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Monday, December 29, 2008

What kind of geek are you?

There's a broad world of esoteric wines out there that continue to elicit polarizing passion from their fans as well as foes. Geeks, almost by definition, have a predilection for the obscure, and in turn, the obscure tends to be poorly understood by the masses. Within our vast array of tastes and sub-cliques of wine fanatics, it seems that certain regions and/or varietals continue to gain traction as other fads come and go. The Jura-heads, Gruner guzzlers and Madiera mavens divide and conquer in their ‘Chess Club’-like support groups, while the ‘Rock Head’ Riesling addicts have done the unthinkable…boosted the image of their love for weenie white wine w/ residual sugar into the realm of badass (I still have no clue how something w/ 8% alcohol could ever be called ‘dope’).

I suppose I’m asking in part because I’d like to feel less alone for my own little peccadillo, my penchant for the other 5% of Rhone wines…you know, the white ones. I can’t even confide in my wife (as she tends to find them flabby and soft), so my home provides no shelter from the ‘kick me’ storm. I don’t want others to like them, as the foundation of my soap box stems more from confessional origins than desire for conversion. Further to that point, my appreciation (or yours, for that matter) wouldn’t be unique if it were a mainstream affair. There's nothing geeky about vanilla?

So with that, I leave you w/ a quick little tasting experience that inspired the question. I explain it in detail not in the hopes that you’ll like the wine, but simply so you can appreciate my passion (and perhaps share your own in return).

Chave, Hermitage Blanc '02

While '02 was a washout for the Southern Rhone (and dicey at best in the North), most white grapes came in before the historic floods, keeping the integrity of the fruit in tact. The beauty of this vintage (for those w/ a penchant for white Rhones) is that the cost of most whites remain exceptionally modest, as the 'guilt by association' stigma put downward pricing pressure on all wines. While I popped this w/ quite a bit of trepidation (simply due to the unpredictability of white Hermitage at such an age), it fortunately was clicking on all cylinders. The '02 has a striking golden color. The nose is subtle, but distinctively tropical, w/ fresh guava, creamed peach, white flowers, honeysuckle and melted butter notes emerging from the glass. The palate is paradoxically chewy, yet mineral-infused, w/ good lift from well defined acidity pushing things along its well proportioned frame. This is not an overwhelming vintage, yet its multi-dimensional texture hits the senses from different angles, closing w/ a flinty, slightly tannic note.

It always fascinates me how Northern Rhone whites can have the bouquet and mineral tone of a super-ripe Vouvray, yet this guy's palate speaks in clear Chardonnay tongues, flexing a bit of the Hermitage hill's structural muscle for good measure, 92 points.

So put your pocket protectors on and let the cat out of the bag. Are you a closet Muscadet devotee? Does it make you feel guilty to admit that you actually like Mollydooker? I promise not to make fun of you, because if I did…you’d just rank on me for thinkin' Picpoul is cool.

The 'Freak' of Walla Walla

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2007 Rhone...let the QPR parade ensue baby!

Mordoree CDR La Dame Rousse ‘07

07, are you kidding me? CDR is an acronym that takes on a entirely different meaning in this vintage, w/ the cheapie (12 bucks and change for the recession sensitive) Mordoree early release churning out an immense, purple color. A smokin’ bouquet of crème de cassis, plum cake, maple wood and smoky fireplace notes scream from the glass. The flavors turn lip-smackin’ and almost chewy in the palate, stirring up vivid, purple fruit flavors that are allied to a well rounded frame; echoing a sweet milk-chocolate note on the finish, 90 points.

Some Recent Samplings of Excellent Chateauneuf du Pape

CDP wannabe:

Foxen, Cuvee Jeanne Marie 2006
The Chateauneuf du Pape-like blend of 60% Grenache, 25% Syrah & 15% Mourvedre from Foxen is already showing beautifully. A dark, penetrating nose of cherry liqueur, pine resin, forest floor and sweet licorice turn savory and broad on the palate, as the Pinot-like fragrances become tamed by meaty, sappy layers of sweet, persistent fruit. This is a lush, hedonistic experience and should show fabulously over the next 5 years, 90 points. Are there any mailing lists that are more fun or unassuming than Foxen’s?

