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Friday, October 31, 2008

To those who don't think Wine Library TV has hit the big time yet....

After Randall Grahm came into town, none other than Jancis Robinson graced the dirty Jerze w/ her appearance yesterday on Gary Vaynerchuk's videoblog at Wine Library. I honestly can't believe it- talk about the GenX phenomenon hitting yet another climax!? Congratulations seems your dedication, ludicrous diligence and ADHD infused energy has made yet another splash- and this one strikes me as the most noteworthy. Another win for us young guys in the wine world :)

His extremities in style aside, I think this episode is more than worth your attention (love him or hate him):

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Favorite Pichon, a Vertical from the Baron

Why is Pichon Baron the lesser Pichon? My palate tends to favor the Baron, save for the ’95 & ’96 vintages, and my wallet is all the denser for it. Is my palate wrong? Maybe Pichon Lalande is a nicer Chateau? Maybe the ‘Lalandes’ are a richer family, with more dapper white collars than the ‘Barons?’ In the commercial markets I have to believe that our perception is highly influenced by branding and product positioning, yet I always attempt to unearth the reason why we consumers see things the way we do. Did it all start w/ the rockstar ’82 vintage from Pichon Lalande? A wine that good can certainly forge a reputation of its own, but one vintage can’t make a Chateau. Or can it? Perhaps I am looking in the wrong places. Maybe it’s the whole ‘Super Second’ phenomenon that has kept the Baron down. That damn Leoville Las Cases has stolen the Baron’s thunder. I mean come on; the first growths dominate Pauillac conversations while St. Julien can exist on an island, owning the phrase ‘Grand Cru Quality.’
Well, consider my verbal sparring with…myself, put on hold to actually talk about what the stuff tastes like. Phew! The best thing about perception is that it all goes out the window when you throw the label out and actually drink it. Let me tell you, the wines from Pichon Baron are pretty damn good, red-headed step child or not. I don’t like them simply because I champion the underdog; I like them because they taste fantastic.
Bubbly beginnings:
A Margaine Brut Rose Champagne NV
This presents w/ an almost surly nose, smelling of leesy elements like sour dough bread, chalk dust and mossy earth. Intriguing enough to sip, the palate envelopes the taster w/ a strawberry and cherry inflicted profile, cloaked in a mineral bath of mouthwatering, stony-textured acidity that beads along a long, zippy finish. The length and acidity of this sparkler is exquisite and its character is pretty noteworthy, 89+ points.
Stumbling out of the gates:
I initially thought this wine was the ’04 as it was a wee bit closed and ungenerous. Time in the glass brought out the funky mildew like taint that stained our glasses. I had wagered part of my male anatomy on the incorrect vintage. Do I get a mulligan from the TCA police?
This was the most disappointing showing of the evening. The nose came off as a bit blowzy, revealing grapey, berry jam like scents that cloaked the more interesting asphalt & spicy toast-like notes. While the attack came on like a desperate man using sleezy pick-up lines at the bar, the superficial fruit firmed up on the hollow, coarsely textured midpalate that was plagued by rugged, bitter tannins that left a profoundly drying sensation in the mouth. Don’t let anyone fool you about the faux-approachability of the ‘04s, this one needs time. I think it will round into outstanding form, but the best I can do quantitatively is an 86+?

Onwards and upwards:
This is yet another explosively fragrant, ready to be gobbled up ’99 that roars from the glass w/ mocha spiced cassis, black truffles, spicy cedar and graphite notes that turn elegant and resolved in the mouth. There are zero rough edges to be found in this symmetrical, supple and nicely balanced claret, which should provide pleasure over the next 6-8 years, 89 points.
I can always pick this out blindly in a flight of Pichon Baron’s as the green qualities of the nose make the vintage obvious. Not necessarily a bad, overtly vegetal green, more like a lilac meets grass green, w/ alluring red currant paste, lead pencil shavings and freshly tilled earth notes also chiming in. Texture-wise, this is the hardest wine of the bunch, appealing to the Burgundy and Piedmont palates w/ its brightly focused fruit and palate cleansing acidity. If this were a Pinot Noir I’d pen it as a long distance runner, but as a Cabernet based wine it lacks the tannin and beef to hit the pavement running, 88 points.
This is a much rounder, more flesh filled wine than the ’95, flexing a bit of sinew into its cassis, black currant and cocoa powdered persona. In spite of its more generous, sweetly fruited personality, there is ample acidity, ripe tannin and body for this vintage to show even better w/ a few more years of cellaring, 92+ points.
-A word on the ’95 & ’96 vintages. These two wines are very disappointing, considering the pedigree, and are the weakest links in the vertical (especially when compared to Pichon Lalande’s dynamite performance in each year). Although I think this estate missed a great opportunity in these years, the flights to come revealed the true potential of this terroir in top years, culminating in their 2000, one of the finest of the vintage I’ve tasted and still the best deal in Bordeaux (boy does it pain me to say that). I own more of that wine than any other Bordeaux so I obviously believe firmly in that statement.
Bring on the studs:
The surprise of the tasting had to be this vintage, which went toe to toe w/ the terrific ‘89/’90 duo and refused to go down in the ten round flight. Perhaps the most effusive, utterly complex nose of the evening, exploding from the glass with truffle shavings, lead pencil, fresh mushroom and hearty plum sauce notes that were so damn exciting to smell I had a difficult time keeping my nose out of the glass. The wine was all about finesse in the mouth, w/ suave, fine tannins and an elegant body that wore its curves like a ‘60s starlet. I think the reason we loved this wine so much was that it is truly at its apogee and we experienced what is likely the greatest performance that this bottle will ever give. If I’m wrong, then I need to buy even more of this wine than I can afford 93 points.
The nose of this wine screamed 1990 louder than I imagined possible. Oodles of licorice infused black fruit and mint scents steamed from the glass, diving deep into the palate like a bombshell. The crème de cassis flavors are to die for, turning plush, layered and very opulent on the finish, yet in spite of its hedonistic profile, the wine has amazing clarity, class and focus. Jeff brought up that the ’00 shows the similar confluence of ripe fruit and acidity that the ’89 has, and I think he’s absolutely right. The ’89 is perhaps the most poised rich wine I’ve come across in Bordeaux, and what’s frightening is that I actually think it will only get better, 97+ points.
Here’s a case where the ’89 and ’90 absolutely dust the Pichon Lalande’s versions (giving plenty of hair-splitting opportunities a la the ’95 and ’96 Pichon Lalande vintages), yet they are distinct in style. The ’90 has an herbal tinged nose that reminds me a bit of the Southern Rhone, with lavender, sautéed mushroom, grilled beef and an array of rich, dark fruits that really struck a chord w/ me (duh!). The palate is crammed w/ glycerin, revealing a thickly textured, chewy body that is tantamount to a meal in a glass. Now it’s obvious to see why people would prefer the ’89, yet equally understandable why I dug the ’90 a bit more (ps, I think there’s some brett in this wine…not ’90 Montrose brett, but enough to make the Rhone-go-round), 98 points.
Hail to the king:
Is there such a thing as channeled opulence? Well, I think there is and I think it is the best way to describe this wine. A seething, rich beauty that crams 200 pounds of flavor into a 150 pound frame, yet does it with style and grace, pleasing palates at both ends of the spectrum. The nose has a smoky disposition, w/ spicy fig, warm ganache, crème de cassis, black currant paste, mocha and sweet tobacco notes turning huge and mouth-filling on the palate. Tiers of deep, loaded flavors saturate the palate from end to end, yet never turn ponderous or heavy as there is an energetic lift that keeps things fresh and beautifully delineated. This stunning bottle of wine is years away from perfection, yet its painfully obvious to see that it will inevitably get there, 100 points.
Poor ’05. Poor poor ’05 (a new favorite oxymoron of mine), how does one follow up a showboat like that? There was an exotic, flashy quality to the nose that fooled us into thinking it was the ’03. There’s some obvious sur maturite that almost comes off as confectionary in a raspberry cordial kind of way, but the deft balance and cut is evident structurally in this wine, taming the fruit nicely and begging for at least a decade of cellaring before another cork is popped, 92+ points.
Another pleasant surprise to most, yet I’ve always felt this was a strong year for Pichon Baron (and yes, it’s a better wine than Pichon Lalande again this year!). It has a Viader like personality, w/ great richness and opulence that is all in perfect proportion and feels quite shapely at the end of the day. The crème de cassis, milk chocolate and flashy fruit are all there, yet its muscle and construction keep things honest and compelling, 94 points.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Grenache Guy Reflects on the Burghound's Bite

