Subscribe in a reader

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Subscribe to Unidentified Appellation by Email Top Blogs

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Story that’s Worth Spreading

A couple months back I went completely bonkers over a Grenache from McPrice Myers to the tune of a 95 point rating within an extremely enthusiastic series of reviews that I posted on the bulletin board of the Wine Advocate website. I feel I’d be doing a disservice to McPrice’s partner in crime, Russell From, if I were not to shine the spotlight on him as well.

Russell was recently named 2007 winemaker of the year from San Francisco retailer Vinfolio’s most respected palate, Doug Wilder. Doug has had marked success in bringing up and coming Californian producers to the limelight, notably Abe Schoener of Scholium Project in 2005, a maverick winemaker largely ignored by top critics but now endeared in cult fashion. While Russell From hasn’t exactly been ignored by influential publications like Abe has, the Vinfolio accolade really seems to have catapulted him into a different degree of consumer consciousness.

Russell was an agricultural major of Cal Poly- San Luis Obispo that really found his stride when he met up w/ his fore-mentioned partner, McPrice, to craft 2500 cases of hearty Syrah for a label called Barrel 27. Their label together seemed to springboard separate, individual projects exclusively dedicated to Rhone varieties grown in the Central Coast. Russell’s label, Herman Story, is a tribute to his grandfather that he set in motion in 2001.

Brash, extracted and loaded with intensity, the Herman Story wines are not for the faint-hearted, but they evoke an indelible sense of grace that keeps their opulent flavors in check. The Story portfolio is cut from a similar cloth as the McPrice Myers line-up, yet Russell manages to stamp his wild and wooly calling card in each bottling, making them all his own. The Grenache and Syrah fruit from the Larner Vineyard (where he began sourcing in 2003) is second to none, and merits a position alongside the Purisma Mountain Vineyard and Colson Canyon Vineyard as a Santa Barbara County grand cru.

I encourage you to give the Herman Story wines a taste as they offer not only one of the most intense expressions of Santa Barbara County fruit, they also represent terrific value. Their distribution is still relatively sparse, but a quick hop on the Herman Story website should be your ticket as the mailing list is sure to fill up quickly. Hope you enjoy my impressions (White Hawk Vineyard Syrah was not yet tasted).

Herman Story Viognier, Larner Vineyard 2006
Forget shyness as this producer, variety and appellation (or, dare I say, California in general) have come together to form a perfect storm of outrageous extraversion, and I dig it! Pushing ripeness to the limit at 15.9% alcohol a la John Alban, this explosive rendition of Santa Ynez Viognier brings a peach cobbler, candle wax, apricot cream & spicy lime custard personality to the party, and a lively one at that. In spite of all its golden richness and extract, the wine is neither heavy nor cloying and maintains an exacting center that sets it apart from the pretenders within this particular breed, 92 points.

Herman Story Roussanne 2006
This heralded Southern Rhone varietal from the man of the hour, Russell From, tips the scales at the same alcohol content as the Larner Viognier (15.9%), and is crafted in a similar, effusive vein. Loaded aromatically with wild litchi, rose petals, figs, apricot oil, honeysuckle and outright explosive, yet channeled flavors that glide along a beautiful beam of concentration. Keen on balance and overt on pleasure, an assertive rival (and perhaps a bit more varietally correct version) to Stolpman’s L’Avion, 94 points.

-when tasted at closer to room temperature:

HermanStoryRoussanne 2006
This extremely powerful (15.9% alcohol) example of one of my favorite white Rhone varietals is not for faint hearted lovers of malic acid. Notes of crème brulee, honeyed quince, lychee and buttered apricot brood from the glass. Voluptuous and creamy in the mouth, with a viscous texture that seethes over the palate like an Alfredo sauce. An extremely round and ripe pleasure-filled ride, which performed much better when it was chilled as opposed to at room temperature. For what it lacks in precision, it atones for in ambition. If the heat subsides with some time in the bottle, as I believe it may, it will merit a much higher score, 91+ points.

*Lesson learned:Roussanne lacks natural acidity when fully ripe and needs a bit of the chill to check her into balance....but once she’s balanced, there are few whites that can thrill to this capacity!

Herman Story Syrah, Larner Vineyard 2005
An inky, yet brightly citrus infused Syrah (I think some Viognier added for good, Cote Rotie measure?) w/ a thunderous personality that is fully equipped w/ blueberry liqueur, black currant sauce, white flowers, gravel and graphite notes that bring gorgeous intensity alongside a creamy roundness that is easy to admire. While delicious at this juncture, the wine still needs some time to settle into its ambitious physique & really find its stride, 91+ points.

Herman Story Grenache, Larner Vineyard 2005
Uhhh, doesn’t look like a Grenache (welcome to saturated ink-ville, population 2, thanks to John Alban’s previous inhabitation), but boy what brooding goodies lie beneath! Loaded and plush, w/ oodles of tar, violet, crème de cassis, blackberry reduction and white chocolate notes reverberate w/ full-bodied, authoritative thunder. There is something really special underneath the sheath of muscle that currently has this effort cloaked, and I’d imagine short-term cellaring would be beneficial. While the ’05 Grenache is as unabashed as the rest of the Story stable, it is a bit less varietally unique than the top examples from California, 92+ points.

*the toast and the Syrah may throw off the Grenache purists.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pichon Lalande Veritcal

The torrid ‘vertical week’ pit stop for Wednesday night reeled on storied second growth Pichon Lalande, the arrogant shrew of a sibling to the embattled Pichon Baron. Throughout the years I generally have preferred the Baron, perhaps due to my penchant for the underdog (something all New York football Giants fans can empathize with), or maybe I just dig the Baron’s label a bit more? Either way, vertical tastings tend to elucidate these ambiguities and one thing’s for certain when it comes to Pichons, never underestimate the power of a hot streak. Successive blockbuster vintages are at a premium, but hardly easy to come by in Bordeaux, and while Pichon Baron’s back to back monster performances in 89 and 90 were something to behold, Lalande definitely has something to say for itself w/ its encore accomplishments from 95-96. This tasting even ‘manufactured’ a bit more excitement by grouping the doubleheader stallions from 95 & 96 w/ the breath-taking millennium vintage. Talk about a stacked deck!

We began the evening w/ a gracious offering from the much maligned Daniel Posner, whom has as much commitment issues as an 85 year old bachelor (he regretfully backed out of the tasting at the last second, which turned out to be a positive, considering his insatiable appetite usually inspires him to start gnawing at my leg during these tastings…).

Chateau du Maltroye, Chassagne La Romanee 2004
An exceptionally ripe white Burgundy, considering the vintage characteristics and crop size, this youngster was brimming w/ flesh and exuberant fruit. Quince, vanilla custard, fresh tangerines and toasty brioche notes fill the wine’s sappy, round bodied personality. Those that aren’t wooed by primary force will likely need to hold onto this bottling for at least 3-4 more years, and the cellaring should progress smoothly, thanks to the wine’s bright acidity which keeps things honest, 90+ points.

So begins the time capsule…

This is a lovely ’78, while not nearly as tannic and chewy as the Margaux tasted last month, it offers up a very crisp, delineated and mouth-watering profile of classic cedar box, black plum, rose petals and dried currant notes. Although it’s on the higher toned side, there is an ashy, chocolaty richness coating the flavors in a fine cloak to the finish, 89 points.

It baffles me how such an opulent vintage, married with a top tier producer, produces such a light weight wine? Just as we admire renowned producers in off vintages (see the Lafleur notes), we really do slap them with lofty expectations in years such as this. When they don’t produce, we (read, me) tend to criticize an otherwise decent effort. While the aromatics are off the charts, brewing w/ a cornucopia of smoked beef, caramel, underbrush and dense currant fruit, the body of the wine is quite disappointing to me. Light, a tad weedy and angular in fashion, there is a decent mineral tone that becomes austere and clipped on the wine’s introverted finish, 82 points.

This is what it feels like to have reached the top of the mountain folks. The vista is glorious, the weight of the tannic journey has been lifted and the integration of all elements, time and space has overcome the final precipice. Welcome to the peak my lovers of claret, come on in, the water’s just fine! This is as polished and seamless as Bordeaux gets and to me, represents what ‘cellaring potential’ is all about. Notions of graphite, lilacs, sweet currant fruit and aged tobacco dance to an elegant tune, with nary a rough edge to be found. Deft, and striking on all cylinders, enjoy this beauty now or over the next 5 years, 94 points.

