillin Poulsard 1993 ($17)(Asylum): Medium-pale shade of ruby, ambering a bit at the rim, and smells flinty, hints of baked yam, earth and brick dust. It's quite surprisingly light in body, crisp, earthy, developed. The earthy/brick quality becomes more pronounced than the light baked-cherry fruit as the wine moves from the mouth to the gullet, and some fine tannins make their presence known in a fairly unobtrusive fashion. One of the better varietal poulsards I've had this year. (9/8/00)

Pierre Overnoy Vin Jaune Jura 1990 ($35)(Return of the Jeebi): Pale yellow-tan. Smells nutty and oxidized, sherry-like, which is a dealbreaker for me, as sherry and I don't see eye to eye (my secret shame). Brittle and highly acidic, tart and shrill, with sweat-socky aromas hovering malignantly over yellow-brown flavors that linger like a bad houseguest. I have a unusually personally averse reaction to these kinds of oxidized wines, so I must recuse myself on this one, otherwise I might be tempted to call it "icky," something that would be both unfair and beneath what remains of my dignity. I suspect I'm not the target audience for this wine anyway, as the more sophisticated toffs seem to dig it. Me, I'd sooner drink paint thinner, which this stuff resembles in terms of coiled concentration and laserlike focus. Needs thirty years. In a lead-lined vault. At the bottom of a well. In Mongolia. (10/7/00)


Domaine d'Aigueliere Coteaux du Languedoc Montpeyroux 1995 ($17)(Nonoffensive Notes): Medium-dark garnet. Clear hit of Band-Aid brand bandage strips on the nose hovers over smoky-pepper-berry-cassis fruit. Tangy, meaty & smoky-oaky, with some hints of green herb. Rich, rough and rustic (the three Rs), smoky, bandaidy and a little odd. I want to like it more than I do, as there's some rich rough fruit here, but the charred oak is a bit distracting. (3/20/00)

Mas des Chimères Côteaux du Languedoc 2003 ($17) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Medium purply garnet color, although still translucent. Smells darkly raspberried and tree-barky, smoky plum-licorice hints, newly turned sod. Tastes fleshy and warmly flavored, loosely wrapped with medium-low acidity. Takes a wide turn towards plumminess in the middle, finishes plum-earthy and grittily tannic. A wide-beamed wine, rather pleasant in a strange way, richly flavored and plush, very relaxed. (11/06)

Domaine Clavel Coteaux du Languedoc 'La Copa Santa' 1997 ($20) (Subway Jeebus): Medium garnet, revealing a smoky-meaty nose, bright and frisky in my nostrils. Pleasant fleeting layers of smoke and barbequed-meat hints flicker about in the glass over a base of dark raspberry-cherry fruit. Lean and a bit hard in the piehole, tangy-smoky tasting, with a slight astringency on the finish showing up along with some stern tannins. This is a racy young wine with a tight, fast body, lightly clothed with shy smoky-red fruit, but it's a bit difficult right now. (10/24/00)

Domaine Clavel Coteaux du Languedoc 'Le Mas' 2000 ($7) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): This has recently cropped up all over the place for around seven bucks, and it's a steal at one and one-fifth the price. Quiet aromatics, plaster, mostly, with some quiet redfruit underneath. But a sip, and it's a loose, fleshy little mouthful, crushed brick and muted raspberry fruit, shy-tasting and warm, with a surprisingly layered anise-leathery finish. Small and yielding, a wine to drink tonight, soothing gamay of the Languedoc. Sure, it's a bit dilute and has no delusions of grandeur, but it's honest and real and oh so supple. (5/03)

Domaine Clavel Coteaux du Languedoc 'Le Mas' 2001 ($6) (Boatloads I): Gentle, soft nose, plaster, rosemary and muted redfruit. Tastes loose and rather fleshy, much like the '00 version, crushed brick and shy raspberry fruit. Fairly low acidity and rather dilute in the middle, but some interesting complexity and a lip-smacking leathery-licorice finish. No aspirations to be anything other than honest wine right now, I find the earthy-herby-juiciness very appealing. Good stuff. [Buy again? Many bottles.] (8/04)

Domaine Clavel Coteaux du Languedoc Les Garrigues 1995 ($12)(A Discreet Jeebus): Smells great, red berry fruit, leather, freshly-turned earth. Tastes crisp and rich at first, veers disturbingly towards bitterness in the midpalate and finishes with a mess of tannins. Odd combination--I keep smelling it and thinking it's going to be tasty, but when I sip there it goes again, a burst of rich earthy red fruit that drives off the cliff halfway down the mountain and leaves me grimacing quizzically, something I don't usually like to do on such short notice. (11/20/00)

Château de Lascaux Coteaux du Languedoc 1995 ($14)(South of France): Medium garnet; rich, cherry/menthol/chocolate nose; tight, with nice cherry/berry flavors; fairly rich & deeply flavored--bit of Robitussin floats up from the glass--nice firm tannins... this has kind of a nice zin-like thing going that I like a lot; not complex, but rich and nicely flavorful. (6/14/99)

Château de Lascaux Coteaux du Languedoc 1996 ($14)(South of France): Medium garnet. Bright dark cherry/berry nose, hints of dark chocolate & menthol, fairly forward but nicely balanced. A richly-flavored wine that isn't terribly complex but has a silky profile--there's an almost zinlike hint of Robitussin to the fruit, but it's held in and coiled up tightly. A pleasant, balanced wine with some nice character, and another QPR fave at around $11. (2/29/00)

Château du Lascaux Coteaux du Languedoc 2002 ($12) (Boatloads III): I'm a sucker for the prehistoric horse, I admit it. I have a rug in my conservatory that depicts the Lascaux paintings, so I'm a dream customer for this wine's marketers. Okay, this, as usual, smells a bit like zinfandel--ripe black cherry and smoke, touch of pepper, hint of volatility. Tastes zinny as well--ripe berry fruit, toasty wood, black peppercorns, tarry finish. The acidity is medium low, the fruit is pillowy, there's a simple plushness to the wine's character that is rather appealing, but it's also got a sense of compactness about the core, so it's hard not to like if you like puppyish, friendly-ripe wines. And I do. [Buy again? Yes.] (2/05)

Jean Claude Mas Coteaux du Languedoc 'Les Faisses' 2001 ($10) (Boatloads I): Dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Smells of leathery plum, blackberry and anise, with a light high lavender note. Rich and imposing, this tastes dense, almost reduced, yet has a firm spine and a certain gracefulness. Lots of smoky/tarry/licorice darkness emerges as the wine heads into the finish, but a dark blackberry hum runs alongside and fades only slightly earlier, leaving just a moment of astringency at the end. The suspicious concentration gives one the sense that there's some monkey business going on here, but frankly it's a lot of wine for ten bucks and it has the oomph to stand up to my steak au poivre. Robust, interesting wine that may have a bit too much makeup on but is fine if you don't look too closely. [Buy again? Yes.] (8/04)

