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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A couple reasons why Loire kicks ass in '05 too! Plus a few other oddities...

Lucien Crochet La Croix du Roy, 2005
This is a brilliant Sancerre, sporting an elegant nose of subtle flowers, freshly bailed hay, pink grapefruit, basil and hot stone notes. The palate is a lesson in precision, pumping out a fresh meadow of herbs along a beam of long, liquid mineral injected flavors that echo w/ ease, 92 points.

Francois Chidaine Vouvray les Argiles, 2005
A surprisingly forward, opulent Vouvray that reveals a bouquet of spice cake, nutmeg, tapioca pudding, quince, salted butter and hazelnut notes. While round and frankly ripe in the palate, there is admirable restraint and a chiseled, mineral cut that defines the body, channeling the flavors along a structured blade; hinting at serious development to come on the finish, 93 points.
While less compelling, the 'basement level' Deiss from Alsace was provocative enough to be worthy of a spin too...

Marcel Deiss Bergheim Pinot Blanc, ‘05
The nose has an oxygen exposed tint to it, w/ dried quince, nut oil, witch hazel, ginger and candle wax notes making an appearance. Contrary to the scents, this is far from tired in the mouth, w/ a sound beam of focus cascading the complex web of flavors over a bed of chalky, crushed stone-like minerality. This has an awkward kilter to it, but reels in some serious stuff at the end of the day, 87 points.

After the dynamite Prosecco I tasted from this producer, I couldn't help but play around a bit more w/ Bisson's whites & dip into this gem.

Bisson Bianchetta Genovese, Golfo del Tigullio ‘06
Are any of Rosenthal’s wines not rich in minerality?! The true terroirist strikes again, w/ this lovely, from the earth example that has a vibrant nose of smoky slate, baked apple, pear, chalk dust and gun-flint. Medium proportioned in the mouth, w/ a sparkling mineral definition that frames the bright, stone fruit flavors to a tightly focused finish that evokes imagery of a young Chablis. This unadorned, yet subtly complex white is an absolute value that delivers exquisite balance in a refreshing package, 89 points.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Is the hallowed sense of minerality the key to terroir?

When I ask the terroirists if they had to reduce a wine’s transparent expression of site to one element, the response is generally broken down to mineral character. I suppose this rationale elucidates why minerality is a feature that is so sought after from a vigneron’s perspective, particularly if it’s believed to represent what a vine’s roots have to say if they can dig deeply enough to speak. That concept alone seems to evoke an inherent sense of profundity, as if the penetrating vine was akin to a human that had more interesting things to say than its superficial neighbors.

I suppose my own digging has left me w/ a few more questions. Can a wine be reflective of a unique site without possessing minerality? Can a wine showcase terroir brilliantly sans underlying mineral tone? Are these mutually exclusive inquiries?

I tend to find a much greater sense of minerality in thin skinned grapes from cooler sites, so would a thicker skinned varietal w/ an added dose of ripeness be ‘less reflective’ of its terroir simply because we fail to detect minerality?

These questions, from my standpoint, don’t go further into the realm of superiority. To my way of thinking, wines can be great w/ or w/o minerality and w/ or w/o a firm sensation of terroir. I don’t deny that a connection to a particular site is a provocative one that strikes me as having a singular integrity, but I don’t think it is an obligatory aspect of making great wine.

So to clarify, what I seek further understanding of is the link between minerality & terroir, perhaps from a perspective that is a bit less linear than minerality + wine = terroir.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Special Wine & a Tribute Tasting Note

Didier Dagueneau Pur Sang ‘05
A deep straw color foreshadows a ripe, hauntingly subtle bouquet that’s charged w/ bailed hay, lime blossom, hot stones, wilted flowers, hummus and macadamia nut notes. The palate hurdles citrus fruits in and out of a body that is ablaze with mineral definition; cutting an electric edge w/ its sharp blade of rippling acidity. While this is certainly a ripe customer, there is a sense of tenacity to the depth that unfolds to a serious, flat-out classic finish that brings back memories to the top Grand Cru Chablis that I’ve been fortunate enough to taste. A superlative wine from a genuine artist who has taught me what Sauvignon Blanc & Pouilly Fume can be at their greatest…simply great, 96+ points.