Just wait another 5 years. No, 10 years. How about 15? Keep waiting folks, this is the vintage that you’ll wait for until you die; and you know what? Even in death, you’ll never realize the false potential of this vintage because it simply won’t evolve. The wines, while good (and certainly some better than others, w/ a couple magical wonders in the mix), simply will never be coveted nor should they be. This particular bottle (I’ve heard conflicting stories on better performers of Pichon Lalande) hadn’t budged one bit. Scents of matchstick, iron, modest cedar and sour cherries are monolithic, austere and utterly underwhelming on the palate. I am not going to apologize for it and suggest it will morph otherwise, considering it’s been 22 years already (bet you Barolo fans are shaking your heads at my commentary right now, but hey, gotta be a realist…can’t bring myself to encourage others to wait decades!), good but blah, 84 points.

A vintage where my preference lies slightly w/ the Baron, but only so slightly, this ’01 Lalande is still remarkably youthful and still coated in its prenatal oak dressing (much to Levenberg’s disgust). Pretty aromas of crème de cassis, violets, blackberry ganache and charcoal tinged toast fill the air and shift to a spicy, somewhat shy palate that still needs quite a bit of coaxing to bloom. There is honest lift, lovely balance and terrific material for a bit of a stint in the cellar and I imagine owners of this vintage will be blessed w/ an outstanding tasting experience down the road, 92+ points.

Surprisingly enough, the less sought after vintage (vis a vis 2001) has produced a bit riper, more poised Pichon. Full of raspberry ganache, milk chocolate, toast and rich fruit, this wine is packed in a completely concealed structure and was remarkably drinkable already. I believe the ’02 represents a beautiful example of how to construct a pleasurable drinking experience in young Bordeaux, while not sacrificing at least mid-term cellaring capacity, 93 points.

The flight that launched a thousand ships…

Welcome to the real firepower gents, not to say that the previous ammunition wasn’t effective, but if you’re looking for a shrapnel effect, a rocket launcher to the skull is the only way to go. The nose of this wine was completely shot out of a cannon, launching fireworks of wild flowers, freshly paved road tar, pencil shavings, cassis and black currant through the air in a spectacular, explosive fashion. As effusive as it was aromatically, the palate was flat out decadent, with mouth-watering and hedonistically satiating layers of knock-out proportions. Already drinking phenomenally well & should continue to bring pleasure for another 15 years, 97 points.

Expectedly so, the millennium vintage was quite reserved (especially in relation to the ’96), but so gorgeously constituted that even the blind could have the foresight of this wine’s potential. Layers and layers of depth are packed and stacked, alongside an ironclad structure that almost pierces w/ its sheer brilliance. Notions of sweet black currants, scorched earth, cassis and high class toast only tease the senses, but do so in as pure a fashion as could be imagined. This is going to be a modern day legend and gives the Baron a run for its money in the ‘real vintage of the century,’ 97+ points.

Anyone that owns both the ’95 and the ’96 owes it to themselves to taste them adjacent to each other, as they are not only both great wines, but terrifically distinct. The ’95 is a much tighter, more withdrawn wine aromatically, but loaded to the gills with sweet, luxurious fruit that really strikes an opulent chord from the second it hits your lips to the tail end of its ‘Gone with the Wind’-like finish. While the ’96 is already in a prime drinking window, the ’95 still has nowhere to go but up, and boy does it have the stuffing to get there, 95+ points.

We conclude with the youngsters…

Epitomizes what I’ve enjoyed about the vintage in that there is precocious, up front fruit, but a sense of sinewy tannin that maintains an integrity of focus and grit to slap you back w/ a trusty Old World blow. Dark cherries, date bread, cocoa and cassis notes penetrate the senses in a very rich display that offers immediate gratification, but should evolve over the midterm w/ grace thanks to the fore-mentioned structure and class (has quite a bit in common w/ the ’02), 93+ points.

While my commentary on the 2000 encompasses all that is classic and revered about the ‘vintage of the century,’ the ’05 unfortunately demonstrates what missing the boat on the ride to greatness is. Perhaps the least aristocratic expression of modern Lalande, a fig, dark plum sauce, bitter chocolate and blackberry loaded experience that becomes a bit disjointed and clipped by intrusive tannins and a modest finish. This wine certainly has outstanding potential, as there is quite a bit of ripe fruit to offset its constitution, but it is neither exciting nor singular, yet it certainly is expensive, 90+ points.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Chateau Lafleur Vertical

Chateau Lafleur has always intrigued me as it seems to personify what I tend to covet in wine in various, dirty ways:

  • It’s a blue chip Pomerol that I’ve had fleeting experience w/ at best (before this tasting I could tally my encounters with this Chateau on the fingers of one hand).
  • Although it is from Pomerol, the cepage is generally rich in Cabernet Franc and again, I can generally count my ‘classic renditions’ of the grape on the fingers of one hand.
  • The production is so limited that the second wine, Pensees, has actually become sought after (and rightfully so, as this 500 case micro-plot of younger vines demonstrated that it can turn out formidable performances even in dismal vintages like ’92).
  • Ummm, and to be totally honest, it’s expensive as sh*t and I, my friends, am no player, so nights such as these allow me to experience life like a big boy!
If it weren’t for the generosity of people such as Leo Frokic, I’d be firmly planted in the vicarious section of the on-deck circle when it comes to gems such as these, so for all the bounty you’ve bestowed upon me Leo, I thank you. Although I was not clocking in at full speed for the tasting (I have been battling a digestive alien for the past few days that has wrecked some serious havoc on my drinking vocation), I gladly hobbled my way out to join you, alongside the NY-NJ crew, a la ‘Willis Reed’ of the New York Knicks….well, not quite that dramatically, but you guys know I would have been there even if my intestinal walls had been removed in favor of steel sewage piping.

We began w/ a Leo mainstay, as well as a mystery Jaouen wine…

1998 Corton Grand Cru, Jadot
Apparently I’ve had this wine 4 or 5 times, but you know how all Burgundies taste alike ;) This was as primary, unevolved and youthful as I can recall this wine showing in recent history, full of smoky glazed nuts, poached pears and vanilla coated apple skins from nose to palate. Fairly thick and dense but lacking a bit more lift and clarity to really get me excited this evening. Having said that, I’ve been able to enjoy this wine as it’s aired and morphed (and it is an outstanding performance), 89+ points.

Jaouen’s mystery beast….
Paul is a very clever, sarcastic (and bitter) Raiders fan that picked a beauty to serve blind to us. My impressions were initially ‘wow, this is stinky, I like it.’ There was a man named Brett that arrived to the party, but alongside his friends briar, bramble and leather, he put together an interesting aromatic performance! This was a savory, spicy wine, full of hearty plum, pepper and grilled chestnut flavors that flirted w/ an exuberant sweetness but remained firmly in the ‘pleasantly earthy’ category. Surprisingly silky, fresh and medium proportioned in the mouth, it divided the table into half believe it was Bordeaux, w/ the other half thinking it had more of a Rhone sensibility. I was more so in the Rhone camp & (ding ding) correctly guessed the vintage, but we were just a tad off on the country…eh-hem, Lebanon. The wine was a ’99 Musar, which showed (according to Jaouen) much more mature (or older, at least) than imagined. My first Musar, and damn did that Cinsault and Carignane didn’t give this a South of France profile (w/ a twist)?! A provocative experience, but not entirely thrilling, 87+ points.

Then the second…

1992 Pensees de Lafleur
For the record, this is the only ’92 I’ve had (and I’ve had it a handful of times) and I also have no real interest in trying any others, but this is pretty good stuff! An aromatically pure effort, full of graphite, iron, crushed lilacs and dried berries in its perfume. While I wouldn’t call the palate dilute, it is on the lean side, but fresh, w/ crunchy acidities pumping an electricity through the body of the juice that keeps things in fine balance, 86 points.

1993 Lafleur
A frankly denser wine, as it broods a bit in the glass we are greeted w/ scents of cedar, violets, gravel, dark cherries and cocoa that suggest a bit of power, but the palate is medium in weight, with firm tannins that flex along a symmetrical, long finish. Again, a relatively garbage year that Lafleur managed to harness in outstanding fashion, a commendable 90 points.

1994 Lafleur
This was a toughie, as you could tell there was some substantial midpalate flesh and some beautiful complexity that was plagued by a subdued aromatic disposition, suggesting a bit of taint (I’m in the camp that would be fairly surprised to witness a ‘closed’ ’94 Lafleur). While not overtly corky, the ‘off’ sensation weaved in and out, and really seemed to clip the finish as the wine flattened out. We didn’t believe this was a representative bottle, N/A.