For the white Rhone haters:

Clos des Papes Blanc, ‘06
This vintage is notably softer and rounder than the masterpiece ’05, w/ ripe scents of lanolin, green tea, hazelnut, spicy citrus & quince paste notes. A honeyed, somewhat oily entry manages to stay spry on the palate, thanks to a nice mineral cut keeping things honest. That said, it still falls a bit short of the benchmark '05 in terms of poise and symmetry. Give her a few more years to come together (though the Avrils would argue at least a decade is necessary), 93+ points.

More from the Avrils:

Clos des Papes, 1998
As far as I’m concerned, this is a fabulous vintage for Clos des Papes and if anything, it gets judged far too quickly when it’s tasted. The perfume is by NO means a weakness, as its scents are hypnotic, dazzling w/ kirsch liqueur, black licorice, spice box, briar and freshly tilled earth scents. The succulent entry begins to thin out, seeming a bit austere in the mid palate and lacking the follow-through of the better vintages from this domaine...but just before I write it off, it fleshes out in the glass, becoming sappier and thicker, suggesting it may be a ways away from hitting its plateau and is emerging from a dormant phase, 93++ points (this was less impressive than our last go-round w/ the ’98, but airtime revealed that its future promise may be met in the cellar).

Clos des Papes ‘04
This is an explosive, thick ’04 that is crammed w/ crushed berry, violet and black tea notes that almost seem top heavy at first, but the sweet, bittersweet cocoa filled-attack maintains a suave sense of poise from start to finish. Undoubtedly creamy and full in its infancy, but there is a terrific sense of purity that is sure to take this vintage into an even more compelling stage as it enters its adolescence. Patience is a must, 95 points.

Some more from '04:

Pegau Reserve ‘04
In case you haven’t tried it yet, a fun tasting exercise in traditional Chateauneuf du Pape is pitting Pegau up against Clos des Papes, side by side. Traditional, hands off methods & old vines of the same appellation in the same vintage couldn’t be any more different! The Clos des Papes seemed much more lush and squeaky clean next to the savage, brooding Reserve, which revealed oodles of iron, blood sausage, truffle, black currant and singed herbal notes in the nose. This is NOT one for the brett-aphobes, yet it undeniably delivers the vintage’s character in spades, as crisp, focused acids push the ample cassis flavors along the generous finish, 94 points.

Rayas, 2004
Such beautiful femininity stems from the glass of this pure Grenache (dressed in Burgundy clothing) that I don’t know where to begin. Vivid notions of violet, pomegranate, crushed red cherries and fresh rosemary herbs all seem to whisper in dramatic tongues that speak the essence of earth. A bright, sappy entry whistles through the medium weight, elegant frame, allowing a dusting of white pepper to chime in on the pure, mouth-watering finish, 93 points.

Vieux Donjon, 2004
I don't think it is said enough, but this is one fantastic, traditional domaine. Their '04 is a textbook example of the vintage and really personifies exactly what I look for in unadulterated, gutsy Chateauneuf du Pape, revealing a medium ruby hue in color. The bouquet is outrageously expressive, pumping out virile scents of road tar, iron, cracked pepper, red currant sauce and hearty plum cake notes that soar from the glass. The palate is medium in weight, wonderfully fresh and packs a distinctly herb-tinged, spicy punch that cackles along a fresh, mineral coated finish, 92+ points.

Some...not '04:

Usseglio Mon Aieul, 2006
To be cut and dry, I’ll say that fans of this cuvee will be ecstatic w/ this vintage. For fair balance, those that can’t stand it will likely loathe it yet again (so don’t bother scoring any bottles- save the wine for its fans!). The color is about as deep a ruby as you’ll see a Grenache wine get, paving the way for a knockout perfume of incense, rose petals, brine, fruitcake and the essence of super-ripe, crushed strawberry fruit. The palate has a rich, silky smooth entry that unfolds its layers of juicy, almost succulent fruit flavors interwoven w/ notions of anise and pepper, sending a shockwave of deliciousness straight down the spine. Long, big boned and fleshy, this dreamy Grenache has simply got it all, 96+ points.

