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Thursday, August 23, 2007

How To Get Your Restaurant Wines Jusssst Right... helps when it's a Rhone from the 2001 Vintage!

I don't know how many of you do this, but I highly recommend calling your restaurant ahead of time (depending on the bottle you are interested in) to kindly ask them to begin decanting the wine that you'd like to order for your dinner reservation. I find two, blatant benefits to doing so:

1). Most top notch restaurants have their wine lists available via a PDF file on the internet (how often they update them is another story). Analyzing them ahead of time means that you will not miss out on any dinner dialogue due to having your nose firmly glued to the local wine bible. You'll no longer be the anti-social wine'll be elevated to resourceful wine geek status immediately.

2). Most reasonably priced wine on restaurant lists is on the younger side and in need of a oxygenating kick in the rear. I'll tend to order younger wines based on my wallet, or based on sheer curiosity. This inevitably leads to disappointment, considering my tastes, as the wine will usually be withdrawn and stubborn until the last glass offers a glimpse at 'what could have been.'

Decanting ahead of time allows the wine geek to be social, interactive and content w/ how the wine has evolved. Most restaurants that are equipped with sommeliers will happily do this for you, assuming you leave a credit card number over the phone for security reasons. If this is old news, feel free to tease my redundancy and scroll on down to the wine as it is definitely worth the foreplay.

2001 Domaine Charvin
The second this was poured in the glass, I knew I had to firmly fasten my seat belt and embrace myself for a heady, Provencal ride. The deep, dark purple appearance was nearly opaque, a stark comparison to the majority of its peers. The scents don't tickle, nor do they tease...authoritative notes of cigar box, roasted chestnut and spice rubbed beef eject themselves through the nostrils like a shuttle at launch. You couldn't help but imagine a dry fermented port was to follow, and boy was it! Huge, immensely proportioned in the mouth, pumping out piles of dried figs, melted licorice, rich black currant and plumb sauce saturate every single inch of the palate. While the textures were nothing short of plush, the wine was layered, richly tannic and massively endowed. The elements of garrigue reverberate on the finish, as if they were magnified w/ fun-house mirrors that cascaded like dominos.

I expected a sense of feminine power and was greeted w/ this stunning model of masculine opulence, epitomized by low acid decadence. A dazzling accomplishment! While I've had the Pegau Reservee 2003 4 times this year, this '01 effort could get toe to toe w/ it every step of the way. 97 points.
Another Domaine that subscribes to only one regional bottling (a rouge and a blanc, as opposed to multiple cuvees showcasing best barrels and old vines) is Clos des Papes. Although there are plenty of classic examples from producers like Janasse, Pegau, Vieille Julienne, etc. that showcase success utilizing multiple bottlings, this is a single estate Rouge week (it also happens that neither of these wines sees ANY new oak whatsoever).

The 2001 Clos des Papes appears more transparent in color than the nearly opaque Charvin, but shows lovely deep ruby specks throughout its base....blah blah blah, who cares about the color!? Dive in and you'll see why she's special, in beguiling spades. The scents offer a gateway of subtlety, which evokes notions of grilled beef, sage, kirsch, rose and raspberry ganache. The palate tap dances the line of the savory spectrum, while flirting w/ the pure natures enjoyed in freshly crushed fruit. Glossy and subtlely explosive, this vintage of Clos des Papes reveals its pedigree initially, but builds classical momentum in short time. Provencal elements lurk in the hauntingly pure finish, leaving me breathless & salivating.

Yeah, I dig it. 96 points, certainly enjoyable (decanted for 2 hours) now but I’d be keen on watching her purity strike an even more profound chord in time.

2001 was one of the watershed vintages in the Southern Rhone's consecutive string of winners from '98-'06 (save for '02). Several Chateauneuf produced from this year have elevated levels of tannin, leaving them mired in pro-longed dormant stages since they were bottled. I believe these two Domaine bottlings are unique in their approachability, polish and early generosity, relative to the nature of 2001. Don't let that fool you though, these wines will continue to evolve and impress for at least 2 more decades to come.

What magical wonders lay w/in the Southern Rhone?!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Vintage Bordeaux

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Drinkin' in the Rain...
Had a wonderful time last night at Landmarc in Tribeca w/ you guys! Loved meeting each one of you, and a big thank you goes out to David Sankaran for arranging this Friday night get together in the flash flood inflicted city of Manhattan! As ambigious an evening as ever, the 'French wines to dine with' was an absolute hit. I've decided to nip my normally lengthy introduction in the bud, considering how verbose I got on my tasting notes.

