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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chateauneuf du Pape: The Minor, The Modern and The Marcoux

A white, for good measure:

Chateau Soucherie Anjou '07
This bright, Savenneires-like Chenin is as bone dry as an over-done Turkey. While its nose initially seemed a bit superficial, the scents blossom to a sunflower, chamomile and lime perfume. In the mouth, a tangy, spice-laden beam of green fruits builds on the palate nicely, w/ a sense of liquid minerality emerging upon aeration. While this lacks the depth and persistence of a Savennieres, it provides a great introduction into the beauties of young Loire-based Chenin, 86 points.

The Minor (as in ‘infant’)

Alain Corcia, Creme de la Creme '06
A 'best lot' cuvee from Corcia is ready to rock and roll right out of the gates, filling the air w/ alluring cherry, cassis, licorice and rose petal notes that glide along a sweet, yet firm frame; covering its tannin beautifully well at this stage, with another 10-15 years of prime drinking in store for this beauty from Corcia, 91 points.

The Modern:

Grand Veneur Les Origines, '05
This is a deep purple colored, somewhat modern slant on Chateauneuf du Pape that does an oaky tap dance for the first hour or so until it starts to reveal its Provencal soul, paving the way for iron, grilled herbs, melted licorice, cracked pepper, cocoa dusted blue and black fruits to emerge from the glass. In spite of its mouth-filling, extracted profile, there is a savory, almost chewy under-toe that keeps things honest and churning along its powerfully tannic, sinewy spine. While there is plenty of tasty, rich flesh to munch on today, this cuvee really needs 4-5 years to click into equilibrium for prime drinking, 93+ points.

Again, I have zero issue w/ barrique aging a Grenache based wine (though I don't exactly see the benefit, save for a wine that lacks structure), but I would like to see the more progressive houses adapt to an already tannic vintage accordingly, as more tannins really weren't necessary in '05.

Paul Autard Cote Ronde, '05
Another purple colored, progressive cuvee in '05 comes from Autard, w/ an aromatic profile that weaves in some flashy toast to the mix of grilled herbs, meat juices, spice box and pepper notes. Things turn vivid and a bit atypical in the palate as blue and purple fruits make an appearance on the mouthful of sweet glycerin tinged, medium to full bodied fruit. There is high tannin, good acidity and an overall symmetry that bodes well for future cellaring, 92+ points.

The Marcoux:

Marcoux, Ephemere '03
A deep, dark perfume seethes from the glass of this recently purchased plot from Marcoux (certified biodynamic after the '03 vintage and later became incorporated into the more broad CDP cepage) that reveals warm date bread, wood smoke, black raspberry liqueur loam and bittersweet cocoa powder notes that zip their way into the palate. A sweet, yet fantastically savory mouthful of dark fruits, interwoven w/ fresh garrigue essences tantalize the senses, turning powerful yet silky a la Henri Bonneau.. This Marcoux is a fantastic, meal of a wine that I don't imagine will last forever, but at 94 points I still may be underrating it.

Where does a wine of this decadent intensity get its energy? In Marcoux we trust.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Few Great Bordeaux from the spectacular 1990 Vintage, Followed by Some Other Studs

1990 Bordeaux:

Poured from magnum, this wine was a complete tease, all ‘show’ and no ‘go.’ The aromas were absolutely lovely, as an elegant bouquet of fresh cedar, graphite, black olive and crushed flowers weaved in and out from the glass like an easy breeze. I should have stopped at the nose because she let me down in the palate, turning medium to light bodied, yet fresh and driven, propelled by nice palate cleansing acidity that rippled through the spicy red currant fruit. While she’s a classy claret, the fact that this is a first growth in the 1990 vintage leaves its performance entirely underwhelming, 89 points.

This was the only wine that we caught during an awkward phase, as its nose of menthol, fresh berry fruit and sweet tobacco scents were smack dab in the middle of primary and evolutionary phases. The mouth-feel was disjointed, pumping out smoky, leafy flavors that struggled to gel w/ the obviously ripe fruit, leaving the large-scaled, tannic frame fully in command. While she’s got spine, she definitely needs another 5 years to grow into it, 92+ points.