*the ’95 suffered a similar fate, though most of the table found it to be a touch more blatant in its respective taint. Time to break out the violin…you guys know you want to throw a screw-cap down on Lafleur!

1999 Lafleur
As close to a sex pot as we found this evening, the ’99 could be described as an aristocratic temptress that seduces in places such as the Four Seasons. Succulent, sultry juice that brimmed w/ fresh mushrooms, damp earth, sweet cherries, raspberries and truffle shavings in the nose, but really shined w/ the multi-dimensional palate that offered up plump, gorgeous fruit buttressed by great mineral definition. This is a vintage I like more and more w/ each next taste, and certainly one that is showing extremely well at age 9, 93+ points.

1998 Lafleur
Leo mentioned his desire to ‘prove Bob wrong’ w/ his ‘measly 90 point score’ on the heralded ’98 vintage, but Wine Advocate vendettas aside, this wine is too damn young! Perhaps the headiest, yet most backward Lafleur of the evening, showcasing a lovely nose of roasted coffee, dark plums, bitter chocolate, black currants and smoke, the palate is virile but still quite disjointed as the structure seems to block the wine’s ability to transition its flavors along the finish. While tannic & in need of serious cellaring to come together, this Lafleur is virile and frankly stuffed so I imagine it will augment and reward patient owners, it just won’t ever be a seamless wine in my opinion, 92+ points.

1988 Lafleur
I believe this vintage received the least amount of decanting time and may have suffered a bit because of it. In spite of its preparation, the 1988 is endowed w/ a seriously hypnotic perfume redolent of crushed flowers, incense, spicy cigar smoke and sweet blackberries. While there’s quite a bit of build up and anticipation from the scents, it fails a tad short on the palate as it is lighter than I’d hope, but airtime demonstrates a sinewy austerity that I found quite pleasant, just not exemplary. As a side bar, I do think this will put on a bit more weight in the cellar and it is an extremely juicy vintage of Lafleur that paired exceptionally well, 91 points.

1996 Lafleur
This was the best vintage we tasted & a wine that any cellar should feel absolutely honored if it were blessed with its presence. While supremely elegant and classy, this ’96 is a powerfully channeled tour de force that is years away from realizing its true dimension. Fabulous notes of dark cherries, graphite, tilled earth, a mélange of dark fruits and spice box are imbedded in this potent, stuffed and waiting to explode masterpiece of winemaking. The best wines of this vintage really are something else aren’t they, 95+ points.


1990 Dame de Montrose
Alright, what did Montrose do in ’89 and ’90 to be so blessed?! This is nearly a 20 year old second wine that flat out rocked it! We popped and poured this dazzler for dessert and were immediately greeted w/ Secretariat’s second cousin, Sir Brett a lot, but oh how inviting was it?! This is a complex, spicy, concentrated beast of a second wine, loaded with toffee, hay, rich black currant sauce and deep, dark fruit for days. Very dense and rich in the mouth, providing a sheer joyride of a tasting experience that I’d ante up for on any occasion. While it lacks the length and sheer power of it’s more noble father, this is a second wine that really doesn’t take a back seat to anyone, 92 points.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

South Africa Makes its Way Overseas...
Hell’s Kitchen has a new addition that may interest those of you with a penchant for the wines of South Africa. Xai Xai (pronounced shy-shy) is New York City’s first and only wine bar that is exclusively dedicated to bringing customers a taste of the Cape’s best offerings from key producers like Rudi Schultz, Thelema, The Foundry and Boekenhoudskloof. The brainchild of South African native Brett Curtin, alongside his two partners Tanya Hira and Dorian Gashi, offers up an innovative ambience that synthesizes the rugged elements of an African outback with a candlelit urban flavor that could only be found in the Big Apple. The menu includes selections by the bottle, glass and for tasting (a taste of any 3 selections offered by the glass is priced at 8 dollars), with generous pours and modest pricing keeping thirsty patrons in the seats. While sipping on the native fruit, tasters can nibble on a number of small plates that are also brushed w/ a South African brush, like a savory vetloek (bread fritters stuffed w/ beef) or another local favorite called pap & boerewors w/ soweto sauce (farmers sausage & tomato gravy).

I, for one, am excited to see the progressive South African wine movement take center stage in New York, and regard Xai Xai as a fine vehicle. Considering that the distribution of South African wines is still meager at best, this novel wine bar should prove to offer any inquisitive New Yorker the best access to some of the country’s top offerings. I encourage you to give their website a look and pop in next time you’re in the neighborhood,

Some of my tasting impressions throughout the evening:

Ken Forrester, Petit Chenin Blanc 2007
The cheapest Chenin Blanc available by the glass proved to be the best, as this early release from Forrester offered up as much clarity and perfume as any lover of the variety could hope for. Subtle, yet full of lovely complexities through the scents of hay, honeydew, quince and fresh dandelions that seemed to dance their way out of the glass. The palate is fresh and full of a lithe, peppy minerality that strikes a lovely chord as it echoes along on the crisp finish, 87+ points.

Spice Route, Chenin Blanc 2006
This was a very disappointing showing, especially after how well the Forrester showed. A much smokier, denser expression, with a dollop of spicy toast, fig, sour custard and honeyed tea notes that are thicker, yet bland and somewhat clumsy in comparison to the Forrester. Sometimes Chenin doesn’t take as well to new oak as you’d hope, and one can only do just that, hope that this wine will come around in the cellar, 82+ points.

The Foundry, Viognier 2006
Yet again, another odd surprise as this was perhaps the least varietally correct version of Viognier I’d had in months. The nose completely lacks any telltale aromatic explosiveness one would expect from a Viognier and is a bit marred by specks of green-ness that leave me a bit confused. Scents of turnip, celery root and white flowers turn a bit thicker on the palate, hinting at apricot skins and green apple, but come off as a bit blowzy on the finish, 84 points.

*note, the first flight was entirely under screw-cap, go South Africa!

Thelema, Rhine Riesling, 2005
This is a producer that I’ve actually had enough to say that they flat out get it down, from the top to bottom of their portfolio. A rock solid Riesling, w/ a great beam of citrus blossom, slate, apple and lime notes that zip through the persistent, sharp and bone dry finish that leaves your mouth watering for another sip, 88 points.

Tumara, Pinotage 2005
Whether or not Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault) will ever become South Africa’s ‘staple grape’ remains to be seen (personally, I think Syrah is where their bread is buttered), but this example is as polarizing as any. The wine begins w/ the telltale smoked pickle barrel notes and hints of charred fruits (the Cinsault’s rusiticty is doing the talking) but them picks up beautifully on the palate, w/ spearmint, plum and pure cherry fruit that is as silky, sweet and knee-buckling as any Pinot Noir you’ll ever taste. While a little rambunctious and earthy at first, it’s all there when it comes to texture. A solid example of a head-scratching grape variety (perhaps in need of a lithium shot), 89 points.

Tokara Zondernaam, Chardonnay 2003
I’m convinced I was accidentally poured the Sauvignon Blanc, but I’ll grade it as if it were a Chardonnay (you’ll see what I mean as you read along). A green, herby nose that is evocative of passion-fruit, gooseberry and fresh dill that turned a touch angular and dilute on the medium weight, modest finish, 78 points.

Eventide Viognier, 2006
Initially a bit toasty, but w/ aeration this reveals classic notions of fresh cut peach, apricot and hints of marmalade that remind me what Viognier is all about. Although this isn’t the most exciting example of the grape, it a solidly constructed, medium bodied and symmetrical rendition that gets the juices flowing nicely, 86 points.

Rietvallei, Shiraz 2004
Here’s where things really get interesting. I believe some producers are trying to distinguish styles of Syrah in the Cape by labeling it either Syrah or Shiraz, well this producer missed the branding class altogether because if this doesn’t taste just like a Crozes Hermitage, then I don’t know what does!? Full of tarry blackberries, dark cherry, melted asphalt and a gorgeous, mineral infused spine that cackles through the palate in as focused a fashion as any. While not a blockbuster, this ‘Syrah’ is extremely plush and symmetrical and will endear any fan of the Northern Rhone, 88+ points.

Cathedral Cellar, Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
Again, old world fans need to take note, this wine (along w/ some decent vintages of Kanonkop that I’ve enjoyed in the past) is as classy a claret as you’ll find outside of the Gironde. Elegant, medium bodied and full of mature notions that call to mind mushrooms, graphite, licorice root, spicy black currants and undergrowth. Very perfumed and just lovely in every way, this Cabernet makes up for its lack of length and power in its endearing charm, 87 points (what a much riper vintage would yield on the North Fork).

