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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Are the ‘Lesser’ Appellations in the Rhone Valley Really Second Rate?

While it is no secret that I adore all types of wines that stem from the Rhone, a weakening dollar and increasing global demand for wines from this region has caused me to take a closer look at the famed region’s less prestigious appellations to find value. My major criticisms regarding top wines originating from less heralded segments of the Rhone is that, while not short on character, they lack the polish, depth and textural refinement of their more prominent siblings. I hoped that this tasting would change my perception of these wines a bit, at least in regard to any pre-conceived notions I may have had concerning their quality. The good news is, it did shut me up, well, at least a little bit.

For theme purposes, the ‘lesser appellations’ were defined as any region of the Northern or Southern Rhone that is not Cote Rotie, Hermitage or Chateauneuf du Pape. We were all responsible for sourcing various wines of each region and tasted them blind. While there were certainly a few pedestrian, blasé pretenders in the lineup, a couple wines of the bunch absolutely had me completely fooled that they were not of ‘lesser’ pedigree at all (to the tune of ‘who snuck in a real Chateauneuf in here?!’). It likely won't shock anyone that Santa Duc proved to be the cream of the Southern Rhone's lesser crop, nor that Chapoutier was....well, Chapoutier, but there were a couple studly showings from names that may not currently be on your radar screen but are absolutely worth a closer look next time you find yourself on the lookout for value from the Rhone.

There was no particular order assigned to wines, which were served in flights of two.

2000 Tardieu-Laurent Gigondas - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Gigondas

This wine’s color was not nearly as saturated as that of number 2, suggesting just a hint of age. The nose had me fooled that it could have been a maturing Bordeaux, emitting notes of lilac, currant, tobacco, gravel, pepper, iron and hints of cassis. The wine was epitomized by finesse; it had a medium bodied, elegant personality that contained its rock solid structure admirably. This beauty should drink very well for the next decade, 91 points.

Perhaps the inkiest wine that we tasted throughout the evening, I knew this was the Mordoree immediately. This was a heady, structured and forebodingly tight effort that hinted at mocha, violet and sweet raspberry perfume in its backward, sinewy profile. The wine currently lacks definition and loaded w/ mouth-puckering tannins, but should emerge after a few years in the cellar (as it was tough to accurately assess last night), 88+ points.

2001 Patrick Lesec Gigondas Les Blâches - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Gigondas

This wine was a haven for those that find pleasure in Provencal essences, as the myriad of spicy herb notes that ejected from this Rhone became immediately cozy w/ me. Notions of spicebox, vivid garrigue, pepper, dry-rubbed beef, strawberry and cherry flavors scintillated the savory senses of the palate in an un-relenting fashion. Plush and generous in the mouth, echoing complex spice notes that simply wouldn’t quit as this baby Chateauneuf really stretched its legs on the long, mineral driven finish, 92 points.

2003 Delas Frères Crozes-Hermitage Le Clos - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Crozes-Hermitage

While things began in a somewhat close to the vest fashion through the leafy, underbrush scents of this youngster, the palate polarized my opinion of this heat-wave charged Syrah. My immediate impression in the mouth was that of a ‘dialed down Aussie Grenache,’ as the exceptionally ripe, nearing candied notes of blackberry reduction, framboise and crushed fruit character seemed too forward, unbridled and precocious to possibly be a Crozes Hermitage. While ’03 produced uncharacteristic wines that could be referred to as irregular at best, the brightness of the fruit gave this aloof Syrah an intrinsic appeal that I feel for, irregular or not, 91+ points.

2003 M. Chapoutier St. Joseph Les Granits - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, St. Joseph

Perhaps one of the most seriously crafted wines of the evening, this Syrah crossed all its t’s and dotted each i w/ kit gloves. Notes of new saddle leather, tarry black cherries, grilled herbs, pepper and plum sauce that were so well proportioned, pure and painfully suave. The wine was more about presence than power, as the lingering effects left the palate w/ a substantial impression that belied the wine’s size, 93 points (damn Chapoutier is a phenomenal winemaker!).

