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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Look out 'Rhone Ranger' folks, the next
best thing is on the horizon!
A recent tasting of a Herman Story Roussanne heightened my interest in further researching winemaker Russell Form’s origins. Little did I know that my exploration would turn me onto another upstart producer, his partner McPrice Myers. While they only team together on one project, a 2500 case Syrah called Barrel 27 (which they casually refer to as ‘fifteen buck chuck’), their deft touch w/ Rhone varietals is certainly one that is cut from the same cloth.

McPrice, 32 years old, stumbled out of Cypress College when an arm injury cut his baseball aspirations short and caught the proverbial wine bug during a happenstance stint at Trader Joe’s. While their 2 buck chuck didn’t exactly compel McPrice into his current wine frenzy, the older bottles opened after hours by his boss certainly did. He became a bit of a journeyman winemaker that took 50 some jobs throughout the Paso Robles region until he was prepared to take his own plunge. Now the McPrice Myers portfolio is close to 2,000 cases strong, it is likely to become scarce as its quality ceases to be a secret.

McPrice and Kristina Myers put together an intense portfolio of extremely effusive, bold wines fashioned exclusively from Rhone varieties. Each one of their efforts that I’ve tasted has been heady, extremely concentrated but is supported by ample structure and acidity to keep things in lovely harmony. These are certainly ‘wow’ wines, that are sure to give the standard bearers like John Alban, Stolpman and Sin Qua Non a run for their money, but likely will see criticism for their full-throttle, no-holds bared style. Personally, I’d run, not walk to sample some of these spectacularly hedonistic, opulently endowed Rhone rides.

I reviewed 3 of their new releases for this post, but would be remiss to not mention two of McPrice’s other bottlings.

There is a Santa Ynez White Wine, created with 30% Roussanne and a hefty 70% Viognier that is made in extremely limited quantities (the winery limits customer purchases to 3 bottles each); as well as a red that is referred to as Beautiful Earth. This Syrah based wine comes from Paso Robles fruit (84% Syrah, 8% Grenache, 8% Mourvedre), particularly the south facing slopes of the Terra Bella Vineyard (which means beautiful earth) in the western hills of Paso Robles (only 168 cases are produced). The soil content is predominantly limestone and the wine, like all others made at McPrice Myers, is vinified at Central Coast Wine Services.

Each bottle is draped w/ the ‘Claddagh,’ an Irish symbol of love.

Viognier, Larner Vineyard 2005
This is a primal, insanely expressive Viognier that does not shy away from shouting its declaration of character. Explosions of butterscotch, candied peach, honey glazed papaya, lemon curd and poached pears bombard the senses, exposing unabashed Viognier elements w/ oodles of intensity. In the mouth, this unctuous white pushes ripeness to the max, revealing lavishly voluptuous layers of monstrous fruit, exotic spice and chalky minerality. For all its power, the wine maintains a sense of precision, focus and clarity, thanks to palate cleansing acidity, 93 points.

L’Ange Rouge Grenache, 2005
French for ‘red angel,’ this 435 case Grenache (one of the larger production wines in McPrice Myers stable) is sourced from the Alta Mesa Vineyard (68%) and the Larner Vineyard (32%). This is a wine that justifies any Rhone advocate’s search for Elysium through the thousands of innocuous reds that come out of California each year. A dark, almost inky color preludes one of the finest, most archetypal New World renditions of Grenache that I’ve had the pleasure to taste. Spicy notes of nutmeg, pepper, anise, black raspberry ganache, caramelized herbs and black cherry fill the room w/ a full throttle, permeating and irresistibly delicious character. While this is undoubtedly a high octane effort, it is beautifully proportioned and exhibits lovely symmetry that make a ‘watch out Alban, watch out Rhone, here I come’ type of statement, 95 points.

Colson Canyon Syrah 2005
Colson Canyon, an emerging grand cru vineyard of the Central Coast, is located in the Santa Maria Valley of the Central Coast and is home to some of the most outstanding Rhone varietal wines made in California. The 2005 Syrah is co-fermented w/ 2% Viognier and aged in neutral oak casks. Purple in color and one of the most tar driven noses one will come across in Californian Syrah. Additional notes of roasted herbs, asphalt, white flowers, blueberries, crème de cassis, and gravelly undertones emerge as the wine sits in the glass. Heady, incredibly endowed and bursting w/ flavor in the mouth, this Syrah is extremely ambitious and as full tilt an expression as you’ll come across (a common theme for this producer). While there is undoubtedly some unresolved heat in this young red, a bit of short-term cellaring should round it into form nicely, sadly only 186 cases of this beauty are made, 92+ points.

Cuvee Kristina Proprietary Red 2005
Composed of 80% Syrah, 13% Grenache and 7% Mourvedre, this wine is a flat out hedonistic fruit bomb. Not bashful in the slightest, as the aromatic array is effusive in its cassis, black currant, fig, mocha and cocoa kissed toast notes that slap you over the face w/ their exhuberance. Creamy, supple and imbedded w/ some seriously intense stature that just may provide tasters w/ a evolutionary surprise, as this young pup brims w/ a sense of pleasure and potential that is sure to wow lovers of wines like Le Mistral (Phelps) and Relentless (Shafer), 93+ points.

Alta Mesa Red Wine '05 Santa Barbara County
This blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre and 20% Syrah is certain to improve w/ a bit of bottle age. Initially a touch woody and alcoholic, but some airtime reveals classic varietal(s) character of blackberry sauce, kirsch, creme de cassis, licorice and pepper. While the fruit, structure and depth is formidable, the wine is plagued by a somewhat intermittent loss of focus and has a tendency to exhibit a bit too much heat. Having said that, between the producer's ambition and the dynamite substance of fruit, this wine (amongst others in McPrice's portfolio) are sure to improve w/ experience, trial and error and greater vine maturity as these prime sites continue to age. This effort is just short of outstanding, 89 points.

*Source materials are thanks to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Closer Look into Bad Boy Brunello

Perhaps the most enjoyable Brunello tasting I’ve ever had the good fortune of being a part of was certainly due, at least in part, to the great company (having a Russian chef cater to your every whim certainly amps up the fun-o-meter). Mikhail, Leo, Carlo, Bob, Jay and company offered a dynamic ambience for one of the more intriguing line-ups of Tuscan wines that you’ll ever see. Any tasting of the en vogue Sangiovese Grosso grape is certain to raise quite a few eyebrows, whether it is the tiresome debate of traditional vs. modern, the appropriate decanting regimen, discrepancies in the qualities of one vintage vs. another or the dramatic variance in ‘house-style,’ these wines tend to be a lesson in how to expect the unexpected. Part of that, perhaps, is their charm.

Most producers of Sangiovese Grosso are relatively new to the Tuscan scene and painting on a canvas that has no major sense of tradition etched in stone (save for Biondi Santi). The grape can't be traced back to generations of viticultural practice like hundreds of other Italian varieties and this tends to make Brunello one of the more variable experiences in today’s wine world. The fickle American palate debate is always sure to arise while tasting wines that were ‘made for us,’ yet we have yet to decide, as a nation, what it is we truly like. Perhaps the wines have such vast appeal because of their variety? Intense and inky, lean and rustic, brash and bold, or ethereal and elegant (this last category is perhaps only truly executed by one wine), the cornucopia of high quality options give a country like America something to feast on in nearly any direction they please. I believe this appeals to two particular natures that the United States thrives on. One is our thirst for selection, with the ‘right to choose’ being something in which we hold near and dear. I believe the other, a bit more controversially, is that of our own lack of firm identity through tradition, which perhaps allows us to find solace in a grape w/ the same dilemma.