An open letter to producers of U.S. Pinot Noir was written recently by Allen Meadows, also known as the Burghound. The thrust of his comments was that US based Pinot Noir has made some exceptionally positive strides through the years, yet their progress is hampered by utilizing a sparse amount of clones (particular mutations of Pinot Noir that are known for specific attributes) that tend to trump site expression. Meadows believes that the over-reliance on particular clones (notably the Dijon and Pommard 113, 114, 667, 777 and 828) has lead to too many Pinot Noirs tasting the same. He also thinks that the use of a wider variety of clones will better elucidate distinctions in site, or better expression particular terroirs. While I found the piece provocative, I feel that clonal selections are merely the tip of the iceberg.

It is interesting to suggest that varying ones genetic material will help assuage some of the more potent flavors and expressions from clones that tend to trump site...but, to his own contradictory point, Pinot Noir is a mutable grape. While a mutation to Pinot Gris or Pinot Blanc is something I wouldn't imagine would happen overnight, the small adaptations that happen to a vine when it experiences a myriad of local conditions do happen over the years (according to the data he cited it sounds like 10 years plus is a popular figure).

Part of California's maturation w/ Pinot must have come from trial and error; not only winemaking, viticulture and selection, but vineyard maturation. Isn't part of vineyard maturation having older, less productive vines? Isn't part of older Pinot Noir vines its mutations and adaptations in response to site? Would interspersing different clones into current locations expedite the reflection of these sites? I don’t know, but it sounds a bit like Allen likes the progress, but wants the next step to happen a bit quicker than the natural vineyard maturation progression will allow…and I am not sure exactly why this would expedite transparency.

Further, (for what it’s worth) a challenge I would put out to just about any ‘control freak’ New World winemaker would be to perform less inoculations w/ commercial yeasts. I can appreciate the unpredictability and sleepless nights that must be involved w/ using wild yeasts, but if one truly wants to reflect their individual space (vineyard, grapes, winery, etc.), aren’t natural fermentations a pretty good start? I’m not going to make the ‘designer yeast’ stand, nor do I have enough data sets to truly prove that commercial inoculations have less complexity than wild fermentations, but the fact of the matter is that yeasts are part of the skins of the grapes- not just any grapes, the grapes that grow and mature under a particular terroir, and are reflective of just that- introducing something ‘engineered’ from the outside is certainly a step back in terms of reflecting site and singularity. It’s all my empirical evidence (and not necessarily ‘Pinot’ evidence, as it pertains to tasting wine in general) that old vines from optimal areas that undergo wild, slow fermentations produce wines of greater distinction, complexity and depth. My favorite comparison originates from the Chateauneuf du Pape (most all top producers perfom wild fermentations) vs. other new world Grenache examples that have been inoculated vs. wildly fermented. Granted, this is Grenache and not Pinot, but the proof is in the pudding. Most commercially fermented Grenache is boring, and may be tasty or flashy, yet lacks a thumbprint of place & only attains modest complexity. Beckmen is a beautiful counterpoint, as Mikael Sigouin (the Grenache-possessed winemaker, someone I admire immensely) performs wild fermentations that (I believe) give the Grenache a depth and subtle intensity that very few Californian examples come close to....and on top of that, he's got a great site in the Purisma Mtn. vineyard, and thanks to the honesty and 'nakedness' of his winemaking, the wines express something that may truly be representative of what this special terroir is all about.

Yeasts are certainly controversial, just as much as old vines I suppose…but I’m surprised that Allen believes clonal selection (of a mutable grape to boot) should be put in front of natural vineyard maturation and native yeast fermentations to take things to the next level….but hey, Pinot may be a different animal that I’ve just yet to wrap my noggin’ around. After all, I'm just a Grenache guy.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Classification of Top Chateauneuf du Pape Producers

Classifications do have a bit of an archaic feel to them, though I freely admit that I’m a sucker when it comes to ranking favorites. The NFL power ranking, BCS polls and top statistical categories that riddle the ESPN airwaves on Sports Center have trickled their way into my fascination with wine. So I figured ranking the top echelon of Chateuaneuf producers would be a fun little exercise. Disagreements are certainly going to arise, but I’m most interested in seeing where we all are on the same page (considering the wines from the region vary widely in terms of style). We don’t have to use a 5 tier format a la Bordeaux (as that seems to be a bit tedious), so let’s keep this to the top 3 growths, with each subsequent growth having less stringent standards. Make a case for or against any which wine you please, and feel free to offer up who your top dogs are & why.

