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Friday, September 21, 2007

Horizontally Speaking, Chateauneuf 2000 & 2004

Goodness, what a slothful bonanza of over-indulgence we sampled through! Chateauneuf is a blatant favorite of mine, so putting together two 21st century vintage horizontals was educational not only from a research stand point, but from a buying perspective as well (top wines from both the 2000 and 2004 vintages can still be found on retail shelves for relatively modest prices). Most of the wines tasted from both years were accessible (although still quite youthful, with vibrant, firm structures), overtly generous and a hedonistic delight.

A couple quick comments in regards to the small sample sizes of vintages tasted (and my background experience w/ both vintages):

  1. The best of 2004 is under-rated by most press and still somewhat under priced vis a vis their respective quality. The vintage is not only consistent, but the best wines have gained both richness and depth through their brief bottle aging. I’d be less concerned about these wines closing down than I would of the 2005s, as I imagine most of which are already giving pleasure, and should continue to do so for at least another decade (the best wines of 2004 should evolve and last for even longer).

  2. The 2000 crop produced boatloads of outrageously delicious wines that exhibit masked, sweet tannins and uncompromisingly fat fruit. While the best of 2003 and 2001 may eclipse the crème de la 2000, I personally find the 2000s flat out irresistible. Even though I may rate a 2001 or 1998 version of a particular producers wine higher than its 2000 counterpart, this ‘style’ flat out does it for me. There is nothing wrong w/ admitting ones subjectivity in wine, and vintages like this really bring out that color in me. 2000 had plenty of uniformity in quality, but the beauty of it is that each producers hallmark style shined through brighter than ever.

  3. I find that this regions juxtaposition of ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ styles can co-exist in perfect harmony. Rustic wines of Chateauneuf can still be attractive and lush, overtly fruity wines can still have wonderful finesse. While that may be true of several regions, I find that tasting flights of Chateauneuf wines seem to have a more seamless continuity from style to style than any other region. Reactionaries don’t have much to complain about here, as there was only one over-oaked wine tasted (and just one wine that fit the ‘under-fruited’ bill)!


Pegau Blanc, 2006

A wine of crystalline purity and transparent focus. Scents of lilac, macadamia nuts, cuts melon and crushed rocks are not exotic or flamboyant, but piercing in their sense of seriousness. The fine tuned minerality and sharp acids keep things brisk and interesting. Pegau fans may not be thrilled, but I find it to be a lovely complement to the rouge because it plays the ‘opposites attract’ partner role very well. 90 points (just wish she was a bit cheaper).

Drappier Sendree Champagne, 1995

The nose of this wine segregated the table like the overstretched arms of Charlton Heston, causing a divergence of the seas in Cecil B. Demille’s Ten Commandments. Although I am unfamiliar w/ the house of Drappier, I am lead to believe they induce a bit more oxidation than other producers in their vintage bubblies (I draw a comparison to the 1996 Duval Leroy in that regard). Fascinating, idiosyncratic notes of roasted hazelnuts, coffee, quince jam and goodness knows what else was going on in my glass!? The complexity was off the charts (but certainly not for everyone), though I think this sparkler found most of its fans in the explosive palate, full of sweet fruit, the likes of poached pears and baked apples. Although this voyage began w/ an exotic twist, the body of the wine was made honest with its fine minerality and laser sharp focus. 93 points.

Cold Heaven Viognier, 2006

I believe this project is the brainchild of Morgan Clendenen and Yves Cuilleron (Condrieu specialist), although Yves participation may be relegated to the higher echelon cuvees. Either way, fruit is sourced for Santa Barbara County, most of which likely coming from the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. Clearly New World in its array of butterscotch, banana, wild flower and lychee nut flavors that are not bashful, nor apologetic for their flamboyance (but hey, it’s a Viognier, why should they be?). Large scaled and a touch hot, but this wild ride was still kept honest w/ plenty of attention to balance via sharp winemaking. A hell of a fun time! 91 points (not terribly far from the quality of Albans fruit up north).

The players..

Caves des Papes Les Closiers 2004

First of the two cheapies poured (roughly 22 dollars at retail) and unfortunately a notch below in its current quality w/ respect to its frugal counterpart. Medium in weight, w/ slightly sappy notes of bramble berry, fig and mint that are kissed with refinement through the mid-palate but lose a bit of steam on the finish. I’ve enjoyed this a bit more in the past and think part of the reason it showed in lack luster fashion was due to the serving temperature being a bit high (we decided to chill the majority of the remaining wines for a few minutes before serving them and they all seemed to benefit from it). Still solid, but generally uninspiring. 89 points (better when served a bit cooler and I believe this wine has upside potential).

Beauchene Premier Terroir 2000

The only fully mature wine tasted this evening, exhibiting plenty of Burgundian scents of leather, dried vegetation, Indian spices, pepper and red cherries. Most of the tannin was resolved and one couldn’t help but notice a naked purity about this wine that was very alluring. Silky, earthy and full of iron hints on the finish. For fans of the mellow funk, 88 points (although it drank better than the Les Closiers, I still think that will be a better wine eventually).

Ferrand 2004

The separation of men from the boys was pretty clear once I stuck my nose in this puppy! Sultry and thick, loaded to the gills w/ kirsch, crème de cassis, pepper and wild blueberry notes that coated the palate w/ their richness. The components of the wine were all very precise and buttressed by a serious, youthful grip. Pretty juice from a producer to keep an eye on. 93 points.