I'd be remiss to not mention the gathering by name: David, Cindy, Gary, Ray, Kristina, Jay and my lovely wife, Ejehan.

Pierre Luneau Papin Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Clos des Allees 1995Believe it or not, this is the oldest Muscadet I’ve ever tasted! Can’t say I’m seasoned in Melon de Borgogne w/ much age at all, but this is a perfect example of wine that most critics have difficulty evaluating a drinking window for, or flat out don’t give them the chance. The wine was initially very aromatic, w/ pure straw, ginger, chive and citrus aromas evoking a fine Sancerre. The palate was focused, was apple skin notes that were underpinned by an intense, limestone driven minerality. I felt comfortable evaluating this at an 87-88….believe it or not, we revisited this wine later on in the evening to discover it was corked! The mustiness didn’t set in until it was exposed to a great deal of air, which was a first for me. Jay mentioned that this wine tends to get creamier and gain richness in time. A shame.

Krug MV
I just enjoyed a bottle of Krug MV a couple months back, and this particular bottle showed much more intensity than the last (but tended to reveal more finesse w/ air). You never really know which cuvee you are getting, but w/ a house like Krug, does it matter?! Initially revealed over opulence, w/ rich hazelnut butter, smoked cedar, poached pears and honeyed nuts. The palate was explosive, buttressed w/ a crystalline minerality that echoed notions of flowers and citrus biscuit on the long, refined finish. Class in a glass. 95 points.

Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile 1990
Any Trimbach fans out there that have a tendency to open their Emiles a bit early, this vintage is a case and point of how absence makes the bottle grow fonder! Even though 1990 was ‘the vintage to end all vintages’ just about anywhere you looked, this pristine example of dry Riesling has 15-20 years of high class drinking ahead of it. Get ready…scents of kerosene, petroleum, diesel, regular and unleaded gasoline…the Hess truck was back for Christmas yet again, and it reared its lovely head in this glass of Riesling! Yes, that’s a touch of hyperbole, but this is a prime example of “so you don’t believe wine smells like anything the critics write about huh, get a load of this!” Right up there w/ the cut grass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as the most pungent examples of blatant tasting notes that just about anyone could identify! Ok, off the Mobil soap box , the reason I loved the wine is how the peach, kiwi and lime notes were intermixed w/ the smoky diesel fuel (trust me, it’s irresistible!). The palate was extremely flesh, like biting into fresh tangerines that burst all over the palate. The finish brings crushed rocks and citrus back to the forefront in suave fashion. Well done! 94 points, and officially the longest Riesling note known to man!

Michele Colin-Deleger Chassagne Montrachet 1996
A very youthful, aromatic and generous example of 11 year old white Burgundy. Scents of honeysuckle, quince and fig set the stage for additional notes of unsalted butter and baked apple flavors in the palate. Rich and unevolved, but full of ripe young Chardonnay flavors that won’t quit, thanks to the fine base of invigorating acidity. 92 points.

La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2005
White Rhone is where it’s at! Despite having such minimal acreage in Southern Rhone appellations, producers have found ways to harness Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Roussane, Clairette and Bourboulenc into complexly deep, singular wines. It shows lack of dedicated vineyard space does not correlate to lack of care when shaping these delicious white wines. I had some fun w/ this one aromatically, as it revealed notes of macadamia nuts, white flowers, key lime, honey and melons to my delight. Fat and fleshy in the mouth, but also had plenty of brisk lift, keeping it rounded and in total harmony. While this will not age tremendously long, it may last longer than most think. 91 points.

Domaine Georges Noellat Grand Echezeaux 1985
Very generously donated by David, ‘just for fun.’ Well….it was fun J It never ceases to amaze me how young the ’85 vintage still is, and this was a case in point. Initially it was somewhat restrained aromatically, w/ briar and spicebox notes. In time, a grand gift of exotic, candied fruits emerged, almost as if it were botrytis infected! Rich, full bodied flavors pumped out kirsch, blueberry and wild berry fruit in a velvet robe. A super concentrated ‘young’ Burgundy of tremendous depth and haunting, silky textures. A case in point of how many critics, again, under-estimate drinking windows…very difficult to evaluate young. Who’s this producer by the way?! Who cares, it’s a Grand Echezeaux and it’s smoking! 95 points.

Drouhin Volnay Chevrets 1er Cru 1993
Much more open-knit and forth-coming w/ it’s nose than the Noellat. Sexy scents covered the hard spice spectrum w/ ease, hinting at cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and dark truffles. Round and soft in the mouth, but w/ plenty of verve, sporting notes of sweet raspberries, cherries and a mélange of other crushed red fruits. Irresistible young pinot noir! 93 points.

