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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Do I like 'em old?

And by aged I am being modest, it was a '92. I heard whisperings from an aspiring winemaker at Paumanok that a Brooklyn retailer had a '25 dollar experience' that was more than worth the price of admission. So of course, I bit (being long-winded w/ wine industry professionals continues to get me in trouble).
The wine itself, a Domaine Aux Moines, from the sub appellation Roche Aux Moines, is the oldest expression of chenin blanc I've tried to date. I wasn't expecting a blockbuster, nor had I hoped to fall in love, but the intrigue I had wished for was certainly realized. Wines of a more delicate maturity tend to evolve before your eyes and offer educational experiences, at least and at best, are breathtakingly transcendental.
The deep golden color suggested some age, but there was no amber in sight. My initial reaction to the aromatics were in line with the intense, boytritis end of the spectrum. Boy was that misleading (as the wine was Arabian desert dry), but attractive none the less. Explosive notes of sunflower and rich honeysuckle began to evolve quickly into dried flowers, bee pollen, waxy fruit and a distinctive oily undertone seemed to wrap the eccentric package together (even my fiancee, whom shuns most of my odd-ball descriptors, concurred that the fruit was indeed WAXY!).
Waxed fruit continued through to the palate, coupled w/ dried peach, apricot, honey and a sharp limestone driven minerality that carried the flavors to a nice linger. Although this wine has evolved, and continued to do so in a relatively brief amount of time, I wouldn't suggest that it's over the hill. Other than the flavor profile being a relatively new one to me (bringing that novel question of 'I'm not sure if I love it or hate it' to mind), the only truly troublesome component of the wine seemed to be it's acid spiking abit much for me, which felt almost sour at times.
The wine's merits were in it's complexity, nuance and singular elements that titillated the mind. If it's flavors achieved a tad more harmony and packed some more raw pleasure, I would have been completely on board.
Wines such as these place me in the chair of the student, which allows formy most objective assessments to come forth.
Having said that, there's nothing like loosing your head in a bottle that makes your spine tingle just to smell it. I suppose a marriage of my fore mentioned wine w/ the later would be that bliss I've always searched for.
But for now, 88 points will do ;)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Down by the seashore

I have found that the quintessential shellfish companion lies not in the Loire, but in the land of Greece. Her particular name, moschofilero, may not ring in the same tune that Aphrodite did, but boy is she tailor made for some west coast oysters! No offense to the classy sauvignon blancs of Sancerre, nor their crisp, flinty partners of Pouilly Fume, but this new kid on the block is packing some thunder that may even push Muscadet to the B-list of your local French bistros.

Off the beaten path, and on a whim, my fiancee and I stumbled our way through the chilly streets of Park Avenue South in search of the perfect shells to indulge on. We ended up at a snazzy little seafood joint called the City Crab, which seemed to be just the ticket to satiate our early evening craving. While taking a quick poke through the wines by the glass list, our bartender suggested one of their new arrivals from a Greek producer called Antonopoulos named Mantinia. While I had recently heard that Antonopoulos received some positive press, I was still very unfamiliar of the grape (Mantinia is made from 100 percent moschofilero). His recommendation turned out to be my inspiration for this post.....damn was it spot on!

In the most recent edition of textbook pairings there needs to be an insert on Greek moschofilero with Pacific oysters in the 'pair like w/ like' classics column. Big reds w/ heavy foods, delicate wines w/ delicate dishes and, oh yeah, briny wines w/ briny oysters. Briny wines I say! No only did the Mantinia have soft floral aromatics and a sharp citrus blossom skeleton, the palate was filled w/ a salivating sea salt minerality that evoked notions of sweet Kumamoto Pacific oysters. This was one of the first times I chose to eat my oysters sans sauce, just a dab of lemon was more than sufficient. They tasted as pure as the wine, and bringing them together only intensified their sweet, sea-like qualities. Harmony as it should be. Good lord what a match!

Unfortunately my fiance's competitive Turkish roots halted her from enjoying the moment due to the fact that it was tainted by her home land's bitter rival. Perhaps next time I'm adventurous enough to try a white wine that has Mediterranean descent it will have a brown paper bag over it.

