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Friday, April 27, 2007

Catena Alta Malbec 2003, way too young to be 'Alta'

Never underestimate a young Malbec from a top tier producer. Foreplay aside, the wine spent 2-3 hours in a decanter, w/ plenty of aeration and outside agitation. Mendoza Malbec seem to have such a gorgeous bright purple hue, not only saturated but w/ an almost fluorescence in the shade that I don't often seen replicated by other varietals. I almost never wax on about color, so that should suffice to say I find it uniquely attractive.

What an exhaustingly backward wine! My experiences w/ young Achaval Ferrer malbec is not only duplicated by the Catena, but perhaps surpassed by this vintage. The aromatics are staggeringly reserved, a bevy of lead pencil shavings barely give way to hints of cocoa, plum preserve, and liquefied blueberry notes that are if they are lurking incognito.

The palate was a tad less of a tease, but simply struggled to delineate themselves throughout the evening. There is an unmistakable attractive purity to this wine, irrespective of it's dramatically unevolved nature. The last sip was certainly the best, as toasty purple fruits very slowly began to harmonize amidst their regal tannins.

If one thing about my impression of this wine leaves a resounding thud, I hope for it to be an adjustment of future drinking windows for wines of this nature. I have no shame in drinking wines on the younger side of the spectrum, but this puppy is simply unjustified in being hatched at such an age. If we learned anything from wines like the '77 Wienart Malbec, it's that they have an endowed ability to mature slowly, and well. These are old vine parcels that have been cultivated for well over a century...they merit respect when considering what time they should be popped.

Try again in 2010, w/ a decant...but I can't imagine it's maturity plateau being hit for another decade- and this wine aint goin' anywhere for a long time once it's mature. Friggin' malbec!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hedonism in Westchester

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1999 Rose
Lovely color and soft nose of dried currant and strawberry fruit slowly allured my senses on a picturesque, sun-drenched Westerchester afteroon. The mousse was uniform and authoritative, pumping through graphite, stone and racy citrus flavors w/ the quintessential form you'd hope for in vintage bubbly. Textbook in finesse. 91 points.

Chapelle Aux Loups, Saint Veran 2004 (Jadot)
Leo's 'house wine cheapie' (considering he was ludicrously generous w/ the subsequent bottles he opened, I suppose this would qualify in the 'thrift' category)- definitely held it's own in comparison to the more mature, 1998 grizzly grand gru lineup to come.
The aromatics initially strike me w/ a wave of fresh cut melon, fleshy honeydew that hints at it's succulence in the mouth. As it sits in the glass, basil, mint and floral elements begin to surface. In the mouth, generous w/ it's golden delicious and sheer authoritative mineral clamp on the's intense and full of crushed rock character. Astounding value. 88 points

1998 Corton Grand Cru, Jadot
A relative rarity in 'white' Corton, but needless to say, it's quite appropriate to plant chardonnay in this appellation (at least when Jadot is handling it). Much darker gold than the Saint Veran in color. The complexity of the nose was spellbinding, and continued to morph like a chameleon throughout the afternoon. Sour cream custard, hazelnut shavings, sweet spice, and dried honey lend their way to succulent green apple & intense limestone flavors. This has to be one of the most bracingly nervy expressions of chardonnay I've witnessed. I can't help but evaluate it strongly for it's immense complexity, but caution that the acidity could deter many (it could use a tad more fruit for balance)...just not at our table that evening. 93 points.

Considering my affinity for Burgundy is certainly at the apprehensively novice level, I had yet to experience the sensation of a chardonnay grape that made me hunger for food as insanely as these wines did! Thanks to the fabulous home cooking, I was indeed taken care of.