Now I didn’t get a chance to taste through any of the Schultz wines but his Syrahs are absolutely brilliant (as are the Syrahs from Niels Verburg, Boekenhoudskloof, De Trafford & Els), but I did finish things up w/ a staple Cabernet from Thelema called ‘The Mint.’ As you can guess, it’s a eucalyptus inflected Cabernet that is actually finding its way into other New York City restaurants (and usually ends up being one of the best deals at steakhouses, especially from the B.L.T. crew).

Thelema ‘The Mint’, Cabernet 2004
Such a beautifully poised and silky rendition of perhaps the more feminine side that Cabernet offers, this vintage shows lovely crushed mint, tobacco, cedar, black currant and sweet blue fruits in a silky and sultry profile. Few cabernets can show such a pretty profile and follow through w/ such mouth-watering flavors that leave you begging for another sip. For fans of Cabernet that speak w/ a whisper instead of a shout, where purity as at the forefront & craftsmanship over-rides all, 91 points.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Modern Sure Can Age

With all the uncertainty about the affects of progressive winemaking techniques, late harvests and rigorous canopy manipulation on the aging process of wines, I think I just uncovered a little nugget. I doubt it will surprise most, but sometimes the first hand ‘slap in the face’ experience we receive from the taste of a particular wine is just what the doctor ordered.

Almaviva is a joint venture project between Chilean wine giant Concha y Toro & Chateau Mouton Rothschild from Bordeaux. The winery has access to arguably the best Cabernet in the country (the famed Puente Alto vineyard, the same source for Concha y Toro’s prestige Don Melchor bottling) and generally splashes about a quarter of Carmenere (a failed Bordeaux variety that seems to find its stride in Chile) into the final cepage. This project involves state of the art winemaking that pulls out just about all the stops that leave the cautious crowd in doubt w/ regards to how these modern products evolve. Now every vintage of Almaviva I’d tasted, the 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004, have either been too young, too ripe or too unevolved to provide me with a frank gauge on the wine’s potential evolution. Well last night I decided to pop the 2000 vintage w/ a Valentine’s Day spread and I got just what I was looking for. What a difference a year makes!

See the 2000 vintage was considered to be less than ideal in Chile, and perhaps is the country’s weakest link in the 21st century to date. February and March had much higher than average rainfalls, causing dilution and lack of concentration in major grape varieties (varied sources, Jancis Robinson referred to the year as the ‘almost El Nino vintage’). So why am I excited about said mediocre year? Well off years provide quicker glimpses into a wine's evolution, producing wines that mature early, and it happened to play right into the hands of my investigation. To my delight, not only did the wine not fall apart nor become less interesting in age, it has begun to mature in quite a similar fashion as I’ve experienced w/ older Bordeaux. The second I popped the cork I thought ‘wow, stinky, smells just like an older Bordeaux,’ and you Francophiles know exactly how positive such a commentary is!

Tertiary nuances have taken shape in this 8 year old cuvee, the tannins have softened and the integrity of the fruit, while perhaps a smidge less robust than at release (I’d assume), is in perfect harmony with all the wine’s additional nuance. This wine was no longer about potential (though it’s got plenty of guts left in it to last another decade), it was about the present experience. Nothing spoofy, gaudy, or destructive had occurred during this vintage of Almaviva’s slumber. What happened is what we, as wine connoisseurs, hoped would happen, but weren’t ready to bet the ranch on just yet (that is, if you belonged to the fore-mentioned cautious camp). I really am kicking myself for not bringing this bottle to a blind ‘meritage vs. Bordeaux’ taste off as it would have had everyone (including myself) completely fooled w/ regards to origin. Ah well, you live, you learn.

In this case, while the magical terroir of Bordeaux will still retain its hallowed imagine, Chile has proven (to me at least) that their ground is every bit as capable of producing wines that can change favorably in time. In addition, Almaviva has shown me that progressive techniques in the winery & vineyard will not void a wine’s ability to evolve in the bottle. My feelings about how excellent vintages, such as 2003, will evolve are confirmed by this bottle of 2000, which seems to have given me the tangible reason I needed to hold off on drinking younger vintages. Hope you enjoy my tasting note:

Almaviva 2000
Wow. Still quite saturated at the core, w/ hints of transparency at the rim, but oh goodness what a mature nose! Classic, spicy Pauillac notes of charcoal infused gravel, loam, tobacco, lilacs, black currant, licorice, iron, truffle and cedar are as close to mature Bordeaux profile as I’ve ever had in the New World. The palate is medium in proportion, w/ lovely finesse, symmetry and is as perfectly harmonious as any mature Cabernet could aspire to be. Still w/ adequate depth and extract to merit close to another decade of aging. The synthesis of a dinstinctively Chilean profile w/ the grace of an aging claret, 92 points.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Quit complaining, do something about it!

With so much energy, focus and dialogue circling rising wine prices, declining dollar value and the hedge fund baby boom, I can’t help but ask myself why? Why are wine geeks wasting their energies on poorly focused venting, berating and name calling when they can actually heal themselves of said situation!?

The simple solution comes from addressing the laws of supply and demand. If that which you desire has become too subjectively expensive, then it is time to go west young man, find a new desirable in a price range that is more suitable. I am aware of the difficulties involved w/ long time buyers of particular wines, such as the ‘wine of the year syndrome’ that has just recently infected Clos des Papes supporters, but separation anxiety is not a terminal illness my friends. In fact, the easiest cure for such an ailment can be found in, you guessed it, a new ‘best friend wine,’ and there are plenty to choose from! If you lead, others will follow (in a vinous Utopia, regardless of their particular income, they’ll agree to the old adage that ‘enough is enough’). Supply and demand laws are consumer driven, so look in the mirror w/ said frustration instead of belligerently flogging the greedy producers. Consumer, heal thyself.

This ‘a + b’ rationale is all well and good, but I’d challenge the protesting mob one step further. In addition to just saying no, how about saying yes to something else? By something else, why not take a walk on the wild side and stray from your comfort zone (read: too expensive, prestigious region) into an entirely new dimension? You know there’s an expansive, competitive and exciting wine world out there with provocative, hedonistic and enthralling varietals from just about every country and nearly every continent. If you fear this leap of faith is merely a step down from ‘the best,’ I dare you to remove your wine snob hat and replace it w/ the wine geek hat that you claim to love and adore so much! If you’re an old dog from the old world and can only accept more gradual remedies to your case of separation anxiety, I’d like to remind you that there are plenty of great and undervalued treasures that exist w/in that very same world you currently dwell in, you just need to dig a little bit more to find the bone. Isn’t the thrill of the chase and exhilaration of discovery what attracted you to wine’s holy grail in the first place?

What I mean by all this is that New Zealand and South America do not have to be your panacea for the expensive wine fever that you’ve become inflicted with (two countries that are generally perceived as sexy prescriptions to this particular disease). Gulp, France probably has more value now (w/ the strong EURO) than back when our dollar could show up the peso in a pissing contest. Global warming has paved the way for Montrachet-esque Chablis to be fashioned at mostly Chablis-like price tags. The heat has caught on in the Loire as well, allowing Maverick producers to turn the once weedy and herbal Cab Francs of Chinon into’03 and ’05 powerhouses that rival some of their Right Bank cohorts in terms of richness, sinew and most importantly, value. Mendoza too long a flight from the Old World? Well the backroads to Cahors are just a hop, skip and a jump away! Even Italy has its share of ship jumpers as Barolo prices soar, but remember the fad of Super Tuscans? That has come and gone, but what's left is the same great quality without the lofty price tag.

I could laundry list all day, but Dr. Brad can not give away all his prescribing habits for fear of becoming more of a lecturer than a healer. I can only suggest where to steer delicately, as you’ll be the one behind the wheel making the turns. You’ve come this far along your journey, and the more stubbornly you fight, the less pleasure the grape will give you. Put on a blindfold to wine labels and let your taste buds open your eyes to what truly world class wine can taste like (at whatever price point you subjectively deem as ‘comfortable’). Remember the mantra, wine geek, not wine snob.