Here come the Mullers:

Muller Catoir Scheurebe Spatlese 1994
A fascinating example of this aloof hybrid grape, expelling a beguiling aromatic profile consisting of smoky slate, lilac, peach skin and spearmint notes set the stage for a thick, juicy palate full of pure dried apricots. There is quite a bit of residual sweetness left in this 13 year old Scheurebe, as it began a bit undelineated on the palate but seemed to gain in depth and cut as it sat in the glass. An outstanding effort that perhaps has a bit more evolution in store for the future, 91+ points.

Muller Catoir Haardter Burgergarten Spatlese Riesling 1998
A surprisingly taut, backward ’98 that took quite a bit of decanting to round into its Pfalz form, as it initially only offered foundational green apple skins, mineral and modest citrus blossom notes. As it unwound, a much more honeyed, tropical character emerged in the palate, sporting quince and pineapple notes that were impressive in their weight and overall depth of flavor. This is a quintessential candidate for the cellar as it demonstrates how structured a fine spatlese can be, 93 points.

Time for Sangiovese Grosso:

Poggio di Sotto 1995
This was a perfect introduction into ‘the more oxidative’ style of Brunello, as the main event Soldera wines showcased the apex of how to achieve elegance w/ this normally rustic grape. While I found this to be an interesting interpretation, it definitely left a lot to be desired from a pleasure and provocative standpoint. This plum colored, floral rendition of Sangiovese evolved quicker, and more elaborately than any other wine we tasted throughout the evening, as its damp earth and dried fruit characteristics became much more liqueur-ish in time. Hints of bright mushroom, incense, sour raspberry and spice shape the personality of this medium bodied yet dense and slightly monochromatic effort. Although I appreciate ‘the style,’ I was left feeling that Grenache is a much yummier example with this type of persona, 84 points.

La Poderina 1995
A much more classical style, firm and full of expressive Tuscan character (but boy was it different than the Poggio di Sotto!). A lovely cascade of high toned cherry, cigar box, leather, spiced blackberries and pepper greet the taster’s nose w/ such vivid delight that I can still feel them as I relay their character to you. A bit dusty and gravely throughout the palate, but spiked with pure, deep Sangiovese character that is racy, plump and youthfully tannic, 90+ points.

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Vigna di Pianrosso 1995
This wine spoke to me immediately with its bit more extroverted, brashly Brunello nature that slaps you over the face w/ its Montalcino hammer, rendering the taster unconsciously enchanted. Full of brooding depth, as notions of dried porcini mushrooms, blackberry, bitter chocolate, cedar, underbrush and black olives explode from the glass, shattering muscular, pure Brunello debris all over the palate. A wonderfully intense and pure performance that is drinking exceptionally well now and should continue to for close to another decade, bravo, 94 points.

Soldera Riserva 1994
Admittedly my first taste of this iconoclastic wine and I certainly was a blank slate, ready to be impressed upon. While the Poggio di Sota hinted at what style personified Soldera, this wine is in a category by itself and truly has no peer group. This is an undeniably sexy, even sultry wine, with a Pinot Noir sense of an ethereal, numbing sweetness that is a recipe for a slow seduction which entranced just about every taster last night, hook, line and sinker. Flavors of black tea, melted licorice, sour cherry, mushroom, clove and a mélange of other sweet spices scintillate throughout the palate in a dazzlingly plush fashion, tempting you to further investigate w/ another sip as you are haunted by the finish. I’d never tasted a Brunello that could disguise its structure so admirably, as this ’94 Soldera convinced me that its body was as weightless as an angelic goddess gliding through the air. Perhaps the most sophisticated and silky wine made in Tuscany today, 97 points.

Soldera Riserva 1997
One of the most enjoyable exercises in wine is contrasting two vintages of Soldera, glasses juxtaposed to one another. The 1997 is a much less evolved, riper wine that is typified by a more powerful, denser personality. The nose hints at the exotic, with a rich bouquet of deeply flavored cocoa, wild truffles, rose petals, cherry liqueur, cedar, black olives and strawberry perfume. The wine is purity personified throughout the palate, w/ a slight roasted touch to its admirably dense flavors that are persuasive, compelling and punctuated with an amazingly penetrating finish. If I have the good fortune of going back to this wine in the next 5-10 years, I may be able to witness perfection in the glass, 99+ points.

Valdicava 2001
Talk about night and day folks, this is Brunello at its inkiest and is a blatant departure from the all the previously tasted wines. This opaque, brilliantly decadent performance is full of crème de cassis, roasted coffee, black chocolate, violet, roasted meats and a full throttle, palate staining persona that pulls no punches. While it may be ‘monstrously delicious’ (the Lucky Charms cereal of Tuscany), there is an underlining intensity of acidity and earth that are certain to evolve glacially into a stunning wine. Not for traditionalists, but certainly should take a varietally recognizable shape in the cellar, 95+ points.

Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo 2001
I almost never say that ‘this Bordeaux tastes like Napa Cabernet,’ or ‘this Tuscan wine tastes like a Barossa bomb,’ well I almost never say that, that is until I put this over the top behemoth to my lips. If this were placed in front of me simply as ‘wine,’ I’d likely peg it for a heady McLaren Vale Shiraz and I would have happily slurped down the cassis liqueur, black currant, toast, blueberry ganache and mocha flavors with pleasure. I have never had a Sangiovese that was this soft, this super-ripe and this low in acid, and I mean never! Perhaps, just perhaps there is the faintest hint of rustic spices on the finish that may lead me to believe this will settle into something Brunello-ish, but I doubt it. If I looked at this as a wine, I’d say it is a 92 point fruit bomb that I enjoyed to the last drop. As a Sangiovese, I have no idea what to say about this wine other than the old school Tuscan fans need to avoid this like the Ebola virus.

Silvio Nardi Manachiara 2001
This is a single vineyard project from Silvio Nardi that undergoes extremely severe selection, drastically low yields and is an outstanding achievement in Brunello that merits consumer attention (in case it doesn’t have enough yet). Dark, but not inky in color (like most concentrated Brunello) with a penetrating nose of leather, high class cigar tobacco, tea, dark cherry, fig and judicious toast notes that are not likely to upset anyone as this wine is full of crisp but heady, chewy fruit throughout the palate that manages a tantalizing sense of symmetry. Has a long, impressive life ahead of it and is sure to be a showstopper, 95 points.

Silvio Nardia Manachiara Barrel Sample, 2004
A treat brought to us from Tuscany thanks to Leo’s wife Connie, giving us an early glimpse into the pleasures that are sure to be found in the ’04 vintage for Brunello. A bit more saturated in its color and extremely precocious in its tobacco, lilac, mushroom, and chocolate covered blackberry persona. Effusively fruity, intense and seething in its youthful complexity that is currently submerging a seriously endowed structure, 94-96 points.

Isole e Olena Vin Santo Chianti Classico 1997
I drank far too much of this, considering the pairing w/ biscotti was far too delicious to not over-indulge upon. Heady scents of maple syrup, glazed pecans, honeyed granola, dates and fig spread are syrupy, but actually defined enough to drink on its own (surprisingly so). Pouring this on morning pancakes is likely a ticket to hell, but one that may be worthy investing in, 92 points.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tough love, a 1995 Chateauneuf du Pape retrospective

I had the good fortune of being a late replacement for Brad Kane’s horizontal theme, and to whoever bailed out at the last minute, thanks for the solid. Paul Jaouen, Michel Abood, Asher Rubinstein and company put together a line-up of Chateauneuf stalwarts to check in on how the 1995 vintage has progressed at year 12. The results, not unlike the vintage, were a tad variable.