La Mission Haut Brion
To me, this was an archetypal Graves and performed just like the Bordeaux literature suggests, pumping out smoky scents of dusty cassis, black currant, lead pencil and high class cigar tobacco that were so potent enough to smell all day. The palate presence reveals that this is a real powerhouse vintage for La Mission, turning savory, full-bodied and tannic, combining great structure and sweetness of fruit to keep everything in perfect symmetry, 95 points.

The ’89 and ’90 vintages from my favorite Chateau never fail to impress and will continue to stir countless arguments amongst geeks as to which one’s better. Well, on this night- the ’90 wins by process of elimination (considering the ’89 didn’t show up), and brought some full-fledged poetry to the bouquet, as dazzling notes of plum sauce, sautéed mushrooms, cocoa powder and spice box dance from the glass. This is a real showpiece in the palate, as a spicy attack unveils a savory, expansive body that turns sweet and full on the gorgeous, persistent finish. Imagining the ’05 at this juncture of its evolution is almost a frightening proposition, 96 points.

Perhaps Laurence Feraud consulted on this vintage because it smelled and tasted like a Chateauneuf du Pape inspired St. Estephe! The explosive, almost savage nose of grilled steak, hay, lilacs, spicy black currants and pepper really expanded on the monstrous, mouth-filling attack which brings new definition to the term ‘opulent Bordeaux.’ This is simply crammed to the gills w/ huge levels of glycerin, alcohol and tannin, showing very little signs of age. The lasting impression on the palate is not only that this boy is frankly muscular, but that there may be 50 more years of potential longevity in the cards. Not typical and not for everyone, but that’s the beauty of Montrose…monster vintages like the ’90 and ’03 (which is the finest young Bordeaux I’ve sampled) are certain to divide the room a bit, but there’s always the ’89 for almost everyone to agree on, 98 points.

The other side of Bordeaux, Laville Haut Brion Blanc, 1994
Every time I have a great white Bordeaux (which isn’t often) I ask myself why I don’t drink more of the stuff. Well it’s kind of a niche and kind of expensive, but when they hit their stride w/ some bottle age they can truly dazzle the senses. The ‘94 Laville shows a wonderful sense of finesse, reeking of refinement and sophistication w/ its waxy nose of lanolin, white flowers, quince, ginger and bee pollen notes that whisper from the glass. The attack opens up to a honeyed profile, putting on a chameleon-like, almost ethereal display in the mouth, lengthening up on a finish that leaves a stone-drenched-in-salt bath impression on the palate. This particular vintage doesn’t strike me as a powerful one, but it dazzles like a Chablis-meets Savennieres in a truly unique fashion that really struck a chord w/ me. Wine can’t have any more grace than this, 94 points.

Pichon Lalande 1994
Moving onwards and upwards w/ ’94 Bordeaux took us to a rouge from Pichon Lalande. Like most ‘94s I’ve tried from Bordeaux and the Southern Rhone, this is wine is currently as good as its going to get, sporting an earthy, mature nose of black truffles, cigar humidor, licorice snap and blackberry fruit that prime the palate for something friendly and inviting. The ’94 Pichon Lalande is just that, friendly and inviting, revealing good concentration and a solid core of silky, easy to understand fruit that’s dashed w/ just a bit of cocoa on the finish. Perhaps a bit short, but I liked her all the same, 89 points.

Janasse Chaupin, 2000
Guess who brought this one? Well, it was not only a Rhone wine, but it was the youngest we consumed all night…so yikes, I just sold myself out. Nevertheless, this was a classic representation of Janasse’s pure Grenache cuvee that was its typically heady-self, yet surprisingly structured for the vintage. Focused flavors of espresso roast, kirsch liqueur, melted licorice, spice box and buckwheat honey picked up a sappy texture, yet were shaped by some sturdy tannins that really enveloped the palate from start to finish. Super-ripe and beautifully proportioned, this young Chaupin may actually benefit from a couple more years in the cellar, 94+ points.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hangin' w/ Julien Barrot of Domaine Barroche, Some Thoughts, Some Wines

I was fortunate enough to spend some time w/ Julien Barrot recently during his whirlwind tour of the United States (as if his wines needed additional promotion) & we caught up on some Chateauneuf gossip over dinner. For those that haven’t seen any photos of Julien, he’s a painfully handsome, young Frenchman (the perfect weapon to bring to a pour happy, female bartender) and while not gun shy, he’s as modest a farmer as any. Farmer being the operative word, considering that he would never refer to himself as a winemaker.