As a footnote, I owe you a bit of clarification as to what the spawned such rampant, grotesquely optimistic idealism from this post. Well, it was a bottle of wine of course, but no ordinary bottle at that. It was what is widely considered ‘the best’ bottle of pure Mourvedre on the planet. Now Mourvedre is hardly Cabernet Sauvignon, and for that matter, it isn’t even Grenache, but a trip to it’s origins of Bandol can reveal the intangible beauties that lie w/in what most Rhone snobs would consider to be a ‘hearty blending grape.’ I put my blindfold on and tasted what makes me love wine so much. As infant as that sounds, its price may take you all back to that same moment. There were no strings (nor hundred dollar bills) attached. These were my impressions:

Domaine Tempier, Bandol Cuvee La Migoua 2001
I think every Rhone fan owes it to themselves to explore the Mourvedre heartland in Bandol, and what better producer to test drive than the gold standard? The second I stuck my nose in the glass, the one word I could think of was archetype, as just about any textbook definition of the varietal alludes to these pure Mourvedre pleasures that I’d always imagined but hardly ever experienced. The holy grail of this varietal seemed to come out and speak to me w/ each scent, and every next sip would unlock the mystery a touch further. Opaque, brooding sensations of cardamom, black licorice, grilled steak, fig, blackberry liqueur and pepper give way to a sinister, spicy and savory palate experience that could only come from one grape, Mr. Mourvedre. He that likes his face in the sun and feet in the water, and in Bandol finds sanctuary. Pure, gorgeous Mourvedre complexities flex their sinew along the ride, but the density of the wine is channeled by such a brisk, driven persona that composes all its power w/ ease. I can still remember the lingering graphite note of this wine in an almost haunting fashion. With all this talk of price in an industry as expansive as wine, I can’t help but feel at ease when I can experience one of wine’s zeniths at such a reasonable fare, 95+ points.

P.S. Although it is in a different ‘peer group,’ I liked it slightly better than Guigal’s La Turque 1997 that I had tasted the previous day. We all know there is a an ever so slightly difference in price (as well as cache) between the two, but let me tell you something, the Guigal wasn’t the inspiration of this post ;)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Chateauneuf du Pape Shangri-La!

Yet another fantastic, Chateauneuf du Pape based tasting was orchestrated by wine director David Gordon yesterday evening, and this time he pulled out all the stops. Celebrated importer Alain Junguenet, alongside his son, John, brought their fabulous wines and some of their most renowned producers w/ them to New York City’s bastion for all things Rhone, the Tribeca Grill. The spontaneous, energetic Olivier Hillaire provided the crowd with a performance that transcended the language barrier, while the charming Christine of Mas de Boislauzon was on hand to showcase her luxury cuvee called Quet (as well as a new wine, the 2006 Tintot, a 100 percent Mourvedre bottling from 70 year old vines). I had the good fortune to sit next to the modest Pascal Lafond of Domaine J.P. Lafond, and not only did I get to practice my nearly non-existent French with him, I also got to pick his brain a bit!

Fourteen barrel samples were poured from the soon to be released 2006 vintage and if these wines forecast what’s in store for the rest of the producers in ’06, Rhone fans are in for yet another excellent year from Chateauneuf du Pape. Most of the wines I tasted are already showcasing fresh, pure fruit flavors in a bit more effusive fashion than their ’05 counterparts, while they seem to be a bit more structure than most of the 2004 bunch that I have sampled. Some of the rare, but gorgeous white Rhones produced in 2006 beg to be discovered, and I can’t think of a better time than now for the uninitiated to begin their exploration of varieties like Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Clairette.

I’d be remiss to not mention how spectacular the menu was. Executive Chef Stephen Lewandowski conjured some of the most decadently flavored, flawless pairings I’ve yet to experience in fine dining, and his skill continues to be under-rated amongst New York foodies.

These are my impressions of the evening’s samplings. I hope you enjoy.

The whites:

Chateau Fortia, Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2006
From a producer that I’ve never truly acquainted myself with, Fortia produced a very bright and racy ’06 Blanc. This blend of 60% Clairette, 30% Roussanne and 10% Grenache Blanc emits scents of crisp green apple peel, ginger snap, cinnamon and quince. The flavors fan out on the palate nicely amidst an ever present crunchy acidity. A nice effort, 86 points.

Moulin Tacussel, Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2007
I believe this will be an early release white from the Moulin family, providing us with a sneak peak into the 2007 vintage for the whites. A blend that relies more on Roussanne (45%) and Grenache Blanc (30%), this is an exotic vixen of a white, w/ alluring notions of mandarin orange, white flowers, hints of honey and white peach leading the way. Perfumey, round and coats the palate much like a rich Soave Classico from the Garganega grape, 90 points.
Lafond Lirac Blanc, 2006
Generally a Grenache blanc dominated blend but strikes a unique aromatic chord due to the Viognier content (usually 20% or so), this value-driven white is loaded w/ tropical, floral nuances that titillate the senses. Peach, guava and baked apple scents are kept honest by a flutter of crushed stones, which frames the body in finesse alongside a racy acidity, 89 points.

Boisson Cairanne Blanc, 2006
A very odd interpretation of white Cotes du Rhone which smelled slightly madeirized and demonstrated a progressed, golden color (was much darker than all of the other whites in the flight). The wine was flaccid, overtly nutty and lacked charm and freshness. I don’t know if this is an intentional house-style, or if the bottle was simply poorly cared for, but I barely touched my glass, 65 points.

Vieux Donjon Blanc, 2006
The house of Vieux Donjon can downplay their white wine all they like as they’d have you believe they essentially ‘fashion it on a whim’ and it ‘usually turns out ok,’ but this 2006 demonstrates a sense of care and precision that I’d never associate with such haphazard descriptors. The scents are subtle, but lure you in w/ a quiet attraction that is undeniable. Scents of macadamia nut, white flowers, ginger and freshly cut melon turn mouth-coating and succulent on the palate, in a quiet explosion of fruit. Juicy, but lithe to the finish, in a symmetry that belies the producer’s winemaking commentary, 91 points.

Clos des Papes Blanc, 2006
Perhaps the queen of white Chateauneuf, with Beaucastel being the king, good vintages of Clos des Papes blanc can seduce w/ some of the most hauntingly complex, yet understated profiles that you’ll find in the Rhone. Their 2006 reminds me a bit of a fine, slow to mature Chenin Blanc, as provocative notions of lemon zest, sea shells, fig, chamomile tea and dried honey fill the air. There is such a pure, elegant core of potential complexity that begs to be cellared to reveal this young white’s inner beauty. Paul Avril says to wait 8 years before enjoying his whites, and when it comes to the 2006, I can’t help but agree w/ him, 93+ points.

Vin Rouge:

Domaine Boisson, Clos de la Brussere 2006
The vineyards of this Cotes du Rhone Villages are said to be a stone’s throw away from Rayas’ Fonsalette, and perhaps the proximity equates to quality, at least in the case of this 2006. Initially an earthy streak of iron, grilled chestnut, leather and fried lard emerge from this wine, but it’s filled w/ a pure, vibrant core of silky raspberry fruit wrapped in pepper that really win you over in terms of pleasure, as well as the provocative. More complex and textured than most any Cotes du Rhone you’ll have, 91 points.

Olivier Hillaire Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Classique 2006
This is a Grenache dominated (80%) cuvee that seduces like a Pinot Noir, but injects a bit of sinew into the blend, thanks to a generous portion of Syrah (15%) in the cepage. Sweet and pure, with strawberry preserve, cocoa, violet and blueberry fruit leading the way to a supple textured, sexy and immediately gratifying young Chateauneuf. Should be extremely approachable young and provide pleasure for close to a decade, 91+ points.

Olivier Hillaire, Chateauneuf du Pape Les Petits Pieds d’Armand 2006
This is a single vineyard selection from Olivier and perhaps the most outrageously ‘New World’ Chateauneuf of the evening (and not because of oak or de-stemming!). A jammy, almost gushing interpretation of Grenache that pushes ripeness to the max, pumping out creamy, dark fruits over a bed of finely grained, sweet tannin. With all of the wine’s apparent excess, it is kept honest by an iron clad constitution & a plush, nearly seamless sense of grace, 93 points.

Olivier Hillaire, Les Petits Pieds d’Armand 2005
More sinewy and provocative than the gushing ’06, the 2005 has a bit firmer, more backward personality and greater potential complexity. There are touches of sea salt, anise, raspberry preserve, crème de cassis and fresh rosemary notes to be found churning against some brawny, formidable tannins. I believe this is currently a caged animal and will lash out, more intensely and profoundly as it ages in the bottle, 94+ points.

Mas de Boislauzon Chateauneuf du Pape, Cuvee du Quet 2006
A hearty, but gorgeous vintage for Quet, flexing its Mourvedre muscles, but keeps things frankly enshrouded in Grenache fruit throughout the tasting experience. There’s a sense of seriousness to the kirsch, garrigue, grilled meat and olive paste flavors that is undeniable and entirely formidable. A wine that is loaded w/ depth, tannins and blockbuster potential, 94 points.