1995 was a notoriously tannic, austere and backward vintage that produced wines of great stature that have been said to have stumbled into frighteningly closed periods of evolution from the late 90’s to the early 21st century. While they were noted for their sinew and power (which was still evident in several of the wines we tasted), their tannic cloaks are not nearly as formidable as they had been but a few years ago, as most of the '95s are quite approachable now, if in a rugged fashion. While there were certainly some standouts, as well as a few exceptionally awkward performances, my experiences lead me to believe that this is not a profound vintage. There have already been early comparisons of 2005 to 1995 vis a vis their structure, so it should be interesting to see if the wines develop along similar lines. I haven’t tasted enough 2005’s to comment on the validity of that parallel.


Domaine de Piaugier Sablet 2006 Blanc
A beautifully perfumed white Rhone, full of floral elements, ginger, quince, honeysuckle blossom and warm spices that you could smell all day. The most impressive element of this wine was its attack, which was sweet and crisp, but the intensity of flavor waned through the mid palate to the finish. It may gain a bit of weight in time as some of the white Rhones from ’06 that I’ve tasted have really surprised me in their quality, 86+ points.

The ’95 Chateauneuf line-up:

Clos du Mon Olivet (consumed from a magnum)
Initially this wine could have been confused with a mature red Burgundy through the nose, but air seemed to help it evolve back into Rhone form. It began w/ a very ferrous, iron rich scent that picked up notes of brine, tanned leather, grilled herbs, red plums, strawberries and pepper as it sat in the glass. The wine was medium in weight, but flexed some mineral-laced grip and was still quite formidable throughout the palate. Not the most suave, but a serious expression none the less, 90 points.

Janasse V.V.
This wine began in a severely disjointed fashion, but really came into its own as it evolved in the glass. As it integrated, it really showed what a seamless effort it was, evoking notions of damp earth, pepper, raspberry, cocoa and sappy dark cherries a la Burgundy throughout the palate. The flavors were well delineated, focused and possessed enough charm to keep just about anyone on the table happy, 92 points.

According to Paul, every one of his ‘95s has been a mess and this example was no different. I am not going to completely write off this wine, but it has lots of eccentric, unpleasant issues to resolve. Very funky aromatically, reminding me of roasted chestnuts, damp animal fur and sea salt scents that aren’t exactly the most attractive or alluring. While it did pick up a bit of continuity on the palate, with a velvety texture that gripped together notes of blueberries, cherries and incense that had some moderate length to them. Unorthodox and certainly not classy, but not terribly poor, thank goodness this cuvee has stepped it up in the 21st century, 81 points.

Chateau du Mourre du Tendre
An interesting effort from a producer that I am not that familiar with, this wine was neck in neck w/ the Janasse for best of the flight (considering the Boisrenard barely showed up). A bit of what could be called volatile acidity blew off to reveal smoky notes of tar, melted asphalt, spiced figs, ceiling wax and tobacco flavors that were well constructed, firm and sturdy in their presentation. The Mourre du Tendre is full of rustic, noble Chateauneuf character that encapsulates the vintage quite well, 91 points.

Vieux Telegraphe
Perhaps the best Telegraphe that I’ve ever tasted, putting the pedal to the medal in combining a sense of brute strength with just enough polish to make it truly compelling. Classic aromas of lilac, freshly cut cedar, garrigue, olive tapenade, dark fig and spicy blackberries fill the room with a truly compelling allure. The palate had that dusty Telegraphe hallmark, but it was so well-proportioned, long and expressive that I feel they reached the pinnacle of the house style they strive for w/ this vintage, 95 points.

Vieux Donjon
I find this to be a great example of how ‘a little green’ can go a long way. There were certain leafy elements to this wine throughout the nose and the palate that called to mind cabbage, celery stalk and romaine lettuce, but they were nearly submerged in crushed rock, tilled soil, dark plum, cocoa and pepper elements that I found it to be a harmonious match. This wine was suavely textured, earthy and elegant, with very nice length, but was not a profound Donjon as it didn’t pack in the generous pleasure that the best vintages of this wine deliver, 90 points.

I thought this was a fantastic vintage for Beaucastel, and one which I would be completely fooled over if I tasted it blind. Perhaps the most heady, youthful and exuberant nose of the evening, dazzling with pure kirsch liqueur, coffee, fruitcake and fig notes that had such a clean, pure and bountiful profile that I almost never associate with this producer (except for the 1998). The palate was thick, but bright, offering a hefty dose of imbedded Provencal flavors that were underscored by a brilliant minerality. One of the few wines that we tasted that I believe will improve even more with further cellaring, an absolute winner 95+ points.

Clos des Papes
True to the house style, this Clos des Papes offered up sweet, Burgundian fruit in a subtle, sexy profile that I’ve grown to adore in just about any vintage this producer fashions. Lovely spice notes include clove, cardamom, tobacco, cedar, cocoa and hints of caramel to rev up the elegant, finesse driven palate of pure kirsch flavors. In spite of the vintage’s backbone, Paul Avril still managed to fashion a silky, understated wine that would make any fan of this estate happy, 93 points.

Pegau Reservee
Performing just as it did when I tasted this wine a couple months back, still burly and dense, but compelling in the same right. The concentration of pepper, tobacco, garrigue, charcoal smoked beef, black currant and iron is all there, just as any Pegau lover would expect. The profile of the wine is a bit more muscular and dense than the ’98, ’00 and ’04, but reminds me a bit of the ’01 in its brooding personality. I believe this wine has another decade to go until it starts showing any sign of fatigue, 95 points.

Pegau Laurence
Unlike the ’98, this Laurence is showing truer to form in that it is evolved and much more mature than the Reservee. Elements of olive, roasted herbs, caramel, cedar and pure raspberry are complex on the palate in a much more medium bodied, racy package. This cuvee is not constructed to age like the Reservee and the ’95 demonstrates that to a t. I’d certainly consume this over the next couple years if I had any lying around in my cellar, 92 ponts.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Leoville Barton Vertical Tasting

A treat to taste, and evolved significantly enough to really expose how well Barton wines stand the test of time. Still vibrant and kicking, expelling a dynamic mélange of dried flowers, rose water, orange peel, cardamom, leather and touches of dried currant from the glass. While the palate was initially sharply citric, the brightness dimmed a bit in time as the wine put on a bit of weight, still flexing some grip in its tea-like tannins. Fascinating wine & still an enjoyable experience, 85 points.

One of those wines where there was undoubtedly anticipation and it performed very well in all areas, except the mid-palate. Perhaps one of the more impressive aspects of this wine was how deeply saturated the color still was, leading way to a complex display of cut cedar, pipe tobacco and cassis that seemed to penetrate to the core. Unfortunately, after the initial attack, the wine has an odd lapse in missing the boat on the palate, but picking up steam on the finish, echoing violet and loam flavors in dazzling fashion. An optimistic would say that it just ‘needed more time to fill out,’ but I am of the camp that believes some wines just aren’t a complete package, 89 points.

Nearly as saturated in color as the ’82, this underdog vintage outshines its more expensive ’82 sibling from the get go. The nose offered up from the ’85 was nearly haunting, tantamount to sitting in a cigar lounge full of smoky leather, humidor, espresso and black currant notes. Richer, denser and more layered in the mouth than the ’82, stretching its legs w/ ease to an outstanding conclusion, 92 points.