Considering that Greek reds seem to offer much less singular qualities at the moment, I think their staple white grape called Roditis should be my next experiment. Maybe I'll just leave the angry Turk out of this research project. It's all Greek to her anyway.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Super second!

Ornellaia's 2004 Le Serre Nuove represents the pinnacle of my new found respect for the much maligned 'middle relief pitcher quality' that I've expected from 2nd wines in recent years. After surprising performances from the '03 Bordeaux baby big dogs; Les Forts, Pavillon Rouge, Bahans, and Carruades, the saucy Serre Nuove Super Tuscan punctuated a string of consecutively great second wine experiences for me.
It started w/ my surprise at the label's alcohol content, topping the charts at 14.5 plus. After decanting for two hours, the almost opaque deep purple color seeped into the glass and began to ooze one hell of a sexy bouquet. Dense but subtle, the nose was loaded w/ depth and upside. Graphite, dried fig, currant, tobacco and kalamata olives penetrated past the rim during aeration. The mid palate didn't disappoint at all as it only grew stronger with time. Beams of blackberry, rose petal, raspberry and currant ganache coasted beautifully over the tongue to reveal sweetly firm tannins that provided nice structure to the wine's endowed fruit. The finished lingered beautifully, tempting another sip.
I find wines like this, that is wines that can tread through the waters of both old world elegance and new world opulence, to be the most pleasing to my palate. While versatile w/ food and satisfying on it's own individual merit, Le Serre Nuove's 2004 example has become my king of queens for a category of wine that I'd previously relegated to 'sloppy seconds.' Bravo, 93-94 points baby!
Goodness knows what the grand vin has in store in '04...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On the way to dinner.....

It was a more than pleasant surprise to stumble onto the Vine Wine Bar in Greenport, Long Island (wine country of the North Fork). While it pays no attention to the local juice, the offerings of international wines are more than broad in scope and generous in pedigree.

Apparently they had put together a handful of Bordeaux tastings in the previous week, w/ some welcome leftovers remaining for lucky patrons such as myself. The wine that interested me the most, the '96 Montrose (which I have patiently been sitting on during it's hibernating years), was only available by the bottle. So here's what I was able to pounce on during the evening:

1995 Duhart Milon (Pauillac)
Nose was enticingly elegant, w/ sweet balsamic reduction, fresh flowers, meaty plum and a touch of subtle spice. While the aromatics were persuasive in all their strengths, the thin mid palate left much to be desired. Spicy cedar and moderately high acid left me wondering whether it would ever fill out? 88 points.
2003 Haut Vigneau (Pessac-Leognan)
Smelled of white pepper and tons of rusticity, very mourvedre-like in aromatic character.Lots of body, laden w/ spicebox, earth, bramble and meat but lacking fruit of any conviction. Texture was chunky, w/ modest anise echoing on the finish. 83 points.
2000 La Grave a Pomerol (Pomerol)
The surprising wine of the flight. A fully loaded nose, w/ massive amounts of pepper, mineral, licorice and a lovely lavender undertone. The full bodied palate was profoundly concentrated, w/ milk chocolate, melted licorice and gorgeous dark cherry fruit that lingered on and on. Still an excellent value. 93 points.
2003 Cap de Faugeres (Cotes de Castillon)
Glass aerated w/ a bevy of dried red currant juice nicely. Blackberries, and raspberry jam filled the mouth nicely, w/ finely grained tannins. Not ultimately complex, but delicious none the less. 89 points.
1995 Calon Segur (St. Estephe)Disappointment of the evening. While lovely violet and blackberry notes were initially present, an overwhelmingly yeasty/doughy aroma overwhelmed me. I've noted this in the past w/ some lower end Nero d'Avolas from Sicily, and consider it to be a flaw that detracts from the fruit. While I don't think anyone else was noticing these characteristics, I couldn't find the wine drinkable. The tannins coated the mouth, were a tad overly astringent and firm, as the yeasty-elements returned in the palate. While Calon is a rough one in it's youth, I'm uncertain as to whether or not the off-elements will blow off in time. Not rated.
The evening was capped off beautifully w/ a spectacularly mineral Clos des Treilles Anjou. Great little wine bar in Greenport and definitely worth a pit stop if you happen to pop in the neighborhood.