Criots Batard Montrachet Grand Cru, 1998 Jadot
Brilliant in it's light golden hues, and initially presented itself in a more straightforward fashion than the Corton. Easier to like w/ it's rounder charm, but not as compelling as it's Corton sybling. Baked apple, honeysuckle & notes of cream become more accentuated in time. The palate was full of the essence of tree fruit skins, dried honey & a welcome soft texture- certainly less complex, but easier to enjoy in isolation than the Corton. The personality of this wine was slower to evolve, but certainly gained in steam. I would cellar this for a couple more years as it has more blossoming to look forward to (and will merit a higher score). 89 points.

Nuits Saint Georges, Les Damodes 1997, Jadot
My first thought upon smelling this wine was 'Long Island Cab Franc!' Granted there was much more depth as I further investigated...but the hallmark crushed flowers, red currant and raspberry perfume were certainly there. This certainly is a candidate for utilizing a touch of brett as a seasoning, as it added in complexity instead of detracting from the character. The palate consisted of fruit pits, gravel and judicious amounts of black pepper spice. The soft tannins ended the ride nicely, but my boat wasn't completely rocked. 88 points, sound but not transcendental.

1996 Sassicaia, Tenuta San Guido
Oh the nose of a mature Pauillac couldn't be as clear if it were Lafite herself. Fresh cut cedar, lead pencil, black currant and a hint of dark chocolate were so damn appealing to me! Lovely density to the palate, w/ a range in fruit from dark plumbs to blackberry, as roasted red pepper, graphite and a notion of steel added a mineral complexity towards the finish. Adored the wine, unique and certainly an old fashioned estate that shows much better w/ age. 93 points.

2000 Castello del Terriccio
A nebulous blend (which was discussed above at length) gave rise to a black-purple, saturated color and a completely idiosyncratic nose! Smokey aromatics gave way to matchstick, roasted coffee, espresso drip, melted asphalt and heavy black licorice. I guess the only controversy was whether or not the palate outshined the may well have! Gigantic, even mammoth in the mouth w/ a heavy layer of roasted dark fig, cocoa and pressed plumb filled the palate, almost w/ ease?! The sweetened tannin was shot through a double barrel shotgun & made us all want to stand in the firing squad for the rest of the evening. What a wine; Carlos Ferrini uncovered a gem in this amalgamation. 96 points, wine of the evening.

We concluded w/ a 97 Coteaux Layon (brought by Guy) and a 1975 Suduiraut. I shirked my note taking duties as Guy seemed to really come into his own w/ these wines (and I'm certain his commentary is much more compelling). But my impressions were that the Coteaux Layon literally stuck to my teeth w/ it's overt viscosity & cane sugar. Immense, even stupid amounts of dried apricot, bubble gum and syrup could literally knock one over the head- definitely fun though ;) The Suduiraut (poured from a 375 mL bottle) was much more provocatively enjoying than hedonistic, but damn the finish obliterated anything I've ever tasted! The nose and palate actually NEEDED time for the bitter orange marmalade, apricot & saffron notes to fill out...but even though the body was medium at best, the finish still sung way past the Coteaux Layon for nearly 2 minutes. Guy and I joked that the Coteaux Layon just needed the Suduiraut's acidity and finish to be a perfect wine!

Thanks again Leo, you and your wife are benevolent and wonderful hosts. Loved meeting your kids (so I could finally see who that young man sucking on the Cakebread bottle was) and can't wait to tackle another marathon evening of wine and laughs w/ you two. I miss that alluring nose of white burgundy already....but I still say that hobby is masochism!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A wine evaluation quandry: Utterly profound kabinett
Wow what a vintage 2005 was for the Mosel.

2005 St. Urbans-Hof Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett.

Wines like this make me challenge a lot of preconceived notions about rating or analyzing various groups of wines. To cite some examples:

  1. Can a sauvignon blanc, cab franc or petit verdot receive a 100 point score?
  2. Is it heresy to declare a wine flawless if it comes from South Africa, Greece, India, or Turkey?
  3. Can I pop this Viognier that is 10 years old and be as objective as possible about it?