Clos des Papes 2004

If you are still chasing after the supercharged, pricey 2003, I encourage you to eye this vintage as it stacks every ounce of its density and concentration into a much more refined package. Tight, unevolved scents of ripe tobacco, sage, dill and leather brood, simply waiting to explode from this intensely wound elixir. There is a mouthful of expansive, sweet fruit evoking black currant and pure kirsch flavors that are seemingly immense, but oh so tantalizingly plush. I don’t know how Paul Avril does it, but he manages to shape wines of such bound concentration w/ an uncanny brush of polish, charm and symmetry that you just don’t find in any other wine. 96 points (and much more worthy of my lusting over compared to the 2003!).

Vieux Telegraphe 2000

A traditional, more rustic expression of the 2000 vintage that won’t win any fans over for charm and grace, but certainly has merit in its own right. Classical scents of cedar, tree bark, dried cumin, pepper and blackberry reduction are abundant, if a bit caustic. The profile in the mouth follows in a bloody, slightly chewy fashion, but most of the more abrasive textures this wine must have had in its youth have certainly mellowed w/ time. Although it isn’t my favorite style of Chateauneuf, I’m certainly glad that it exists and I would be remiss to not encourage wines like Clos du Mon Olivet and Vieux Telegraphe to continue fashioning juice of this nature as they are distinctive, and certainly at the apogee of their respective forms. 90 points, bring on the grilled game!

Boisrenard 2000

A stark contrast from the more earthy Telegraphe, this vintage of Boisrenard is undeniably a sexpot of sensually compelled vinous desires! Scents of crème de cassis, dark fig, sweet cherries, game and dried spices steam from the glass. The wine is remarkably coated w/ a satin gloss that graces the palate w/ kid gloves, tantalizing the taster into another sip. For all the pleasure this provides, it’s deceptively powerful, as the tune of fine-grained tannins pump out dark cocoa at the conclusion. Gorgeous indeed. 95 points.

Pegau 2000

I can’t drink this wine enough. I am the last person in the world to buy multiple cases of particular vintages, as I am of the mind to try as many distinct vintages, producers and regions as possible…but I could simply bathe in this wine for days, if not weeks! Yet another bottle that strikes me as absolutely outstanding. Truckloads of thyme, lavender and fried lard greet the nostrils as if they were a temptation from the devil herself (oh yes, the devil is certainly female…and she made me drink more, damnit!). The wine is blissfully round and almost creamy, pumping out dark fig, plum sauce and juicy, black raspberries. Searing w/ opulence and slathered w/ velvet, this has never failed to be a complete homerun. 97 points. While the 2003 will prove to be a longer lived, more structured example of Pegau, the 2000 just seems to tug at my heart a bit more, and probably always will.

-Leonard Fox was kind enough to bring an additional bottle of this vintage, which we all happily imbibed for dessert….Quick aside: We are all familiar w/ the sensation left in our mouths after eating garlic, onions, Epoisses cheese and the deliciously stinky concoctions conjured from them. It lingers to the extent that you are self aware of your own ‘garlic breath,’ so to speak. Well, w/ this vintage of Pegau in particular, I can’t help but feel like it leaves me w/ Pegau breath! The intensity and length of the garrigue essence is so profound that I fear I’ll be breathing it out for the rest of the night!

Vieille Julienne Vieilles Vignes 2000

The possible adjectives for this wine beg for an exhaustive study in thesaurus, but I’ll spare you the verbose metaphors…at least a little bit This wine is simply a massive, layered and captivating expression of Chateauneuf du Pape. Sexy but sturdy, sporting tiers of roast duck, black currant, crème de cassis, dark chocolate and a mélange of smoky spices that burst w/ power, nearly rupturing the palate. Mammoth and only an infant in terms of development, this ‘wine of the night’ left nearly all of us breathless after tasting it. A marvelous accomplishment! 99 points.

Domaine Saint Prefert, August Favier 2004

Isabel Ferrando had a tough act to follow, but boy did she bring her A game to the table w/ the ’04 Favier! The nose was so pretty it seemed as if the vapors it released were literally caressing me into a bit of a tantric seduction. Such a delightful scent presented itself, running the gamut from violets to exotic nutmeg and sweet cardamom spices. The palate had an ethereal sensitivity about itself, but was certainly not lacking in stature. Melted licorice and pure raspberry ganache flavors envelope an undercarriage of meadow herbs, rounding out on of the most attractive wines of the evening. 95 points.

-P.S., this wine is not only under-rated, but currently under-priced! Made in diminutive quantities, it is worth seeking out!

Janasse Chaupin 2004

Another sweet, silky and sensual wine, but of a bit smaller proportions (when compared to the Saint Prefert). Rich flavors of fig preserve, plum pudding, cinnamon spice and framboise are pure and effortlessly glide over the palate like a gentle, autumn breeze. Very fine and loaded w/ easy charm. 93 points.

Cuvee de Vatican Reserve Sixtine 2004

Although she was the wine of the night during Executive Wine Seminars look into the 2003 vintage, the ’04 rendition is a far cry from profound. The first (and only) wine tasted this evening that was marred by a maple wood, overtly oaky character that extended itself into the palate, flexing additional tannin and currently obscuring the fruit. Currently the wine is monolithic, w/ vanilla, graphite and fresh cherry submerged by structure. The least approachable and currently, least enjoyable wine of the evening. Difficult to currently evaluate, but my gut tells me the stuffing is a bit less robust than the ambitious winery treatment. Give it time and cross your fingers. 88-91 points

Clos St. Jean Deus Ex Machina 2004

The finale of the evening gave us a sneak preview on a wine that may overtake several front runners of this region, becoming a new standard bearer, flagship wine of Chateauneuf. A true synthesis of class and decadence, combining gorgeous, heart-throbbing notes of blueberry liqueur, crème de cassis, kirsch and blackberry reduction w/ a body to die for. A layered wine that reeks of generosity and is filled to the brim w/ depth. As time elapsed, the wine continued to evolve, gain complexity and showed off its substance in spades! Neck and neck w/ Clos des Papes for the wine of the vintage moniker in 2004, this certainly punctuated the tasting w/ a boom! 96+ points.