1999 Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas Prestige des Hautes Garrigues - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Gigondas

This wine captivated the table, as each one of us swooned over this elixir in unison (well, it would have been simultaneously, had I not been drinking so slowly!). A spell-binding nose of dried porcini mushrooms, clove, allspice, crème de cassis, graphite and cocoa that reverberates throughout the palate in a rich, multi-dimensional fashion. The wine is layered, gorgeously textured and painfully symmetrical; as it carries you off to the promise land in its dazzling finish which pumps out herbs de Provence in spades. Santa Duc is a producer that I’ve been critical of in the past as I’ve found most of their wines to be extremely complex, but ruggedly textured and lacking the suppleness of its more illustrious Chateauneuf peers, but this vintage smashed just everything else from them that I’ve tried & made me a believer (was it due to the character that ’99 provided or was this wine handled differently when it came to the extraction process?), 95 points (consensus wine of the night).

2004 Château de Saint-Cosme Gigondas - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Gigondas

Although this wine had a tough act to follow, it did so admirably and w/ style. This was a flat out pretty effort, from head to toe, ejecting violet, black raspberry, leather, cassis and iron from the glass in a cohesive, fabulously textured package. The wine had zero hard edges and provided a complex, pleasurable experience that should impress any lover of Rhone wines, 92 points.

2005 Perrin & Fils Vacqueyras Les Christins - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Vacqueyras

I’ve tasted this wine several times, and this was the most impressive showing yet (little did I know I’d get to taste it twice tonight?!). The most powerful, full-throttle exhibition I’ve ever witnessed from a Perrin & Fils Les Christins, dialing out high voltage raspberry ganache, kirsch, spicebox and pepper notes in a well framed, lovely textured package. For how widely distributed, inexpensive & accessible this wine is, this level of quality is almost unprecedented. Having said that, we unknowingly tasted this wine twice when we sampled wine 14. While both had a luxuriously ripe profile, the second sampling was far less compelling and much more monochromatic. There are three trains of thought as to why this happened:
  • I brought wine number 14 and decanted it for 2 hours (it is an ’05 and can show in an extremely tight fashion) and wine number 10 was popped and poured, sans breathing. So breathing (counter-intuitively) could have hurt this wine.
  • Wines of such high production and varied distribution are subject to more dramatic variation from bottle to bottle (whether it’s at the producer level, distributing level or handling level, it seems to be a fact of life that is demonstrated painfully well by Las Rocas).
  • We are crappy tasters and have no clue what we are doing! I rated the initial bottle 91+ points and the 2nd bottle w/ an 87…my notes were somewhat similar on both but I stated the wine 14 was simply un-interesting.

2004 Domaine de la Montagne d'Or Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret Excellence - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret

This was perhaps the most innocuous and superficial wine that we tasted all evening. It had a grapey, superficial disposition on the palate that was neither impressive nor offensive. There was a decent foundation of sweet, ripe fruit, but it was simply not accompanied by anything compelling nuance or character to distinguish itself. Personally, I’d find this to be a decent picnic drink, but tend to prefer rose on my outdoor excursions, 81 points.

2004 Franck Balthazar Cornas Chaillot - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas

Hands down, the most Burg-friendly beverage we consumed yesterday from aromatics alone. An earthy, brett-ophiles delight, expelling cigar tobacco, cedar, truffle, damp underbrush and red currant scents that unfortunately were all about foreplay as they lead to an attenuated, tannic and somewhat hollow mid-palate that craved flesh for requisite balance. I think this is a case and point of what the high yields of ’04 correlate to, great noses and lean, ungenerous palates, 84 points.

2001 Patrick Lesec Vacqueyras Vieilles Vignes - France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Vacqueyras

I found this wine to demonstrate the potential and promise of the appellation of Vacqueyras, but also expose its vulnerability in elevating the regional winemaking to the next level. A dazzling nose of iron, graphite, soy, bay leaf and currants that lead to yet another depth-less palate which disappoints me because there is no reason for this wine to not be outstanding. It is loaded w/ character and foundational elements, but simply can’t complete the package in terms of textural richness, depth and length, 86 points.