God bless Didier.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Jimi Hendrix of Sauvignon Blanc

Yesterday morning, while traveling over the Cognac region, Didier Daguneau was tragically killed in a small plane crash. In a year of insufferable loss, which included the passing of the American wine pioneer, Robert Mondavi, this legend of the Loire seems to have struck me the most painfully. The self-taught, passionate maverick seemed to attract as much praise as he did disdain, and at 52 years young, things ended well before they should have, and with far too much undone.

While I didn’t know Didier, I knew his wines and felt his influence. A larger than life individual doesn’t belong in a tucked away nook of the wine world, but then again, maybe he didn’t belong on this earth at all. Like the late, great Jimi Hendrix, un-taught and untamed, they saw things innately, and in a light that few others could even contemplate. While Jimi’s tool, the guitar, seemed merely an extension of his body, Didier’s vehicle came in the form of a plough, alongside the horses which cultivated the earth beneath him.

What can Sauvignon Blanc become? Or for that matter, what is the unrealized potential of Pouilly Fume? When Jimi looked at a guitar, he saw, or perhaps felt things that you and I never could. We look at the guitar and crave notes for understanding; we illicit instruction from an experienced guide in order to reveal a path. Jimi created his own path. While we certainly couldn’t follow that path, his vehicle gave us a ride that we’d never even dreamed of. That is how I see Didier’s journey, from the outside looking in.

Tasting Sauvignon Blanc comes w/ a set of expectations. Bright acidity, zingy citrus overtones and perhaps a wee-bit of cat piss or freshly cut grass flavors accompany the fore-mentioned tenor as bass notes. A Pouilly Fume carries along a similar set of things to look for within a distinct frame that’s enshrouded w/ a smoky, gun-flint like symphony. Didier’s wines carry their own set of expectations; they beg you to expect the unexpected, to expect everything. He saw something no one else saw in Sauvignon Blanc. He felt something no one else could touch in the soils of the Loire. When we taste his wines, we experience the electric sounds that Jimi created in the shape & form of the unimaginable intensity and piercing minerality of a tune that only Didier could play. Purple Haze could very well be the Yin to Pur Sang’s Yang.

I encourage fans of Didier’s wines & listeners of Jimi Hendrix’s music to unite this evening & honor them both. Pop a cork and just push play. Things are forever different because of their existence, which may no longer be on this earth, but remains the life blood of their craft. Experiencing their work first hand is the eulogy they deserve. Cheers.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hmmm, Chardonnay fans, it appears Food & Wine Magazine agrees w/ me...

Well, I had recently decided to rock the boat a bit on the Squires board and make the claim that David Ramey's '05 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay could go toe to toe w/ the same vintage from the board's darling, Mark Aubert. See I'm an Aubert lover as well, but when I tasted David Ramey's '05 (sourced from the same Ritchie Vineyard that Mark Aubert uses) I thought it was of comparable quality to what Mark's magical touch has produced. While that may not seem to be the most awe-inspiring of proclamations, it was perceived as a bit of a dagger, thrown at wine’s fleeting ‘objective truth,’ and was not greeted w/ open arms.
Well, there was at least a wee-bit of skepticism from the board (as this challenge is tantamount to challenging an atheist to believe in God or daring a basketball fan to pick a player that could out-duel Michael Jordan in a game of one on one), but at least Food & Wine is mowing what I'm growing!

My previous commentary on a Ramey vs. Aubert showdown:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eleventh Heaven on Madison Avenue

When it comes to the extravagance of excess, there’s nothing like playing w/ a stacked deck, and I think Eleven Madison + top Bordeaux constitutes just that. Sitting across from Professor Ben Goldberg brought out the teacher in all of us, demonstrating to the ‘Prof’ that great wine deserves to be drunk. See I don’t want to embarrass Ben or make an example of him, but he’s a great guy w/ a spectacular cellar of bottles that lay undisturbed on far too many occasions. Shake things up and drink a little I say, or drink a lot, in fact. The occasion is the bottle, and drinking is the experience that brings dormant cellar dwellers to life. Without removing the corks they’ll remain as contemplative foreplay pieces; a dream without an ending. Now what was the occasion last night? Who knows, but our catalyst, Steve Elzer, was as good of an occasion as any, and the spoils of our wine wars couldn’t have been greater.