A Les Cailloux Cuvee Centenaire 2000 was also generously donated by Sarah Kirschbaum and, as karma would have it, the most anticipated and expensive wine of the evening was an ‘off’ bottle. No TCA, probably not a textbook example of heat damage either…but to paraphrase my wife, the wine smelled ‘an extra value meal from McDonalds, complete w/ mustard, emaciated beef and poppy seed bun.’ Unfortunately there wasn’t much value in that meal, and it was ceremoniously dumped into the make-shift spittoon. We also tasted a 2001 Doisey Vedrines Sauternes, which was a bit on the eccentric side. Certainly not a voluptuous example, sporting bee pollen, lanolin, saffron and apricot…I found it crisp, provocative, but not entirely pleasurable.

Now that I have officially tired your eyes and voracious appetites from exhaustive verbiage, I bid you all a fond adieu. I appreciate every one of you for coming, complete w/ palates thirsting for Grenache and throats brewing w/ witty banter. Good times my friends, good times.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Met up w/ a new crew tonight and they were as diverse as they come. Some full fledged dweebies, others on the up-swing towards Star Trek flair…most importantly, a Texan (from San Antonio, to be exact) and a D.C. native had the opportunity to become inundated w/ a full fledged New York moment…in Provence!

Provence is a cute, casual bistro off MacDougal St. in one of my favorite nooks of Soho. The décor is utterly French, rounded out by an underlying sense of serious attention to detail. Complete w/ the backdrop of a picturesque patio, this bucolic setting was primed for some serious Grenache indulgence. Once the wild game, charcuterie and raviolis hit the table, we were ready to commence this double fisting affair!

We spliced together a hodge podge of varying Grenache blends from Australia, California and the Rhone valley and served them incognito, complete w/ impenetrable tinfoil wrapping to the neck (no peeking!).

Wine One
Aromatically complex, but came off to me as a bit blowzy. Notes of caramelized fruit, roasted nuts, violet, potpourri and kirsch strike a wild spectrum of flavors that seem just a tad too fabricated to be compelling. The palate is where the vulnerabilities of the wine are fully exposed, as brandy macerated plum engorges the pepper flavors in a shrine of heat. The finish is abrupt and clumsy, leading me to believe that this wine was the product of a difficult vintage and not handled in as adept a fashion as it necessitated. Certainly strutted its stuff via the nose, but the brief tease did not live up to the initial promise. 86 points.
-Outpost Grenache, Napa Valley 2004

Wine Two
Much more composed, but certainly extravagantly extracted, expressing scents of eucalyptus (picked up on astutely by our attractive and perceptive waitress…who obviously has a heartbreaker of a palate!), dill, blueberries, black currant and spice box. Sporting suave, tamed tannins and praiseworthy persistence, wrapped up in a finely fashioned package. A bit of a sweetie, but certainly done w/ balance in mind. 92 points.
-D’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings 2002(a slightly higher percentage of Shiraz, supporting the Grenache and Mourvedre components).

Wine Three
Another intensely fashioned, full-throttle New World blend that didn’t pull any punches, but seemed capable of landing them much more often than the Outpost was. Rich, toasty and delicious flavors sent tingles up the spine, sporting licorice, clove, blackberry liqueur, raspberry reduction and vanilla beans. The fruit was frank and sweet, gliding over firmly defined, sweet tannins in an opulent, but easy going fashion. Well done. 93 points.
-Saxum, James Berry Vineyard (Paso Robles) 2004.

Wine Four
Hello Old World! We’ve wandered away from the jams and jellies of the previous 3 Musketeers and stumbled upon serious undertones of leather, tobacco leaf, cedar and truffle notes that evoke images of a mature Bordeaux. While the nose tells us she’s on the older side, the palate says otherwise. Although the body is of medium weight, w/ flavors of soft red cherries and red plumbs, the powerful, authoritative tannins flex their sinew like a bodybuilder’s bicep curl. The character and general rusticity remind me of a young, rambunctious Allain Graillot Crozes Hermitage (maybe that's the 10 percent Syrah talking?). 89 points….needs food!
-Chateau De Saint Cosme, Gigondas 2001

Wine FiveI knew this was my wine from the second I smelled it. Let me tell you something, if I ever am blessed w/ walking through the fields of ambrosia, I am certain they will be speckled w/ wild, Provencal herbs that I was able to easily detect in this glass! While there was absolutely a gush of underground garrigue through the nose and finish of this wine (which echoed relentlessly, I might add), the texture was shockingly satin, pure and as voluptuous as any top notch Chateauneuf aspires to be. Notes of currant, game, dark fig cake and oodles of wild herbs make themselves noticeable from the get go. While I allowed roughly 90 minutes of air time for this strapping young Southern Rhone, it was remarkably approachable and nearly concealed all its structure w/ phenomenal flesh. Bravo! 94 points (my wine of the night).
-Vieux Donjon 2005

Wine Six
Back to the New World we go folks! Hello modern vogue, raspberry ganache and blueberry pie be thy name! Toasty and delicious, w/ suave, rounded edges that are absolutely ready to roll. If you are into a jammy delight, this is certainly your ticket. While there is depth in concentration, there is certainly not much complexity to be had on this relatively monolithic, but yummy ride. 90 points.
-Rosemount GSM, 2001