Mas de Boislauzon, Quet 2000
I’ll be the first to admit that I have yet to find a 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape that was ‘disagreeable,’ and the cuvee Quet was no different. Currently, this wine is approaching a plateau of maturity and drinking wonderfully, with sultry hints of lilacs, sweet tobacco, dark cherry sauce and tapenade flavors that swim their way down the palate w/ complete ease. The medium bodied Quet is still juicy and rich, w/ a fine gush of mountain herbs pulsating through the suave, round and seamless finish, 92 points.

Mas de Boislauzon, 1999
What is it about 1999 Chateauneuf and brett?! I suppose John Junguenet’s description of the year as a ‘dirty vintage’ will have to suffice for today, but I have to note that the brett in Mas de Boislauzon was definitely at a level where I consider it to be an attribute, not one of which evokes notions of the Preakness. The scents were right up a Burghound’s alley, w/ a fascinating array of iron, tobacco, damp meadow, graphite, cherries and red currants seething from the glass. The mouthfeel was ethereal, w/ completely resolved tannin and bright acids pumping things along at just the right clip, 88 points.

Cuvee du Vatican, Chateauneuf du Pape Tradition 2006
Don’t get me wrong, I am not taking a stance on the modern, vs. progressive vs. traditional debate, as I believe there are excellent examples in all categories. Having said that, this estate has impressed me less and less w/ each subsequent vintage, and 2006 seems to have bottomed out my hope for the quality at the Vatican. A nose of dusty cedar foreshadows a tannic, austere and drying façade of a palate which completely buries its modest core of red fruit. Not very fun to taste, and those that wish to claim this wine is ‘closed’ better cross their fingers a bit tighter than I do mine, 82 points.

Cuvee du Vatican, Reserve Sixtine 2006
Controversial as always, with 1 and 2 year old oak being the aging vessel of choice for the Sixtine cuvee (as well as a 30% chunk of Syrah), this cuvee is a smokier, more brooding effort than the base cuvee and is as backward as any wine of the vintage that I’ve tasted (alongside the Cuvee Mon Aieul). Plump and severely tannic in the mouth, with an oak mask currently cloaking the slightly disjointed fruit. Tasting the ’99 vintage of this wine tonight gives me a bit of hope for this cuvee resolving its structure, but I doubt this vintage will ever possess that type of charm, 87 points.

Cuvee du Vatican, Reserve Sixtine 1999
Tasting this vintage provided me with a positive window to the evolutionary potential of the currently awkward ’06 Vatican wines, as this ’99 had integrated quite nicely. Notes of coffee, mint, sweet cherries and fresh berry fruit present themselves in this sappy, medium bodied effort that is squeaky clean and very well rounded. While this is an undoubtedly solid wine, it lacks the excitement and punch of what I consider to be outstanding Chateauneuf du Pape, 89 points.

Pierre Usseglio Cuvee Tradition, Chateauneuf du Pape 2006
The base cuvee of Usseglio offers up a pleasant and unique saline minerality note in the nose that I did not detect in any other ’06, alongside a rock solid palate of black cherries, underbrush and mouth watering acidity. The freshness and perfume reminds me of ’04 immediately, and the fine length suggests some positive evolution ahead, 90 points.

Usseglio Cuvee de Mon Aieul, 2006
Perhaps the staple wine for Usseglio, w/ 95% Grenache and 5% Syrah aged half in cement and the other half in foudre, and this could be the flagship wine of the vintage. The wine was frighteningly closed when I tasted it, but hinted at knee-buckling aromatics of damp earth, liqueur cordial, peat moss and succulent raspberry fruit. The intensity, depth and power of this vintage of Mon Aieul are undeniable, but I believe it will take at least 5 years for this elixir to grow into its lofty, structured robe. I’m always a sucker for tributes to old vine Grenache, 96+ points.

Usseglio Cuvee de Mon Aieul, 1999
Yikes, could this be the most under-rated wine of the vintage? What a drop dead gorgeous performance this 95% Grenache cuvee put forth last night! Strikingly pure, Elysium-esque scents of heavenly black forest cake, fig paste, black cherry liqueur and warm gingerbread caress the senses w/ the grace of a siren and the tender care of a nursing mother. The body of the wine is picture perfect in a sensually ethereal fashion, as intoxicating, plush layers of elixir cascade down the palate like a graceful Olympian. Although it really tastes nothing like it, I immediately remembered my experience tasting the 2005 La Conseillante at the UGC as this wine shares a similar visceral experience, 95 points (and I believe it is still reasonably priced in today’s market).

Chateau Fortia Reserve Speciale, 2006
I truly enjoyed speaking to the proprietor, Bruno Le Roy, at length about his separate cuvees, especially the controversial ‘Reserve Speciale’ that utilizes a whopping 85% Syrah in the blend! Bruno believes one of the beauties of Chateauneuf du Pape is the flexibility in blend, and with 13 different varieties at his disposal he plans on exploiting all their individual, as well as collective, potential in his particular terroir. While this is by no means a traditional Chateauneuf du Pape, it also is no traditional Syrah (there was nothing Northern Rhone about this). Full of heady, Chateauneuf ripeness, but backed w/ a more sinewy, taut structure than most wines of the region. There are ink, olive and framboise notes to be found, but currently the wine is a bit too unevolved to truly dig into. Bruno joked that the wine will likely have more aging potential than he does, and that is just another way of weighing in on the positives of variety flexibility that the region offers him, 87+ points.

Chateau Fortia Cuvee du Baron, 2006
2006 produced a muscular Baron, but one that already has developed nicely w/ a myriad of complexities like tobacco, grilled herbs, figs and kirsch liqueur emerging in the wine’s bouquet. Interestingly enough, the taut, sinewy structure did remind me a bit of the Speciale, but its traditional profile was very distinct. This should age more along the lines of a ’95 than a traditional ’06, 88+ points.

Chateau Fortia Cuvee Tradition, 2003
Fortia happens to be another producer that I believe got 2003 right, albeit in a bit of a superficially attractive fashion. A chewy but sweet palate is full of blackberry reduction, dark cherries, lavender and cedar notes that churn along a bed of sweet, but firm tannins to a medium, but pleasant finish. In the difficult 2003 vintage, this precocious, delicious young Fortia has to be considered a success, 89 points.

Vieux Donjon 2005
When the scents of heaven are paved w/ a gush of underground garrigue (which echoes relentlessly, I might add) and its textures coated in satin, it must be a Vieux Donjon. The 2005 is as pure and as voluptuous as any top notch Chateauneuf aspires to be. Notes of currant, game, dark fig cake and oodles of wild herbs make themselves noticeable from the get go. Donjon has been accessible sense release, and I imagine its flesh will continue to conceal its underlying tannin as she evolves. Donjon fans, you aint’ seen nothing yet, watch out for the 2006, 94 points.

Vieux Donjon 2006
To me, this baby Donjon was ridiculously accessible and already offering up an immense level of complexity, richness and nuance (this had to be the most impressive showing of all the 2006’s I tasted). A hypnotic, riveting nose of tree bark, graphite, plum sauce, black currant and fresh Provencal herbs erupt from the glass as if they were shot out of a cannon. The palate is purely a synthesis of restrained power with admirable grace and it is absolutely mind boggling to me how well this is showing at such a young age. This may rival the ’98 and I believe it should surpass the ’05 in overall quality, 95+ points.

Domaine Lafond, La Ferme Romaine Lirac 2004
I can’t say enough about the value of the Tavel based Lafond portfolio as it’s as competitive as any Rhone producer and is one of the few perennial case purchases that I could almost blindly recommend to any Rhone lover. Not the richest of wines, but the ’04 Lirac wins you over w/ its elegant nose of Bordeaux-esque asphalt, hot tar, graphite, grilled herb and peppered blackberries that are finely fashioned, well delineated and beautifully integrated throughout the palate. The geology, climate and overall potential of Lirac could possibly compete w/ top notch efforts from Chateauneuf, but it lacks the cache, rapid expansion/exploration and (most importantly) price of its more robust sibling. Hats off to Lafond for their investment in such a fabulous terroir, as well as their continued dedication to providing value (in the face of a declining dollar), 88+ points.

Lafond Chateauneuf du Pape 2001
This was the Lafond’s first vintage of Chateauneuf du Pape, from their classic blend of 80% Grenach, 10% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah. The wine is simply lovely, w/ seductive perfumes of pure raspberry, cherry and touches of thyme. The palate is personified by an easy going, pure, sensual personality w/ nary a rough edge to be found and concludes w/ a sweet finish that ties things together nicely, 89 points.