2003 Sequillo Cellars Sequillo - South Africa, Coastal Region, Swartland

A mirror image in quality to number 13, as this wine was technically sound, provided complex elements of intrigue, but lacked the excitement and intensity of its outstanding peers. The aromas of Indian spices (curry, cumin), figs, leather and black currants were a nice start, but the medium bodied, modestly constructed palate lacks length and is two dimensional wine in a three dimensional world. I consider this wine to be a solid framework to build on for future vintages (perhaps a metaphor for the Cape's potential w/ this varietal?), 85 points.

2005 Pierre Gaillard St. Joseph Clos de Cuminaille - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, St. Joseph
We saved the classiest wine of the bunch for last, as I could have easily mistaken this for a young, unevolved Chave. Copious amounts of black pepper, raspberry, fig compote, tarragon, violets and crushed rocks emerge in this tantalizingly pure effort that is just waiting to blossom. Hauntingly shaped, delicately nuanced and poised for a beautiful future, this ’05 gave Chapoutier a run for his money, 93+ points.

2003 Weinlaubenhof Alois Kracher Cuvée Beerenauslese - Austria, Burgenland, Neusiedlersee

In homage to a fallen pioneer, I hope to do him a touch of justice w/ my feeble impressions of his recent work. While I am unfamiliar w/ his wines, this mélange of botrytis inflected grapes had fermented to a formidable higher alcohol (12 plus percent) and was endowed w/ a gorgeous amount of acids to define its suave notes of bee pollen, honeysuckle blossom, apricot, brown sugar and white flowers. The palate was beautifully streamlined, cut and had such focus to its intensity of flavors that I think all of us had the pleasure of paying tribute to the great man last night. Cheers to him and all that he inspired with his passion and direction.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Don't look now Perse fans/haters...
but Monbousquet just racked in another WOTN trophy that was posted in Executive Wine Seminars latest edition, with 'sanely priced Bordeaux' as the theme. Say what you will about 'spoofilation,' precocious fruit and oaky wines always stealing the show at blind tastings...but people sure do dig Monbo :)

Not bad for a controversial figure's economically priced petit Chateau, huh? Must be doing something right...
P.S. It was the 2003 vintage. Polarize me a bit more as I ready for my lithium shot...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Bright Future is in Store

According to early reports on 2006 and 2007, the unprecedented streak of excellent vintages is likely to continue well into the 21st century for Chateauneuf du Pape of the Southern Rhone. Although there is an apparent homogeneity in enological practices across the globe (most quality minded producers manage canopies, green harvest, employ clean cellar practices, etc.), the ‘level playing field’ hasn’t produced a wine region that could rival the consistent success enjoyed by this queen appellation of the Southern Rhone in the past 10 years (except perhaps the Mosel, a strong beneficiary of climate change). Excluding the torrential downpours during the harvest of 2002, most Rhone fans could blindly buy a vintage of their favorite producer from’98-‘05 and be a happy customer. While the succession of vintages has undoubtedly produced different types of wines, the malleability of the 13 grape varieties permitted in this region, coupled with an immense diversity in terroir, has provided a winning combination for nearly 10 straight years.

The beauty of these wines can be found within their inherent purity. The starring grape of the Chateauneuf show, Grenache, rarely sees any oak and is the essence of unadulterated fruit's interaction w/ the earth. The beefier, sinewy portion the Chateauneuf backbone, Mourvedre, is said to like its head in the sun and its feet in the water, which the region provides in spades. The Chateauneuf soils are most famously known for the preponderance of galets (or rolled stones) that can be found in several of the region’s most famous vineyards. These stones retain heat throughout the day and radiate it back to the vines at the night, which amps up the ripeness over the growing season, but what’s hidden underneath the stones may be a more crucial harbinger of quality. The best terroirs of Chateauneuf are rich in clay subsoil, which allows ancient vines the moisture retentive nourishment that they need amidst the region's arid climate. Without the vines being rooted in nutrient loving clay, or having their ‘feet in the water,’ the wines would lack the requisite acidity necessary to provide the tension & symmetry that we Rhone lovers hold near and dear to our palates.