Wine Seven
Lucky seven was a bit of a wild card. The smells of rustic Tempranillo were on the brain, especially when you take into consideration the fact that this wine was the essence of armpit! Sweaty, funky, but w/ plenty of character from its bay leaf, dried currant, sage and….more sweaty notes! The attack of this wine was surprisingly explosive, gushing fig paste and leather that screamed of Chateauneuf…and then she fell apart a bit, becoming disjointed and ruggedly tannic, cutting the trailing garrigue notes off at the past. A masculine wine that was hardly seamless and certainly in need of sustenance to tame those tannins! Shows the heat and lack of balance that the 2003 vintage was known for, but definitely has quite a bit to admire. 88 points.
-2003 Guigal Chateauneuf

This tasting played out in nearly textbook fashion, making regional guessing relatively easy for the researched wine geek (I had no problem pinning them down w/ relative ease). Having said that, Ben Sherwin, a gentleman and a scholar, pulled the rabbit of the hat by calling not only the producer of wine number seven, but the vintage (this last wine was double blind!). Kudos to Ben the magnificent, w/ a palate and vulgar sense of humor that only I could admire…allow me to immerse myself in your glory vicariously!

Thanks again to all for gathering at Provence tonight (and Ben for his organization)…fashioning an easy night that was all too easy to love.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Tribeca Chateauneuf Haven

For any Rhone fan that plans to spend any amount of time in the Big Apple, they owe it to themselves to make a trip downtown to visit Robert DiNero’s (a Myriad Restaurant group project) Tribeca Grill. A bastion for lovers of everything Rhone, especially Chateauneuf du Pape (Tribeca cellars the largest selection of the world), where verticals can be found from Rayas, Marcoux, Mordoree, Clos des Papes, Janasse, Henri Bonneau and of course, Pegau. Not only is their assortment exhaustive, their prices are staggeringly competitive (at times, strangely close to retail). If one needed another impetus to indulge on a Southern Rhone elixir, the grilled Long Island duck, Black Trumpet crusted lamb, dry-aged beef painted with chanterelles and Berkshire pork chop interpretations certainly would help get those juices flowing!

The selection by the glass is typically paltry, but as luck would have it, I stumbled on a Matetic sauvignon blanc. If anyone is not familiar w/ this Chilean producer, they are a rising star of the Southern Hemisphere. While they specialize in syrah bottlings, their pinot noir has to be the most successful expression of the grape in Chile to date, and just about anything in their portfolio is treated w/ kit gloves and worthy of purchasing. The 2006 sauvignon had Sancerre sensibilities in the nose, w/ the gushing generosity of a Californian version in the palate. Pure straw, lilac and bailed hay scents gave way to a rich, quince and passion fruit medley in the mouth that was kissed by a perfect push of cleansing acids. The persistence of this wine simply wouldn’t quit. When I taste examples of varying varietals in Chile that get it right (a Casa Marin Gewurztraminer comes to mind as well), I realize what a cornucopia of potential lies in this country (most of which is completely untapped). 91 points. This was followed by a regretful half bottle of Garretson’s Saothar, 2005 viognier. Certainly overdone and nearly exhibiting an aged shade of amber in color, this wine was full of over-ripe bananas, brandy soaked apricots, canned peaches and artificial bubble gum flavors. Syrupy, but w/ enough acidity to keep it honest, the wine was certainly not a dumper, but was by no means memorable. Another example of ‘over-experimentation’ in Paso Robles that I hope disappears in the next couple years. 83 points (my wife hated it so much that she remembered to complain about it this morning...very unlike her!).

Now for the main event. Considering that I have personally eradicated the restaurants selection of Alban’s 2001 Grenache (it was selling for a measly 51 dollars), it was time to move onto my beloved Chateauneuf. I have had just about every vintage of Pegau available in this modern, Tribeca establishment, but had yet to dive into the 2001. This particular vintage is darker in color than most Grenache-based wines, rivaling the 2003 for its color saturation. With exposure to air, haunting notes of lavender, sage, tobacco, cedar box and damp earth emerge from the glass. Remarkably complex flavors strike a different chord than most Southern Rhones, showing plumb sauce and black currant notes (over the kirsch and fig fruit images that lot of Chateauneuf based Grenache conjures). While this effort is undoubtedly structured, the tannins have incorporated themselves admirably into the body of the wine (unlike the 2003) and this baby is drinking beautifully now. It has miles to go before it sleeps (I’d assume 2 decades) but it is by no means infanticide to jump into one today to admire its dazzling arrays of complexity. Another profound winner from the Ferauds! 96 points.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Tour de 2005 Beaujolais….w/ an astounding surprise!

Alright, in general I wouldn’t anticipate greater than 200 views on such a downtrodden grape as gamay (hence my subject hyperbole) …but it is my intention of giving the southern most appellation of Burgundy its due respect by sharing last nights horizontal highlights w/ genuine enthusiasm. The details used for this brief report were generously donated by Greg Tatar, who not only hosted the tasting yesterday, he inspired us least for one day, to be true gamay geeks.

2005 happened to be the vintage of the century for nearly every appellation in France, and Beaujolais was no exception. The beauty this region is its relative lack of ego (which in turn yield remarkably stable, modest prices). Ever since Phillip the Bold kicked out gamay from his duchy of Burgundy in 1395, this high yielding recluse of a grape has been shunned and disrespected. The only limelight ever achieved by Beaujolais has been through the commercial success achieved by Georges Duboeuf’s Beaujolais Nouveau campaign; though I’m sure its tacky, gimmicky hysteria has done little to enhance the reputation of the appellation.