Believe it or not, this wine is still inky! I wonder if it has budged at all through the past couple decades? A flamboyant, youthful and exuberant nose that is full of cassis, truffles, loam, mocha, lilacs and even hints at fig in its underbelly. While the palate has a subtle decadence about itself, fashioned with layers of chocolate covered cherries, the texture becomes so overtly muscular on the finish & completely dries out the palate. I couldn’t help but think of a young Nebbiolo when I was greeted w/ the ’86 Barton’s series set of tannins. A true vin de garde, masculine to a t, 93 points. While this wine will undoubtedly hold for decades, will it ever actually evolve? Makes me think of the evolution for a Napa cab in that regard…

Well, you’ve already read that Levenberg hates this wine because he found it to be too much like Chateauneuf. Personally, I didn’t get that comparison, but you all know that I drool and sweat Chateauneuf on a daily basis, so this was right in my kitchen! An extremely fungal, exotic nose that tugged at my heart immediately, dazzling notions of dried mushrooms, wild truffles, dried game, graphite and crème de cassis were so exotic and effusive that I couldn’t help but return to it several times throughout the evening. A sultry sexpot of concentration in the palate has a bit of a firm edge (a la Barton), but its flavors are so defined and divine that you almost don’t notice how tannic this wine likely is, 95 points.

Reminded me of a 3 year old Bordeaux, considering the wine still had toasty, spicy oak elements in its sweet, inviting nose. Other characteristics of melted asphalt, graphite, currant, roast coffee and chocolate ganache make themselves apparent in the palate, which seems nearly precocious until the palate trails away to absolutely nowhere, making me question the wines overall quality and potential. Yet another bottle that almost tricks you into thinking it is a classic, until the true colors show, 90 points.

A lighter, medium ruby shaded vintage of Leoville that has some classic Baron elements of cedar box, sweet raspberry, iron and toast, but unfortunately it is a bit too austere throughout the palate to merit an outstanding performance. For fans of early maturing, savory St. Julien, 87 points.

I wasn’t ever really on board w/ this vintage as the late harvest rains seem to have taken their toll on the quality of the Cabernet crop for Barton. Extremely tight and brooding it its backward, unyielding personality from start to finish. The flavors of modest BBQ spice, smoke and currant are lacking in generosity and delineation and currently it is a wine that is marred in structure w/o the flesh, 86 points, with the optimism that this will bounce back.

While the millennium vintage wasn’t exactly the most open for business, there is no denying the stature and presence that this wine possesses. A black colored, brooding and authoritatively intense wine that is loaded to the gills w/ charcoal, blackberry, melted licorice, and cassis flavors that reverberate through the spine of the taster w/ sheer power. A tremendous, heady finish pumps out concentrated, viscous Cabernet flavors for up to a minute. Should be a classic as the structure gives way a bit for better flavor definition, as its sense of penetration now is almost overwhelming, 95+ points.

An opaque, flashy young Barton that had one of the more intriguing noses of the evening, showcasing vogue notions of incense, clove, sweet spice, cedar and licorice over a bed of dark, tannic fruit. The wine is very structured, w/ an immense backbone of slightly drying tannins that should hopefully give way to a bit more generosity and pleasure down the road, 89+ points.

Yep, I am a slut, I dug this wine. The most extroverted, pleasurable and hedonistic effort that I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste from Leoville Barton is this byproduct of the wildly intense, sun saturated 2003 vintage. What a byproduct it is! While there is still quite a hefty dose of prime grade, creamy toast that is evident in the wine’s nose, this wine is layered and inundated with affluent, copious amounts of fruit that gush from the glass. Mammoth, overt flavors of blackberries, blueberries, crème de cassis and flowers cascade through the palate in lush, hedonistic droves. While formidably tannic, the structure is so ripe and sweet that I can’t imagine that the evolutionary phases of this wine will ever see real austerity. Should be a legendary Barton, 97+ points.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Ultimate France vs. California Blind Taste-Off

Ever since the debacle of 1976 in Paris, blind tastings that pit California against France have garnered a lot of excitement and press. This may partly be due to an American sense of nationalistic pride, comparing these tastings to the quest for gold at an Olympic event, or perhaps the French still have a chip on their shoulder from the drubbing California gave them 31 years ago (at least that’s what us proud countrymen would like to think!). Either way, blind tastings that showcase dramatically different regions of the globe tend to humble the most confident of connoisseurs, while they often illuminate elements of wine that we might not have seen, had we not been blind.

While there are always plenty of criticisms regarding competitive tastings that involve more restrained, elegant wines vs. more powerful, higher alcohol expressions, this tasting was extremely well executed by David Gordon and company at the Tribeca Grill as they conjured an atmosphere that was purely based on intrigue. While I was able to correctly determine what each one of the 16 wines were (I usually do terribly in blind tastings!), it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t surprised with the results and it certainly doesn’t suggest that I didn’t learn anything from the exercise.

I was not surprised that most California wines were richer in color and more effusive in their personalities, nor was I shocked that the French wines developed tertiary nuances and minerality to a much more profound degree than that of their Californian counterparts. What was unexpected was that these differences did not skew the results, at least not to my palate. My notes should capture the fact that quality is quality, whether or not it comes in an opulent package or a more ethereal one. California and France can both make world class wines, and the beauty of their qualities is that they are different. I am certain that the elitist, dogmatic palates will state that the distinction between a French Bordeaux and a Napa Cabernet is what makes them ‘better.’ The discussions surrounding so called superiority simply because France makes wines that have more finesse and subtlety or Californian wines are the best because of their size and power are absolute gibberish droll. Last nights tasting clarified that some stylish French wines were of better absolute quality than their Californian partner. It also highlighted that some heady Californian efforts were more impressive wines than their French cohorts. Having power alone doesn’t make a wine great, nor does the vaunted goal of minerality. Although both of these viticultural places are truly unique, uniqueness alone does not make them great. My impressions should expose what I believe makes wines great.

The first two wines were served as non-blind aperitifs with passed appetizers.

2005 Francois Villard Terraces du Palat, Condrieu
A Viognier that is stunningly pure in its definition and clarity, with an electrically charged minerality that pulses through the broad, lush flavors of mangoes, peach cobbler, key limes and flowers. Admirable in its sense of restraint and exposes the class of the appellation in an almost disarming fashion, 94 points.

2005 Alban Estate Viognier
The Alban is a more extroverted, primal expression of the grape that showcases a torrent of creamy apricot pie, cinnamon, quince and lychee flavors that are authoritative and exotic. Thick and fat, flexing more alcoholic power than the Condrieu, but offering up just enough nervy character to keep things honest, 92 points.

You are all going to hate me, but I am not going to say which wine is which so you will have to read through and find out for yourselves just like I did. I encourage you to throw a few guesses my way ;)

The wines are listed in no particular order.

Chardonnay flight (Peter Michael ‘La Carriere’ 2003, Kongsgaard 2003, Chassagne Montrachet ‘Ruchottes,’ Ramonet 2003 and Meursault ‘Rougeots,’ Coche Dury 2003 paired with a warm Maine lobster salad, chanterelle & truffle crepe)

Number 1:
An elegant Chardonnay that plays things extremely close to the vest, exposing some high toned aromas of golden delicious, pear skins, honeysuckle, fresh cut wood and a touch of damp earth. The structure and impeded stoniness can be sensed w/ clarity on the finish, hinting at a lovely potential evolution. The most tightly wound and reserved wine of the bunch, 90+ points.

Number 2:
A much more richly perfumed and unctuous example, sending notes of smoky burnt wood, hard spices, fig, marmalade and warm brioche through the senses offering pleasure and precision. While the wine offers quite a bit of body and a sense of under-stated power, the finish trails off a bit and tempers my enthusiasm from erupting, 92+ points.