Boisson Cairanne L’Exigence 2003
A stark contrast to their blowzy white, this ’03 Cotes du Rhone is off the charts! From the turbo-charged 2003 vintage, this super-ripe Grenache based red was the richest wine of the flight (including a couple Chateauneuf du Papes)! Amped up notes of fig pudding, kirsch and molasses kissed loamy soil thunder through the nose to the palate w/o skipping a beat. While this is not exactly loaded w/ depth, it is outwardly delicious and sports some excellent fruit. In my opinion, this is a textbook case where ’03 brought levels of ripeness to neglected, less prestigious regions which allowed a producer like Boisson to crank out an outstanding wine from a relatively modest terroir, 92 points!

Bosquet des Papes, Cuvee Chante Le Merle, 2005
A primal, electrically infused style w/ charged notes of lavender, blackberry, creamy cassis and pepper that range from spicy to supple w/ each sip. The wine is rich, powerful and crammed w/ fruit that really stretches its legs out on the finish. I found this style to be a bit more progressive, but I think it really has show-stopping potential and still remains a bit under the radar as far as the super cuvees are concerned, 94+ points.

Clos des Papes 2005
Grandiose wine of the year accolades and all, this is unarguably an excellent vintage for Clos des Papes, but I think savvy fans of the estate should look to the 2004 (as I imagine it will go toe to toe w/ the ’05 in terms of quality and evolution). There is a beautiful intensity to the attack, w/ a powerful torrent of kirsch, underbrush, grilled herbs, espresso roast, licorice and wild flowers in a package of restrained exuberance. Amidst all its tension and depth, you can sense a fine, pulsating charge of minerality that pumps through the body of the wine to the finish. There really is not a weak spot to be found through the profile of this venerable producer’s effort, but oddly enough, I said the same thing about the ’04, 96 points.

Friday, February 01, 2008

2005 Bordeaux, UGC Impressions

Phelan Segur, St. Estephe
It’s been said quite often that the first wine a taster puts to his lips can be the sacrificial one, especially when it is the first of 50 some odd wines that he’s about to taste. Well, this apothegm holds true w/ Phelan Segur, which was excruciatingly taut, austere and as hard as nails. Subtle notes of tobacco leaf and spicy toast managed to poke through a mass of tannin, but this young claret was not yielding one ounce of pleasure amidst its structure. A toughie to evaluate, but we all know the limitations of mass trade-tastings (sans decanting), 79 points.

Durfort Vivens, Margaux
Margaux was such an easy appellation to fall in love with in 2005, and this young Durfort Vivens makes as strong a case as any. A juicy, but firm mouthful of plum and cassis notes cascade through the palate to a lengthy, fine finish. This was just the type of surprise I had hoped to stumble on, 89 points.

Rauzan Segla, Margaux
Rauzan Segla is one of the best wines in the spotlighted appellation of 2005, Margaux. While famed Chateau Margaux will garner most of the attention and accolade, Rauzan Segla is an absolutely brilliant in this vintage! One of the most mouth-coating, viscous wines poured at UGC, flirting w/ exotic notions of Asian spices, black raspberry reduction, black currant and incense notes. Extracted w/ sinew, but admirably cut, with the precision of a luxury car’s hair-pin turn on the Autobahn. Take a bow Mr. Kolasa, you’ve produced a beauty, 97+ points.

Ferriere, Margaux
While quite tight, there was still a lovely window of singed wood, blackberry sauce and a dollop of dark fruit that were expressed by this ’05 Ferriere. A well constructed and sound wine that lacks the persistence of the top Margaux performers, but is not short on charm and grace, 87+ points.

Kirwan, Margaux
I’ve become quite fond of this estate as a vertical I attended last year demonstrated that this is clearly a claret w/ a progressive disposition that maintains all the integrity that comes along w/ the appellation. Their ’05 rendition is a pretty, floral kissed wine w/ a gorgeous bouquet of lilac, sweet perfume, BBQ spices and crushed berries. The palate has a seamless pulse and offers up a finish that’s as pure as any Margaux could wish to be, 93+ points.

Lascombes, Margaux
This is a wine that has received quite a bit of early controversy for its level of oak and lack of harmony, but much like the ’04 vintage, I am a Lascombes believer yet again in ‘05. This is undoubtedly a serious, endowed and generously proportioned effort that exudes a powerful disposition that I immediately fell for. A primal torrent of dark olive paste, saturating black currant, spice box and road tar steam through the palate w/ authority. This savory juice is built like a brick and should unfold gorgeously in the cellar, 94+ points.

Gazin, Pomerol
The profile of this Chateau has grown on me, and perhaps tasting the ’85 was the catalyst for my growing affinity. While a bit chewy and almost burly, the ’05 is already demonstrating some beautiful complexity in the nose w/ its damson, olive, chocolate covered berries and cassis notes emerging w/ a bit of aeration. Grippy and full in the mouth, with quite a bit of length to burn and some serious longevity ahead, 91+ points.

Clinet, Pomerol
Gosh Clinet is a heartbreaker already! So attractive and sensually polished (especially in relation to the more rugged template offered up by the Gazin), w/ layers of decadent fruit, freshly cut roses and creamy milk chocolate scintillating through the palate like layers of liquid cashmere. A total knockout for Clinet, as ’05 seemed to give the Chateau just what they needed to cook up a sexy kitten of a wine, 94+ points.

Beauregard, Pomerol
I was very unimpressed w/ this showing from Beauregard, but will certainly give it the benefit of the doubt as I sensed some fine character underneath its closed, withdrawn personality. Even so, I can’t imagine anything profound emerging from this wine, but wouldn’t have any outstanding expectations from this snap shot acquaintance, 85+ points.

La Conseillante, Pomerol
La Conseillante was flat out one of the most spectacular 2005’s of the tasting. Such a wondrous bouquet of sweet fruit, lilac meadow, whiskey barrel and high class pipe tobacco greeted my nose w/ astonishment as I couldn’t have imagined any Bordeaux this young could show this well. The palate is flawlessly textured and while it certainly has ample richness, it is so ethereal and knee-bucklingly plush that it leaves you w/ an impression of majesty instead of severity. La Conseillante made a glorious 2005 that has to be tasted to be believed, 98 points.

Petit Village, Pomerol
One of the most transparent wines in terms of aroma, with a bristling meadow, damp moss and fresh raspberry laced nose that I found immediately promising. Unfortunately, the wine is one dimensional once it hits the tongue, with a straight forward, somewhat lean and short personality. It has some potential to put on weight in the cellar, but I wouldn’t push my luck, 85 points.

La Tour Figeac, St. Emilion
Wow how good is St. Emilion in ’05? This example of La Tour Figeac suggests that a bounty of treasure lies in the Right Bank and I, for one, was happy to play pirate during my exploration of Bordeaux’s great Merlot based clarets. A sexy, smoky temptress of a wine, laced w/ crushed blueberries, vanilla bean, mocha and blackberry liqueur that slowly unfolds its layers into a web of sheer pleasure. Long, lavish and sweetly kissed by some suave tannins; this is a wine I couldn’t help but adore, 93 points.

Larcis Ducasse, St. Emilion
While no shortage of hype, demand and pricing escalation has put this starlet out of the reach of most connoisseurs, those that pounced early are in for a massively opulent wine! Extremely withdrawn to the point of being closed aromatically, Larcis completely erupts in lush and authoritative waves once gracing the palate; cramming layers of pure red cherry, black raspberry, dark fruit reduction sauce, spice and underbrush notes to a walloping finish. Suavely textured and explosively constituted, this St. Emilion is loaded w/ tremendous potential, 96 points.

Pavie Macquin, St. Emilion
I’ve tasted just about all the heavy hitters in Bordeaux at this stage since 2002, and even w/ all the intensity and exuberance of 2003, I don’t recall tasting such an outrageously ripe St. Emilion (including Pavie)! Super, super-ripe notions of fig, raspberry ganache, dark cherry liqueur, cocoa and Christmas spices pump out of this robustly fashioned Right Banker (perhaps appealing to my Grenache sensibilities as much as anything) under a bed of chalky, powdery tannins. The ‘other Pavie’ is loaded for sure, but oh so difficult to approach at such an infant stage, 97+ points.

Larmande, St. Emilion
The 2005 should rival the 2001 in terms of quality. A wonderful nose for Larmande; full of violet, coffee, blue and purple fruits that are delicious, succulent and round in the palate, from start to finish. This was one of the most approachable and well delineated wines that I had the pleasure to taste at UGC, 91 points.