Without the most intense deliberation, these are the domaines that I believe are making the best wines in the region today:

Grand Cru: Vieille Julienne, Pegau, Clos des Papes, Bonneau, Beaucastel

Premier Cru: Charvin (a super second?!), Clos St. Jean, Barroche (both are primed for an upgrade to Grand Cru w/ a bit more experience) Vieux Donjon, Rayas, Janasse, Mordoree, Roger Sabon, Les Cailloux, Pierre Usseglio, Marcoux (it’s debatable, but I’ve just had too many poor bottles from them to put them at the apex)

Cru: Clos du Caillou, Grand Veneur, Chapoutier, La Nerthe, Cristia, Paul Autard, Patrick Lesec, Mas de Boislauzon, Chante Cigale, Ferrand, Beaurenard, Vieux Telegraphe (including la Roquette), Solitude, Vatican, St. Prefert (including Colombis), Clos du Mont Olivet, Bosquet des Papes, Olivier Hillaire, Bois de Boursan, Giraud, Charbonniere, Milliere, La Gardine, Mourre du Tendre, Clos St. Michel, Vieux Lazaret, Raymond Usseglio, Senechaux

Friday, October 24, 2008

Looking for Solid Northern Rhone Syrah on a Budget?

Le Vin des Amis, Clape ‘06
This has to be the perfect introduction to Cornas, revealing a traditional, unadorned display of black pepper, violet, singed beef, anise and dark berry fruit. The palate is lighter in weight than the other Clape bottlings, lacking their hearty structure and depth, yet it has a rustic, gutsy charm that envelopes you in terms of character instead of power, closing w/ the slightest touch of sweet balsamic on the firm finish, 86 points. This is absolutely worth the price of admission if you’re interested in seeing what Clape's (the king of classic Cornas) wines are all about.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Looking for Rhone in all the right places, 2007

It’s not about hype. I think it is crystal clear that this is a region of the wine world that doesn’t need to generate unfounded excitement on upcoming vintages as they’ve been as automatic as a Nolan Ryan fastball (save for a wild pitch or two). What this is about is exciting Cotes du Rhone. No, that’s not a weak attempt of conjuring a new oxymoron, I said exciting Cotes du Rhone.

From bold Provencal roses to thrilling Chateauneuf du Pape, this vintage is a homerun from top to bottom. What may be the most intriguing buy though is the lower tier wines, as they have an opulence and generosity that is seldom found in humble appellations such as Rasteau, Cairanne, Lirac and yes, the oh so generically termed Cotes du Rhone. Regardless of vintage propaganda, exchange rates or meager economic conditions, the vagaries of the Cotes du Rhone appellation are almost always wallet friendly & just the ticket for tough times.

Broadly, ’07 Grenache from all tiers of appellations checks in w/ darker the normal color, heady profiles and vivid, richly textured fruit that seems to strike a chord between New World exuberance and Old World poise. The Grenache and Syrah based Cotes du Rhones that I’ve tasted are consistent in terms of their open-knit accessibility, plush tannins and fuller than normal palate presence. Though there’s nothing like a good, old fashioned rustic Rhone, I think the style of the ‘07s will have a broader mass appeal and can consistently knock the under 20 dollar price-point out of the park.

A textbook example of what I’m talking about comes from Saint Cosme, ’07 Cotes du Rhone. This deeply hued wine reveals terrific aromatic depth, with notes of black raspberry, cherry liqueur, hot stones, spicy cedar and sweet loam checking in on the nose. The palate has excellent, forward fruit that electrifies in terms of pleasure, pulsing along a soft textured, yet exciting beam of vivid, purple fruit flavors. In terms of heft and length, this lacks the aspiration of a Chateauneuf or top Gigondas, yet it has the purity and concentration of a wine from far better pedigree. Again, this is just only one of the many 90 point wines that can be had for a song in the ’07 vintage. In spite of all the financial trepidation, I think there are still plenty of great deals that many consumers should be excited about in ’07 from the Southern Rhone Valley. As you can tell, I’m certainly one of them.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A loaded evening of top Rhone Ranger wines w/ Saxum’s Justin Smith

The Wine Experience from Wine Spectator has brought some of the wine world’s most talented individuals out to New York City and last night one of them, Justin Smith, happened to join our ravenous band of merry Rhone men at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse. Strike that last comment actually, I should say Rhone wo-men, considering that the ladies almost outnumbered the guys in attendance, they deserve a bit of applause and recognition for forging their way out. They did their best to balance out the testosterone filled steakhouse air, which is a tall order, considering that the boisterous Jay Hack was present.

*Image from

I was able to vaguely acquaint myself w/ Justin, in spite of the immense volume of wine and ensuing noise pollution. I thoroughly enjoyed his candor, generosity & obvious passion for Rhone varietals. His success in Paso Robles w/ Saxum and Linne Calodo seems to be just the tip of the iceberg, as he has his hands in quite a few other cookie jars, consulting w/ various upstart producers in the fore mentioned region which has really caught Rhone-inspired fire of late. While its tough to sense the excitement of the Paso Robles A.V.A. by simply driving down the bucolic stretch of Highway 101 that connects Santa Barbara County to the lettuce patch dusted plains of Monterey, Justin is one of the leading pioneers that has been able to see the limestone-rich forest through Paso’s proverbial trees. It is a stimulating area for the future of California wine, in the height of the ‘Rhone gold rush,’ and I was very happy to share a table w/ one of the more influential catalysts involved in its coming of age.

I’d be remiss to thank Daniel and Amanda Moritz for their do-diligence in putting together the evening w/ their classic event coordinator’s touch, from the sheer organization to the perfectly spaced tasting note ledgers that I, in particular appreciated! You two are rock star planners and your efforts clearly showed as the evening couldn’t have been a more enjoyable one.

The initial flight of wines kicked off w/ a ’99 Charles Ellner Champagne Brut Seduction Millesime, a cuvee that had an oxygen exposed personality to it. The nose revealed toffee, glazed mushroom and brewed coffee notes that suggested a cuvee of much greater age. The palate picked up a fresh, vivacious kick, yet there was a disturbingly evolved feel to the wet stone and graphite finish that left me believing that these cuvees should be drunk up sooner rather than later. The ’05 Copain Viognier from Catie’s Corner Vineyard had a Condrieu-like bouquet of mango, freshly cut flowers, eggnog and honeydew melon. In spite of the exotic flair of the Viognier grape, the body was much more elegant and clean than most any Californian version I’ve tasted, finishing on a juicy, fresh note. As for the ’07 Dry Stack ‘Rosemary’s Block’ Sauvignon Blanc, consider me an immediately smitten fan. The fragrance is as New Zealand-like as they come, full of pungent cut grass, chive, passion fruit and herbal scents that soar from the glass. California richness and fat kicks in on the attack, revealing powerful flavor authority that’s kept in check by beautiful cut and precision, cackling away on the persistent, stony finish. I’d assume the freshness was maintained by blocking the conversion of malic acid to lactic acid, and the perfume had a purity that most other Californian examples lack as they are obscured by oak. Why don’t more Californian producers craft Sauvignons like this?