Domaine Peyre Rose Coteaux du Languedoc Clos des Cistes 1994 ($27)(Asylum): Sweet-smelling stuff, dark and spicy, hints of raspberry-cassis, layered and beguiling to my eager proboscis. Kane is turning backflips over this one, and, although I am chagrined to agree, I must, at least to the degree that it's a very rich, friendly wine, lush and balanced, berry-dark and suffused with spicy earth, pepper and a touch espresso darkness. A brash upfront fruit howdedoo carries through the midpalate and fades a bit prematurely into glossy tannins on the finish, but the overall impression is of a rich wine with layers of berry-earthy flavor, a nice package. (9/8/00)

Domaine Peyre Rose Coteaux du Languedoc Clos Syrah Léone 1995 ($30)(Of Bass and Men): Nice rich nose, meaty-gamey, lots of dark raspberry-blackberry fruit sprinkled with pepper and a little dash of funk. Bit tight in the piehole, although there's a meaty, chewy feel to the tightness, almost as if one were gnawing on jerky. Crisp, balanced, "thrumming with tannins," a wine that "needs time" but seems like it will be "interesting down the road." (2/01)

Domaine Peyre Rose Coteaux du Languedoc Clos Syrah Léone 1995 (Spuds, We Hardly Knew Ye...): Ooh, Kane wine: ripe, fleshy and loose. Impressively volatile--"Reminds me of my days in the lab," says SFJoe. Generously wooded, expansive blackberry-raspberry fruit, meaty texture, loose and gobby-oaky. Decent enough, although one has the sense that the wheels are about to come off the cart. Drink up, I'd say, there are too many puffy frills for the thin stitchwork to keep this one together much longer. (12/05)

Prieuré de St. Jean de Bebian Coteaux du Languedoc 1989 ($23)(South of France): Mmm, smoky/bacony nose, with muted raspberry notes; rich in the mouth, meaty & smooth, raspberry/smoky flavors with light gritty tannins, but (and I feel like a bit of a broken record) just a bit round, a touch fat for me. Still, a very tasty, flavorful wine, and the one I went back to when the night was winding down. (6/14/99)

Prieuré de St. Jean de Bebian Coteaux du Languedoc 1995 ($24)(Prodigal Hawaiians): Blackberry-raspberry, leather & a nice hit of oak are what I smell, but something seems a bit off--they come to me more sequentially than in unison. It's a big wine, with lots of flavor, but the impression of disjointedness only increases when I taste it--the fruit and oak and an odd bitter streak just kind of bang around against each other and don't come together, and the bitterness wins the footrace to the finish. Odd, and not up to the lovely velvety-soft '89 that Oleg brought to one of our earlier offlines. (1/15/00)

Domaine du Poujol Coteaux du Languedoc 1996: Medium garnet. Interesting nose, light layers of dark redfruit, smoked meat & eucalyptus. Not a Duranteesque nose, just quiet and layered and beguiling. Tastes kinda the same--small and fleshy and berry/smoky/gamy. Low acidity, fairly soft, fine tannins. A small, fleshy wine that won't age a bit but is very pleasant for near-term drinking. Oh, and it's only about $10, so it's another good buy. (2/29/00)

Clos des Trufferes Coteaux du Languedoc 'Hommage a Max' 1997 (Robin in the Big City): Apparently Max is the proprietor's pet oak tree, as this has plenty of lumber packed into it. However, there's a lot of friendly plum-peppery fruit as well. Interestingly, I get more oak on the palate of this wine than I do on the nose, although there's some obvious vanillin aromas. But it tastes woodier than it smells, which is unusual for me. Seems a shame, with all that good fruit that seems to be under here, to douse it so thoroughly with wood. (2/7/00)

Madiran-- Made mostly from tannat, the fierce dark local grape

Domaine Berthomieu Madiran Cuvée Charles de Batz 1997 ($18) (Farewell My Lovely): A brute of a wine, a dark purply-garnet fluid smelling of blackberry and bandaids, toasty-dark, with hints of sod and dark tobacco. I take a sip and pucker right up, as it's big and black and tart, with plenty of black fruit, plenty of toasted wood and the requisite sandpapery tannins. It's appealing in a big, rough way, but it's too young and melodramatic to drink now with anything other than roast wildebeest, sadly not on tonight's list of specials. (6/01)

Château Bouscassé Madiran 1993 ($13) (New Wine Achievers): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells of light blackberry, hints of barnyard and bandaids, dark licorice and green stalky hints commingling oddly. Tastes darkly smoky, with red-black fruit holding court over a dark bitter-espresso tang, turning licoricey on the finish and drying out my mouth with sandpapery tannins. Not entirely pleasant, a bit of a rough ride. (7/00)

Château Bouscassé Madiran 1995 ($14) (South of France): Deep purple; rich blackberry/band-aid nose; in the mouth rich, fierce & sharply tannic; mostly black, but a hint of redfruitiness. Tannins aren't over-overdone, merely overdone, but I confess to a weakness for these kinds of wines; after all, in these high-tech times tooth enamel can always be replaced.... (6/14/99)

Domaine Capmartin Madiran 'Vieilles Vignes' 1995 (60% tannat, 30% cab s., 10% cab f.)($12): Dark red with a hint of purple, not so inky as the Montus. First impression of the nose is a big whiff of cedar--moths beware!--but peppery, earthy blackfruit aromas arise behind the initial woody whiff, along with a slightly disembodied rubbing-alcohol scent. In the mouth it's a bit harsh; light tarry/licorice notes in the mix, but the overall effect is a bit rough, with a bitter tang that carries through to the finish, where, as with the Montus, dry-mouth tannins take over. A lot of stuff going on for a $12 wine, but disjointed and not entirely pleasurable.

Château Lafite-Teston Madiran 1998 ($10) (McNetta 2002): is here, but it's got a muted blackberry nose. Tastes a little thin, blackberry and red grape notes in the middle, structure and tar on the finish. Fairly small for a Madiran, not boisterous. On the contrary, rather subdued and a little wan, the fruit is slightly harsh and unyielding, a little too tart at first, a little too watery in the middle. Not friendly, although the wine has a sense of scale and decorum. (6/02)

Château Montus Madiran Cuvée Prestige 1993 ($40) (South of France): Dark, dark garnet, actually not as black/purple as the Bouscassé; nose of rich blackberry/earth/burnt-rubber/fir tree smells, with only a trace of tannat bandaidyness; very rich & concentrated, startlingly tannic, mouth-drying. Not exactly pleasurable, but strangely captivating. A very unusual wine, more complex that the monolithic inky-black beast I'd been expecting. I hadn't found this earthy/green streak in any of the few Montus wines I'd had before. Go figure. (6/14/99)

Château Montus Madiran 1995 ($15): Purply-black in the glass, almost opaque, inky. Blackberry & band-aids on the nose, very ripe, ever-so-slightly medicinal. Fierce, tangy juice on the tongue, awfully tannic--dry, fuzzy mouth in seconds, but also very forward & blackfruity, blackberry/tar/licorice on the first taste, but then a bit of wateriness and the tannins come swarming in with a vengeance. The finish is mostly just drymouth. Very interesting, kind of an odd duck, but good up-front fruit and nice, smooth, meaty mouthfeel and tooth-staining density make it pleasurable. All that fruit manages to (almost) balance all those tannins. I like it. (7/98)