Friday, January 12, 2007

My idol on the tube!

Who says spending two decades of smoking weed won't get you anywhere?! After acquiring cult status for his fammed smuggling incident of La Tache vine cuttings in his tighty whities, Gary Pisoni has officially hit the mainstream. Perfectly encapsulated in the relatively conservative 'In Wine Country,' Gary's splash on television echoes just as loudly as one of his pinot noirs. I've always imagined him to be a bit idiosyncratic, but check out how he showcases his spastic words and impulsive behaviors, while maintaining his old fashioned values of family. Winemakers really are just like their wines, or is it the other way around?
(To view the video, click 'In Wine Country')

Wave of the future....
I'm a tad skeptical of the ability of the machine to preserve wines for 21 days, but the concept of the technology is great. The only domestic wine store that I know of which purchased the 'Enomatic' device is Union Square Wines in Manhattan. If you can stomach the David Beckham-esque host, check out the goods!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A New Vintage
For those out there whom are not New Yorkers, 'Vintage NY' has become Manhattan's home to all things grown from the local New York soils. A winery-esque tasting room and retail shop offers visitors the ability to sample hundreds of NY renditions of state wines for a modest fee (5 tastes, 5 bucks), with all wines available for purchase in the shop. The adjacent restaurant fashions adventurous dishes in elegant style, with all its produce coming exclusively from the Empire State's own backyard.
Every so often the local winemakers will arrive for a 2 hour presentation of their portfolios at Vintage, pairing their wines w/ local preparations as they try to introduce some agricultural pride to the concrete jungle's faithful. Programs take place in the 'cellar,' w/ introductions made by Vintage New York's co-proprietor Robert Ransom (whom was also the founder for the Hudson Valley's Rivendell Winery).
Now I am hardly a grizzled veteran of these programs, but last night I made my second appearance to watch Eric Fry (winemaker for Lenz, located on the North Fork) present his broad array of wines. Even though I have visited Lenz twice in the past, I knew little of Eric beyond his polished reds and progressive whites. I could taste talent, just as I could sense a generally aloof attitude towards the wine writing collective and blatant disdain for the notion of becoming a marketing whore. I knew enough to be interested.
His appearance and demeanor did not disappoint. From the ruggedly unpretentious facial features to his gnarly salt and pepper beard, which could only be trumped by a shadowy vision of his 27 year old merlot vines, he was as he should be. Joe winemaker. Probing deeper I was able to uncover that he worked at Jordan Winery in the '70s, for none other than Andre Tchelischeff, the Napa Valley pioneer himself. After growing tired of the California scene, Andre told him to go east to the Finger Lakes, a concept as surreal at the time as a Napa cab from Stag's Leap showing up the hallowed Bordeaux chateau in the '76 Paris tasting. Eric ended up at Dr. Frank’s Winery, and through his contacts he assumed his 'control freak' status of becoming a full time winemaker in an area even more absurd during the 80's, Long Island. In addition to his winemaking duties at Lenz, Eric consults for dozens of other wineries on the east coast (another nugget of knowledge that happened to surprise me).
The presentation was generous. Starting w/ their 2000 vintage sparkler (Eric believes the only suitable use for North Fork pinot is in bubblies, I couldn't agree more) he proclaimed that no one should taste before they try the food, as wine's most important place is as an accompaniment to food. 'Allow the food to change the wine, and the wine to change the food. Experiment, it's important to find matches that don't work to allow you to understand the beauty of a good marriage.' He would echo similar sentiments throughout, even adding that when tasting a wine in isolation you should at least imagine it w/ particular foods to appreciate its true merit.