The flight was concluded w/ an idiosyncratic rose from SQN that tipped the scales at nearly 16% alcohol! The ’06 Autrement Dit has a sweet, sappy nose of candied strawberries, violet and watermelon flavored jolly ranchers turned round and plump in the mouth, acting more like a ripe Gamay than any rose I’d ever tasted. This is the rare occasion of rose wine that may benefit from some short-term cellaring, as the body was tightly wound and somewhat layered w/ good focus and sweetness of fruit. Acid-loving palates will likely turn a foul eye towards this wine, yet its uniqueness can’t be denied.

The line-up of older Syrahs commenced w/ a magnum of the Araujo Eisele Vineyard from the less than stellar 2000 vintage. While the wine wasn’t a powerful or overwhelming presence by any stretch of the imagination, the notes of gravel, charcoal singed beef, violet and cassis have evolved wonderfully. The palate has a sense of brightness to the fruit that is tinged in a pepper cloak, gliding along the resolved backbone to a finish that reminds me of a lighter version of Jean Luc Colombo’s Cornas. The oldest of the bunch, a ’96 Qupe Los Olivos Cuvee, let its Mourvedre and brett do most of the talking, revealing a nose that was objectionably endearing, much like one’s first encounter w/ stinky cheese. The flavors cried Bandol, reminding me of a ’97 Pradeaux I had just drank recently, w/ salted raw beef, white pepper, hearty plum sauce, garrigue and burnt hay flavors chiming in along an ethereal, effortless finish. Bob Lindquist’s wines challenge traditionally narrow drinking windows of Californian wines and seem to be consistently under-estimated in terms of longevity. The first Saxum of the evening, the ’00 Bone Rock was a dichotomous wine that hinted at sauvage elements in the nose, yet the beefy, leather-like scents packed their bags on the palate, paving the way for a vivid mouth-full of blueberry and cassis, revealing excellent sweetness of fruit and zero rough edges. While this vintage lacks the power and explosiveness of younger vintages, it has evolved quite nicely and possesses lovely harmony.

The Grenache-based flight was a real showpiece for the varietal’s potential in the Golden State. While most California versions lack the complexity, poise and depth of even basic level Chateauneuf du Papes, Saxum and Linne Calodo’s examples appear to be the real deal. The ’03 Rocket Block was the strongest wine of the night yet, albeit in an atypical profile for the cuvee (the percentage of Mourvedre was close to half of the blend, whereas other vintages only dust sparse percentages into the cepage) that had a distinctly beefy profile w/ grilled steak, bay leaf, crushed violet and boysenberry flavors filling out the exotic bouquet. The attack demonstrates raw power, with copious amounts of glycerin tickling each inch of palate w/ an almost viscous thickness that is all about presence. On the other hand, the ’05 is a flat out explosive, pleasure-packed vintage that is crammed with kirsch liqueur, melted licorice and bittersweet cocoa powder. In the mouth, the wine is simply stacked w/ oodles of richness that bring the definition of hedonism to the 3rd power. The cashmere-like texture and purity of fruit personify what the archetypal fruit bomb is all about, and this fires on all cylinders as the most profound Grenache based wine I’ve tasted from California. Not to be outdone, the ’03 Linne Calodo Sticks and Stones is a classic expression of the Pinot Noir side of Grenache w/ its forest floor, pine, resin, rose petal and sweet cherry flavors that have a high toned, more energetic feel to the flavors. In spite of its weight and intensity of fruit, there is an overriding impression of freshness that this singular effort leaves you with that I found sexy and utterly compelling. Unfortunately I missed out on the Copain James Berry ’04, so whoever pilfered my glass will have to step up w/ their impressions of that bottle.

The North Coast group of Syrahs was lead by what I believe to be the finest Syrah from the state, Kongsgaard’s Hudson Vineyard ’05. I’m so enthralled w/ the confluence of spicy, peppery elements and the unctuousness of blackberry liqueur-like fruit. The wine shares elements of BBQ spiced game, earth and dark fruit simultaneously, with unparalleled symmetry, intrinsic purity and elegance. To me, this is a synthesis of the styles of Sine Qua Non and Cayuse, except w/ a more European sensibility. As for the two Pax bottlings, the ’06 Nelleson Vineyard demonstrated the difficulties of the vintage, w/ noticeably elevated acidity and an austere feel to the plum sauce, cold steel and freshly ground pepper notes. While this may prove to flesh out nicely in the cellar, the chalky, slightly drying tannins leave me a bit concerned. The ’04 Alder Springs Vineyard on the other hand was an absolute knockout and provided just about every nuance I look for in New World Syrah. A primal torrent of grilled steak, dry rubbed spices, boysenberry sauce and grilled Provencal herbs soar from the glass. The chunky, thick palate reveals great density, brisk underlying acidity and a savagely compelling finish that goes on and on. The ’05 Carlisle Papa’s Block was rock solid, as warm ganache, dark cherry and black forest cake notes turned expansive and polished on the palate, w/ a succulence of flavors that gave way a bit on the grippy finish; suggesting short-term cellaring would be beneficial. The ’06 Jemrose Cardiac Hill was my first taste of the now cult-ish producer and arrived just about as good as advertised. The nose evoked imagery of a Northern Rhone, w/ meaty elements dancing around the spice box, melted licorice and black currant liqueur notes. The telltale characteristics of ’06 reared their head a bit, as the thick, multi-dimensional flavors were not able to disguise the structure, as powdery tannins chomped away at the finish. Even though it isn’t as seamless as some, there are outstanding raw materials here that threaten to do some serious future damage to my wallet.