Our tasting last night had absolutely nothing to do w/ that aspect of gamay’s inferiority complex and everything to do w/ “bringing Beaujolais back,” a la Justin Timberlake. I am going to provide some brief background on ‘Big-B,’ which may or may not seem interesting to you (feel free to scroll down to the juice!)…

The Beaujolais appellation consists of a sprawling 55,000 acres (much larger than the aggregate of all other Burgundy appellations combined). There are two major areas of Beaujolais that the River Nizerand bisects, Haut-Beaujolais to the north of the river and Bas-Beaujolais to the south (where the majority of Beaujolais wine comes from, including Nouveau). The regions best wines come from Haut-Beaujolais, where the top 10 cru appellations are located. The distinguishing characteristics between Haut-Beaujolais from Bas-Beaujolais are the hilly terrains and granite soils found in the north (as opposed to the flat, lower elevations of the Bas area that are primarily composed of more fertile clay soils).

As there are so few land owners in Beaujolais, the region is still dominated by negociants who purchase grapes from small growers to make the wine. Because of gamay’s natural vigor, quality viticulture must include high density planting (between 22,000 and 32,000 vines per acre) and aggressive green harvesting to keep yields in check. Carbonic maceration is still widely utilized for fermentation throughout Beaujolais, but some quality minded negociants of cru wines are adapting more Burgundian techniques of fermentation (including the use of smaller oak barrels, in some cases). While juice for nouveau wines is only left on the skins for a couple days, skin contact may last over a week for the best wines. Because gamay is prone to reductive aromas during fermentation, most cru producers decide to not add any sulfur to their wines. All of the wines tasted yesterday evening were not filtered (one actually tossed some sediment, yeah baby!).

Considering the familiarity most of you must have w/ the ’05 vintage in general via Bordeaux hype (the hot days, cool nights and draught-like conditions that netted thicker skins, a bevy of dry extract and crispy acidity), I can simply say those conditions were very applicable to Beaujolais in ’05 as well. Now, on to the wines!

All wines were tasted blind and came from either the Morgon or Fleurie appellation.

The Morgon appellation contains 2718 acres and has the most distinctive soil type of all the Beaujolais crus. Roche pourrie (rotten rock) and iron make up a volcanic mixture in the Morgon grounds that are not found in any other Beaujolais cru. The slope of the Cote du Py, covered by a base of slate, separates the northern and southern districts of Morgon and generally producers the most structured, age worthy wines of all Beaujolais crus (look for Cote du Py on the label).

While Morgon tends to produce wines with muscle and depth, Fleurie wines are characterized by much softer tannins and silkier textures. The soils are predominantly pink granite and the trademark perfume of violets and roses are often found in wines from the Fleurie cru.

I added vinification/upbringing notes when they were available.

Wine 1:
Full of crushed strawberry, lilac and slightly leafy aromas. Pretty and pure Beaujolais, but w/ the added depth and firm, grippy structure of the vintage. The finish echoes graphite and mulberries nicely. 90 points.
-Aged 6 months in oak barrels.

Wine 2:
Very distinct from the first wine, w/ pure raspberry and cola notes that initially seemed exotic. Flavors of violet where underpinned by fine structure that seemed to take over through the night as it firmed up. The initial generosity of this wine was difficult to detect w/ exposure to air, as perhaps this puppy was actually closing down (a Beaujolais… closing down?!). My gut tells me she’ll be a beauty (it just wasn’t at the end of the evening). 88-91 points.
-Vinified w/ natural yeasts, w/ punch downs utilized to increase the extract. Aged in small oak barrels for 10-11 months (6 months longer than most producers), w/ roughly 20% of the barrels being new.

Wine 3:
Raspberry and violets appear in copious quantities in the nose, but this wine gets a bit more serious on the palate, showcasing hearty plumb and briar notes. Round and generous, underpinned by a slightly dusty edge that adds complexity. 90 points.
-Comes from 50 plus year old vines and undergoes partial barrel aging.

Wine 4:
The nose is pure framboise and evokes notions of crushed, red fruit. The strawberry flavors on the palate, while inviting, where undercut by a bit of angular, shrill acidity. The wine finishes shorter than I’d like, keeping it short of serious. 86 points.

Wine 5:
Much more tightly structured and almost sauvage in its approach. A glimpse of heat in the nose is offset by flavors redolent of crushed fruit, bramble and tar, that stretch their legs on the finish. Serious structure. 89-90 points.

Wine 6:
The first wine that initially exhibited slightly toasted notes of espresso roast, that blew off to reveal pipe tobacco, plum and cherry flavors. The texture was plush, rounded and certainly impressive. Reminiscent of a smaller scaled Coates de Beaune. 91-92 points.
-Whole bunch maceration for 5-8 days. Aged in wooden turns for 4-5 months.

Wine 7:
Ding ding, we have a winner! Yikes was this wine a complex little gem or what?! Scents of bay leaf, mint, crushed flowers and cedar spun from the glass like a whirlwind (the most distinctive of the group by a long shot). Pure, silky and rich in the mouth, w/ raspberry and dark cherry flavors that were buttressed by a striking mineral core. Hands down favorite, bravo! 93 points!
-Vinified w/ a cold carbonic maceration for up to 30 days. Raised in new barrels for up to one year w/o sulfur additions.

Wine 8:
This wine exhibited the more improvement than any of its peers throughout the evening (a good sign for its future). Exposure to air allowed pretty lilac, ripe berries, graphite, briar and strawberry flavors to emerge wonderfully. Rich, and somewhat dense in the mouth, this was simply the comeback kid of the evening! 91 points.