Number 3:
This wine offered perhaps the most singular, distinctive aromatic display that I’d ever experienced in young Chardonnay. Exotically perfumed and flamboyantly expressive in its dazzling array of white flowers, hazelnuts, mulled spices, baked apples, honeyed figs and rice pudding notes. This is an exceptionally unique wine that has tremendous character, depth, length and intensity of flavor that isn’t often achieved in this varietal, 97 points.

Number 4:
The last was certainly the most ostentatious, giving the tasters a thrill ride, almost gushing w/ notes of buttered pecans, over-ripe honeydew melons, crème brulee and dried apricots. Richly colored, seamlessly textured and offering a cornucopia of power and density from start to finish. A prototypical ‘American Chardonnay,’ but executed in a nearly flawless fashion, 96 points.

Pinot Noir flight (Marcassin ‘Marcassin Vineyard’ 2001, 2002, Echezeaux Jean Grivot, 1999 and Echezeaux Dujac, 1996 served w/ mushroom crusted halibut over flageolet beans, pancetta and Swiss chard)

Number 5:
An intensely colored Pinot Noir, w/ heady sweet notes of kirsch liqueur, toffee, strawberry jam and rhubarb pie. While very ripe and pushing its intensity to the max, there is a tantalizing underbrush streak and decent juxtaposed acidity that keeps things in symmetry. Certainly stemmed from Zinfandel sensibilities, but harnessed enough to pull it off, 94 points.

Number 6:
The lightest wine of the flight by a long shot, exposing a bit of amber in its light ruby hues, offered the most captivating scents of the flight. Notions of briar, damp moss, leafy vegetation, leather, rose water and ripe cherries scintillate through the senses like autumn winds bustling forest leaves from tree to tree. Unfortunately, after all that poetry, this wine had an emaciated, underwhelming palate that lacked depth and was marred by an angular personality. Perfume is what matters in Pinot to most, but stuffing is essential for me to swoon in any wine that I evaluate, 85 points.

Number 7:
I actually found this wine to be a tad more ambitious than the 5th of the flight, offering up overt scents of crushed berries (raspberry, strawberry), cassis liqueur and red plum jam. The wine is delicious, if a tad superficial. A bit of a powerhouse Pinot Noir, but I’ve had more compelling examples of this style as this doesn’t capture all the charm and seduction that Pinot is capable of expressing at its finest, 92 points.

Number 8:
This deep ruby colored Pinot defied you to approach it, as it was the most youthful (not necessarily chronologically), reductive and foreboding effort of the bunch. Scents of leather, melted asphalt, braised game, and deep, dark cherries make themselves apparent through vigorous aeration. The palate is full of juicy dark fruits that are masculine and ruggedly tannic, finishing w/ sinew and savory elements that barely hint at where this wine is headed. In need of a decade or more in the cellar, but watch out, it is going to be a stunner when it comes around, 94+ points.

There will be more comments on this flight to follow as I unveil the wines. It was an interesting group.

Cabernet Sauvignon flight (Araujo ‘Eisele,’1999, Chateau Montelena 1996, Lynch Bages 1996 and Ducru Beaucaillou 1996 paired with grilled dry aged NY strip steak alongside braised short ribs & porcini mousse)

Number 9:
The first of the group was crisp, mature and full of complexity. Notions of tobacco, pepper, licorice, tilled earth, truffles and black currant are bright, medium bodied and have a bit of a chewy disposition. While the wine is by no means a blockbuster, it is noble and full of charm and is sure to satiate any fan of finesse-driven Cabernet, 90 points.

Number 10:
A much more brooding wine than the first not only in stature but in it’s intensely wound persona. Ripe and still a bit backward, this Cabernet yielded notes of violet, crème de cassis, cedar, graphite and dried porcini mushrooms as it sat in the glass. This savory, mineral rich, plump red still needs some time to fully bloom, but it’s quality is currently undeniable, 94+ points.

Number 11:
The third Cabernet of the flight was perhaps even further away from maturity than the second, as it showed in austere and stubborn fashion throughout the entire tasting. A tannic, excruciatingly backward palate nearly concealed its hidden flavors of iron, tea, currant, flowers and crushed raspberry. Hopefully another five years in the cellar will help unwind the tannic stranglehold in this wine, 90+ points.

Number 12:
The irresistible sexpot of the Cabernet tasting was precocious from the get go, exposing its ripe underbelly of black currant, blackberry, spice box, mocha and flint flavors in spectacular fashion. The ripest of the bunch was juicy, supple and full of richly layered dark fruit in the palate that were buttressed by a wondrously plush texture, pumping out the flavors effortlessly to a lengthy conclusion. At the top of its game last night and should drink well for another ten years easily, 96 points.

The final, Syrah flight consisted of Sean Thackery ‘Orion,’ 2002, Alban ‘Reva,’ 2002, Hermitage, Chave 1999 and Cote Rotie ‘Chateau D’Ampuis,’ Guigal 1999 (served w/ artisanal chesses: Chaource from Champagne, Laura Chenel from California, La Tommett from the Pyrenees and Grafton Cheddar from Vermont)

Number 13:
While the first of the flight was exceptionally tight, it was ultimately the most promising. Hauntingly proportioned notes of violet, bacon grease, melted licorice, raspberry ganache and tobacco flavors were exceptionally pretty and elegant in their presentation. The palate had a gorgeous beam of pure, mineral laced fruit that sashayed along muscular tannins to a lengthy finish. This should prove to be an immortal Syrah. I wouldn’t touch it for another 5 years, 95-97 points.

Number 14:
A bit darker, more saturated color presented itself in the next wine, which offered up the most interesting smorgasbord I’d ever witnessed in a young Syrah. Idiosyncratic, wild notes of red cabbage, chive, thyme, basil and parsley drenched the taster’s nose as if it were serving up a fresh herb fare from a Turkish bazaar. The palate got a bit more serious, with deep, rich cassis, mocha and spice flavors that brought this wine into a bit more equilibrium from its eccentric beginnings. Outstanding for sure, but I can’t help but wonder where ‘unique’ becomes flat out weird, 93 points.

Number 15:
This is a flat out gorgeous example of Syrah, from anywhere. Fantastically pure shots of grilled game, crunchy dark fruits, violet, black pepper, hoisin sauce and sweet toast burst from the glass as if they were launched from an airstrip. While it struck me as a bit heady initially, the density of the palate was surprisingly restrained, composed and full of muscular tannins that meant business. Wonderfully proportioned and impeccably made juice, 95 points.

Number 16:
The deepest and darkest colored wine of the flight was a pedal to the medal thrill ride that erupted like Mount Kilimanjaro. Inky, palate staining flavors of super-ripe blueberries, blackberry reduction sauce, tar, white flowers and a cornucopia of Asian spices fluttered throughout the palate like a muscular ballerina dancer. Layers and layers of rich fruit dazzled in their concentration and admirable poise, in spite of the sheer size of the wine. This puppy was a tour de force that demonstrates what controlled explosion is all about, 96 points.

Monday, November 12, 2007

One of the World's Best Whites

Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes 2004
This pure Roussanne from 50 plus year old vines has long been the standard bearer of greatness in white Chateauneuf du Pape, and the 2004 rendition absolutely continues the trend. An extremely deep hued, brilliant golden color hints that this juice is a force to be reckoned with from the get go. Formidably complex aromas tare the senses up, riveting notions of orange marmalade, honey coated pineapples, lanolin and green tea leaves detonate themselves from the glass. This Roussanne is supremely precise in the mouth, with a flan-like texture that I find captivating, as well as hedonistically satisfying. Controlled explosions of crushed rocks and buttered walnuts cascade through the wine’s marathon-like finish, leaving me nearly exhausted from the tasting experience. I defy all producers of Chateauneuf to rival Beaucastel’s haunting expression of Roussanne, as this wine belongs on stage for the world’s best wines, period, 96 points.