Château Montus Madiran 1995($15): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells much riper and redder than the Bouscassé, raspberry and dark blackberry fruit is more lush and friendly. There's some earthy funk, hints of smoke and menthol, this wine is much friendlier than it was this time a year ago, and we're all a bit surprised. It's quite pleasant, actually, and seems to have blossomed as if to spite me since I swore I wouldn't open one for another ten years. The fruit is silky and plush, masking the fierce tannins nicely. A pleasant surprise. (2/00)

Château Montus Madiran 2000 ($26) (Buster Has a Little Lamb): Dark garnet color, purpling at the rim. Light hint of horsiness over tarry-brambly blackfruit. Dark and black at the core but surprisingly accessible and juicy, without too much overt abrasiveness. Some rough grainy tannins appear in the finish but are lost amidst the earthy-berry fruit. (8/04)

Domaine Pichard Madiran 1982($27) (Horrifying the Newbies): Light cherry-bricky nose with a strong tarry undercurrent. A taste, and it's still fairly hard, a little ungiving, with muted blackberry and tar flavors. Interesting and layered at first, it falls apart in the glass rather quickly, turning towards bitterness. (3/3/01)


Domaine du Cros Marcillac Lo Sang del Pais 2004 (Young Turk Meets Old Guard): Lo sang for Del who now? Smells gently piney and pineconey, a scrub evergreen sprouting from a cranberry field. Tastes plush and loose, quite insubstantial and rustic, something you'd want to drink outdoors. A strange, funky little runt of a wine, as appealing as the puppy that nobody wants. It's got so much character that the vagueness and oddballosity are easy to overlook. (12/05)

Jean-Luc Matha Marcillac Cuvéee Laïris 2001 ($10) (15 Fox Place): Funky-smelling: horse barn, pine needles and red berries. Tastes tart and lean, sour-cherry and earth, with hard acidity and some gritty tannins. What's the word... ah yes, "rustic." I'm normally a big fan of mansois, but this one is a bit underfruited for me; when I drink mansois I want to really taste the mansois. On the other hand the label is a wonder, describing the proprietor's journey from priest to clown to winemaker, discussing the two cuvées that are lovingly made (neither one of which seems to be this one), and finally stating that the wine is supposed to smell like paprika. Very odd, but the leanness and acidity make it a good match with the tomato-sauce shrimp and crouton dish. (3/22/04)


Henry Pellé Menetou-Salon Morogues les Cris 2000 (All About the Chicken): Quiet but vivid aromatics, strawberry-cherry with a dark underlying earthiness. A sip, and it's very cherried, taut and expressive and minerally, strangely forward right up front, recedes into stoniness by the time the midpalate rolls around, turning a bit reticent. Light-bodied but nervy and really well honed, a pure, almost too intense young wine, preternaturally focused. What will it become? Striking. (7/05)


Abbaye de Tholomies Minervois 1999 ($19) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill 2): Medium dark purply-garnet color. Smells like barbeque-flavored bubble gum, smoked meat and candied black raspberry. Medium acidity, composed and compact but with a pleasant fleshiness, a chewy-rich wine with a flicker of tarriness in the middle that hangs on through the aggressively tannic finish. There's lots of stuffing here, but it's a bit off its game right now, maybe it just needs to settle. (3/06)

Clos Centeilles Minervois 1992(Cape Mayhem): An earthy, settled wine, smelling happily leathered and berryish, with muted red fruit aromas couched in light peppery spice and sod. Impeccably balanced, the first impression is of velvety quiet fruit flowing into my gob, pleasantly layered and complex, which flows into a welling up of dark leathery redness and eases into a softly spicy finish. Neither large nor dense, rather a marvel of balance and delicacy, a perfect little minuet. (5/27/01)

Clos Centeilles Minervois 1992 (15 Fox Place): Smells earthy-leathery, with muted red berry fruit laced with light pepper and crushed brick. Loose, layered and tangy, the fruit feathers out sweetly in the middle, then finishes with a dark sod spiciness. A supple and balanced little wine that's in a great place now, this matches wonderfully with the tiny pizzas that are circulating. Sadly, this is Andrew's last bottle. We observe a moment of silence for the passing of a legend. (3/22/04)

Clos Centeilles Minervois 1998(Of Bass and Men): A smooth, compact wine with pleasant coiled strength and fine balance, this is the only universally admired wine tonight, and quickly wins the Thunderbird Prize. Tangy dark fruit that could balance on a knife's edge, steely strong spine. A wine with firm, proud buttocks and a long aristocratic neck, well bred all the way. Medium-bodied and compact, with a lean silky-steely freshness that washes crisply down my gullet. It's in a good place now for such a young wine. (2/01)

Château d'Oupia Minervois 1999 ($8)(A Discreet Jeebus): This is the basic bottling, not the Stained Label/Les Barons Cuvée, and it's more open than I expect, silky and a bit short of hard, nice tarry undertones, with good cohesion until the finish, when sandy-fine tannins sweep in. Okay, so it needs some time after all. (1/6/01)

Château d'Oupia Minervois 'Hommage à Poupette' 2004 ($13.40) (Boatloads VI): Apparently from 100 year old carignan vines, this is a tribute to the proprietor's late French poodle, whose beatific visage graces the label. Smells of licorice-laced blackberry and plumpit, with a dark rocky undertone. With air I get a bit more redfruit in the middle, but the wine is dark and earthy and calm tasting. Medium acidity, gently fleshy-textured, pure and loose, takes a turn towards licorice on the finish, alongside some slightly rough tannins. Very nice. No, VERY nice, and yet another glove slap in the face of those who insist you have to spend fifteen bucks to get great wine. DOG ON THE LABEL! [Buy again? Oh yeah.] (12/05)

Château d'Oupia Minervois Les Barons 'Stained Label Cuvéee' 1998 ($13) (A Discreet Jeebus): I am told only a few cases of the top-of-the-line Oupia SLC make it to these shores, so I pay close attention. I sniff at it: the nose is light, quiet suggestions of dark earthy raspberry but not much else. Aromatically a little inert. I taste it, and it's strong-spined and lean and a bit hard in my mouth. There's dense, racy fruit here in a lean-bodied base, but it's tart and stern at this point, and it finishes with a flurry of tannins. Closed and aggressive, too young and tight to drink now. I fear I won't live long enough for this one to come around. (11/20/00)

Domaine du Roc Minervois Cuvée Expression 2001 ($14) (Boatloads VIII): Medium-dark purply garnet color. Boisterous plum/black raspberry aromatics, licorice and tar underneath. Tastes very concentrated, almost reduced. Glossy textured, healthily wooded and rather musclebound, Minervois shiraz. [Buy again? No.] (9/06)