When you sprinkle on some necessary rainfall at just the right times, along with a strong September wind (referred to as a Mistral) to prevent rot, you’ve got yourself a superlative climate sandwich that you can munch on vintage after vintage. While each year since ’98 has provided a slightly different combination of these environmental elements, the equation has netted wines of excellent quality in all shapes and sizes. Most 98’s seem to finally to be hitting a favorable stride, while the ‘01s and ‘05s have miles to go before they reach any semblance of maturity. Wines from the ’99 and ’00 vintage are poles apart in profile, but are said to have shared the same trait of accessibility throughout their respective evolutions. Whether or not you find the ‘03s over-rated or the ‘04s under-rated, there is something for just about any Rhone lover out there, and something at all price points.

Most back-vintages can still be had for a reasonable tariff (assuming sound provenance) and even though prices continue to creep up (no thanks to the good old American currency becoming as diluted as a ’02 Rasteau), values abound within the wealth of the golden Chateauneuf sands. Between the proliferations of exciting young winemakers, a solid pipeline of infant vintages resting in producer’s cellars and the outstanding level of quality found in base cuvees, there will be no shortage of great Chateauneuf to fill your cellar with in the upcoming years. From new to old, Domaine St. Prefert, Clos St. Jean, Cristia, Grand Veneur, Milliere, Clos du Mont Olivet, Vieux Donjon and Charvin all pack a competitively priced punch, while continuing to raise the bar of quality w/ each subsequent vintage. Most producers also make fabulous Coates du Rhone bottlings that sell for a song (especially Charvin) and also fashion rare, but exceedingly well constructed white Chateauneuf, which is a category of wine that I highly encourage any Rhone lover to look at more seriously. If you enjoy more mineral infused, racy whites, than Clos des Papes and La Nerthe should be on your radar screen in just about any vintage. As far as fans of the richer, more flamboyant styles, St. Prefert, Beaucastel (especially their pure Roussanne Vieilles Vignes, perhaps the flagship Southern Rhone White) and the full throttle Boisrenard cuvee from Beaurenard could be your ticket in this category.

I can’t help but let those whispers of ’06 & ’07 quality get my juices flowing, even though all it can be currently labeled as is optimistic conjecture. Although I’ve become a bit jaded about purchasing imported European wines with a weak dollar, I can’t help but be excited about how far our feeble currency will continue to take us in the future from this area, and I hope you are excited about it too.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Preamble to the Wine Lover’s Declaration of Independence

In order for one to relish in their freedom of choice, one must first realize that their own subjectivity means everything when it comes down to making their decisions.

From a bird’s eye view, the insecurity involved w/in the environment of wine may not be dramatically different from any other, but I find no reason to play a part in said insecurity. Few experiences are more personal than one’s perception of taste, so why do the ambient forces in this micro-universe have such a strangle-hold on the countless consumers that call the grape their favorite vocation?

Well historically, fine wine was treated as an elitist beverage; suffice to say that some of the pseudo intellectualism and affluent bravado of its past has came along with it as unwelcome baggage to the present day wine consumer. If I were to pair a blue collar craftsman w/ a regal Brit, I’d imagine that the former would find poetic waxing on the longevity of a first growth Bordeaux to sound droll, pompous and a tad intimidating in an exclusive way (especially if Mr. Blue Collar were to take interest in such a beverage). So what happens when historic hyperbole meets today’s wine consumer? Although imbedded stereotypes can manifest themselves differently in time, their consequences can take eons to shake.

The American culture is primed to be the number one global consumer of wine by 2009, which puts our society in a unique position. The burgeoning sect of younger, less experienced wine drinkers are parched for information, direction and the tools necessary to appropriately exercise their ‘freedom of choice.’ This position can seem a daunting task for the uninitiated, as the retail shelves are inundated w/ unpronounceable names, unfamiliar geographies and eccentric grape varieties that can overwhelm just about any bright eyed novice. It is imperative that the very first thing these virgin connoisseurs learn to do is to taste, and more importantly, to trust their reactions to all that they taste. The trepidations involved in liking, disliking or commenting in ‘the wrong way’ cannot over-ride this deeply personal, pleasurable experience. The infant, vulnerable reactions to wine need to be embraced by all those that guide these young palates to maturity, as early suppression of personal taste can lead to nowhere but a lifetime of bitter insecurity. It is the seasoned wine geek’s responsibility to foster growth of such palates, not to mock them into uniform submission.