Wine 9:
Unfortunately, these last two wines were the worst of the bunch (though still good by nearly any standard). This wine was extremely reticent aromatically and somewhat unyielding in the mouth. While concentrated, the flavors were undelineated and not particularly compelling. 83 points.

Wine 10:
Interestingly enough, I found this quite complex…but not terribly tasty. Scents of pine resin, pepper, basil and sturdy cherry flavors were not exactly delicious…more along the lines of eccentric. The concentration was there, but again, not my total cup of tea. 84 points.
-Single vineyard, 50+ year old vines. Carbonic maceration lasting 12-15 days. Aged in barrel and in tank.

The Wines:
1- Pierre Marie Chermette, Domaine de Vissoux, Poncie Vineyard (Fleurie)
2- Potel Aviron, Vielles Vignes (Fleurie)
3- Domaine Louis Claude Desvignes (Morgon)
4- Jean Paul Brun, Terres Dorres (Fleurie)
5- MJ Vincent, Morgon
6- Trenel Fils, Clos les Moriers (Fleurie)
7- Domaine Georges Descombes (Morgon)
8- Clos de la Roilette (Fleurie)
9- Daniel Bouland, Delys (Morgon)
10- Jean Marc Burgaud, Cote du Py Vieilles Vignes (Morgon)

We guessed which wine belonged to which appellation and, believe it or not, I ended up nailing 80% of them (considering I had a 50/50 shot on each one, it wasn’t much of a stretch!)…but more importantly, Guy had one of these wines previously and he nailed which one it was…salud to your tasting abilities my friend!

Now, last, but DEFINITELY not least…the big surprise.

Greg was generous enough to show us how these Beaujolais age w/ a flat out outstanding example from Potel Aviron! It was from the 1999 vintage and it was his rendition of Morgon (Cote du Py) Vieilles Vignes. It has to be tasted to be believed! The wine was staggering in its complexity, uncanny notes screamed from the glass…evoking notions of cedar, cigar box, fennel, cardamom and kirsch. The wine tasted it even more nuanced, w/ layers of tarragon spice, pepper and fresh red fruits that seemed to pure to be a gamay. The finish was not only admirable in its length, it resonated flavors of radish and red cabbage that I’d never imagined could exist in a wine (while that may not sound delicious, it was!). One of the more unique and shocking moments of my young wine tasting career. The best part of it was staring at the price tag as we poured this bottle of 8 year old elixir in astonishment. Greg apparently keeps all price tags on his bottles per his protocol, but in this case, it made a fitting end to punctuating our relations w/ the most unpretentious of wines this world has to offer.

It was $13.99.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why Napa cabernet has become prosaic to me…
Brief disclosure:Generalization time folks, so caveat galore, but I think my jaded slant will be quite deliberate in what and/or whom it is directed towards.
I have so many positives to mention w/ regards to the Golden State. First off, it’s my favorite of America’s 50 so named territories and I am determined to coax my wife into moving there when an appropriate opportunity arises. It has skiing, surfing, palm trees, wine and above all…Arnold Schwarzenegger. Alas, as with all examples of true love, I tend to be the hardest on that which I covet the most.
Now Napa is an obvious whipping boy for the purpose of this joust, and I’ve decided to not be trite w/ yet another bout of banter on chardonnay (for obvious, redundant reasons)…but what is up w/ their damn touristy cabernet these days, or should I say, cabaret?! It’s undeniable what a Disney Land the wine country has become when one travels east of the Mayacamas range from Sonoma, but has it gotten so bad that the proverbial day-tripper dilution has seeped into the wine quality (or lack there of)?
Now, as I said before, I don’t think all Napa cabernet is fictitious, but I think it’s broadly converting itself into something very ‘Beverly Hills’ in nature. You know, costs a lot of money, but is excessively cheap…it can age with copious amounts of plastic surgery, but it doesn’t really get appreciably better, no more interesting in time…..pretty on the surface but relatively shallow in persona, almost boring if you spend too much time w/ it…and let’s not forget the all too easy notions of being top heavy, perhaps the most apropos comparison to the Hollywood Hills brethren yet!
Metaphors aside, I fear the excitement of the renaissance in the early 70s is gone. America, in general, tends to perform its best when there is a chip on its shoulder. The underdog is something of which we don’t like to be, but we seem thrive on transcending its perception anyway. So has the Bordeaux arms race lead us to an era of cults, mailing lists and greater exclusivity? Twenty five dollar tastings at Opus One, enshrouded in faux-prestige?! You have to be literally sweating money in order to buy any land in Napa, so I suppose it’s rational to assume that the producers simply treat their wines as the luxury item trinkets they have become accustomed to enjoying anyway. The days of the Warren Winiarski’s of the world trekking across the country w/ their families in a broken down shaggin’ wagon, a la Johnny Appleseed, sans a job w/ only a glint of a trellis in his eye…are long gone in Napaville. To some, there is nothing wrong w/ that. To me, I find it infinitely depressing.
Perhaps one of the few reasons I can stop to notice what is going on in Napa, w/ even more profound clarity, is due to the view directly south at lands of the upstart Santa Barbara county. One can’t help but notice the remarkably stark contrast that the bucolic Santa Rita Hills offer in comparison to the Rodeo Drive through Highway 29. Parts of the Central Coast seem to strike me as homey time capsules, proud to humbly ferment in an ‘Industrialized Ghetto,’ sans fancy schmancy high class facilities to lure in the thirsty tourists. I can’t help but draw parallels to the Long Island dichotomy between the North and South Forks. The north is proud, cozy, quaint…even boring at times (but that sense of placidity can only endear a New Yorker that’s over-run w/ daily excitement), but certainly a territory of farmers resistant to any semblance of superficial face lifting. While the glitz and glam of the Hamptons on the south side seems an ocean away in its ritzy clientele, high priced land and obnoxiously over-bloated sense of wealth. What I find to be the most enjoyable sight, as the voyeur that I tend to be, is that of the North Fork farmer’s rhetoric regarding how much they detest the notion that one day his little village may morph into yet another Hamptons neighborhood. It’s almost tantamount to a rallying cry from a Militia infantryman, exclaiming ‘the Red Coats are coming, the Red Coats are coming!’
I find so many similarities when juxtaposing these regions of Long Island to that of the fore-mentioned realms of California that the tension can almost seem unbearable at times. I fully admit my bias, coming from a rural, tucked away nook of small town Connecticut (and traveling into the depths of the pastoral for University in New Hampshire), but I’d also like to think I have grown to see the urban side from my recent years in New York City, Mecca of all things blaringly intense. While I truly believe all sound answers tend to lie in between two extremes, I find the boundaries of Napa’s current state to be putridly plastic. Fine wine should come at a price, but what price puts the fine wine into the category of a luxury icon? Moreover, what constitutes fine wine? It’s almost as if some of these ‘Cult Cabernets’ simply believe that high price tags equate to high class by association. When reading into Neal Martin’s provocative question of whether or not wine has a soul, if it truly does, one can certainly eviscerate that soul in several ways. Beyond the finings, the filtrations and overt food processing, there is something in which I believe is even more dangerous to a wines character….dressing it up in corporate clothes and putting it on an action item list.
Some literal translations of terroir seem to evoke the notion of actually tasting like a place. When a wine actually smells and tastes like dirt and rocks, it's claimed to be a terroir wine! Well in that case, if it tastes artificial and expensive, does that make it a Napa terroir wine?
All I ask is that Napa remembers where it came from...instead of a future trip to Hollywood, I believe a trip closer to Foxen Canyon would be a more suitable sense of 'memory lane.' In wine, there certainly is such a thing as 'too big for your britches.'