Château L'Euzière Pic St. Loup 1996 ($9): Rich medium garnet color, with light but pleasantly complex aromas of candied cherry and earthyness, just a soupcon of barnyard creeping in--not giving too much, but what it's giving is good. A sip, and then another... a medium-light bodied wine, but with some rich sharp-edged flavor, mostly tart dark cherry. Good structure, but it seems a bit tight, and there is a watery quality through the midpalate. However, the fruit is lively and has some character, and the price is certainly hard to beat. I don't know how Pic St. Loup wines age, but I suspect some time will help smooth out the tightness and angularity of this one. I'll buy more. (10/9/99)

Mas Foulaquier Côteaux du Languedoc Pic St. Loup le Rollier 2001. Very peculiar aromatics, dark blackberry-raspberry fruit laced with licorice and a juicy-fruit green spearmint streak that brings hybrids to mind. Dark and disjointed in the middle, finishes with an astringent burnt rubber twang. Rather unpleasant, really. Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd seems to think it's the cat's pajamas; we love her anyway, despite this peculiar lapse of judgment. (11/06)

Château La Roque Pic St. Loup 'Cupa Numismae' 2000 ($19) (Buster Has a Little Lamb): Ripe dark cran-raspberry fruit, quiet earthy-leatheriness, lots of toast and smoke. Your basic generic ripe oaky red, but one that retains good balance and has a sense of composure, doesn't try to overpower. Smooth and compact, very decent. (8/04)

Château La Roque Pic St. Loup Cuvée les Vieilles Vignes de Mourvedre 1998 ($11) (Quiz Show I): Medium garnet. Plenty of nice funky, poopy-leathery hints here, with muted redfruit aromas underneath. A bit hard in the mouth, with decent cran-smoky flavors and some stern tannins swooping in on the finish. Not complex, but seems to have a lot of stuffing and certainly good QPR. I'd give it a little time to loosen up a bit, though. (4/7/00)


Commanderie de Peyrassol Côtes de Provence 2003 ($9) (Boatloads IV): Medium dead red. Light aromatics, tree bark and plaster over cherry-cassis, smells vague and rather wan. Tastes a bit more flavorful, still seems dilute, but straightforwardly so. The wine is definitely wan and watery, but there's an honesty that's charming and helps make it palatable. Sort of. Okay, not, it's just kind of watery. Watery-cassis wine, with some fine sandy tannins. Pass. [Buy again? Nope.] (6/05)

Lisa grabbed a couple of bottles of Château La Coste Coteau D'Aix en Provence 1986 for about $13 each from some kind of 'just up from the basement' sale at Morrell's: Fairly light ruby-brown; light aromas of faded tomato & raisin, some smokiness, and a green hint of something like celery. Crisp and somewhat tart, with very light traces of red fruit that melt away quickly, going, going.... Very tiny trace of soft grainy tannins. After half an hour in the glass the fruit has thrown down its arms and left the field, leaving only acidity behind. An interesting experiment, but we observe a moment of silence for the dead soldier.

Another go at the Château La Coste Coteaux D'Aix en Provence 1986 ($13)(South of France): Medium-light ruby; nice, complex, interesting nose--smoky, a touch bacony, perhaps, muted cherry notes along with a slight hint of eucalyptus and just a soupcon of barnyard to round things out. Smooth, light & complex in the mouth, delicate and flavorful, with some fairly firm but light tannins easing in. Lisa and I brought this one, and frankly, it surprised us: the twin of this bottle started out much like this, then fell apart rapidly. We kept waiting for the fruit to fade, but we waited in vain... nice. (6/14/99)

Mas de Gourgonnier Réserve du Mas Les Baux de Provence 1994 ($20) Medium purply-red color, not opaque, but not too light either, with a full but not too forward nose of plums, leather, a touch of cassis, and a light note of earthiness. It seemed pleasant but a little reserved. Medium-bodied, with a bit of wateriness on the midpalate, it had a nice, tangy finish. NOT an American wine, at least not in the usual Californian fruit-forward style. I thought it might be a Burgundy for a moment or two when I smelled the plumminess, but it was fuller-bodied than I would expect a Pinot Noir to be. The finish was so, well, I don't want to use the word "bitter" because that suggests unpleasantness, but it cut across the fruit in the most interesting way, resonating in my mouth for a good half-minute. Apparently this wine is a blend of cabernet, syrah and grenache.

Had the Mas de Gourgonnier Reserve du Mas Les Baux de Provence 1995 ($15) at work, and I was a bit surprised by the lightness of it, with bright strawberryish flavors, and medium body, with little of the earthiness of the 1994 and a general diminishment of scale. I feel like tasting the 1994 again, to see if my senses were deceived, but this seems very little like I remember that wine being. The long, buzzy finish was there, and the bitterish tang, but the character of the fruit seemed very different. Still a nice wine, just a little disconnect here.

Domaine Houchart Côtes de Provence 2003 ($9) (Boatloads IX): Light peppery-redfruit aromatics, sage-laced redfruit with a shy saddle-leathery streak down deep. Tastes loose and light, softly fleshy and plump, with enough acidity to get by, but just barely. The shy herbaceousness emerges a bit more assertively on the finish, along with some glossy tannins. Amiable wine, light and just complex enough to avoid blandness. [Buy again? Almost.] (11/06)

Château Routas Couteau Varois Provence 1995 ($15). Sweet, almost mellony nose, surprising tannic strength when it hits the tongue. Plummy aromas, medium-bodied. Is there grenache in here? Why do I think that? I have no idea. Not exciting, but very smooth and pleasant.

Domaine de Trevallon Les Baux de Provence 1990 (Beaucoin Revisited): Rich redfruit and a hint of sweaty-saddle gaminess that adds depth and complexity. Supple and ripe, a big wine with a pleasant sense of restraint, almost Californian but with Old World funk. I have a nostalgic fondness for this: it's one of the first wines that made me go WHEE, so it's nice to see it's aging well, acquiring a lovely layered freshness. Very, very nice, lovely match with the small roast chickens. (3/7/04)


Domaine Gauby Cotes du Roussillon 1994 (South of France): Blueberry & smoky bacon notes on the nose. Light, smooth & round mouthfeel; pleasant & grittily tannic, a little fat. (6/14/99)

St. Chinian

Canet-Valette Saint-Chinian 1996 ($10): Medium, slightly translucent red; aromatically light but friendly--light plum & earthy sous-bois [Yes! Underbrush!] notes. A soft, small wine with tart cherry-plum fruit tinged with leafiness. Good grip; crisp and light-bodied; some fine-grained tannins and a medium-length finish. Small, pleasant, inoffensive, not bad for $10, but doesn't do much for me, really; add a few points if you're a cud wino. (2/29/00)

Touraine & Anjou

Domaine de Bellivière Coteaux du Loir Hommage à Louis Derré 2000 ($24) (Peach Tree Vines): This smells like honesty; straightforward and composed, tart red cherry fruit, papier-mâché, and a quiet leathery-baked yam earthiness, all wrapped up in a bright, light form. Focused down to a pinhole, a wiry wine without an ounce of fat, it's nevertheless light in the piehole. Finishes earthily cherrydusty. Just real/good wine. (4/03)