The ’06 Saxum line-up stars were the Bone Rock and Broken Stones labels. The former revealed a drop dead sexy profile of crème de cassis, brown sugar and currant paste that cut a broad swath across the palate with a sultry, multi-textured personality. It was just about irresistible. The Broken Stones didn’t pull any punches and came across gushing from the glass w/ crushed berries, rose petal and milk chocolate aromas that turned sappy on the attack, with thrilling levels of glycerin and a drop dead gorgeous finish. The Heartstone took a different approach, demonstrating great tension between the jammy berry fruits w/ a pleasant, bittersweet element that stemmed from the café mocha like notes. The palate had fantastic purity, definition and poise, and had perhaps the strongest structural characteristics of the bunch. I found the Booker Vineyard to be the weakest and most superficial, yet don’t get me wrong, it was still wonderfully textured and delicious! The sweet, supple flavors were tantamount to eating a cherry sauce dipped brownie and were as primary as they come, in a distinctly grapey sort of way. The Alban Reva ’05 continues to impress, with its paved road tar, tanned leather and black fruit profile, except this showing demonstrated a spicy, more peppery dimension that emerged in the thick, robustly flavored palate that puts the M in massive. The ’04 Lillian Syrah suffered a bit in the company, as its cedar toned, spice box nose transitioned to a more sturdy, honest frame that exposed a few more bumps and bruises along the road (which I’m sure were amplified by the velvety textured company). While the tannins had a more frankness to them, they were still fine and complemented the medium-bodied elegance of the wine nicely. Sadly, I was 0 for 2 on tasting the Copain reds and didn’t get a chance to dive into the James Berry Vineyard Syrah ’04.

The sweeties, a phallic shaped magnum of Donnhoff Auslese Schlossbockelheimer Felseberg (say that 5 times fast) ’06 and a ’03 Lafaurie-Peyraguey were both excellent, for completely different reasons. The Donhoff was fantastically pure and racy, w/ shades of green apple buttressing the honeyed apricot notes in a compelling, albeit infant fashion. The Lafaurie was a stark contrast, revealing an unctuously honeyed consistency that has the viscosity of a Vin Santo. This decadent, yet vividly delineated sticky is propelled fantastic depth, length and immediate complexity.

Wine Rating
Ellner Seduction Champagne ’99 87
Copain Viognier Catie’s Corner ’05 89
Dry Stack Sauvignon Blanc ’07 93
Sine Qua Non Autrement Dit ’06 87+
Araujo Eisele Syrah, 00 90
Qupe Los Olivos, ’96 89
Saxum Bone Rock ’00 92
Saxum Rocket Block ’03 95
Saxum Rocket Block ’00 97
Saxum James Berry ’06 94+
Linne Calodo Sticks & Stones ’03 94
Carlisle Syrah Papa’s block ’05 91+
Pax Syrah Alder springs ’04 95
Pax Syrah Nelleson ’06 89+
Jemrose Syrah Cardiac Hill ’06 93
Kongsgaard Syrah Hudson Vineyard, ’05 98
Saxum Broken Stones ’06 94
Saxum Bone Rock ’06 95
Saxum Heartstone ’06 93+
Saxum Booker Vineyard ’06 91+
Alban Reva ‘05 96
Lillian Syrah ’04 91
Donnhoff Auslese Schloss. Felsenberg 93+
Lafaurie-Peyraguey ’03 94
Copain Grenache James Berry Vin. Not tasted
Copain Syrah James Berry Vineyard Not tasted

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Slow and Steady, New York's Finest Producers Aren't Skipping a Beat

I spent a brief, but thorough Saturday tasting at some of New York’s finest producers in search of outstanding Cabernet Franc, while keeping my eyes peeled and ears open for the pleasant surprises along the way. This was somewhat of a spontaneous fall trip, which happens to be the region’s busiest time of year in terms of tourism (the pumpkin patches were inundated w/ schools of children in preparation for Halloween) and raw labor (harvest). After hearing the unfortunate news that Vintage New York’s Soho location had shut down due to rising rent costs (a familiar Manhattan tale, yet a painfully ironic one that demonstrates the lack of profitability in promoting what comes from your own backyard) I’ve come to grips w/ the reality that New York wine’s salvation may be an extra 80 miles away, yet is always worth the drive.

Every year I go back to visit the North Fork I am more & more impressed w/ the progress and focus that the best of the best have achieved. The experience in the vineyards and cellars have continued to pay dividends for Paumanok, Shinn, Lenz, Pellegrini, Schneider, Macari and company who seem to churn out better and better wines w/ every subsequent vintage. While high prices, limited acreage and global competition continue to hamstring the region’s development, adventurous old world palates are sure to find a home in the loam covered soils just east of Riverhead…that is if they brave the trek across the L.I.E., what we locals refer to as ‘the world’s largest parking lot.’

A few impressions from my tastings:

  • Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc are rapidly becoming the region’s signature grapes. The cool, maritime influenced climate benefits earlier ripening varietals such as Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, with diurnal temperature swings allowing for full flavor development to happen at a leisurely pace,while maintaining their hallmark acidites. In my opinion, both of these grapes shine brightest in New York State when compared to their domestic competitors. The bulk of California Sauvignon Blanc lacks structural definition and is marred w/ an identity crisis, perpetuated by producers who aggressively bathe it oak barrels a la Chardonnay, resulting in dull, verve-less wines. Cabernet Franc, the much maligned parent grape of its heartier offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon, seldom achieves the finesse or complexity of a Right Bank Bordeaux or Loire-based version anywhere else in the world, but the North Fork seems to have conjured a synthesis between the two forementioned staples. While variety has been Cabernet Franc’s ‘spice of life’ in Long Island, the best examples marry the poise and elegance of a St. Emilion w/ the perfume and complexity of a Chinon.

  • Cabernet Franc is hardly a sexy pick from a marketing perspective, but savvy producers have realized it thrives in the climate of the North Fork. Though Cabernet Sauvignon is likely to draw more interest from most American consumers, it simply is too thick skinned to achieve adequate ripeness in Long Island and rarely makes compelling wines from even the most quality conscious producers in the region. Winemaker Eric Fry of Lenz uses Merlot to ‘beef up’ his Cabernet Sauvignon, which begs the question, why make a so-so Cabernet Sauvignon when you can make outstanding Cabernet Franc?

  • Just about every producer’s Sauvignon Blanc merits a good to very good score, w/ Jamesport Vineyards, Macari and Shinn producing versions that come close to outstanding quality. Shinn has tinkered w/ adding Semillon to their Sauvignon based blends and the early results look very promising (as does the future of Shinn, a winery who’s vineyard was planted in the 21st century and is already cranking out stellar wines).
  • On the Cabernet Franc front, Jamesport Vineyards, Paumanok, Shinn and Schneider are at the head of their class, with Shinn’s version offering the most vivid, ethereal profile of them all. Schneider’s wines are crafted in a more robust, almost hearty vein that are showcased in different cuvees including: the ‘Breton’ homage to the Loire producer, Le Bouchet and Roanoke Point (which includes a small percentage of Petit Verdot and Malbec). Each bottling has a raw, almost chewy disposition, yet retains a sense of grace. I can’t extol the beauties of Paumanok’s line-up enough, and while Jamesport’s Cabernet Franc is a very fine example, the pricing will likely discourage most interested buyers away from picking up a bottle.