Caillou Quartz, 2001
The Quartz is a black, black and black cuvee in '01, with enough structure to choke a horse. The scents are of the deep & dark variety, w/ melted licorice, crème de cassis, black tea, currant and bittersweet cocoa powder leading the way to a potent attack in the mouth. The palate is a full-tilt, tannic and glycerin loaded fist-full of pleasures, and while obviously in its infancy, it is fit to open today if your entrée is packing some serious heat. The sheer authority of flavor is something to behold. I'm not sure if this is the best vintage ever produced of this cuvee, but damn if it 'aint one of the vintage’s bright, shining stars then I don't know what is, 96 points.

Gigondas, for good measure:

Santa Duc Gigondas '04
I tend to find the appellation level cuvee from Santa Duc to have more typicity, immediate evolution and reveal a more approachable character than its more backward Hautes Garrigues sibling; and the '04 is no different. A mature, precocious nose of Asian spice, cedar, black pepper, hearty plum, black currant paste and fresh rosemary turn savory & hearty on the palate. Dark & brawny in the mouth, w/ a distinctively masculine profile that is surpisingly tannic & chewy, belying its pricepoint and entry-level status. Gutsy, yet pure, this '04 should sustain over a dozen more years in the cellar, yet it really shines today (but make sure you bring some serious beef to the plate for pairing), 92 points.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Burgundy Heaven: Jadot's Chevalier Montrachets Les Demoiselles; Salon & Les Clos too!

What did I do to get invited to this joint? Doesn’t Leo know I only drink flabby white Rhones?! Well I’ve got a bit of a bad rap regarding my relationship w/ Burgundy, which I assume stems from one or more of these possible sources:

1) I post on far too much Chateauneuf du Pape and it blurs the fact that I dig lots of wine, in general.
2) I don’t buy Burgundy (because I’m a practical wine buyer), but hell, that doesn’t mean I don’t drink it!
3) I like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from places like New Zealand, Oregon, California and..yikes, Australia. That type of palate simply can't comply w/ Burgundy.
4) I call Burgundy Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Dude, I grew up in a varietal-based system! Terroir is fascinating and all, but I’m not semantically addicted.
5) I have spiky hair.
6) I like the New York Giants and don’t like Star Trek.
7) I like listing things too much.

Ahhh who knows, but either way, I usually get the ‘didn't know you drank Burgundy?’ comments thrown my way from various sources, so I figured I’d just air that one out for you. Leo, the Croatian sensation that he is, knows that I like wine, period, but I was still shocked that he shared some of his most treasured Jadot’s (from a parcel that is arguably his finest source of White Burgundy) w/ me and not some Dr. Spock rapping Klingon that pays homage to Burgundy…but hey, live long and prosper- I owe y’all some tasting notes!

We began w/ the instant icon, the Salon ’96, a Champagne that needs about as much introduction as Robert Parker does in a geek convention. To those that haven’t tasted it yet, this particular showing struck me as an exceptionally thick, atypically powerful bubbly that was more along the Clos des Goisses lines than that of, say a leaner, more elegant vintage from Dom Perignon. The rich mousse revealed opulent characteristics, reminiscent of hazelnut oil, jellied quince and glazed doughnut flavors that pumped along a severely intense, ‘malic-acid on steroids’ frame. After the wine left the palate the flavors took off like a rocket, resonating for what must have been two minutes! I usually only notice finishes that ridiculous in Sauternes, but this is undoubtedly a different breed of Champagne. Quite the spectacular showing folks & the I'm sure the best is yet to come w/ age, 96+ points.

On to the line up from Jadot’s Chevalier Montrachets Les Demoiselles:

While the first wine of a vertical tasting tends to be the sacrificial lamb of sorts, this was the rare occasion that number one was just that, the best of the bunch. The most provocative, savory bouquet I’ve ever been in contact w/ propelled its way from the stem, weaving notions of tapioca pudding, honey glazed mushrooms, warm fig sauce, melon and hot stones through the air. The fat entry turns expansive on the midpalate, but then, as if activated by a switch, shifts its minerality into high gear, electrifying w/ a crushed rock-grip that ripples through the finish. As the wine sat in the glass and continued to evolve, the fabulous purity and sweetness of fruit really shone through its savage elements. The stuff dreams are made of, 98 points.