Domaine de Bellevière Coteaux du Loir Le Rouge-Gorge 2001 ($14) (No Hook): Medium to medium-light red color. Light but sneakily beguiling aromatics, hints of walnut and pizza herbs over tart cherryness. Taut, bright and nervy, a rather intense little wine that's also on the lean side. Dressner declares it "kind of bizarre, but nice." I guess red Sancerre, or maybe Pellé Menetou-Salon? (6/7/03)

Clos Roche Blanche Cabernet Touraine 2003 ($12) (Boatloads II): Medium purpley-garnet. Smells classically ripely francisch--tobacco and cassis and maybe a touch of eucalyptus and a light plaster-of-Paris minerality. Warm, low-acid and flavorful, a softer, gentler cabernet for the Kane crowd. Velvety tobacco-laced fruit turns blackberried in the middle, then softens again and gets all juicy on the finish, where some fuzzy-tongue tannins emerge. Medium-light bodied, leaner and more spiney than the gamay, but definitely an early drinker, not a thirty-year wine. Drink this while waiting for your '96s and '98s to come around. [Buy again? Yes.] (11/04)

Clos Roche Blanche Côt Touraine 1999 ($11) (Threesomes): An angular slab of obsidian, dark and lean and glassy-sharp, quiet on the nose, shivlike acidity slicing up into my soft parts with a rush of hard red-black fruit, promising delights then leaving me crumpled in the gutter and roaring off cackling in a cloud of rough tannins. This wine is Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, tightlipped with a cruel streak, needs twenty years to mellow, another ten to be approachable, five more to be safe to meet the parents. An imposing wine, not for the Kane of heart. Faint, I mean. Not for the faint of heart. (2/02)

Clos Roche Blanche Gamay Touraine 2000 ($7) (Threesomes): Earthier, leaner, less flamboyant, more matte black-purple, less red and glossy. Not very aromatic in its youth, the dark strawberry-plum fruit is quiet and substantial but not flashy -- it wears earthtone lipstick and sensible shoes. I love just hanging out with this wine doing chores around the house or paying the bills; there are few more reassuring and undemanding companions. It has never yet lied to me; there isn't an ounce of falsehood in its body and although it won't win any bathing beauty contests it's a salt-of-the-earth charmer, the freckled girl in overalls who lives across the street and brings you zucchini bread every year. (2/02)

Clos Roche Blanche Gamay Touraine 2001 ($10) (Summer Mishmash): Medium red, lavendering lightly at the rim. Quiet cherry-strawberry fruit, lightly perfumed and minerally underneath, touch of herbiness above. Looser at the core than the '00, trace of bitterness on the finish, but a pretty, unadorned wine whose lightness is soothing and deceptively straightforward. Nice stuff, if not exactly a true humdinger. I can see why they skipped bringing this vintage in (except for Andrew), but I like it nonetheless.

Clos Roche Blanche Gamay Touraine 2003 ($11) (Misplaced Weekend I): Rushed to market to take advantage of the feeding frenzy surrounding the Cowanized '02, the latest release of the perennial cult wine is uncharacteristically ripe, the blowsiest CRB gamay I can remember. (The secret word is atypical.) Much rounder than usual, perhaps a bit short in the focus department but with plenty of juicily earthy strawberry-raspberry fruit. Probably not an ager, this is one to enjoy early while waiting for the '00s and '02s to come around (or the '01s, if you're Andrew Scott). Lightly gobby and soothing, another Kane gamay. Brad responds to it predictably, burbling enthusiastically that he's going to buy enough to put Joe's kids through college, despite the price having skyrocketed to $11. Dressner is troubled: if Kane likes it, that means he's lost his core constituency. (5/2/04)

Clos Roche Blanche Gamay Touraine 2003 ($11) (Steamed Steaks): Juicy, strawberry-jammy and utterly delicious. It's not a classic keeper-for-the-cellar style of CRB gamay like the '02, instead a straightforwardly juicy-soft wine with a pleasant tanginess in lieu of structure, and the lightness and forward-fruitiness to get away with it. Jill opines that it's both "like California wine" and "like fruit punch!" and, excepting the innate sense of balance and lack of clumsy overwooding, she's right. At the end of the evening this is the consensus wine of the night. (10/2/04)

Claude Courtois Racines Les Cailloux du Paradis 1998 ($16) (Winterfest 2003): Loosely-knit aromatics, rocky smelling. Dark berry-cherry fruit, touch of cedar above, asphalt below. Crisply acidic with a lemony zing. Tart, tight sour cherry fruit. Matte mouthfeel, seems hardhearted at first, opens a little in the middle, tightens up again on the finish. More aromatically interesting than a treat for the piehole. (2/03)

Henry Marionnet Gamay Touraine 'Vinifera' Non Greffées 2000 ($13) (Threesomes): The Marionnet is much more bodacious, curvaceously fruity, rich and concentrated but not at all dense--there's a silkysoft partygirl streak here that borders on the flamboyant. But wait, the initial strawberried forwardness pulls back in the midpalate, turns honed and works its way into a tangy humming cherry-pit finish with a trace of light glossy tannins. A devil-may-care wine, the redfruit dances with tipsy abandon, gets its dress tangled over its head as it attempts to skinnydip in the moonlight, then falls and sits giggling helplessly by the fire for a good five minutes. The juice of gamay grown on its own roots likes to party, take my word for it, but when some attention is paid it becomes clear that this is no airhead. (2/02)

Henry Marionnet Touraine 'Première Vendange' 2002 ($10) (Boatloads VI): Grapey-strawberry aromatics, simple and very pleasant to smell. Light-bodied and loose, tastes like homemade wine made lovingly in someone's garage; utterly plain, juicy and fresh-tasting. Drink by the carafeful, goes down smooth and almost without incident, easily gulped, some light glassy tannins. Unsulfured, uninoculated, unchaptalized, unspoofulated gamay for ten bucks. Nice work. [Buy again? Damn straight.] (12/05)

Domaine de Peyra Côtes d'Auvergne Cuvée la Roche 1999 (Eve of Chenin/Day of Satan): Giddily aromatic, strawberry-cherry laced with rhubarb, cinnamon and assy earthiness, or perhaps earthy assiness. Bright and crisp, cheerful and medium-light bodied. A joyful little wine, a party in my mouth. Consensus wine of the night. (12/31/03)

Domaine de Peyra Côtes d'Auvergne Cuvée les Liens 1999 (Cape Mayhem): A juicy-smelling wine, smoky strawberry-plummy gamay fruit bounds happily into my nostrils. Tastes fleshy and juicy, well fruited with a smoky undertone, very decent up until a slight tarry astringency on the finish. Simple enough, but rich and fun. (5/25/01)