Cos D’Estournel 1989
I think this wine is hitting a plateau, which may last a bit longer than I am predicting, but I would drink this up w/in the next 5 years or so (as the evening progressed, tannins and acidity tended to overwhelm the fruit a bit). Mature, sweet Bordeaux elements were all there in the spectrum of ripe tobacco, black currant, underbrush, vanilla bean and sweet loam notes that this lovely St. Estephe possessed. Medium to full bodied in the mouth, exposing silky, velvety fruit (that, eh-hem, one of us thought was austere! ) that is certainly outstanding, but lacks additional dimension. 92 points.

Haut Brion 1992
Off vintage claret that almost fooled me aromatically (much like the ’94), but certainly was vulnerable in its body. A pretty exposure of sweet raspberry, smoke, toasty blackberries and graphite almost seemed too lovely to be a 1992. Although the tannin was nearly resolved, the flesh was lacking in the hollow mid palate and the finish screeched to a resounding halt. Pretty, thin and short… very good none the less. 87 points.

Lynch Bages 1989
Welcome to the big leagues of Bordeaux my friends! One of the undoubted wines of the vintage, Lynch is still slow to evolve in the bottle and uncompromisingly rich in ’89! Brooding aromatics reveal the density of this wine in its dark licorice, black currant, mocha, crème de cassis and spice box notes. The depth is out of this world, and unfolds to a remarkably powerful finish that plunges through the palate, reverberating for over a minute. Dazzling success! My wife swears this wine smells like a sausage and pepper sandwich…she may be on to something! 96 points, and my wine of the night!

Peby Faugeres 1999
I’ve had this on a couple occasions, and this bottle was showing the least amount of evolution (must have been kept under more conservative provenance…considering it was cold to start off w/, that could certainly be the case). Scents of mocha, espresso roast, crème de cassis and blueberry were certainly welcomed by open arms from the California Cabernet fans of the table! This wine is a pure, hedonistic delight and easily approachable due to it’s ripe, sweet tannin, but will certainly reward w/ short term cellaring. Just gorgeous, but not for everyone (eh-hem Jay Miller!). At this juncture, the wine serves as a perfect transition from the New World into Bordeaux…especially if you are patient enough to watch it evolve and unwind over the years. Not as thrilling as the last time I had it, but outstanding none the less. 94 points.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The human element, more important in the Old World or the New?

I agree, gross generalization of a thread title, guilty as charged. Having said that, the general premise of my question is best looked at in extremes:

Take a Cote Rotie vineyard for example. A marginal climate necessitates the extreme aspect of exposure, personified in the roasted slope’s tantalizingly severe angles. Low vigor soils, old vines and a relative bevy of history. Human intervention is necessary at the level of maintaining the vineyard, hand harvesting (mechanical isn’t even an option), sorting, etc….But these producers have the luxury of ‘modesty,’ by stating they are ‘lazy winemakers.’ Old vines don’t need to be as rigorously pruned, thinned (vintage dependant of course) and trained…they are old & gnarly, planted to infertile sites at distinctive, marginal terroirs. Even though new oak has become in vogue, most winemaking processes are geared towards ‘letting the terroir speak.’

Alright, now take any popular varietal from any given Napa appellation (or vicinity). These appellations have actually been described as ‘distinctive-less’ by the outspoken Chuck Wagner of Caymus. Napa is certainly unique, but is Oakville distinctive when compared to Rutherford? Maybe…that’s not the purpose of the discussion though. Napa is certainly not marginal as climates come, and the producers cling to the relative consistency of the ambient weather. There is little risk of autumn rain as well, which allows them to harvest at will, and fashion wines whichever way they like (funny how a single vineyard can taste dramatically different from 2 different producers, isn’t it?). Most Napa vines are in their infancy (w/ some exceptions, most notably Zinfandel) & most ‘extremes’ found in transitional areas, like Burgundy, don’t exist here. Producers will actually promote the human factor in California, instead of minimizing it as they do in most of France. Pinot producers of Sonoma laud their artistic touch and Napa cabernet vineyard managers boast their ability to tame youthful vigor, manipulate uniquely designed canopies (via their U.C. Davis degrees, of course) with different trellis designs and cluster cover. Fashionable pinot debates circle around which clonal selection is the hottest, or which cooper cranks out the best barrels and what degree of toast yields the best results. How many strains of commercial yeast have been identified? You see where I’m going w/ this…

I am aware there are various pitfalls in generalizations but unfortunately I feel the need to utilize them for this experimental debate. Let’s look past some of the specific imperfections that I may have run into in these appellations and tackle the question of the human element. Where is it most impactful on quality and distinctiveness? The old world winemakers would have you believe that their job is that of a minimalist, letting their unique, known terroir speak in its own language. They act as ambassadors of the land, conducting the orchestra of their vines to Mother Nature’s symphony. The new world regime would say the opposite.