The Barrot family has owned several hectares for centuries, yet like most traditional families in the region, they sold off nearly all their grapes in bulk to negociants, tucking away the rest for personal consumption (a 1980 Julien opened for our birth year was showing surprisingly spry recently). Julien is part of a large generation of young, ambitious offspring; call it the ‘acknowledgement era’ that propelled children into adulthood, turning their birthright vineyard holdings into something truly special. As Julien would walk along his sandy soil plots of century year old Grenache vines that lay adjacent to the famed Chateau Rayas vineyard, he knew he was sitting on the equivalent of liquid gold and was not content to put his treasure in the hands of a negociant. He knew it was time to make something singular & put Domaine Barroche on the map. After a few short months interning in Australia and satellite appellations of France, he returned to an inauspicious occasion, the 2002 vintage. After the torrential harvest floods of the vintage, he tucked away his dream for another year, only to be met by the scorching heat of 2003. Not exactly an ideal springboard to greatness. ’04 was solid, yet quiet. Then ’05 absolutely erupted onto the scene and in the blink of an eye, his wines were gone. So much for slow and steady…..

In spite of the Domaine’s polarizing beginnings, things are starting to settle into a groove for Julien and his wines continue to go from strength to strength. His portfolio has a traditionally fashioned Chateauneuf, a more progressive cuvee called ‘Fiancee’ (that utilizes a hefty dollop of Syrah) and his flagship wine, simply called Pure, a tribute his finest terroirs, using 100 percent old vine Grenache. He has a penchant for Syrah that isn’t shared by many of his fellow vignerons in Chateaunuef, who believe Syrah belongs in the North and has no earthly business in the South, except for a bit of blending here and there. Considering that Cabernet has yet to excite his palate, I figured some New World Syrah was in order, particularly from producers that he can’t grab back in the old country.

We began the evening w/ a glass of pungent, tropically infused Sauvignon Blanc from Cloudy Bay. Julien and I appreciated its exuberant passion fruit, grass and quince flavors that exploded through the palate, zipping through a sweet, impressive finish. Others at our table found it to be a bit much, though that tends to be par for the course w/ Cloudy. Speaking of ‘a bit much,’ what better way to ignite the fire than w/ a Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah '05? The aromas were completely ridiculous, brewing from the decanter like a beef stew that had been seeping for days. I said it then and I’ll say it now, this is the only wine that makes me giggle when I’m smelling it. Almost on command, I go from uncontrollable laughter, to downright salivation, chewing my way through its rich, creamy flavors of smoked ham, crème de cassis, flowers and warm ganache. This wasn’t the brightest showing of this vineyard, yet it remained sinfully delicious and got us started on the right foot.

Moving back to the white spectrum, I figured an Alban Roussanne '05 was in order to demonstrate what California could do in honor of Beaucastel. The sweet, honeyed nose revealed copious amounts of tangerine, candle wax and buttered brioche scents that were round and plump in the mouth, reeling in the sweetness of fruit w/ nice focus and precision. The one bit of ‘cheating advice’ I can offer for this type of wine is to serve it a bit on the cold side, keying up the acidity and toning down the alcohol just a bit so she can really shine (don’t blame Roussanne, it’s just her nature to be heady and a bit soft). Moving on to the old world, an '01 Pegau Laurence brought us back to the Provencal breezes that Julien was more familiar with, expelling a bouquet of freshly cut rosemary, white pepper, sweet spices and pure black currant fruit that seemed to gain weight and intensity as it sat in the glass.