I’d be foolish to not warn those young palates out there that there are far more difficult roadblocks to handle than the fore mentioned ho hum historical stereotypes. There are vicious animals that will attempt to thwart the path to palate nirvana; including lemmings, trolls, parrots and perhaps most frightening of them all, beavers. Your journey through the booby trapped forest will evoke painful memories of all that you once loathed about grades school. Insecurities spawn from social acceptance, peer pressure, cliques and authority figures cannot get the best of you and your vision to find that which moves you. Succumbing to join a clique in middle school probably didn’t make you feel more independent nor self aware, just as those that may have dictated your future to you didn’t help you achieve that which could make you happy. Beware my friends, the right and wrong police of personal taste abound now more than ever, but fear not, you can always find sanctity in your personal taste. The cults, sycophants and bullies of wine must be avoided for your right to choose to be realized, as that choice is yours and yours only.

If professionals are moved by flavors that you despise, then I challenge you to proclaim your preference in as deafening a sound as possible, with utmost enthusiasm and passion. It’s the dynamism of human taste, which can be found in the wines that we drink, that provides such a rich environment to foster the sharing and obtaining of knowledge. Challenge the black and white and use others to guide you as you begin to define what it is about wine that you like so much. Use critics as baselines to calibrate your palate to and do not use critical information as an absolute determiner of what is right or wrong. Steer clear of those that offer no substance, nor insight other than the words ‘better’ or ‘worse.’ Ask questions of yourself and of others, as those who ask questions in return will likely be the ones that will help, not hurt your mission.

There is only one good and one bad, and they can only be defined by you. The only way to truly capitalize on freedom of choice is to have searched yourself for the answers that no one else can define. Search as broadly and as open-mindedly as humanly possible, as few answers can come within a narrow imagination. If you continue to do this with each smell, taste and moment spent with wine, you’ll be well on your way to achieving more than just wine knowledge. You’ll be on your way to achieving self-confidence in a world surrounded by the timid, and be alert as they will likely lash out at you every chance they get.

Fear not my friend, for at the end of the day, the pleasure will be yours because the choice was yours, and you sir, chose wisely.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Does it make Cents to Drink the Wine of the Year?

Needless to say, a quick bit of clarification is in order. I am not speaking of ‘your wine of the year,’ I am speaking of the publishing giant, The Wine Spectator & their annual, massively circulated issue that stacks up the year’s best wines as they see them. To clarify, I am not here to bitch about the process, critique their selections, nor do I find any fault in the magazine establishing its own parameters to anoint a particular wine w/ said moniker. The hypothetical question is this; if you bought Clos des Papes 2005 (or last years 2001 Tenuta Nuova from Casanova di Neri) before it was celebrated with such an honor, would you still bother drinking it?

The easy response would be, friggin’ a, it must be some kick ass juice to receive such an accolade! Not only will I score some points w/ my high brow friends for having the wine world’s best booby prize, I may be able to pick up some chicks in the process. Anyways, it’s the wine of the year, it has to be great, so of course I’ll imbibe said juice w/ all the sultry pleasures that the bottle entails.

One of the complicating matters that places this predicament on more untenable grounds is that the wine of the year becomes an instant cash cow for any retailer, distributor or any entrepreneurial flipper wanting to capitalize on such hyperbolic press. Within hours, minutes and even seconds of the announcement, prices escalate like exploding M80 fireworks, annihilating the frantic consumer's hopes to find any restitution from the site (which feverishly attempts to update each retailer's quickly vanishing stock in their search engines).

The Wine of the Year, initially selected due to its relative value of say 60 dollars and change, instantly becomes a 200 plus dollar luxury trophy, set for mounting alongside bronzed statues of vinous greats such as Robert Mondavi, Dom Perignon and Emile Peynaud. The crème de la crème of cinema has its Oscar award winners; wine has its Fall Issue of the Spectator’s top 100. Undoubtedly the winner each year has been, at the very least, an outstanding wine worthy of universal praise and is sure to deliver a lovely drinking experience. There hasn’t been a dud in the bunch, though I’d be hard pressed to find unanimous agreement amongst the most discerning cliques of oenophiles that any winner of the prestigious award was ‘truly worthy.’

