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Jim Beauregard's Tasting Notes: Checking scores on two 90+ selections


The 90+ wines are making the rounds again at local tastings, so we should take a look.

In case you haven't heard how it works, a Boston entrepreneur approached vineyards that couldn't, largely due to the financial downturn, sell their higher-end wines — the stuff that runs, say, $60 per bottle and higher. He offered to buy it from them at a much lower price on the theory that something is better than nothing, and then bottled them and sold them under the 90+ label at substantially lower prices, passing some of those savings along to consumers.

The "90+" part of the label means that the wines have received scores of 90 points or better at at least some tastings (if you look at reviews, some are in the high 80s, but have at least a 90 point or better review from one taster).

So let's take a look at a couple and see where things are at now:

90+ Cellars 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 45, Oakville Calif. ($33.99, The Wine Studio, Manchester.) 900 cases made. When you are looking for these wines, the Lot numbers are important, as there can be more than one lot for a given variety. Sometimes there's a substantial price difference between lots as well. This California Cab is of medium intensity, a deep but no opaque core, purple, still looking young. At first blush it's all fruit, but as it gets some air it shows signs of developing. The nose is fruit, but in the background there are aromas of graphite and herbal tones. The tannin is pretty insistent when you first pull the cork – it balances out after about a half hour of decanting. The palate is dry, with high acidity, medium tannin overall, medium alcohol (14.5% abv) that's well-integrated, medium-plus flavor intensity and flavors that reflect the nose with blackberry, some blackcurrant, graphite, and those herbal notes I mentioned above. Cabs typically have good structure, something that I didn't find here. 88 points.

90+ Cellars Rosé, AOC Languedoc, France, Lot 33, 12% abv. ($11.99, the Wine Studio, Manchester.)The Languedoc region, formally known as Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, has quite a few wines, including Coteaux du Languedoc, Minervois, Corbieres, Fitou, Cotes du Roussillon, and a variety of Vin de Pays. Rhone grapes show up throughout these wines, including Carignan, Grenache, Cinsault and more. Summer is (possibly) here, and thus Rosé time is too. Quick review: Rosé runs on a color spectrum from pink to salmon to orange. It's made from red grapes, and the wine is pulled off the skins early in the process, before the deeper red colors move from the grape skins to the wine. Any red grape can go into the making of a Rosé, and in this case the varietals are Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvedre. This particular Rosé is in the pink spectrum, with a hint of salmon color. It's youthful, from last fall's harvest, with aromas of strawberry and red berry. It's dry (not all Rosé is sickly sweet), with high acidity, low tannin, medium alcohol, medium-plus flavor intensity, and a fruit forward palate of strawberry, some herbal hints and pungent spice hints as well. These last two show up on the back of your palate just at the end. Very good quality, very good price. Drink now. The label recommends pairing with Prosciutto and roasted red pepper sandwiches, and crisp fried chicken. this one's worth stocking up on for summer. 89 points.

Switching to a different label: Merry Edwards 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 14.2 % abv. ($53.99, Harvest Market.) There was much ado about these wines doming into New Hampshire earlier this year. Purple ruby color, classic for the Pinot Noir grape. On the nose, medium intensity, strawberry and some raspberry, developing, but not much in the way of non-fruit presentation. Dry on the palate, medium-plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus flavor intensity of raspberry, strawberry, and a cranberry hint now and then, some charred wood in the background, medium-length finish. Good balance once the alcohol falls into place 10 to 15 minutes after opening. One of the things I was taught to do in my Wine and Spirits Education Trust courses was, when tasting blind, decide how much I would pay for the wine knowing nothing other than the varietal, assuming one had identified it correctly. I'd have said about $35 here, not $53. 85 points.

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Lastly, what's a wine lover to do at the tail end of Memorial day weekend when the sun finally comes out? Head for the nearest vineyard to sip some wine, of course. We went to LaBelle on Route 101 in Amherst with our friends Kate and Joe, sat out on the patio overlooking the vineyards and sampled a variety of LaBelle's offerings. Their food menu continues to expand, now including a variety of salads, wraps and sandwiches, cheese plates and meat/cheese plates (Wendy and I ate all of the latter, including the pepperoni she dropped in my baseball cap). There's lots to do at many of New Hampshire's vineyards; they make for a short road trip and a delightful afternoon.

Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com.


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