Domaine de Peyra Cotes d'Auvergne Vieilles Vignes 2001 (Muscajeeb): Dark plum-strawberry aromas mingle with a saddle leather/fresh sod funkiness. Medium-bodied, a juicy, self-confident wine--straightforward and supple, with a certain restrained chewiness. Not big, not small, not complex, not simple. Honest wine that has found itself, and it's a good thing I'm here to witness it. (11/10/02)

Château Pierre-Bise Gamay Anjou 1995 (McNetta 2002): hand-carried from the domaine by the reclusive Andrew Munro Scott. I have been lucky enough to sample a few of the more recent vintages of this rare bird, but one with a few years of bottle age is a special treat. A hush falls over the room as the bottle is lovingly opened and poured. I only get an ounce or perhaps two, but it's enough. Smells peppery-spicy, deep purple berry-grape aromas over a base of minerals. It's not as big as the legendary '97, but it has better balance and completeness--a supple, rich wine of great finesse and length, drinking very smoothly now but with the structure and depth to go a long way yet. Superb stuff. (6/02)

Château Pierre-Bise Gamay Anjou 'Sûr Spilite' 1996 (Peach Tree Vines): Medium-dark garnet color, purpling at the rim. Ripe and rich and slightly gonzo, but hard as nails now, smoky purple glass. Needs time. Bob, enthusiastic, declares it "Californian." It's rather delightful to see Andrew and Joe turn pale and exchange stricken looks at this notion. I believe Bob means it as a compliment, but his grasp of the local winegeek dialect is tenuous at best. (4/03)

Château Pierre-Bise Anjou Villages 'Sûr Spilite 1999 ($12) (Winterfest 2003): Hints of pine and tobacco leaf over a pool of blackberry-asphalt, not giving much underneath there, leaving the pine-tobacco out to dry. Dark, tight and a little unyielding, there's a whole lot of focus but it's very tight now, not obsidian-hard, more like asphalt. Did I say that already? Dark purply-black fruit, crisp and dense and hard. Licorice, ashes, lots of fierce sandy tannins on the finish. Time? What, I dunno. What's the problem with this? Is it me? Nice, but tough, very tough. Quite aggressively sandy-tannic, really a tongue-rasper. (2/03)

Château de la Presle Gamay Touraine 2001 ($10) (Boatloads I): Medium-light garnet. Smells perfumed, cherry pits and strawberry juice with a light underlying earthiness. Tastes insubstantial but charming, tart fruitiness, reticent but spry acidity. A pleasant little gamay, on the thin side but straightforward and unassuming. No Clos Roche Blanche, but then again who is? [Buy again? No.] (8/04)

Puzelat Touraine la Tesnière 2002 (Unclear Identities): I see this being poured and peg it as a Puzelat wine by its translucency. Light cloudy garnet color, maybe 3% cyan and 4% magenta past being a rosé. Light aromatics, quiet cherry, yamskin earthiness, subtle herbaceousness. Tastes quiet and soothing; light, honest wine that lacks nothing but weight. Not that I'd want it to be weighty; insubstantial charm is a good part of its appeal. Perfectly delightful. (8/8/04)

Domaine des Sablonnettes Les Copains d'Abord 2001 ($9) (Winterfest 2003): Has a juicy strawberry-cherry nose with traces of burled wood or walnut, streak of rockiness below. Crisp, berried up front, light-bodied without much depth or weight, but crisp, red and minerally, a nice bright little fruit-punchy wine that comes to a tart sour-cherry finish. (2/03)

Jean-Marc Villemaine Gamay Touraine 2003 ($8) (Boatloads VII): Friendly strawberry punch, hint of lilac in the nose, sufficient acidity, loosely wrapped and cheerful. Blowsy and utterly insubstantial, but my glass is drained quickly and I pour some more. Honest fruit punch wine, hard not to like. [Buy again? Surely.] (4/06)

Côtes du Ventoux

Delas Côtes-du-Ventoux 2002 ($9) (Boatloads VI): Medium garnet color. Very nonaromatic, has almost no smell. I swirl energetically and coax a bit of black raspberry, a trace of a plaster-of-paris minerality, a smoky mezcal note and a hint of green herb. Tastes gently redfruity, vague and dilute, slips away without a finish. It seems fairly straightforward and decent, but there's just not much here, a ghost wine. [Buy again? Nope.] (12/05)

Vin de Pays & Vin de Table

Domaine de l'Aigueliere Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile 'Grenat' 1998 ($9) (Boatloads II): Medium-dark ruby, browning lightly at the rim. Smells of root beer, tea and a bit of earthy funk over quietly muted redfruit. Rather loose and blowsy, noticeable heat and a bitter boozy finish. This seems older than it ought, I wonder if there's some heat damage here. Anyway, it's loose, disjointed and large, with a spiritous finish and not much to recommend it. [Buy again? No, no, no.] (11/04)

Bonny Doon Vineyard 'Domaine des Blagueurs' Syrah Vin de Pays d'Oc 2002 ($10) (Boatloads I): Light whiff of gaminess right up front, underneath there's blackberry-grape and peppery hints. Recognizably syrah at least, but tastes like overcropped and indistinct syrah. Not bad, I guess, but a little watery and loose, with a hint of prune on the abrupt finish. Stick with the Big House Red. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Nah.] (8/04)

Celler de Saint Louis Brignoles Vin de Pays du Var 'La Brasserie Rouge' 2003 ($5) (Boatloads VIII): Gentle raspberry-plum aromatics, touch of earthiness, hint of barnyardy funk. Blowsy, loose and vague, with middling acidity. The price is right, but the wine has a certain sterility, a stripped-down quality that leaves very little behind except a sort of Kool-Adey type of beverage. Even for five bucks it's not much of a bargain. [Buy again? No.] (9/06)

Domaine du Château Vieux/Fabrice Rousset Vin de Pays de la Drome Vieilles Vignes 2001 ($10) (Boatloads VIII): Medium dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Smells dark and ripely earthy-gamy, smoky plum-berry and leatherbark notes. A sip, and geez, it's ripe and dark but there's a shrill vein of acidity screeching down under my tongue. Tough to avoid the squinchy face with this one, although it's got some good rich dark fruit in there as well. Um, maybe I'll wait for the 2003...? [Buy again? In two years' time.] (9/06)

Mas des Chimères Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Salagou Cuvée Buster 2000 ($12) (Recluse Convention): Medium garnet color, turning towards purple at the rim. Quiet cherried nose, chirpy and slightly candied with hints of Band-Aid brand bandage strip. Young, primary berry-cherry fruit is tart upon first sippage, turns juicier and rounder in the middle with a saddle-leather streak running parallel to the fruit. Medium-bodied and a little disjointed straight out of the bottle, it smooths out considerably with a few hours of air but remains rather monolithic. Nice balance, good stuff, although a little inscrutible at the moment. (11/22/02)

Mas des Chimères Vin de Pays des Côteaux du Salagou Cuvée Buster 2000 (Sedate Evening): Haven't seen one of these in awhile. I think I drank up my stash within a week after it was released. It's still got that combination earth/cherry cough syrup/old leather nose, still medium-bodied and loosely knit, still primary. It's got a friendly wash of redfruit up front but a disjointed second half, the tarry streak that emerges in the middle turning towards bitterness on the finish. Half an interesting wine, at least, although probably my least favorite Buster. (6/05)