  • What a difference a year makes. The drop-off in quality from ’02 to ’03 is as frank a contrast as any (southern Rhone fans would delight in drinking their ‘02s vs. some of the shrill, almost caustic Merlot that was produced in ’03 vintage from the North Fork), yet ’04 and ’05 (in spite of the harvest rains) picked up where the beginning of the century left off, and ’07 seems to be as good as advertised. Again, there's no rest for the weary as ’08 has dealt a hand that even the Massouds at Paumanok had difficulty with, thanks to a spring frost that cut their Chardonnay crop to such a thin level that they had to source fruit from several other sources. But have no fear Paumanok fans, early samplings of their embryonic Chenin Blanc and Riesling from ’08 showed brilliantly. While it’s almost impossible to tell what types of wines those ’08 whites will be, tasting a wine at such an early stage is a fascinating experience. The pink grapefruit and green tea flavors of the Chenin Blanc were as naked and brilliant as the pure, dried apricot perfume that stemmed from the Riesling samples. If any of you ever get the opportunity to taste a recently pressed wine that has yet to begin its fermentation, I encourage you take full advantage of it. The black tea scented rosé was an absolute trip and completely baffled any preconceived notion I’d had as to what un-fermented juice smells like!

Anything’s possible, and that includes making very good Syrah in the North Fork. Schneider’s Hermitage clone-based Syrah made me a believer, as its earthy, white pepper inflicted perfume revealed a dark fruit laced, chalky spine on the palate, bringing images of a youthful Cornas to mind. While I’m very reluctant to jump on the Fork- Syrah bandwagon, I have to say that Schneider’s ’05 Syrah is worth not only a taste, but a purchase (it is fairly priced in the low 20’s). In addition to that improbable expression of Syrah, Channing Daughter’s range of Italian inspired whites continues to impress, w/ their vivid range of honeysuckle and tropical fruits flavors that round into fine form, thanks to their palate cleansing acidities and judicious oak barrel aging. Other artisan producers can be found at ‘The Tasting Room’ on 2885 Peconic Lane, which is open until 6 pm and represents winemakers that don’t have their own tasting facilities. I highly encourage visitors to try BOUKÉ’S flirty white blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer as well as Comtesse Therese’s Hungarian Oak Chardonnay and Onabay’s ballsy, wild fermented line-up.

  • While they are still hard to find, sparkling wines from New York continue to go from strength to strength, w/ Eric Fry’s Cuvee ’01 hitting the highest note yet. The sparkler comes from a blend of 70% Pinot Noir, w/ the remainder Chardonnay and offers up a nose of puff pastry, grilled hazelnuts and lime candy notes that funnel through the palate in a fine, frothy mousse that finishes on a delicious note. What the Finger Lakes’ Lamoreaux Landing and Roman Roth at Wolffer, in the South Fork, have accomplished w/ bubbles has cemented that New York area wineries can, and do make excellent sparkling wines. The only question is whether or not more wineries will continue to jumping on board the suds ship to broaden the category, and I’m certainly hoping that they do.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Ducru Beaucaillou Vertical, Spanning Vintages from 1970-2000

Oh the beauties of being a bench warmer. See I grew up w/ high basketball aspirations and a ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich-like work ethic (though I shot the ball a bit more along the lines of Chris Dudley), yet my lack of athletic ability and the minor hiccup of being vertically challenged left me ‘riding the pines’ as they say. What in the hell does this have to do w/ wine, you ask? See I am a rambunctious little outsider (in case you didn’t notice) and I tend to thrive in situations where someone bails on a tasting group (that I of course don’t ‘belong to’) & I’m called upon at the last minute to fill-in their spot. Sloppy seconds and pinch-hitting don’t apply to a freshman that warms a junior varsity bench as I’ve turned a new leaf when it comes to wine. I relish in my sixth man status! Who needs talent and athletic prowess for this sport? Put me on the bench any day coach, I’ll always have my handy bottle of 2000 Ducru Beaucaillou ready, just in case it’s needed for a vertical. Last night, I got my second chance for glory so I had to take complete advantage of it…and get sloppy drunk.

Free throw practice:

Monthelie Comtes Lafon, 2004
Did Lafon happen to plant some Chenin Blanc in his Meursault vineyards? An exotic, paraffin inflicted nose shuffles quince paste, smoky wood, persimmon and funky floral scents through the air in a precocious, almost esoteric flair. The palate is a mouthwatering, juicy torrent of personality that expands to a chewy, almost unruly finish that makes no apologies and takes no prisoners. While it isn’t as immense in size as my note may suggest, its character belies whatever weight I sensed in the palate. She’s certainly lots of fun, but not for everyone, 92 points.

Lay-up drills, led by some elderly all-stars from Ducru Beaucaillou:

The first flight was a trio of 70’s teammates that was lead by the 70, the least rusty of the bunch. A beautifully earthy, damp forest meadow tinged nose paved the way for a sweet attack of white mushrooms, red currant fruit and loam. In spite of its age, the palate presence has a hearty, almost mealy texture that you can sink your teeth into. Though she tails away a bit on the finish, she gave us some twilight beauty that struck me most for its sweetness and charisma, 90 points.

The middle child of the 70s showed hints of the disco-dancin’ exuberance to come in the decade, but was clearly still muddled as the Vietnam War had just come to a close. An airy, somewhat sullen nose tucked away to a light to medium weight, easy going mouthful of red fruit that turned briny, w/ a metallic underbelly becoming evident on the finish. The ’75 was compressed, somewhat short, but all in all, a decent drink in a banal sort of way, 84 points.

A wiff of alcoholic heat distorts the already unfocused nose of the first ’79 I’d ever snuck my nose into, yet pulls things together a bit more in the superficial, yet tasty palate that has plenty of life, yet lacks verve as it leaves a flat, almost feeble impression in the mouth, 82 points.


Oh how I love to find savory, beefy notes in Cabernet based wines, and this ’81 was just the meal ticket for that type of ride. A bloody, ham sandwich of a wine revealed layers of sweet cassis in the mouth w/ good underlying acidity that paved a juicy glide underneath its ripe fruit. While she didn’t go the distance on the finish, she certainly is a bottle I’d like to have stashed away in my cellar for the next several years, 89 points.

The first slam dunk of the evening came from a vintage that had performed poorly at Eleven Madison recently, but brought its a-game tonight! A rockin’ roll nose of rich, heady delights pumped out licorice, dried flowers, melted chocolate and black currant paste scents that you couldn’t help but snort up each nostril as if the cure were inside. A chewy, concentrated palate supplies ample weight and power to cruise in the cellar for the next 15 years….easy, 93 points.