While the sparking wine, which was aged 5 years on its lees, began somewhat austere and minerally, the toastiness and cream were accentuated beautifully by the pairings w/ food that seemed to prove his point. The old vines Chardonnay, poured second, was less inspiring on it's own but began to strut its stuff when accompanied by w/ poached pears, drizzled subtlety in a balsamic reduction. Fry's Gewürztraminer, in my opinion Long Island's best, had a Trimbach-esque reserved quality. Eric danced around the difficulty his vineyard manager has w/ growing gewurtz, as it seems to mature on the vine as erratically as the New York Giants play on the field was in 2006. Up to this point, with the exception of the loud Italian floozy in the back of the class, opinions were anything but subversive. Then a question was asked about why a particular California gewurtz had residual sugar, and the flood gates to the California bash party had opened w/ a bang.
For the next 30 minutes, all that was wrong w/ the wine industry was encapsulated directly in the Californian model. The firmest gauntlet of angst was thrust by Robert Ransom of Rivendell Winery. Claims of California planting only what is in vogue, compensating for poor wine making w/ sugar, and spearheading the merlot-ization of the United States ran rampant. All of California's progress was enveloped in a package of Kendall Jackson and buttery chardonnay. The American 'cola palate,’ which originated in California of course, was deemed responsible for the proliferation of sticky sweet pinot gris, riesling and sauvignon blanc.
Even Eric couldn't help but to strike some blows towards Zind Humbrecht for Olivier's turbo-charged grand cru expressions of overblown whites (which I happen to ADORE and consider to be at the pinnacle the of world's finest wines). I understand where New York vintners are coming from, but in order for them to be ultimately respected they must not confuse pride, passion and promotion w/ defensive combatism.
Having said that, Eric's red wines are at the apex of Long Island's current crop of unheralded stars. The Lenz merlots belong in the ranks of New York’s finest; like Bedell, Paumanok, Pellegrini and Wolffer. With the exception of Wolffer's premier cru merlot, the Lenz old vine's rendition is the most expensive and regarded red table wine on the island.
The tasting was punctuated beautifully w/ the 2001 old vines, which I believe is their sexiest effort to date. While tight and closed during infancy (not unlike a baby St. Emilion), it is just starting to blossom into adolescence. The nose was pumped out scorched earth, wild mushroom, roasted game and a kiss of red and black peppers. The depth of fruit on the palate was ultimately impressive, loaded w/ sappy berries, melted licorice and plum flavors that lingered with lace.
To further demonstrate how ‘right bank’ the mid segment of the North Fork is, the Lenz Cabernet is a quintessential example. Eric's cabernet is actually 'beefed up' w/ his merlot! The moderate climate is a tad too chilly to ripen cabernet adequately w/o developing harsh, astringent tannins. In order to compensate, Eric harvests in mid November, and ferments the cabernet grapes at cool temperatures to keep tannin extraction soft. Meanwhile, merlot thrives on the sand bar of the North Fork (growers also add a layer of limestone to the soils every year to facilitate vine growth) and it's thicker skins and deeply rich colors are necessary for Eric's softer cabernet to achieve balance. Weird huh? Perhaps he should take his own advice about Long Island pinot noir by sticking w/ merlot and cab franc and letting those bastard children of 'the left bank' in Napa Valley handle the rest.
Fry finds planting what’s fashionable as interesting as Wine Spectator scores. He has uncompromising vision and doesn’t shy away from blind tastings vs. Chateau Petrus. Most importantly, his merlot vines are just coming into their own, and they are not alone. While a pure memory of a '97 Pellegrini Merlot remains fresh in my mind, I can’t help but cringe as I watch the media underestimate the longevity and evolution of these young reds. While prices scare away most connoisseurs and intermediate wine drinkers from becoming better acquainted w/ the Fork's fruit, what consumers must realize is that these price tags still are not high enough to put these passionate winemakers in the black. It will take some time, but w/ their passion will come perseverance.
Past the busy Manhattan skylines of my backyard is a real frontier. The beauty is that these vineyards hold a focus and a goal that truly is not about money, and for us 'Vintage New Yorkers,' that's definitely something to be proud about.