You get the idea...The pre-conception I currently am dealing w/ is that of the German pradikat. There seems to be a pre-defined range of where Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, BA, TBA and Eiswein fit snugly into. Top flight dessert style wines garnering over 95 points is by no means a stretch...spatlese usually apexes around 95, so on and so forth.

Well the dilemma I have in front of me is that this wine is as utterly perfect as German kabinett can be. The aromatics are a gorgeous mixture of decadent quince, cantaloupe, smoky slate, earth and cream. Each element of the nose seems to balance the other side of the spectrum w/ such powerful precision. The palate is loaded w/ peach cobbler, key lime, baked apple, stony minerality and floral flavors that beam through the mouth w/ laser-like authority and echo endlessly. This is big time wine, ultimate riesling. I don't care where it falls in the ripeness scale, whether or not it is off-dry or dry (even my fiancee adores it and she loathes residual sugar) or how young it is...SMOKING EXAMPLE OF RIESLING! So primal but with such finesse. 8 and change alcohol is as modest as the price (15 bucks or so).

Notions out the window this is at least a classic quality example of German riesling that I find as compelling as any other prime example w/ more ripeness. So that leaves me at the low end...a 95 pointer. Heresy already...I know it will age, at least 2 decades perhaps more. It's as perfect as it can get, I just feel guilty plugging it any higher than that. Know what I mean?!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Relative values abound in unheralded vintages
Zind Humbrecht 2004 Gewurztraminer, Alsace (generic AOC bottling):
Even though yields were extremely high in '04, as the vines responded w/ vigor from the stress of the extreme climatic conditions in 2003, Olivier Humbrecht tamed his crop beautifully w/ extreme canopy management & multiple thinning passes in the vineyard. I wonder if his biodynamic approach has benefited the vines w/ regard to yield, fruit maturity & phenolic ripeness?Irrespective, his 2004's were drier than most of his previous years, as some fermentations took up to a year to complete. I believe the AOC bottlings contained a large percentage of grand cru fruit, from simply younger vines and de-classified vats. The pedigree showed in all 3 varietal bottlings I've tried thus far (riesling, pinot gris and gewurztraminer). I found the gewurz to be the most impressive.

The 2004 had achieved an impressive total alcohol content of 14.5%, attesting to the ripeness of the fruit irrespective of the pitfalls of the vintage. The gewurz was endowed w/ an almost amber tinged, deep golden color that almost resembled an older, late harvest white from Alsace in it's depth and saturation. The nose had such penetration, pumping through tangerine blossom, pure floral bouquet notes, exotic lychee and tropical oils suggesting of palm kernel. The palate size was staggering, but suave and nearly weightless w/ precise surges of apricot, mango, flowers & kiwi fruit that seduced so easily but w/ sheer authority.It blows my mind that a broad 'Alsace' bottling can achieve such heights, and w/ a 20 dollar pricetag it is an easy case purchase- so we can do more than wonder how the minerality and secondary character will evolve, we can actually watch it happen- bottle by bottle (a novel concept w/ a wine of this caliber). Having said that, it will be a tough task...considering how decadently endowed and delicious it is. 94 points. Should evolve through 2020.

The Vieux Telegraph 2004 La Crau is not something of which I'll wax poetic about for paragraphs (as it has been discussed here previously), but I'd like to mention it in brief. While there is much more immediate balance and accessibility in the 2004 VT than it's riper, rougher and more alcoholic 2003 sibling, the '04 will never possess the 03's level of power, fat and density.A brief 45 minute decant revealed melted licorice, cedar, blueberry and sweet fig notes in the nose. The palate was surprisingly fruit driven, w/ sweet cherry, clove spice and cocoa notes gliding on a silky, crisp (for a CDP) frame. Time in the glass showed some increases in concentration, so brief cellaring may prove to be beneficial, but it is easily accessible at this stage. 91-92 points.