An atypical showing for an ’85, as Chris noted, where I’d expect something forward and up-front w/ its pleasure, though this bottle kept things much closer to the vest. An austere bouquet of black olive, leather and damp earth turned somewhat hard and angular in the mouth, though I found aeration to bring out spicy, graphite infused characteristics that fattened up in the glass. While this is hardly a representative bottle, I still think the wine had the potential to be outstanding w/ a bit more time, 90+ points.


L’Apres Midi, Peter Michael 2004
Ahh, the perfect time for a California debate while munching away on some scallops. Sherwin’s preconceived notions of ‘what California Sauvignon Blanc should be’ (uhhh, terrible right?) affected his enjoyment of this wine, simply because he thought it didn’t contain Semillon, though I think about a tenth of the cepage is Semillon? Anyways, I say ‘look at it as a White Bordeaux in California,’ or better yet ‘a good white wine,’ and you’ll see the light! Brothah this wine has a lot to say, and I think it really transcends its pedigree as it is just awesome stuff. A plump, fleshy bouquet of freshly cut grass, shaved vanilla bean, quince paste and leafy herbs suck you in, as if a hypnotic trance was the reason I dug a Sauvignon Blanc based wine from California! The gossamer texture deftly transposes creamy richness w/ delineation and precision…had me at hello, 93 points.

Crunch time

1995 & 1996
Always fun to taste ‘95s and ‘96s side by side, and this pair was no different (wouldn’t it have been a hoot if we mixed up those decanters guys?). The ’95 was clearly the more structured of the two, exhibiting a frankness in its muscle, perhaps being the evening’s ‘man’s wine.’ While it had an almost burly coating to its fruit, the concentration was personified by an elegance and nobility that hooked us all. The ’96 showed reserve, yet had a more succulent texture that really exploded in the palate, revealing layers of crème de cassis and rose petals alongside an alluring blueberry note that chimed in on the finish. Both had great structure and are fantastic cellar candidates, though the ’96 is a bit more approachable and poised for earlier drinking. I scored them 94+ and 95 points respectively.

The All-Star w/ the buzzer-beater

Yeah, yeah I brought it. Yeah, yeah I suppose it’s a Coelho-wine (as most 2000’s are), but dude, this was packin’ heat! A black colored robe opens the door to a potent nose of gravel, lead pencil shavings, bay leaf and the essence of black fruit. Once this hits the lips its intensity and sheer depth become palpable, revealing tremendous viscosity and layer upon layer of glycerin. While chewy and rich, the texture always remains suave and in symmetry, closing w/ spicy, perfectly ripe tannins, 96+ points.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A 1998 Rhone Retrospective, There's Always Room for More Ten Year Anniversary Tastings!

My wife and I, being the newfound ‘Brooklyn suburbanites’ that we are, headed up to West-chowder this past Saturday evening to spend some time w/ the Great Dane himself, Peter Baekgaard. You could say we were invading the Denmark of New York, sticking out like the Turkish & Portuguese sore thumbs that we are, yet getting drunk is always the perfect remedy for blurring any type of cultural distinction amongst diners.

Peter and his wife are as kind hearted and musically eclectic as they come. Is there any better backdrop to a ’98 Rhone retrospective than select hits from Wham! & U2? Well, wake me up before these notes are a go-go cuz’ it’s time to Actung Baby!

We began w/ a bubbly brought in from Neal Rosenthal, an importer that Peter has convinced me to become more acquainted w/…and while I don’t tend to swoon over his selections, I respect the nobility and chiseled spines they all seem to share. In fact, with the exception of the more showy wines from Yves Cuilleron (a producer that I admire greatly), they all share unadorned authenticity and speak w/ an honest tongue that only an experienced grandmother could have.

Guy Larmandier Rose Champagne, NV
This bubbly is an infectious, sweetly perfumed customer, that greets the nose w/ a chord of bright cherries, chalk dust and gun flint. In the palate, the sweet fruit turns snappy and weaves in a fresh bed of minerals through the stony, expansive finish. The soul of the wine is rooted in some serious structure, yet the sweetness of the flesh round out its frame honorably, 91 points.

1999, Meursault Perrieres, Darviot-Perrin
A vigorously youthful bouquet of wood smoke, glazed nuts and honeycomb belie the wines age. The fatness of the frame is clearly suffocated by its coiled youth, leaving a lean, almost skeletal mouthfeel that turns much broader towards the finish, whispering a potential that demands vigorous decanting or 2-3 years in the bottle to come of age & reveal those charms, 87+ points.

On to the line-up of ‘98s:

Save the best for…first? While not quite the most profound wine of the evening, this was by far and away the biggest surprise and easily the finest Senechaux I’ve ever tasted. A cunning, sensual nose of red plums, sweet red cherries and beach sand cause the knees to buckle a bit, evoking imagery of a fine vintage from Chateau Rayas. Medium in weight, yet alluring in its Burgundian charms, revealing the essence of freshly picked herbs intertwined in sandalwood notes that linger along a suave finish. This is an alarmingly sexy wine and a value that is not to be missed, 92 points.

Initially this bottle seemed sound, though uninspiring. As it aired, its alcoholic and overblown personality began to emerge, coming to a head w/ port reduction, burnt cocoa and raisinette scents that were vacuous and shallow in the palate. I liken this wine (if it’s a bottle variation and/or heat damage scenario, then I we’ll refer to this wine as the ‘defect’) to a full throttle engine running on diesel gasoline and in dire need of an oil change. Ironically enough, one of Peter’s guests adored it, 75 points (I could drink it, but would rather not as it was flawed and surrounded by good juice).

Pirouettes in the glass are what I’ve come to expect from Rayas wines, and this was a case and point. Initially it revealed surprising structure in an almost austere fashion, as the nose was tinged in iron and wilted rose petals, hinting at the minerality to come in the palate. As the wine aired, the body fleshed out, unfolding layers of plum sauce, graphite and the classic cinnamon note that I tend to find from this estate. The spicy, crunchy acidity is offset beautifully by its round tannins and fine length, 91 points.

Clos du Mont Olivet
This domaine crossed all its t’s and dotted every i during the ’98 vintage. Even though the Papet is a superior wine, this has to be the finest base cuvee ever made at Mont Olivet, personified in its ripe, serious liqueur of fruit nose that expels kirsch, black raspberries and gravel from the glass. There is great concentration in the chewy palate which reveals fantastic depth and tension, paving the way for an alluring black tea note to chime on in the finish, 92 points.

Saint Cosme Gigondas
Mmmmm, moldy newspapers.