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Upstart Wine Region Woes...
Give it time my friend. Changing a paradigm of perception towards a particular region of the wine world never happens at the rate 'we at the ground floor' wish it would. Even w/ all its clout and gusto, California needed some pretty watershed events like the Paris tasting to start planting the global seed of where there quality was headed (and foreign wine imports still only account for 3-5% of the consumption of France!). Wine, in particular, seems to necessitate a much longer consumer evolution to foreign ideas. Although American consumption looks to be number one globally by 2009, what wine are we actually drinking? Blue chip Bordeaux, Super Tuscans, Brunello…the ‘best’ of lesser regions, and an assload of commercial swill. There are certainly minority pockets that thrive on the relatively obscure or ‘under the radar,’ but in order to get the image of PORTugal to shift…the press, marketing, global tastings of intrigue, etc. needs to galvanize more consumer awareness and excitement…which typically has a domino affect.

Regions like Argentina, while on the map, are fighting for a more ‘world class’ recognition to command higher price tags for their best juice…and fighting a battle of resistance consisting of ’80 bucks for an Argentinean wine?' Commercial success for South American countries has almost created a stigma, hampering top quality producers from success at the top level. In spite of the pre-conceived notions, the absolute best wines from those countries are truly astounding and are at relative bargains. I, as a consumer, thrive on their relative lack of respect and gobble them up at under-valued levels. Portugal’s relative anonymity can currently work in savvy consumer favor as they are undervalued. Unfortunately they don’t seem to have the domestic distribution necessary to reach consumers w/ ease. I am uncertain of what importers have taken active interest in Portuguese table wines, but big name retailers need to start taking some risks by creating more shelf space for these beauties. With big name regions of France asking for stratospheric prices, quality minded consumers are going to start looking elsewhere. I’d imagine varietal labeling, more assertive branding and top notch ‘commercial level’ wines are necessary for Portugal to succeed in the States. The Australian model is a perfect example…

I don’t know how much orchestration the country has put together, but I suggest they start ramping up. While ‘these things take time,’ they also take a lot of coordinated effort. The beauty of this rant is, it gives me a reason to have some nationalistic pride…and in spit of how jaded I can be, I know there wines can be that good.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Romanticizing on the Rhone

Back in the saddle again! After a two week hiatus of drinking nothing but Turkish Raki & diluted beer, I am back to savoring the flavor of yeast smacked grape juice. I have been immersed in the Rhone and apparently neither hell nor high water will break my stride. Few other wine regions of the world have such an amalgamation of jagged topography, extreme viticulture, dramatic exposures and torridly stressed grapes. When one notices how all these landscapes are undercut by a Mistral of Provencal sensibilities, how can it not feel like home? A healthy dose of garrigue has become mother’s milk to me, and I don’t think peanut butter and jelly will ever taste the same after enjoying an adulthood of the Rhone’s homecookin’.

The renaissance of the past couple decades, that has been characterized by a shift from negociant control to more artisan-oriented domain bottling, has pierced me w/ an incising arrow of Francophilian dimension. Is there any region of the world w/ a greater abundance of uncompromising, progressively talented individuals than that of the Rhone? Perhaps, but my blindness is currently too enjoyable to not allow myself to simply bathe in it.

Bordeaux has the left and right banks. In Burgundy, there is the cross section of the Cote d’Or. Arguably, the sprawling east to west acreage of the Loire makes a convincing case to be France’s most diverse realm of quality minded appellations…but there’s just something about the microcosm that the Rhone world encapsulates which drives me to obsession.

