Château Rocher-Calon Montagne-Saint-Émilion 2006

I’m in the teeming metropolis of Morgan Hill, California at the moment on another business trip. This is pretty countryside just a ways south of San José; the Besson vineyard that gave us the inestimable Clos de Gilroy grenache is nearby. Thinking I’d drink locally, I headed to the local Trader Joe’s – the Aldi-owned cheap-gourmet grocery store – and intended to buy a bottle of something local. However, what they had was mostly stuff from Napa and Sonoma, and the French wines were keenly priced by comparison – I didn’t want to put $25 worth of alcohol on an expense report – so I wound up with the second most expensive Bordeaux that they had. (Interestingly, the most expensive French still wine was a $20 Ch.-de-Pape.)How is it? Very good indeed. It looks young, all majestic purple and vibrancy. The nose, such as I can make it out given the, ahem, inadequate stemware at the Courtyard Inn, is very soft, with hints of red berries and spice. The entry of the wine onto the palate is all lightfooted elegance, but before you have a chance to notice it firm-footed tannins come sneaking in, which broadens the wine out into a fairly impressive heft. Rich, ripe primary fruit is offset by tannins and smoky, spicy notes presumably from barrels; this is (let’s be straight here) very impressive given its price, and a good introduction to what decent French claret tastes like.The finish lingers, tannins gradually overcoming the supple fruit, until all that’s left is a memory of a distant wildfire. All in all, probably the best wine I’ve drunk at this price point in some time, and probably what the Wayne Gretzsky meritage from the other night wants to be when it grows up.Château Rocher-Calon
Price: $13
Closure: Cork

Chateau Puynormond 2004

This wine is from the Montagne Saint-Emilion appellation in Bordeaux, and consists of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. And it’s cheap. Here goes.

The first thing that strikes one on the nose is what appears to be mild brett, but whether this is an issue depends very much on your tolerance for this particular wine fault. Personally, I don’t mind a bit of brett in the right dose (and the right wine). Here, it comes across as a metallic note that actually blends ok with the earthy, gravelly notes of the wine itself. It’s a subtle wine on the nose, dark in profile, but with some sweet black berry fruits peeping out around all the earth and gravel.

The entry is subtle and slips through to a middle palate where flavours start to register with more intensity. It’s predominantly a savoury wine in flavour profile, with earthy notes dominating a subtle but attractive layer of ripe blackberry fruit. Oak is pretty subliminal (I couldn’t detect much, if any, oak influence at all). Gentle acid is well integrated within the medium bodied palate and keeps the wine moving along nicely. The after palate is quite linear and progresses to a finish of fine, ripe tannins. No great length to speak of, but not short either. The overall impression of this wine is one of structure and elegance rather than ripe or juicy flavour.

If you’re a bit tolerant of brett, like I am, you will find this wine to be a reasonably priced Bordeaux that will accompany your mid-week dinner of beef or pork quite nicely.

Update: I left half the bottle overnight and retasted the next day. Marked improvement. The fruit has gained weight and fragrance, especially on the after palate, marginalising the brett influence to almost zero. Nice drop indeed. Might be best in a couple of years’ time.

Price: $A24
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: January 2008