As auspicious a beginning as any, the celebratory bubbly was, indeed corked. Perhaps me and Steve’s excessive tardiness doomed the ’93 Comtes de Champagne Rose from the start, but things certainly picked up right where our amuse bouche left off. The flight of white Burgundies kicked off w/ an overt, almost invasively perfumed ’03 Guffens-Heynen Macon-Pierreclos that revealed toasty, smoked wood notes that obscured the sensible fruit underneath. Surprisingly enough, the palate turned creamy, w/ a velvet-laced caress that let quince and fig fruit linger effortlessly, begging the question ‘will the nose ever catch up to the palate?’ In decidedly different shape, the ’00 Raveneau Butteaux spoke in subtle aromatic voices, whispering scents of hot stones, citrus blossom and a damp, waxed mushroom element that crept in and out of the pure, textbook palate. While she’s as tightly coiled as any, the precision and length hinted that an exceptional evolution is in store. Swinging the pendulum back to the warmth of ’03, Jadot’s Charlemagne tempted the senses w/ an alluring, honeyed richness of apple sauce, cinnamon and clove spice that enveloped the palate w/ a full-bodied breadth, that was kept honest thanks to a river of malic acidity (Malolactic was completely blocked by Jadot in ’03, a brilliant adaptation) that framed the stone-kissed tangerine flavors through the finish. While style, power and grace all took shape separately in the Raveneau and Jadot, they both exemplified a class and symmetry that demonstrates what masterful producers can do with different raw materials.

Sneaking away from the whites was done so gingerly, as the Ducru Beaucaillou flight commenced w/ a rust tinged 1966 vintage, that was the least impressive of the bunch to look at, but easily was the most provocative to taste. A dazzling cornucopia of scents danced from the glass, with stuffed mushrooms, anise, graphite, freshly tilled soil, currant and plum fruit hypnotizing like a timeless Shakespeare play. The attack was still vigorous and vibrant, carrying its middle aged bones along with the finesse and a charisma of a Grace Kelly character, gliding to a finish that seemed void of gravity. Now I’d love to pass along the poetry to the ’83 vintage as well, but the wine was a dog....with fleas. The nose was appalling, expelling enough nail varnish to scare away even the most seasoned of manicurists, weaving in additional scents of tanned leather, stewed tomatoes and other varied malodorous funk. While the volatile acidity did blow off, the palate revealed that it was simply the same dog with different fleas, finishing shorter than Jason Biggs' character in American Pie. While the ’96 was by no means as emaciated as the ’83, it suffered from premature withdrawal of a different sort as it was simply too young. The nose of creamed corn, spicy toast, melted licorice, pepper and cassis was undoubtedly serious, but the taut, almost angular structure prevented the fatness of the palate from developing, begging to sleep further into its adolescence.

What better way to punctuate a flight of Ducru Beaucaillou than with another ’96? While Harlan wasn’t exactly the first ’96 that popped into my mind, I gladly broke my cherry on arguably California’s most exalted Cabernet last night & truly appreciated the opportunity to taste such a gem (many thanks to Mr. Elzer for the solid). The nose, while flamboyant and gushing, foreshadowed a surprisingly structured, tightly focused palate of warm ganache, currant paste, shaved vanilla bean and sweet cherry fruit. While heady and undeniably constituted, the body of the wine managed to be light on its feet, packing its flavors into a bright, channeled beam that proved to be a blissful pairing alongside my beet and fleshy cheese appetizer. This was a singular Cabernet which managed to smell heavy, yet feel light, which is a feature that is unfortunately shared by the Harlan's current price-tag.