The flying enologists further complicate this matter by injecting the human element into both worlds. Where do you stand? Are these winemakers full of it, or right on the money?

-Disclosure, I am currently less interested in ‘which wines are better,’ as that tends to be a more taste-driven debate on subjectivity…I think the human influence debate on their relative quality would yield a more constructive discussion.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What I love about Pegau….

Perhaps my love is a bit more of a general attraction to traditional Chateauneuf du Pape, but Laurence Feraud arguably has set the benchmark for these wines of late, so swooning over Pegau in particular isn’t much of a stretch. I think the genesis of these thoughts were from some recent commentary by Italian consulting enologist Stefano Chioccioli (most renown for his efforts w/ Brunello producer Fanti, as well as his controversial plantings of Syrah in Tuscan soils). Stefano mentioned, “If you don’t have ripeness, you don’t have sweetness, and it is the sweetness balanced against acidity that puts tension in a wine.” Any aciditic crescendo will ring true w/ Italian wine buffs, but what struck a chord w/ me was the word tension.

You see, wine is a bit like a dramatic performance to me. There are certainly highs and lows, the anticipation of the popping of a cork leading to the inevitable feelings of elation or the utter despairs of disappointment. The cast of villains can be quite cruel and unforgiving, and what’s most malicious about them is their spooky acronym-abbreviated names….TCA, TBA, VA…I’m shuttering in fear already! While I found Skeletor (He-Man’s arch rival) to be one of the most evil entities of my youth, who’d of thought that I’d grow up to be petrified of a guy named Brett?!

Well I suppose the discussion of ‘Brett’ brings me full circle and back on track to my original theme, the southern Rhone. While the hallmark drama of wines made from Sangiovese and Nebbiolo comes from the foundation of their racy backbones, I’ve found a different type of tension from Grenache that is discriminate, but equally compelling. It’s somewhat of a collision between the unbridled rusticity of the terroir and the sheer decadence of the grape, and this clash is one that you can viscerally experience every time you taste a Pegau. The confluence of exotic, earthy Provencal herbs w/ blasts of cocoa covered figs is one of which that scintillates my nerves every time I experience it….much like watching dramatic film over and over, but it striking you intensely each time you view it as if it were the first.

These wines are brilliant because of how they flirt w/ disaster. They could simply be flabby, over-ripe oafish kirsch-balloons, lacking lift, edge or ancillary character…or, contrarily, they could resemble pungent, fruitless strolls through the Belmont stables, w/ an occasional dusting of funky meadow herbs that leaves you feeling…dirty. But that’s the beauty of them. Either aspect alone is a regrettable experience, but their convergence is purely breathtaking bliss. I could find myself ridiculing people like Gary Vaynerchuk on their video blogs for their seemingly ludicrous rants on how Grenach-based wines can taste of ‘a deer carcass, canvassed in decayed leaves w/ peppered strawberries on top,’ but I won’t ridicule. You obviously know why by now…because I get it. It’s so difficult to articulate a harmony achieved between seemingly opposite worlds, but my penchant for wine writing forces me to pen it and I’ll stubbornly continue to do so….simply because I have to.

Pegau has the ability to satiate the ultimate desires of seemingly every enophile out there…whether you be a hedonist, a provocatively wordy geek (I profess to be both) or even a terroir-ist. The latter is satisfied perdominantly through two facets of these wines, the nerdy and the literal.

  1. Nerdy: Pegau Grenache comes from rocky soils, consisting of rounded stones (galets to be exact) that retain daytime heat and radiate it back to the vines at night, providing the bush trained, gnarly old vines w/ added richness and muscular structures (while the underlying clay sub soils assist in moderating the ripening process by maintaining sound levels of acidity). Classic hallmarks of the area. Terroir baby!

  2. Literal: Garrigue. Hello! These wines smell of Provencal herbs….uhhhh Provence is where the grapes are grown- terroir! Well, actually it’s the southern Rhone, but that’s close enough to Provence right?!

Needless to say, sweets spots can be hit from so many different angles w/ these cuvees from Pegau, which undoubtedly accounts for their far-reaching popularity. It doesn’t mean you’re a sell-out or a point chaser if you drink Pegau, it just means you get it….