Well, Clos des Papes 2005 was indeed a great 60 dollar wine, but is a bile spouting mess of frivolous proportions at the asking currency of 2 Ben Franklin greenbacks. Much the same could be said of past winners Insignia, Cinq Cepages, Tenuta Nuova and company as this award seems to change the game dramatically. High end wine buyers can justify price when it involves pristinely stored bottles that are decades old, first growth Bordeaux of regal inheritance, gems that are of the most scarce quantity and transcendent wines of singular vintages as they all seem to fetch defensible price tags from their rabid, frothy buyers....but can that same buyer defend the overstuffed tariff required to pilfer the Wine of the Year?

To drink or not to drink, that is the question. The rational mind says flip like you are auditioning for a balance beam routine on Bella Karoli’s gymnastic squad, freeing up the cash flow to buy a subjectively (or objectively) better wine, worthy of the dollars that need not be inflated by such an arbitrary crown. I’d imagine one could think that they simply can’t afford to drink the Wine of the Year anymore, even though it was initially priced at a ‘reasonable level.’ Then again, why did you buy the wine in the first place? Was it a good review, positive local buzz, vintage character, history of successful experiences w/ the producer, or simply because you tasted it and liked it? Situations such as these cause heavy internal scrutiny and can make sellers out of sippers. Is one ’05 Clos des Papes worth one ’90 Pichon Baron? If you had bought multiple bottles, do you drink a couple and pawn shop the rest?

Gold plated wines have a tendency to turn the staunchest drinkers into the most practical dealers. Is it about the wine, the prize or the common sense?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Sane Value in an Insane Wine World

Look out Rhone-aholics, there’s another lights out value to keep a keen eye out for in 2005 Chateauneuf and it comes in a Vieilles Vignes package from la Milliere. This young red is composed of 60 plus percent Grenache, with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault rounding out the cuvee. The deep, but transparent ruby color foreshadows an enticing perfume of licorice, violet, dark cherry, mesquite spices, grilled steak and imbedded Provencal herb notes. While the wine begins slowly, this model of restraint slowly unfolds to gain intensity and depth in the palate, exhibiting a savory, supple profile that easily tames this 2005’s muscular backbone. The wine fleshed out beautifully over the course of the evening and should continue to blossom over the next 15 years. This is a fantastic young Chateauneuf, 92+ points!

This is yet another textbook counter-example to all the widespread pricing panic echoed amongst all the outspoken, frustrated circles of fine wine buyers throughout cyberspace. While Americans are faced with all the consequences that surround the feeble strength of their U.S. dollar, I hope that outstanding wines of this caliber will help assuage some of the jaded emphasis that surrounds the maniacal pricing of the blue chip players in the fine wine game. In spite of the insatiable demand for high end, luxury ticket items at bull-market auctions, the global competition and proliferation of information has made the 25-50 dollar price point a particular sweet spot for consumers to find phenomenal juice across the globe. I’d argue that the quest for quality wine at reasonable prices has never been easier, assuming consumers are willing to give up their love for high brow labels.
PS, this wine is widely available for less than 30 dollars.

-Another cute little wife actually commented that she liked this so much that I was 'allowed to buy more,' recanting on her previous ban that she imposed on my purchasing wines in this calendar year

Thursday, December 06, 2007

It’s all a matter of personal taste.

Should one have to defend their taste? I imagine the question arose initially because another challenged their particular taste, for whatever reason that may have been. The subjectivity in personal taste is undeniable, and is perhaps what makes conversation about wine so dynamic and utterly fascinating. While there are lessons to learn on wine that are fundamentally objective, isn’t the subjectivity of one’s own taste a lesson that can only be learned through one's personal perception of tasting? How can something that is so inherently individual be right or wrong? Moreover, how can one’s perception of wine in general be incorrect? I agree, I disagree, there is no right or wrong in one’s taste.