Domaine de Combebelle Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Pays d'Oc Comte Cathare Prestige 1995 ($14)(Iron Winegeeks): Why is this wine making me write down its long, long name at this hour? Will it really bring me prestige, as the label seems to promise? Deep medium-dark purply-garnet, fresh cassisfruit aromas. Yow, there's some zippy acidity along with some rich simple cassis fruit, then a mess of tannins clamps down. Very peculiar combination of bright simple fruit and dominatrix-style structure, this wine coos in your ear, then beats you on the ass. Not entirely pleasant (unless you're into that kind of thing) but not boring either. (2/19/00)

La Ferme de Saint Pierre Vin de Pays 1997 Syrah ($15) was extremely fruity, a bright purple Kool-Aid color, candy-fruity-grapey smelling and lightly tannic. Very much like a Cotes-du-Rhone in style. Not what I would have expected from syrah, although perfectly pleasant on its own merits as a light quaff. (1/99)

Gallo Syrah Vin de Pays d'Oc 'Red Bicyclette' 2003 ($9) (Boatloads II): Medium to medium-dark garnet, hint of purple at the rim. Peppery purplefruit aromatics, plums and red grapes. Tastes pretty much like it smells, pepper and plum and grapeyness, medium acidity and loosely-wrapped purplefleshy fruit. Decent weight and medium-plain acidity, bland but correct and enjoyable if you aren't looking for much more than a cheap, decent quaffer with a Velveetized edge to it. [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Le Grand Noir Cabernet-Shiraz Vin de Pays d'Oc 2002 ($10) (Boatloads V): Soft, innocuous, gently peppery-spicy, watery in the middle. A nebbish of a wine, shy and bland. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Nope.] (10/05)

Mas de Guiot Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah Vin de Pays du Gard 1996 ($9): Dense ruby color in the glass; on the nose WHOA! Mucho merde! More overt fecality than I've ever encountered in a wine. Yikes. There seems to be some dark fruit & peppery aromas down there somewhere, but they're completely overwhelmed by the stinkyness. I mean, I like a bit of barnyard, a bit of earthy, manurey scent, but this smells like a, well, I'll be polite and not spell it out, but let's say like a rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike. A trial taste yielded a tangy, nicely-extracted meaty redfruit kind of wine underneath, but the smell and taste were too inseperable and this one went down the drain. (2/25/99)

Mas de Guiot Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah Vin de Pays du Gard 1999 ($10) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Smells lightly yeasty, cherry candy and hints of wet dog. Very easygoing, low-acid and fleshy. The middle is a bit weak and there isn't much of a finish, but very open & likeable. Neither cabernet nor syrah dominates, a redder... no, no wait, cabernet dominates. There's a lot not to like here, vagueness, lack of characer, but I like it anyway. Pleasant to slurp, tangy red cab fruit suffused with syrah spiciness. (5/03)

André Iché Vin de Pays de l'Hérault 'les Hérétiques' 2002 ($7) (Boatloads I): Calm plummy-blackberry nose, hints of shoe polish. Tastes smooth and juicy, with some cheerfully rough edges. Loose, short and unfocused, but simple and straightforward and easily ripe without being blowsy. Good cheap wine, a perfect house red. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yes, yes, yes.] (8/04)

Famille Iché Vin de Pays de l'Hérault 'les Hérétiques' 2003 ($7) (Boatloads II): Medium purply-garnet color. Smells like leathery plum-berry jam, with a quiet rockiness underneath and a hint of lavender. Soft, jammy red raspberry-strawberry fruit, juicy and jellied. Fleshy, ripe and loosely-wrapped, fun and happy to drink, lacking the zip of more normal years but a sure buy nonetheless. [Buy again? Yes yes yes I said yes.] (11/04)

Famille Iché Vin de Pays de l'Hérault 'Les Hérétiques' 2004 ($8) (Boatloads V): Dark grapey-barky aromatics, flicker of licorice. A composed little wine, with a genteel softness wrapped around a quiet acidic core. Lithe and flavorful, lighter in the piehole in both flesh and structure than I remember the last few versions being, but happily small-scaled and tasty, straightforward and honest as ever. A perennial. [Buy again? Yup.] (10/05)

Domaine Lafage Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes "Côte Sud" 2003 ($10) (Boatloads V): I can't decide if the accent over the e in Côte is a typo, but it sure looks wrong. Some kind of Catalan thing? Leathery, herbaceous aromatics, rosemary and licorice over dark muted red berry fruit, interestingly complex nose, tastes kind of squishy-tarry but seems straightforward and honest if a bit unfocused and flattened-out through the middle. Grittily tannic on the finish, rough-edged and somewhat abrasive, yet as a whole it's distinctive enough to be likeable. It seems to merely want to be itself, and I respect it for that. By the time the bottle is drained we've come to see eye to eye. [Buy again? Sure.]

Massane Vin de Pays de l'Hérault 'Arauris' 2001 ($8) (Boatloads IV): Medium garnet color. Quiet, baked-brick/berry/earth aromatics. Red- and blackfruit circle each other listlessly. The acidity is rather low, the mouthfeel fleshy. Loosely wrapped and a bit vague in the middle, the flavors focus a bit more as they head into the finish, which is brief but interesting (length is overrated). It's a wine that I'd happily drink from a carafe in a café somewhere in Boise, but it's just a bit too vague and aimless here tonight, for all its honesty. I'm typing down a negative response, when Lisa takes a sip and says "Ooh, real wine," which is enough to push it back into qualified yes territory. [Buy again? Yes, just barely.] (6/05)

Nana Vins et Cie Vin de Table Francais 'la Pangée' NV ($11) (Boatloads IX): Cheerful cherry strawberry juice mixed with a handful of mud, a tablespoon of mucilage and a soupćon of iron filings. Very peculiar-smelling; Lisa finds it too flawed to drink, but I find it oddly charming in that Andrew Scott/homemade wine kind of way. After a few sips, though, it does get a little tiring. Bright acidity, friendly soft dirtfruit in the middle, a lightish wine with some sandy tannins on the finish. Strange enough to be likeable, but only that. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Er, maybe not.] (11/06)

Domaine de la Pépière Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France Cuvée Granit 2001 ($8) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Nice to see that the red Muscadet craze has reached Honolulu. Airy nose, not-quite-dry plaster, cranberries, green herbs and nettles. Nettles? Garans. Crisp, lean and very tangy, a nervy little wine that's still velvety-skinned and soothing. Not an ounce of fat on its frame, all taut cran-cherry, plaster and underbrush. Nice wiry stuff, goblovers and Kaneites beware. (NB: Connell assures me that the '02 is even better.) (5/03)