This was as different from the ’95 as one could imagine, striking a kinky, ethereal chord in its sultry perfume of cinnamon stick, pumpkin spice, poached pears and warm apple pie crust that smelled so tantalizing that I honestly had a difficult time keeping my nose out of the glass. The attack was lilting and spry in the mouth, with medium weight and almost hypnotic charms that would beckon poetry in almost any wine connoisseur. That said, its seduction still played second fiddle to the otherwordly ’95, 96 points.

Poor guy, the ’97 just didn’t know what it was up against this night and it got creamed. Perhaps the most primary, painfully backward wines of the evening in its nose of toasted brioche, oyster shells, honeysuckle and fig fruit that I probably would have pegged as an ’02 if it were served to me blindly. There is an abundance of glycerin in the palate, yet its ripeness stays clean, focused and balanced along the compact finish. There are years and years for this baby to go until it is firing on all cylinders, 92++ points. Perhaps Leo’s storage was too good for the ’97?!

The wine I’d most like to own for cellaring purposes had to be the ’99, as it demonstrated the ‘97s sense of infancy, but in a much more endowed, gorgeous package. The bouquet set the nostrils ablaze w/ golden flowers, eggnog and nutmeg spices that had possessed an ocean breeze sense of life and vivacity. The wine is large scaled and exceptionally intense, building incrementally in the mouth w/ superb definition, allowing the ripe fruit to cut a broad swath over a still emerging bed of minerals, sailing on throughout the potent finish. This vintage is loaded w/ monster stuffing, poise and potential, which may or may not exceed the heights that the ’95 has reached, 97 points.

On to the reds….

Dujac, Clos de la Roche, 1996
Easily my favorite red of the evening, by a long shot (does that always happen w/ red Burgs?), demonstrating an effusively fruity, ripe personality of pine resin, rose petals, spice box and fresh raspberry fruit in the nose. The entry was super-silky, allowing the juicy, red berry flesh to glide over the palate like a cashmere sweater, turning a black pepper, spicy chord on the backend, echoing fabulous purity and grace through its mineral-driven finish, 94 points.

Dujac, Clos St. Denis, 2004
As I made reference to in the ’96 Dujac note, the rest of the red Burgs couldn’t hold a candle to it, and this ’04 was no different. An herbal, sage inflicted nose kicks off a shy, almost chunky palate of cherry, sandalwood and shades of under-ripe fruit in the palate. There is a slightly unpleasant green-streak that keeps the profile in an austere category, but at the end of the day, deft winemaking pulled this '04 together, 83 points.
Dujac, Clos St. Denis, 1999
I have by no means had an exhaustive sampling of ’99 Red Burgs, but it sure seems like everyone I’ve tasted over the past year has been tight, tight and TIGHT! A suggestive window of licorice snap, raspberry glaze, black tea and cardamom scents peek through the nose, but the palate was far too compact and quelled in its dimensions to reveal much of anything by way of flavors. That said, the structure is fabulous and the acidity, albeit a bit crunchy, is as mouthwatering and inviting as I could hope for, but this baby needs time, likely another decade if not more, 90+ points.

Girardin, Clos St. Denis, 1999
Again, haven’t had a lot of Girardin’s wines but is it just me or is there some sort of painful banality about them? Either way, the nose had brett, which I dug, to accompany the scents of violet, iron and dried beef notes that shifted to an even more savory gear in the palate. Medium in weight and modest in dimension, the mouthful of meaty, red cherry inflicted flavors were underscored by a fizzy snap of acidity, 87+ points. Sure, she’s very solid, but where’s the excitement?