It never ceases to amaze me how my elders (and there are several) love to teach, perhaps because I am so eager to learn and listen to those that have a body of experience that trumps my own. One proclamation that some of my elders bestow upon me that I can’t seem to buy into is that my expansive exploration of wine is a trek that is inevitably leading to a particular place....the sacred Nirvana of wine. Whether that place is Burgundy, which serves as a classic suggestion, or a grape variety or producer; I can’t believe that my sense of taste will narrow through experimentation. My sense of taste is not tantamount to a meandering virgin at a peep show, nor am I willing to believe that I am a lost vinous soul, lacking the vaunted recipe to unravel the identity of my own taste. I know what I like and what I like is great wine. That wine comes from various places, various varieties and was conjured by various faces. I agree, I disagree, there is no right or wrong in one’s taste.

One could certainly make a case that even the tiniest appellation can provide such abundant diversity that one could spend their entire lives studying it. While that is a valid and noteworthy point, there’s simply too much great grape throughout the vitcultural universe that make limiting one’s emphasis of tasting seem vacuous. Granted, I’ve found particular areas of focus, like the Rhone, that have had an undeniably striking affect on my palate, but I firmly believe that one wine region’s greatness can catalyze an intrigue that expands (rather than narrows) my intensity of exploration beyond that particular place. The pleasures of the Rhone have extended themselves to the Golden State, rekindling my enthusiasm for domestic wine thanks to the recent successes from inspired pioneers that settled the Central Coast. That particular exploration has unveiled that the Californian revolution extends far beyond the Rhone inspiration. Alas, all roads lead to….great wine. I agree, I disagree, there is no right or wrong in one’s taste.

I believe the only entity that is more mutable than a wine is the human that is drinking it. Even the stalest beings have fluctuating moods that dictate their behaviors, which I believe play a profound role in their perception of taste. Whether one’s mood is driven by the ambient or that which is internal, it is bound to change. The beauty of wine is that it comes in all the forms of a fun house reflection, allowing each mood’s diverse taste to be adequately satiated. Any dictator of taste that claims acidity is the only pulsating life blood in wine that need be referenced is certainly not a personality which I can identify with. Have you no desires for the warming pleasures that a heady, plump elixir can showcase on a piercingly chilly evening? That hearty flesh of carnivorous cuisine needs a partner. Should that partner be attenuated and angular? As for you, the slayer of the slender, the abhorrent of the acid, what say you on a 95 degree day when rummaging through the cupboard to foil your garden salad? Stay the course, w/ your favorite inky juice? Stout, w/ the bulging tannins of a sinewy linebacker that kindly assault your beads of sweat like fireflies? I am no dictator, but then again, I am not a masochist for punishment. I agree, I disagree, there is no right or wrong in one’s taste.

Does moving markets make one’s taste an absolute? Well, it certainly is welcomed by those that partake in the salesmanship it provides them, but should it define your personal taste? If you disagree w/ subjective authority, that does not render your opinion baseless. As for the 'super-tasters,' does having more taste buds make you a superior taster? Perhaps it makes you a more sensitive one, although I can't imagine their perception being anymore absolute. Seeing things differently is something to relish in, hell I can't help but enjoy a dramatic divergence in relation to my own perception. Those that have the most contrary palate preferences to my own often proffer the most pleasurable, instructive tasting experiences. Hardly agreeing, always enlightening. I encourage the outliers of the ‘written norm’ to speak up, especially when they have the audacity to proclaim “ripe fruit isn’t necessarily a flaw” and that “fruit is overrated!” In case you didn’t notice, I just threw Jay Miller under the bus (not to be confused w/ Jay Stuart Miller, his polar opposite and critic for the Wine Advocate). Sorry Jay, but you know what, your palate and opinion are undoubtedly unique and that is something of which I find not only interesting, but respectable (he happens to exude one of the least combative and most un-dogmatic dispositions that I’ve witnessed in the wine world). In this case, I do disagree, but there is definitely no right or wrong in Jay’s taste.