To anyone that has yet to try this, I imagine there is something within this wine that will dazzle just about any aficionado. Ever wish your Chenin Blanc was just a bit more generous and fat? Want your Burgundy to be a tad more interesting? Perhaps you are a Viognier fan that craves more depth? Time to step up to the plate…

Monday, November 05, 2007

Eternal Sunshine of a Wine-less Mind

Our own Daniel Posner celebrated his 10th year at the helm of his own retail outfit, Grapes the Wine Company, with a lavish event that showcased over 150 wines from across the globe. I have been critical of the ‘gang-tasting’ events that prize volume and labels over access and evaluation, and I am happy to say that Grapes put together an event that offered something for everyone. Whether you were there for a 50 dollar buzz or an educational tour from some of the world’s most interesting wines, the event spliced adequate surface area w/ judicious organization that was capable of satiating just about any taster’s appetite. Top notch representatives from diverse distributors offered up candid dialogue in a forum that was not only approachable, but almost serene in comparison to the majority of large tasting events that I’ve attended. Kudos to Grapes for setting an archetype that any aspiring tasting event should follow in the future.

I was graciously introduced to Josh Raynolds, an assistant editor for Steve Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar publication, and enjoyed tasting just about everything under the sun w/ him. Josh is not only a passionate, talented wine professional, he is also an engaging and approachable gentleman. While he doesn’t claim that any of his opinions on wine are definitive, his open mind and keen industry sense is as refreshing as it is commendable.

Being blessed w/ such company inspired me to splice together a few streams of consciousness that were compiled throughout the evening. I hope you enjoy my oddly focused monologue in lieu of my customary tome of comprehensive notes and perhaps will entertain a bit of discussion on any nerve these observations might pinch.

· In Champagne, some non vintage cuvees can be utterly compelling. Taittinger fashions a NV called ‘Prelude’ that caused me to swoon like a 12 year old girl at a school dance. The blend is derived exclusively from grand cru vineyards (50% Chardonnay from Avize and Le Mesnil sur Oger in the Cote des Blancs; 50% Pinot Noir from Bouzy and Ambonnay in the Montagne de Reims). The depth, penetration and impaling precision literally brought a tear to my eye, as Josh and I continued to drool over subsequent samples that were generously poured. How many NV bubblies still strike a profound chord when they are tasted after a Two Hands Shiraz? Look out Krug, there is a new sheriff in Champagne that doesn’t need a vintage date to be absolutely breath-taking!

· Wine has plenty of guilty pleasures. What constitutes a pleasure as guilty is highly personal, particularly in wine. Perhaps Robert Parker has a couple of Chinons stashed away that he actually digs, or maybe a magnum of 1990 German Pinot Noir is nestled tidily under his bed (sorry to pick on you Bob, but I just had to!). Maybe hardcore Riesling junkies don’t want to admit that they have a bit of a fetish for Mollydooker’s Two Left Feet? Well, for whatever reason, I am ashamed to admit that I liked the Prisoner, Orin Siwft’s recycling bin of random varietals that include Zinfandel, Cabernet, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Charbono. For some inexplicable reason I feel like I shouldn’t like it. Perhaps it’s the Charbono, or it could be that it is unabashedly delicious without any real rhyme or reason. Either way, don’t tell the wine snob Gestapo that I dig the Prisoner. It will be our little secret.

· How many times do tasters form a concrete opinion on a wine before they actually put the glass to their lips? The 2003 vintage in Europe was perhaps one of the best examples of this phenomenon, with countless opinions from the angry mob claiming that the Merlot was flaccid, the Cabernets were cooked, the Rieslings were soft and the Grenache was a hollow tannic mess. The voices of thousands seem to resonate as if they were shouted into echo chambers from high-tension towers. The ‘collective’ opinion can become so loud and so ferociously vehement that you can’t help but buy in, even though the majority of the collective hasn’t tasted the wines (what is tasting, like a pre-requisite or something?!). Well, tasting the 2003 Sociando Mallet absolutely smashed the aggregate rationale about what the boiled Medoc wines taste like. Not only was it approachable, perfumey and beautifully symmetrical, it was subtle! If I owned multiple bottles I would have no shame in popping one tonight. Not for research, not to experiment, but for consumption! Damn that ‘guilty pleasure’ of committing infanticide too, come out of the ‘infant Bordeaux’ closet with me, it is quite liberating! If you tasted before you judged, you’d remember that vintage characteristics are full of caveats my friends!

· Australians are brilliant tannin managers. From high end to low end, poor vintage to grand, all the Aussie wines that I tasted were round, silky and sans hard edges. Whether or not they were all great wines is certainly up for debate, but they know what us Americans like. If you poll a few hundred average wine consumers in America about what they look for in a red wine, 9 out of 10 of them would list ‘smooth’ as the characteristic that they admire most (well it might be relegated to number 2, behind ‘having alcohol’ of course). The Southern Starz portfolio demonstrated that Australian Riesling doesn’t have to be reserved and mineral (showcased by the tropical, forward Koonowla 2007) and that Shiraz isn’t always an alcoholic explosion (the crisp, perfumed Oliver Hill lineup was full of violet and red fruits that were, of course, smooth).

· The Spanish battleground of the modernists and the traditionalists couldn’t be more dichotomous. We tasted a 1989 Priorat from Clos de L’Obac that was so old it made me wonder if Priorat even existed when the grapes were harvested (I had no clue where the wine was from until Josh enlightened me). Curiously enough, the wine was idiosyncratic, nuanced and spectacularly loaded w/ finesse. I have no clue how a 2001 Clos de L’Obac will age because I presume it is not fashioned in anywhere near the style that the ’89 was, but this 18 year old Carignan based blend proved to be a fascinating glimpse into the brief history of this en vogue region. What strikes me as an even more beguiling proposition is whether or not today’s Priorat drinker would even enjoy such a wine?

· Clarendon is an absolutely stunning producer of Syrah (not Shiraz, Syrah). I couldn’t help but notice how similar these wines are to Christophe Baron’s Cayuse Syrah from Washington. The make up, style and explosively sauvage elements that these wines possess are as close to Cote Rotie as I’ve tasted in the New World. The Brookman Vineyard and Piggot Range examples from 2004 are of classic quality and are certainly deserving of all the press and acclaim they’ve been endowed with.

· Clarendon is not a stunning producer of Grenache. The wines that I was most intrigued to taste were the most disjointed, alcoholic and fabricated of the group. Several had off aromas of glue and other marring eccentricities that tempered my enthusiasm and left me very perplexed. While these ‘04s are promising on the palate, they are currently a bit of a mess.

· News flash, Chapoutier is a phenomenal winemaker! Whether it is a bargain from Roussillon (Josh told me his international flights were pouring the ’04 Bila Haut by the glass…I apparently fly the wrong airlines as I’m happy to score a nip of Bolla Soave when I soar across the Atlantic), a high priced Hermitage or a side project in Australia, he flat out knows how to make great wine.