Domaine de la Pépière Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France Cuvée Granit 2002 (&8) (MartyParty): Medium garnet, tinged throughout with purple highlights. Dark cherry, pine needles and plaster. Tart and crisp, a medium-light bodied wine, slightly more velvety skin on its sharp acidic frame than the 2001 had, a bit more cushion, but still an aggressively crisp, brightly tart wine that surprises me with its intensity and sustain. Nervy and taut, a deceptively intense little number that keeps sending cherry-plaster tendrils into my taste buds long after its been swallowed. A friggin' crazyass steal at $8. (2/28/04)

Domaine de la Pépière Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France Cuvée Granit 2003 ($11) (Boatloads III): The price of this wine has gone through the roof! I had thought the silly ripeness of 2003 might give this a juicy boost to the wine's usual charming thin-weedy paradijum, but no. Instead what we have is a bit of a weird freaky-deaky thing, green-herby and cassised at the same time, it smells like someone dropped a canister of dried parsley into a jar of cherry juice, then threw in a cigar stub for spice. There's a turpentiney flavor in the midpalate, the wine is taut and focused all right, just a bit more of a velvety-cherry sheen to the skin around the spine. It's just too weird. [Buy again? No.] (2/05)

Marc Pesnot Vin de Pays des Marches de Bretagne "Cépage Abouriou" 2004 ($13) (Liberation Celebration): A French take on early burgundy. Interesting, earthy cran-cherry nose with a rich iodiney streak. Light-bodied and pure-tasting, turns toward red-plumminess in the midpalate, finishes with a subtle earthy hum. Lovely stuff. (11/6/05)

Domaine Peyrassol Vin de Pays des Maures 2004 ($10) (Boatloads IX): There's a gentle hint of cow manure to the simple cherry-raspberry fruit. Tastes smooth and earthy-berried, loosely wrapped and soft out from a firm core. There's a slight metallic taste, but I'm not terribly brett-averse, so I accept what it has to offer. Loose and rather poofy in the middle, but pleasantly horsey and nicely balanced wine, decent quaffer with enough going on to hold my interest. [Buy again? Yup.] (11/06)

Le P'tit Rouquin Vin de Pays du Loir et Cher 2003. Ook, here are some peculiar smells: weirdly ripe and tobacco-piney, framboise mixed with cigar butts and pine needles. "Candy and ashtrays!" sings out Camblor. Awkward wine, hollow in the middle and turning disagreeably jammy as it heads into the finish.

Puzelat Gamay Le P'tit Tannique VdT 2003 ($15) (Misplaced Weekend II): A bit darker, mixes some blackberry into the strawberry flavors. More focus and guts than the CRB, although similarly ripe and almost as luscious. Very nice. (5/9/04)

Domaine des Soulanes Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Cuvée Jean Pull 2003 ($9) (Boatloads IX): Shy smellies, light plummy leatherberry with a touch of thyme, simple smelling and friendly-ripe. Tastes medium-lightbodied, loosely wrapped and puppyish. A light licorice flavor saunters into the midpalate, adding a touch of complexity to what is basically a small, plump unassuming wine. Pretty decent, nothing profound but enough going on to rate a place as a chummy quaffer. [Buy again? Yup.] (11/06)

Les Vignerons de Cases de Pène Vin de Pays des Pyrenées-Orientales Cuvée de Peña 2003 ($8) (Boatloads IV): Dark red-black fruit, blackberry and black cherry, red plum, laced with a freshly-spaded soil earthiness and a touch of saddle leather, with a faint minty menthol high note. Tastes blackberried, loose and ripe and medium-sized, a bit soft and fleshy but pleasantly flavorful and straightforwardly simple. Touch of shoyu on the finish, slightly abrasive, but a pretty decent little wine, tasty and quite quaffable. [Buy again? Yup.] (6/05)

Les Vignerons des Val D'Orbieu 'La Cuvée Mythique' Vin de Pays D'Oc 1995 ($9): Medium garnet color. Leathery, pruney nose, dark notes of muted blackberry & plum, smooth and round in the mouth, medium to light-bodied, low acidity, tarriness comes through on the finish. Fairly firm, sandy tannins. More interesting on the nose than the palate, but a decent quaff.

VIgnobles Paul Jeune/Domaine Monpertuis Vin de Pays du Gard 'Cuvée Counoise' 2004 ($9) (Boatloads VIII): Gentle cherry-grapejuicy aromatics, slight candied edge. Tastes strangely fleshy-spiky, loose redfruit with some puckery cherry SweeTart flavorosity. Thin, fleshy, sour and candied; a peculiar combination. [Buy again? No.] (9/06)

Les Vins de Vienne (Cuilleron/Gaillard/Villard) Vin de Table Francais 'Reméage' NV ($14) (Boatloads VII): Medium-dark garnet. Smoky blackberry-african violet aromatics, syrah all the way. There's a light touch of eucalyptus up high as well. Tastes smoothly grapey-blackberried, gently fleshy with a zippy acidic spine. There's a certain wanness in the middle, but given the producer there's very little of the new wave about this wine, it seems straightforward and unadorned. Were I guessing I'd say it was a St. Joseph, as there's a pleasant insubstantiality here, a gentle smallscale expressiveness. With air a light hint of baconberry emerges, but only a trace. Pretty nice little wine, on the small side but with a good amount of character. Still, it just doesn't quite cohere enough to entirely make it work. [Buy again? Almost, but not quite. If it was $8-9, yes, but at $14 it's a no.] (4/06)

Domaine Viret Vin de Pays Porte de Méditerranée 'Solstice' 2000 ($10) (Winterfest '03): Medium-dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Black raspberry and plaster smellies, leather and licorice. Dark and purely fruited, in the mold of the same producer's 'Cosmic' but not quite as focused. Still, pretty good stuff if you're a grenache fan. (1/22/03)

Domaine Viret Vin de Pays Porte de Méditerranée 'Solstice' 2000 ($10) (Boatloads VII): Medium-dark garnet, purpling lightly at the rim. Smells dark & licoricey, blackberry-plumskin and shoe polish hints. Pleasant fleshiness right up front, chewy texture relaxes in the middle, turning plummier and looser, then finishes with a licoricey tang. Medium acidity, matte texture, seems almost gritty. Good, rich wine with some easy complexity, but not entirely of a piece at the moment. [Buy again? Definitely.] (4/06)

Côtes du Vivarais

Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac Côtes du Vivarais Grenache-Syrah-Carignan 2000 ($10) (Boatloads VI): Côtes du where? Damn new appellations keep cropping up like mushrooms after a rain. Anyhoo, it's a medium muddy garnet color at the core, rubying out towards the rim. Sweet cinnamon on the nose over smoked meat, rhubarb, earth, interesting to smell if a bit offbeat. Tastes loose and dark, easygoing and medium-lightbodied, then suddenly ferocious tannins swoop in and spot-weld my tongue. Crisp, loosely earthy, then AAARRRGH. What to make of this--a seemingly interesting wine for the first four-fifths of the way, but the final tannic conflagration just blows it. Weird. Not uninteresting, but weird. [Buy again? No, not really.] (12/05)

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