The ’82 clarets demonstrated how class can wear entirely different robes, with the Leoville Barton’s bouquet greeting my nostrils first. A hauntingly brilliant perfume of iron, incense, tapenade and black currant fruit dipped in molasses filled out in the palate, staying elegant & suggestive of truffles and earth. ‘Drinkable Barton’ could almost be likened to jumbo shrimp or military intelligence in terms of its oxymoronic tone, but this vintage was far more than drinkable, it was a sneaky spectacle. The L’Evangile, not to be outshone, subsequently took our collective breath away, smelling like a fine vintage of famed Chateau Lafleur w/ its lilac, freshly cut cedar, plum sauce, lead pencil shavings and grilled beef characteristics. While Cabernet Franc and animale came to mind from the bouquet, class in a glass was the only descriptor I could muster in the palate. A seamless, cashmere sweater inflicted texture massaged its way to a rich, loam-tinged close that I can still vividly taste as I write this.

Onwards and upwards to the duo of 1990’s, the Cos D’Estournel was as sauvage and spunky a Bordeaux as I can recall in recent memory. The nose of fried sausage and sweaty feet were enshrouded in a bed of crème de cassis and molten chocolate that struck me as odd, yet compelling in the same breath. The youthful, tannic spine of the palate was evident, keeping the flesh compact, yet there was an underlying sultry component I detected, suggesting that she's bound to shine in a few years to come. The Cos became an afterthought once its superior vintage-mate, Lynch Bages, was poured. Smelling the ’90 Lynch Bages was as paralyzing as it is to put your nose on a woman’s neck during a slow-dance…right at the moment when her perfume causes your knees to lock, turning them into a commonly packaged Welch’s product. A 100 point shockwave of freshly paved road tar, hoison sauce, grilled game, black currant paste and graphite erupted from the glass, taking a spicy, gravel-infused turn in the palate. A gorgeously constituted wave of flavor rode along a fluid, admirably restrained profile that brought back a memory of the ’90 Leoville Las Cases to mind (thanks again for that one Harlan Bernstein). The superiority claims between the ’89, ’90 and ‘00 will be contentious during the years to come for Lynch Bages, but vintages of this caliber make me wonder what has happened w/ this estate since the greatness of the ’00?

A trio of babies were slain to wrap up the evening, beginning w/ the extraverted ’98 La Mission Haut Brion, which was explosive, yet painfully restrained, revealing a nose of spicy cassis, caramel, high class cigar smoke and an ashy, gravel-infused element. The palate left us all with a polarizing sense of awkwardness akin to a over-developed teenager wearing his little sister’s clothing. Hey, even the great ones get grumpy when they are rudely awakened to satisfy our morbid curiosity. The ’99 Palmer, on the other hand wore its exuberance in a much more polished, streamlined fashion, sporting melted licorice, toast, barbeque spices, milk chocolate and crème de cassis flavors. The sweetness of the fruit shone beautifully against a backdrop of silky tannin in complete harmony, with nary a rough edge to be found. After bombarding my gustatory senses thoroughly w/ sensational cuisine & extravagant wines, the bombshell in the shape of ’00 La Conseillante still managed to lure me off to bed, wearing a red dress of crushed raspberry, freshly ground coffee, cocoa powder and an alluring violet note under her skirt that rendered me helpless. Crammed w/ opulence, sex appeal and sheer intensity, this young dame has got a ways to go until she becomes a more civilized lady.

The ’99 Rieussec was a bit blowzy, trailing away its flaccid, yet generous flavors of bee pollen and waxed apricot fruit. Sticky aside, this was an evening where the company left me as satiated as any wine possibly could. As Elzer said, for all its ups and downs, the virtues of a wine board lie within its ability to galvanize moments like last night’s. Wine may have been the occasion, but people made the experience.

Wine Rating
Comtes de Champagne '93 ?
Guffens-Heynen Macon Pierreclos '03 88
Raveneau Butteaux '00 92
Jadot Charlemagne '03 95
Ducru Beaucaillou '66 91
Ducru Beaucaillou '83 78 (after VA blew off)
Ducru Beaucaillou '96 92++
Harlan '96 96
Leoville Barton '82 92
L'Evangile '82 96
Cos D'Estournel '90 94+
Lynch Bages '90 98
La Mission Haut Brion '98 93+
Palmer '99 95
La Conseillante '00 95
Rieussec '99 86