Clos Fourtet, St. Emilion
An excellent expression from Clos Fourtet, as it seems poised to give the 2003 a run for her money. Ripe, concentrated and jam packed w/ cassis, espresso roast, boysenberry and exotic purple fruits that titillate the senses. In all its effusiveness, the palate reels in the flavors to a fine focus that showcases finesse, texture and length, 94+ points.

Canon, St. Emilion
Between Rauzan Segla and Canon, it seems John Kolasa could do no wrong w/ his estates in 2005. I have very little experience w/ this Chateau, but thoroughly enjoyed the ride this ’05 gave me! Such pretty poetry was found in the palate of Canon, which hinted at raspberry, briar, mocha and such subtle glimpses of power that never overwhelmed the elegance of the wine. The harmony of Canon is uncompromisingly balanced and simply wonderful to experience, 92+ points.

Figeac, St. Emilion
While always aromatically interesting, it takes a very warm vintage to make a compelling Figeac, and ’05 is just that. Extremely pleasant in its leafy, floral and almost Burgundian sense of earthiness on the nose, Figeac was actually quite tight on the palate, as the Cabernet seemed to clamp down a bit. In spite of its backwardness, there is a pure core of deep fruit waiting to emerge that may just need some bottle aging to emerge. This estate’s 2000 was a brilliant wine, so ’05 has its work cut out for it but may just have the stuffing to give it a challenge, 92+ points.

Dassault, St. Emilion
This is a wonderfully lifted, crisp wine w/ aromas of rose petals, red cherries, cassis and spices reminiscent of a Pinot Noir (or a La Fleur Petrus). While a bit elegant on the nose and attack, the finish is firmly grounded in some ripe Nebbiolo-like tannins, but strikes an interesting balance between the two worlds. Dassault is a winner in 2005, 91 points.

Beau-Sejour Becot, St. Emilion
A producer that I am not terribly familiar with, but they produced a wine that screams of formidability in this vintage. Subtle and flirty at first, w/ a nose of exotic blue and purple fruits and hints of intensity reveal a structured, closed, promising palate. There is a textbook sense of tension and balance about the wine which gave me an easy confidence in recommending it, 93 points.

Angelus, St. Emilion
A recent vertical tasting of this Chateau demonstrated just how fabulous the peaks of Angelus’ performance can be in vintages like 89, 90, 98 and 00. I remember leaving that tasting w/ an impression that they would never make a wine that could rival the 00 in terms of richness, depth and sheer decadence. The 2005 just pulverized my theory in as leveling a fashion as any! Angelus is a staggeringly mammoth wine in 2005 that nearly overwhelms the senses with its volcanic layers of fruit, tenacity of attack and sheer hedonism. This is a pure femme fatale of a wine that is the dry red wine’s answer to drinking Sauternes w/ a bucket of foie gras. Wines like this remind me that it perfection is possible when unbridled pleasure is harnessed into equilibrium, 100 points.

Pape Clement, Pessac Leognan
A pure elixir of young Pape, with extremely rounded edges and the poise of a Super Bowl quarterback. Deep, concentrated dark fruit is found in the midpalate, with tiers of truffle and smoky graphite notes stretching out on the impressive finish. I headed off to a Pape Clement vertical literally an hour after this tasting and it really put this ’05 in perspective. While the results of the ‘progressive era’ for Pape for somewhat mixed, I think this effort will easily contend w/ the finest wines made at the Chateau under Bernard Magrez, 95 points.

Canon La Gaffeliere, St. Emilion
The second I walked up to the flamboyant Stefan Von Neipperg, draped in a bright yellow scarf and distinguished attire, he called me Brad Pitt. Not sure if it was the hair or the name tag, but I liked him immediately. Charm aside, he made a brilliant 2005 that should rival his outstanding 2000. Full of decadent flavors like mocha, chocolate covered wild berries and pure cassis, this hedonistic thrill ride was a pedal to the medal performance around every turn. Effusive, long and intense, this is a wine that any Bordeaux pleasure seeker must experience at least once, 95+ points.

Clerc Milon, Pauillac
A very structured, but well proportioned Pauillac that weaves in notes of barrel smoke, tar and graphite to the succulent, red fruit based core. Clerc is balanced to a T and as aristocratic as any Pauillac could aspire to be. Another great candidate for the cellar, 91 points.

Pontet Canet, Pauillac
I’ve enjoyed just about every 21st century Pontet Canet, with the 2003 perhaps stealing my heart more so than any other, but the 2005 makes me think twice about my previous favorite. This is as chiseled a wine as any, as if it were cut from a Cabernet based stone on Mount Olympus. Defined, but polished flavors of cedar, black currant and spice cascade along a sinewy backbone that is flat out admirable. While the ’03 may be a touch more exotically loaded w/ fruit, this 2005 may please palates that value traditional structure over sensuality, 94+ points.

Haut Bages Liberal, Pauillac
A heady and ambitious young Pauillac, with no shortage of dark plum, tarry cassis and scorched underbrush characteristics that ride along a chewy mid-palate w/ plenty of grip. Should soften up nicely in the cellar and may prove to be outstanding, 89+ points.

Beychevelle, St. Julien
A classy St. Julien that tends to get overlooked due to its more illustrious neighbors, but each time I taste a great vintage from this Chateau I am reminded why I’m a fool to not drink more of it. Classic dusty cedar, high class cigar smoke, leather and heart plum notes emerge from this taut, tannic, but quintessentially elegant young Beychevelle. While it’s certainly a bit fragmented and not quite as graceful as you’d hope for it to be, all the ingredients are there for some beautiful development, 92 points.

Lagrange, St. Julien
The perennial ‘value Chateau of St. Julien’ has crept up in price a bit, but w/ the hike in tariff, there’s some exceptional quality to be found. Perhaps the finest 21st century Lagrange, almost flamboyantly earthy, as notions of wild flowers, sweet tobacco, roasted chestnuts, loam and chocolaty black currants scintillate my senses from just about every angle. This wine’s young complexity is astounding to me, as is its symmetry, length and purity. 2005 is another winner from Lagrange, just a flat out wonderful wine, 94 points.

Leoville Poyferre, St. Julien
I’ll always be a bit letdown by Poyferre, and it isn’t necessarily fair to the Chateau for me to feel that way. While their ’04 and ’05 are outstanding wines, ever since I tasted the other-worldly 2003, I just can’t help but compare all their subsequent wines to that almost unachievable gold standard. Hints of mushroom, pencil lead and deep blackberry liqueur are found in this chewy, rich and well constructed ’05 that is priced at a nearly prohibitive level for it’s outstanding, but not exemplary quality (the ’04 is definitely the better deal, and I scored them both the same), 93 points.

Langoa Barton, St. Julien
I sampled this twice, and the first bottle demonstrated an almost gushing exuberance, while the second was much restrained and tightly knit. There is something special about this vintage for Langoa, as a potpourri of super-ripe fruit awaits patient consumers. The more effusive bottle showed violet, black raspberries, mocha and pure crème de cassis in a bright, impeccably balanced package. I have a great feeling about this vintage for Langoa, 94 points.

Leoville Barton, St. Julien
After a superficially pleasing 2004, this gets my vote for the most frighteningly backward, introverted wine of the tasting (I did not taste Calon Segur, which usually takes the cake in that category). Monstrous structure, only whispering at dusty cassis, graphite, forest floor and iron notes as the tension in this wine makes it almost a foreboding tasting experience. It is way too disjointed, clumsy and rigid for me to get any bead on this wine other than it has the substance to age for a century. This Chateau has a great track record for coming into harmony w/ bottle age, but I can’t be optimistic from this brief tasting acquaintance to make any calls….I need to spend more time analyzing, decanting and appreciating this particular performance.

Branaire Ducru, St. Julien
Well well, another tremendous effort from Branaire as this vintage will give the tremendous 2003 a run for its money. A lush, vivid and uncompromisingly endowed wine that is layered with copious dark fruits, blackberry ganache, smoke and a level ripeness that is amped up to mythic levels. Such pleasures are found from 21st century Branaire Ducru wines that I honestly feel like I’m splitting hairs to pick a favorite, 95+ points.

Cantemerle, Macau
Unfortunately Cantemerle, a very steady and consistent producer, had the unfortunate luck of following the bombardiers from St. Julien in my tasting! A fine, medium bodied and austere claret, with a youthful toughness to its dried herb, underbrush and currant flavors that will make this wine much more charming after age ten (like most Bordeaux used to be, right?), 86+ points.