· Godello is a wonderful grape! Whether it is the 2005 Bodegas La Tappan Guitian (which still maintains a sense of plump, generous character in spite of its electric malic acids) or a larger scaled, lavishly oaked Australian Verdelho, I am on board! I know the styles are so contrasting that they seem to have polarized opinions but I happen to think that this grape’s identity is so intensely individual that it can sing either tune in a beautiful harmony. Spain has a band of frugal outlaw white grapes that have snuck their way into my cellar in droves and will continue to do so until my palate is silenced. Verdejo, Albarino, Viura and Godello should be on any consumers radar screen if they seek unique, value driven juice.

· 2004 is a tannic, richly textured vintage for Napa Cabernet that may actually have produced some reasonably priced (relative to Napa) gems that are worth a search. 2004 Howell Mountain Cabernet is a dense, ruggedly flavored beast that I’d love to become more intimately acquainted with a few years down the road. There’s mountain tannins in them thar hills!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Fine Greek Wine, More than just a Mythology Reference…

I stopped into one of my favorite little wine shops, Western Reserve Wines, on my trek out to Cleveland last week to taste a handful of newly released Greek wines. Every Saturday is a tasting day at the Western Reserve, featuring unique gems from regions such as Washington, Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne and the like. This past Saturday’s line up was not only one of their most adventurous, but perhaps their most surprising.

The wines of Greece have undergone a revolutionary fast track towards quality in the 21st century, with the past couple vintages receiving an abundant amount of favorable press from the Wine Spectator. While the word may be out, it has yet to strike a chord w/ the vast majority of the United States wine consuming public, and I, personally, have only a trivial amount of Greek experience under my belt to boast about. Although my Greek resume is small, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with you.

While there are sparse plantings of French varietals on Greek soils, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Viognier, the native grapes are the ones receiving the buzz. Names like Moschofilero, Roditis, Assyrtiko and Agiorgitiko may be difficult to pronounce, but have demonstrated singular, rewarding character from their native soils. Three regions, in particular, have demonstrated success in producing native white varietal wines with distinctive perfume, lithe acidity and noble minerality. These regions include: the island of Rhodes (with the Athiri grape in particular), Mantinia (a northern district of the Peloponnese) with Moschofilero and Santorini. The heights that Santorini has already achieved, via the Assyrtiko grape, has confirmed my belief that this country can produce world class wines.

Santorini is not only a beautifully remote island getaway; it is a viticultural realm at the extreme limit of cultivation. Severely arid summer winds force vintners to reinforce the vines by wrapping them around baskets, which are protected in a basin of the island's volcanic soils. Yields are naturally minimal, but the best exposures of the island offer steep slopes with generous, southern exposures. Managing a Santorini vineyard is labor intensive and expensive, which leads me to believe that prices will likely rise quickly if the demand becomes more substantial. Santorini is demonstrating, much like the Mosel or Cote Rotie, that the rewards of severe viticulture can be rich, as evidenced by the character found in some of the island's top Assyrtiko bottlings.

The tasting consisted of four wines from Domaine Skouras and an Assyrtiko from Domaine Sigalas. Although I tasted a mere five wines that Saturday, I believe they encapsulate some of the diversity and potential that Greece possesses. Don't forget, this country has the richest, most storied tradition of wine growing on the planet. Perhaps they've still got a few from the vine up their sleeves....

2006 Domaine Sigalas, Santorini
A very perfumey, tightly knit Assyrtiko that slowly unfolds in the glass. Subtle suggestions of the exotic are juxtaposed to bee pollen, sliced apple skin and a smoky, gun flint note that pierces throughout the palate. The depth and length to this wine is as outstanding as the minerality is precise. This 2006 Sigalas is a very impressive; Grand Cru Chablis-like effort that should prove to not only endure, but evolve w/ grace, 91+ points. This is the finest dry white I’ve tasted from Greece. Sigalas also makes a barrel fermented version, which demands additional bottle age to unfold its lovely varietal character.

2006 Domaine Skouras White Peloponnese
This is the lowest tier cuvee that Skouras makes and it certainly does not fain any sense of sincerity. This inexpensive white (priced around 8 dollars) is intended for summer quaffing, offering up clean and breezy aromatics that are a touch soft, but certainly refreshing with a crystalline purity in its purpose. Delicious, if not complex, 83 points.

2006 Domaine Skouras Moschofilero
A dead ringer for a Viognier in the nose, this Moschofilero shouts out peachy, tropical notes that are supported by additional dimensions of pineapple and coconut in the in the palate. A ripe, but defined example of the grape that shows demonstrates the importance of cut with its ample acidity, 87 points. What interested me most about this wine was that nearly all Moschofilero expressions I’d had before were full of citrus notes and briny minerality that screamed for shellfish. This grape certainly has versatility and offers intriguing dynamics when planted in different sites.

The following two reds come from the Agiorgitiko grape.

2004 Domaine Skouras St. George Nemea
Out of the two red cuvees Skouras makes, this is the lower end, more moderately priced version. The aromatics of this red were lacking in inspiration, but the palate made up for what the nose missed out on. Notes of bitter toffee, smoky plum and pepper notes are wonderfully lifted and supple in the mouth, allowing a clear sense of minerality to sweep the body through to the finish. The acidity of the grape is a tad higher than most reds and the skins are somewhat thinner, allowing for greater transparency of site, 85+ points.

2003 Domaine Skouras Grand Cuvee Nemea
The best of the lot goes into the ‘Grand Cuvee,’ and this ’03 was mighty impressive. The aromas were so much more compelling than that of its younger sibling, evoking a dazzling array of graphite, ripe strawberry, damp earth, chocolate and sweet tobacco. Riper, more generous and even more defined in the mouth, this Agiorgitiko reminds me of a hypothetical blend of a Barbera’s texture with the perfume and acidity of a Nebbiolo. Both of these examples from Skouras showcase detailed minerality, crunchy acidity and soft tannins. Should be excellent with food, 89+ points.

Cleveland rocks...and so do vertical flights of Pegau!

Trips out to Cleveland occur w/ frequency as it is home base for my father in law and serves as my wife's proverbial stomping grounds. Considering that the Indians failed to close out the hated Boston Red Sox, coupled with a slow start by the Cavaliers, our most recent visit demanded copious amounts of libation to numb our sense of sports related melancholy. Loren Sonkin put together an evening of mythic proportions, attracting people near and far to indulge in flights that showcased Champagne, the Loire, California Pinot Noir and of course, a mini-vertical of Domaine de Pegau. The bubbles catalyzed the evening in lovely fashion....

2000 Roederer Rose
A light salmon color w/ golden speckled hues. Extremely yeasty aromatics of puff pastry, dried honey and doughy, vanilla cream are quite classy in nature. The palate is vigorous and youthful, slowly revealing dried cherry and citrus zest elements in its laser guided attack. Should evolve beautifully w/ some additional cellaring, 92 points.

NV Ruinart Blanc de Blanc Brut Champagne
If only this grower bubbly brought a fraction of its aromatic intensity along to the palate, this would have been a stunning performance. The scents were vivid, complex and captivating, ejecting an array of spicy, buttery hazelnuts, graphite and candied lemons through the air. Unfortunately it was soft in the mouth, a bit whimsical and finished in an abrupt fashion, which kept grounded my excitement. I personally demand more cut, precision and length from Champagne, but still found this to be a very good rendition, 87 points.

For the record, the 3 Loire whites demonstrated how sensual and pure the nose of a fine, young Chenin can dazzle the senses in striking, distinct fashion. Being under the radar and modest are the two most hallowed characteristics for a connoisseur in search of value and these world class gems fit the bill to a t.