Fevre Les Clos, 2004
I followed this over a couple days (we had a few sips for dessert and I packed it away in the fridge for few nights) and this was just as I hoped, painfully precise. A focused, coiled perfume of white flowers, crushed stones, wheat grain, hay and citrus zest shoots from the glass. The zesty acidic lift in the palate reminds me of Sauvignon Blanc a bit, almost bundling its intensity along its driven, gossamer frame. Upon re-tasting, the aromas became much more delineated and complex, w/ sweet green fruits filling out its even more minerally spine, 93+ points.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Honeymoon is over in 2005, but Dr. Bordeaux has the Antidote.

What does one do when all the hype dies down and the wines close up? While tucked away in their slumber (as ’05 promises to be the hibernation of hibernations) they are bound to be prematurely disturbed by the impatient purchasers, or perhaps the naïve investigators that actually believe they’ll find something interesting in one of those prenatal bottles. Well, I happened to be a member of the later group, popping a few ‘05s early to ‘check in’ on the ‘greatest Bordeaux vintage ever produced,’ and while we had little expectation of fireworks, spreading our less than jubilant tales to recently bankrupt purchasers of the vintage fell on concerned ears. Welcome to the new reality folks, a reality which can be spun one of two ways:

1.) The hangover. You’ve come to the realization that you’ve squandered more money than ever imaginable on a bursting bubble that tastes ungenerous, unsatisfying and excruciatingly tannic.
2.) Look, but don’t touch. You are a seasoned Bordeaux-nut that has had his share of structured vintages, knowing the long term value of nestling away your blue-chip stocks for just the right amount of time. Let them panic, let them flip…..all the more spoils for me.

Well, things were so damn sexy in Bordeaux that there is an inevitable hangover any which way you slice it. During the boisterous ’05 campaign the critical praise couldn’t have been more universal, nor could the en premier prices have appreciated in a more resounding fashion. ’06 had to be a failure. Well, not a colossal failure, as the wines appear to be solid in terms of quality, but a ‘30% reduction in price from an already inflated baseline’ is hardly enticing, much less to a customer base that has already emaciated its funds from fattening up the Bordelais calf in ’05. ’07…yikes, the ‘score only’ vintage that didn’t even merit a tasting note? ’08 is in the bag already. Who knows if the wines were good or not? Hell who cares; everyone’s broke now that global recession is looming and we currently prefer our spirits high in volume and low in cost.

What’s happened to ’05? Great, great ’05, so great that I have to pop a cork right now, maybe two, and…ugh. I friggin’ hate tannins. Maybe critics were all wrong; perhaps they were all in bed w/ the Bordelais and conjured up the greatness on paper just so the classified growths could polish up their renovations on those glitzy Chateaus. Rats. How much egg omelet do I have on my face right now?

I’m obviously speaking on behalf of those that are inflicted w/ the great ’05 hangover. To those that have closed bank accounts and closed wines, serving up their disappointments on Riedel platters, I say do not repent. Do yourselves a favor by taking the cellar lock and throwing away the key. Be strong, be patient. If it weren’t for Heinz ketchup, claret would have snagged the tagline ‘good things come to those who wait.’ Even though styles are changing and global competition has demanded the Bordelais to make wines w/ more fruit & more immediate sex appeal, that is not the nature of ‘05s greatness (and truth be told, it isn’t the nature of any Bordeaux’s greatness). No amount of cosmetic micro-oxidation could make wines of such high tannin and high acidity early drinkers. Preservative plus preservative, aligned to hefty substance equals…yikes, algebra rears its ugly head again. Well, let’s forget all that hype and excitement. Do our best to covet those bottles without impaling them too early w/ our trigger happy corkscrews…our Bordeaux blue balls are front and center, but if the pain becomes a bit too cumbersome, always remember that 1999 therapy is only a stem away from quick relief.

People forget that this type of hype sells with a double-edged sword. If I bring back up that pesky mathematical theory again, I’d have to imagine that the Bordeaux drinker will only find balance in ’05 from hype’s opposing spectrum….uhh, non-hype. Quiet, cozy years like 1994 and 1999 may not be sexy, but go ahead, Mr. ’05 Bordeaux hangover guy, grab yourself a glass of off-vintage, the Bloody Mary of Champions, and call me in the morning. I think that afterwards, you, and your ’05 Bordeaux, will sleep just fine.