Santa Duc Prestige des Hautes Garrigues
The Mr. Olympiad vintage for Santa Duc of Gigondas, weighing in at nearly 16 percent alcohol, yet hiding every bit of it as it flexes from the glass. A touch of new wood is still evident (especially when tasting amongst largely un-wooded wines), yet the dominant characteristics are savory. A huge, vigorous attack of raw beef, salted pork, black currant paste, chestnut and grilled herbs envelope the palate in a loamy, chunky tidal wave of flavor. Though its still in an embryonic stage at 10 years old, there is really something special buried here that will make your continued patience worthwhile, 93+ points.

For the record, I still find Yves’ ’99 to be a better wine. I don’t know how much he alters his elevage (particularly the amount of barrique used) based on vintage characteristics, but ’99 was a somewhat less robust year and perhaps that is why the wine has a more seamless feel than the ’98 (where he may have been a bit overzealous w/ the upbringing).

Vieux Telegraphe
A fantastic, roasted nose of graphite, incense, bay leaf and beefy cassis shoot from the glass as if they were propelled from a spring. The thickness and poise in the palate is flat-out loaded, yet still coiled and is a few years away from firing on all cylinders. The richness, expansiveness and potential longevity of this vintage make it a contender for the best Vieux Telegraphe ever, but I still favor the ’95 by a hair, 94 points.

La Nerthe Cuvee Cadettes
This is how modern should be done! Characteristics of La Nerthe’s super-cuvee are always easy to pick out in a line-up of Chateauneufs, yet this year they seem to have found a really striking tension on the pendulum of the sweet and the savory. A sexy, super-charged nose of crème de cassis, shaved vanilla bean, nutmeg and warm ganache turn broad and hedonistic on the attack, yet there is an underlying hint at the sauvage that catapults the palate to a really special place. While other vintages I’ve tasted of Cadettes share the polish and richness of the ’98, none are as compelling to my palate, 95+ points.

Finishing off the evening w/ cheese and Meursault, a Jadot ’05, has to be the perfect recipe for sweet dreams….until the hangover emerges the next morning, begging the question, did we really need to open another bottle?

The Jadot was surprisingly forward and showed remarkable balance, weaving in notes of warm brioche, fig, honeysuckle and white flowers to the precise, round mouthful of golden delicious apple flavors. The fatness of the fruit are already showing a great framework of minerality, keeping the body defined and focused to the finish, 91 points.

Thanks again Peter B. You rock mate!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

These Wines are ‘My Sine Qua Non’

I’m not going to feign any insight to Robert Parker’s feelings about Manfred Krankl’s wines. I don’t claim to have the most intimate or exhaustive experience w/ the famed ‘cult of cults’ from Ventura, California either….but hey, I’m a geek, and I’d have to be completely oblivious to ignore the ‘Sine Qua Non effect’ that began w/ a few enthusiastic reviews, and now has steamrolled into the stuff that wine legend is made of.

The wines themselves are a bit polarizing, yet the few I’ve been fortunate enough to taste had a singular zeal that left a formidable imprint on my palate. The somewhat reclusive Krankl, perhaps a modern day ‘Easy Rider’ caricature in style, has seeped his creativity, irreverence and brilliance into his ever-changing labels, vintage names and, of course, wine. I doubt I or several other interested parties will ever have the opportunity to interact with the man, the myth, the legend, so I’ll simply compile the sound bits, commentaries and interviews into my distant puzzle, which may or may not elucidate any actual truth to what this enigmatic man is all about.

While all I know of SQN is a few lucky bottles & some sparse news clips, I’ve still been touched by the icon’s ripple effect that continues to send seismic shockwaves through the epicenter of wine geekdom. It’s tough to taste the actual wine when you are so engrossed in its surrounding hype and mystique, but wine has blessed me w/ the ability to focus, and I’ve discerned how texturally superlative and unique the wines can be.

So, understanding the nature of the American wine system that has become riddled w/ ratings, hype, mailing lists and scarcity, I also realize that there has to be something special at the foundation of all that gets out of control, and the wines from Cayuse reveal just that to me.

You all know I have a fondness for Rhone varietals, and Cayuse’s Viognier, Syrah and now, Grenache more than fit that template for success (perhaps, a la Sine Qua Non). Throw in some unlikely heroes in the shape of Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo and a downright funkadelic Cabernet Sauvignon (like none other from the state of Washington that I’ve tasted) and you’ve got yourself some potent fuel that’s begging to ignite into something lethal.

A ‘freak’ of a Frenchman playing in a rocky desert sets the table for a lithium injected schism that has lit my taste buds afire every single time I’ve popped a Cayuse cork. Personally, the fact that so many practically loathe the wines only makes them all the more endearing to me, though outside the realm of wine boards I’ve been hard-pressed to find a palate that didn’t begin salivating like Pavlov’s pup once I poured a bit of Christophe Baron’s juice into their glass.

Oddly enough, an evening at Laurence Feraud’s home (of famed Domaine du Pegau) involved a blind tasting of a Syrah that I initially pegged as a Cayuse… then wavered to the for mentioned Sine Qua Non, vintage ’96 (which happened to be correct, and complete luck…considering I’d never tasted it before). Why did I make those guesses? Simply because they are the two most singular, distinctive New World Syrah producers that I’ve ever tasted; so much so that I definitively said ‘the wine couldn’t possibly have been anything else!’

While I’ve felt that Cayuse was ‘my Sine Qua Non’ for quite some time, this diatribe has purely been inspired from nothing other than tasting a Cayuse…and a merely ‘solid’ Cayuse to boot…not one of my favorite bottlings by a long-shot (I consistently find the Chamberlin Vineyard to be more impressive than the Cailloux, if a hair shy of the ‘Bionic Frong’ in its exuberance). If even the more pedestrian Cayuse (oxymoron) can inspire such panting, raving and….egads, cult-like frothing, then there has to be something otherworldly about these wines. Even if they are otherworldly vile to some, they are, indeed- different….so different, that I want to know more. Not only about the wine, the funky labels and the terroir, but the guy behind them and the others that share the same zest for his juice…hell, even those that abhor the wines…it’s worth talking about, it’s worth writing about…it’s downright, Sine Qua Non-ish.

I’ll leave you w/ my scribbles on the bottle popped, a Cailloux ’05:

An undoubtedly singular, almost telltale nose of dried beef jerky, tanned leather, pepper, crushed plum and caramelized blueberries erupt from the glass. The scents left me anticipating an overt breadth to the palate, which simply didn’t come, as a brisk lightness propels the silky textured, spice rack infused mouthful to a stylish, lingering finish. As the wine airs, it reveals a darker, mocha-hint to the flavors, but has a surreal stony undertoe that chomps away, 94 points.
Perhaps every geek out there has a 'Sine Qua Non' of their own?