The dichotomy of the north & the south imbues an explorer w/ such varied terrains that stretch from the nearly vertical inclines of Cote Rotie, to the nestled bush vine territory amidst the rolled stones of La Crau. The paradoxical logic that’s derived from co-fermenting white and red grapes to, gasp, darken the color of the savory, decadent examples of Roasted Slope Syrah (don’t forget the Viognier) seem to agitate such a irresistible sense of disorder in my vinous desires. This bi-polar sense of harmony is seen distinctly, but equally in the south, a virtual desert of old vine Grenache that bakes in the arid, penetrating sunlight. Discussions of terroir always highlight the features of heat-retentive rocks, radiating their daylight warmth throughout the night, to key up the ripeness even greater. Ironically, the clay subsoils that tame the ripeness may be the true key to Chateauneuf du Pape’s quality…but that fact is rarely mentioned in most wine related publications.

With 13 plus varietals allowed in the South, why are less than 5% of the acres under vine dedicated to white grapes? Probably the same reason why Kendall Jackson is so financially viable…they don’t plant any Chardonnay. If everybody liked Bourboulenc and if Roussanne were commercially suitable, I’d probably not be writing about them right now. Limited availability and singularity tend to make the wine geek’s appetite all the more ravenous….I can’t get enough of this blends of Clairette and Picpoul…by the way, what’s a Picpoul?! Obscurity makes one feel even more eccentric about their obsessions I suppose.

I think some other facets that inevitably attract me to Rhone territory can be expressed in twofold fashion:

  1. The best producers ability to preserve a traditional core while evolving towards the contemporary.

Case in point: Marcel Guigal’s single vineyard La Las probably have the most aggressive regimen of New Oak known to man, but the heart of the process is to preserve the essence of the fruit and the distinctive terroirs that each parcel provides. Call him a control freak, but don’t call him an obsessive seasoner!

Another for good measure: New wave Chateauneuf producer Domain Cristia not only makes multiple cuvees (Cuvee Renaissance representing their flagship juice), they also utilize smaller barrels for their Mourvedre & add relatively large proportions of Syrah to the final cepage (depending upon the vintage). While I certainly do not find these practices objectionable, critics will claim darker, oak treated wines do not represent the essence of Chateauneuf. While resistance is understandable, the wines speak for themselves in not only their richness, but their core of terroir driven flavors that always seem to shine through any ‘technique’ in time. I find their modernity to be additive instead of obstructive.

  1. The focus on a broader, meaningful sense of place. The proliferation of single vineyard designated cuvees throughout the wine universe has become a bit tiresome, as has talking about it for that matter. While the New World is attempting to uncover its sweet spots through thousands of relatively innocuous vineyard designated wines, the Old World tends to shun pieces of land that haven’t been historically classified as hallowed ground. I don’t see the Rhone as immune to the single vineyard vice (as some luxury priced single parcel cuvees certainly exist), but an emphasis on more expansive, significant scopes of land seems to prevail. Perhaps this is chiefly due to how sprawling most domain’s vineyard holdings are…a piece here, a piece there. In the case of the Rhone, I find appellations such as Gigondas, Lirac, Condrieu or Crozes-Hermitage have plenty to say by themselves, w/ plenty of specificity. If a producer tends to utilize more sandy soils in Chateauneuf vs. stony, you’ll be able to sense that in the perfume and structure of the wine…but it will still undeniably be a Chateauneuf. Sometimes distinctions between trivial specks of land can be fascinating, but the inundation in the wine world w/ the acronym S.V.D. has become quite tedious…
Ahhh, what better way to punctuate a Rhone stream of consciousness than w/ a couple beautiful examples of the goods?! Hope you enjoy.
Domaine Courbis St. Joseph Blanc 2005

Scents of lilac, crushed stones and dried pineapple rind have a terrific focus, while maintaining a serious sense of subtlety. Relatively plump in the mouth, cut by rocky minerality and flavors of salty cashew. While somewhat austere, this white is structured and well put together and epitomizes its somewhat obscure, but unique nook of white Rhone terroir. 88 points.

Unlike the precocious, tucked away appellations to the south (the cuvees that rely on Grenache Blanc in particular), whites from St. Joseph of this nature are sturdier and constructed to live longer. Do not hesitate to tuck bottles of this nature away for 4-6 years…while not a Hermitage Blanc, it provides an interesting window to an alternate world of white.

I can't imagine a better finale than that of the 2003 Domaine Saint Prefert Collecion Charles Giraud. While this vintage is certainly a polarizing one to the Chateauneuf faithful, this is a producer that certainly harnessed it all in stride. Perhaps the harshly severe climactic conditions were quelled by the feminine sensibilities of Isabel Ferrando? Either way, the women of the Rhone certainly have exhibited a deft touch w/ old vine Grenache (as well as Mourvedre).
The wine is very deep in color and supremely endowed aromatically, chock full of raspberry ganache, fig and kirsch flavors that brew a seductive concoction of pure, heady delight. Ultra-rich and plush on the palate, a gorgeously intense effort the exhibits a sense of feminine muscularity. Pure, striking aspects of minerality, garrigue and Valhrona chocolate gush on the admirably generous finish. Wow, what a wine! A gorgeous ride indeed…I cannot get enough of Isabel’s wines…my cellar is inundated w/ them- but I fear my appetite for gratification will outlast my sensible fortitude, preventing me from ever watching them evolve! Fantastic, profusely delicious wine! 97 points.

A Rhone red is a meal in itself folks…don’t forget your silverware!
Bon appetite.