If you attack me, I will defend my taste as I believe my taste has merit. I find as much interest in your sense of taste as you do mine. All I can do is articulate my impressions and attempt to convey, in as transparent a fashion as possible, what breed the wine was and how it affected me. If the type of wine is one of which that your palate and current disposition find appealing, I can’t help but wonder if it moved you in such a way as it moved me. That’s why we taste and that’s why we talk about our experiences. I also believe that’s why winemakers make wine in the first place, and I can only hope to do them the justice they deserve when I write about their wines, for better or for worse. If they agree, or if they disagree, there is no right or wrong in one’s taste.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Is D.P. what it's cracked up to be?

Astor Wine & Spirits opened their vaunted ‘high-tech war room’ doors to a band of thirsty geeks for a sneak preview of their upcoming wine and food educational series that will occur with regularity as of January ‘08. From our ground floor perspective, it is an insanely pristine, modern and jazzy operation that is complete with all the bells and whistles that would even make an owner of a self-parking Lexus jealous. The high definition flat screen monitors and stainless steel culinary arsenal adorned the audience with a high profile demonstration that evoked images of a Vegas parade starring Emeril Lagasse. I remember thinking ‘damn, if my university lecture halls were of this profile, I probably would have gone to class more often, I might have even showered and groomed myself for the occasion!’
Well this particular occasion was in homage to Pierre Perignon, the ‘spiritual father of Champagne.’ A foreplay presentation formed the backdrop to the tasting, illustrating how this iconic monk was appointed by Louis the fourteenth to create the best wine in the world (at a time when Versailles was mired in acidic, Loire based plonk). While the display was a bit pompous, in its pep rally salesmanship and overtly ‘French-fare’ fashion, it provided the geeks w/ an informative primer for their tasting delight. I happened to enjoy the highlights on winemaker Richard Geoffroy, perhaps the most influential man in global bubbly today. When the talk of critical acclaim was ‘downsized,’ proclaiming that the luxury cuvee’s sense of finesse belied the scores it received from wine writers, it was made abundantly clear that Moet simply didn’t need them (nor care about them) to sell the massive volumes of premium product they crank out each vintage. Oh, in case you are wondering, their production numbers are still highly confidential and even the ‘high-tech war room’ ambience couldn’t seduce the information out of their spokesmen. Que sera!

All cuvees are composed of only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as no Pinot Meunier ever sneaks its way into Dom, regardless of the vintage.

Dom Perignon 1999
The base-vintage cuvee spends an average of 7-8 years of aging on the lees. The ’99 was just disgorged on October of 2006. My first taste of this vintage was definitely one of infanticide, but provided an intriguing sneak peak none the less. Visually singular, flaunting an amazingly fine, linear bead of vertical pearls that seemed almost too perfect to be real. The understated straw color acted as a precursor to the subtle character of the wine, as notes of honeyed brioche, buttered citrus, fresh tangerine and grapefruit flavors emerged in the glass. A crystalline and racy Champagne, that is sharply focused and extremely tightly wound, but should become more expansive and generous as it evolves in the cellar. I’d abstain from popping this unevolved vintage for close to five years, 91+ points.

Dom Perignon, “Oenotheque” 1993
This dazzling rendition spends an average of 12-16 years of lees aging, depending upon the vintage, and boy was this ’93 worth the wait! Frothing w/ complexity, evoking aromas of flowers, salted butter, toffee, graphite and lemon curd that were really showcased well in the broader stem (Michel’s comments are apropos as far as consuming bubbly in the big glass). The sensual nose gave way to an extremely bright, mineral infused palate, full of crushed stones and an electric acidity that made the opulently fashioned wine seem completely ethereal. Is it worth the price tag? Probably not, but it is fantastic, 95 points!

Dom Perignon Rose 1996
Perhaps this Champagne is executed in a style that appeals more to people that are interested in drinking wine, with a bit of carbonation (a la Lambrusco). The deep salmon color and spicy yet earthy profile was extremely fascinating and provocative to taste, but it lacked the class that gives Dom its cache. Notes of white pepper, wet slate, dried flowers, iron, tobacco and strawberries are penetrating and idiosyncratic, yet oddly reminded me of a Red Burgundy with fizz. Although it is interesting and complex, I can’t be totally compelled by it for the fore-mentioned reasons, 89 points.

In case I have offended any of you w/ my commentary, remember the words from Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, "you can't fight in here, this is the war room!"