2005 Beliviere Coteaux du Loir L’Effraie
A subtle showcase of lovely allure is found in the nose of ground ginger and cinnamon, evoking a sense of quiet seduction that begs for another sniff. While the palate is not overwhelmingly powerful and offers a fine dollop of sweetness, this medium weight Chenin possess fine complexity and precision in its honeyed pear, nutmeg and brown sugar drizzled apple notes. Nicely done, 90+ points.

2005 Francois Chidaine Montlouis Clos du Breuil
This young Chidaine was my favorite wine of the flight, as its exotic, complex and flirty personality seduced me from the get go. Notes of warm slate, golden flowers, chamomile, and honeyed limes had a sense of flamboyance that was purely exquisite. She got quite serious on the palate too, demonstrating depth, length and a stony laced finish. What a wonderful display, 94 points!

2005 Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Sec
Considering that it is heresy to imbibe such a young Huet, we sinners caught a glimpse of what makes this renowned producer of Vouvray so stunning. The most intensely mineral Chenin of the flight was a prude in relation to the Chidaine, hinting at spicy white pepper, persimmon, bitter orange and layers of citrus fruits. While currently backward and unevolved, this young Huet is sure to a stunner during the next decade, 92+ points.

2001 Patz & Hall Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir
Holy lord was this explosive! Initially the scents were subtle, but wondrous in their complexities offering up bacon grease, smoked cedar, floral elements and caramel coated strawberries. Rich, vibrant layers of opulent Pinot Noir fruit oozed over the palate, cranking out a smorgasbord of heady raspberry and cherry ganache that were coated in pure satin. By the end of the glass this Pinot had erupted and authoritatively took the flight with ease, a dazzling Pisoni expression! 96+ points.

2005 Gainey Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Limited Selection
Thank goodness this is a limited selection so it won’t have the opportunity to stain the palates of too many others! Kidding, a bit…being sandwiched in between two rich, pleasure pushing Pinots could be considered cruel and unusual punishment and the Gainey was certainly the unfortunate victim. I found this wine to be a blowzy, superficial effort from famed Santa Rita Hills fruit which had little sense of distinctiveness or excitement. The over-ripe pomegranate and kirsch notes were thin, austere and currently showing a bit too much oak. I don’t think any miracles will happen in the cellar, but I imagine there will be a bit more integration and harmony in time, 84 points.

2003 Sea Smoke Southing
I’ve enjoyed this wine on several occasions and it continues to age beautifully. Full of the telltale woodsy forest herbs, sweet sage, smoke and cola scents that seem to exemplify this wine’s personality year in and year out. The plush wild berry and dark cherry fruit is full of sappy, sensuous and outright delicious. I could drink this by the magnum, 93 points.

Let it be said that verticals of Pegau are a rollercoaster ride of pleasure that tend to conclude w/ the proverbial ‘drawing of straws’ to determine which wine pleases you the most. Lineups of this nature are worthy of just about any trek, whether it be your oasis at the end of a sweaty crawl through sun-drenched desert, a parched canoe ride through the Panama canal, or…a flight from New York to Cleveland

1998 Reservee
Classical bretty notes got the Burgundy camp extremely excited, hinting at a bit of horse sweat, saline minerality, pipe tobacco, dusty leather and hearty plum notes that tug at the hearts of Pegau traditionalists. A racy palate, loaded w/ brisk acids (not unlike the Charvin of this vintage) that thrust forth loads of white pepper spiced fruit, submerging the structure of sweetly dissolved tannins. To my palate, this was the weakest showing of the Pegau flight, but I definitely wouldn’t kick this mature lady out of bed, 93 points.

1998 Laurence
It is staggering how different this wine is from the Reservee as I found nearly no similarities at all between their aromatic profiles. Rich, heady notes of kirsch liqueur, crème de cassis and Turkish coffee could have fooled me that they were the product of a riper vintage (at least riper fruit, perhaps a more severe selection?). The palate is fat and generous, with layers of fruit coating the notions of sweet Provencal herbs that have yet to fully emerge in this wine. Far less evolved than the Reservee (thought it spent longer time in wood?) and to me, a more impressive wine, 95+ points.

2000 Reservee
Yeah, yeah, I am a sucker for this wine and it never fails to dazzle me. This was the first and only case purchase I have ever made for personal consumption and each time I taste it, I’m reminded why. An otherworldly nose of Asian spices, graphite, fresh cut cedar and oodles of garrigue stuns me every time I experience it. The mouth-feel is surreal, rendering me in somewhat of a ‘Pegau trance’ as flavors of pepper, mesquite spices, crème de cassis and ripe figs are layered like fine slices of Baklavah pastry. Out of this world, as this synthesis of Provencal power has nowhere to go but up, 97+ points.

2001 (served blind, Loren you clever character)
Chateauneuf du Pape all the way, sporting some brett-like seasonings, roast beef and broodingly deep black currant notes in the nose. A deeply concentrated, tightly structured young wine that delivers oodles of roasted Provencal herbs in a display of power that is seldom found in any other area of the world that grows these varietals. Dynamite stuff Laurence, has a ways to go before it is anywhere near mature, 96+ points.
The ripest, most massive Reservee of them all should prove to be an absolute blockbuster in terms of longevity. The heat of the vintage enabled the Ferauds to conjure a massive, inky breed of Chateauneuf du Pape that seemed to harness its power better than just about any other wine of this vintage. Notes of cassis, dark fig, grilled game, pepper, cinnamon and cocoa brood from the glass w/ an underlining density and intensity that sends shivers down the spine. The palate is loaded w/ liqueur driven fruits that are driven by an unevolved, muscular personality that reverberates on the imposing finish for as long as the watch can tick. A legend in the making that is a tribute to old vine Grenache and will be an absolute treat to watch evolve, 98+ points.

I’ve tasted this wine on 4 separate occasions and this has to be the best showing yet (which is a great sign for you guys that loaded up on this vintage). It has continued to pout on weight in the bottle and flirted w/ some exotic character yesterday evening that I had not detected from previous tastings. Surprisingly developed notes of deep, dark currant, meadow herbs, grilled beef, brewed coffee, cocoa and a touch of boysenberry highlight the profile of this young Chateauneuf. This showing demonstrated more sinew, persistence and opulence than previous tastings and left me very optimistic about the potential of this young wine, 95 points.

2004 Mordoree Reine de Bois
The Mordoree luxury cuvee was an absolutely decadent, inky 2004 Chateauneuf that belies the traditionally racy, leaner profile of the vintage. Notes of fresh mint, molten chocolate, blueberry ganache and fig fruit bombard the taster with intensity and oozing extract. This wine is extremely youthful, remarkably structured and full of mouth searing tannin that demands consumer patience. A blockbuster effort that should be forgotten for close to five years, 96+ points.

Gotta love the additional buffer wines that are brought 'just in case' the dozens of other bottles didn't satiate the general appetite for destruction quite well enough...

2003 Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage Raymond Roure
The epitome of how ‘lesser Rhone appellations’ excelled in 2003, by ratcheting up the ripeness, enabling levels of uncanny depth and generosity of texture seldom found in the region. A potent, round expression of dark plum, Christmas pudding, hard spices and kirsch greet the taster with delight as well as decadence. Pure and full textured in the mouth, bringing loads of pleasure and wonderful harmony, 92 points.

2005 Baumard Quarts de Chaume
An absolutely delectable dessert, full of dried apricot, strawberry preserve, honeysuckle blossom, over-ripe pineapple and a mélange of sweet spices that never overwhelm or cloy. While the wine was exceptionally endowed and rich, the precision, delineation and focus are what set Baumard apart from the rest of the pack. The poor man’s Y’quem of the Loire strikes again, 95 points!