While the Laurence was tough to top, I figured Kongsgaard’s Syrah could be up to the challenge. Indeed it was, yet not at first. The stacked, layered opulence of the Syrah was taut and bound initially, but resolved over the evening to pump out fried sausage, blackberry sauce and exotic spice tones that filled out the palate w/ a full bodied, multi-dimensional personality. The ’02 is not the strongest vintage John has made (the ’05 is the finest Syrah I’ve tasted from California), yet it was by no means a slouch and acquitted itself well. Another Alban, the ’05 Pandora, was disappointing. While ripe, fleshy and certainly high octane, it lacked the rugged charm and distinctiveness I look for in John’s wines and demands cellaring to kick its uber-primary profile. For dessert, the Saxum James Berry Syrah perfume fabulously well, w/ soaring aromatics of crushed berries, cola, licorice and iron. Like most of Justin Smith’s wines, this was fabulously textured and had striking richness to the fruit.

As Julien and I bid a bientot he mentioned how difficult it was for him to leave the bright lights of the big city. I said that’s funny, I felt the exact same way when I drove away from the galet covered soils of his homeland, Chateauneuf du Pape. Grass is always greener I suppose….except in Brooklyn, where we don’t exactly have any grass.

Wine Rating
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008 91
Cayuse Cailloux 2005 95
Alban Roussanne 2005 92
Pegau Laurence 2001 95+
Kongsgaard Syrah Hudson Vineyard, 2002 94
Alban Pandora 2005 90?
Saxum James Berry 2005 94

Monday, November 17, 2008

This guy absolutely nailed the '03 Vintage in Chateauneuf

Next to Pegau, Laurent Charvin hit a complete grand slam in the erratic 2003 vintage, capturing all its benefits of added ripeness while harnessing the power w/ deft touch and flat out artistry. It is not a pruney, acid-deficient Amarone imitation by any stretch of the imagination, yet it has a bit more intensity and opulence than most any ripe vintage from the domaine; making longevity its only questionable characteristic. That said, I still find the '01 to be his best ever, w/ the '98 and '00 knocking at their heels (watch out for the '07)....but the '03 continues to go from strength to strength, and this last showing happened to be the most impressive yet.

Laurent was particularly proud of this vintage, and for good reason. His '03 has a darker, denser ruby shade than most Charvins, paving the way for a dazzling nose of black forest cake, lavender, seaweed and oodles of liqueur-like fruit notes. The attack of this wine is explosive, revealing tremendous opulence in the mouth amidst a savory, rich and fantastically delicious backdrop of flavors. In spite of the wine's headiness the profile never becomes soft, w/ a sharp as a tack backbone keeping everything in check, setting the stage for a dynamite finish, 96 points.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Clos des Papes, Chateauneuf du Pape Personified

I had some thoughts on Clos des Papes during a recent vertical tasting that spanned vintages from ’69 to ’05 that are beginning to come to fruition, thanks to a bit of a catalyst from tasting the fabulous 2006.

If I had to choose just one wine to represent its appellation in all its glory, complexity and finesse, it would have to be Clos des Papes. The blend includes just about every red variety allowed under the A.O.C. sun and undergoes an unadorned, old fashioned fermentation and elevage. The wine demonstrates the heights of what a naked, terroir driven expression of old vines can achieve when coupled w/ miniscule yields and brilliant blending. Power and finesse, unraveling beautifully in the cellar to unfold layer after layer like a Grand Cru Burgundy. I know the price escalation and Wine of the Year ballyhoo have dampened the spirits of this Rhone stalwart’s fans, but I truly believe it is an ambassador of Chateauneuf du Pape, continuing to go from strength to strength. Is there a more consistent performer in the 21st century than Clos des Papes? Is there another producer that can coax such harmony from their reds and whites from what are essentially field blends? Two wines and two wines only, one red, one white; using every varietal tool at their disposal, yet virtually no high tech gadgetry in the cellar. They are pure, classic Chateauneuf du Pape wines that represent more than just first growth quality, they represent the essence of the appellation.

I am not an apologist for their pricing or a defender of its publicity. I am just an admirer of the appellation and I find Clos des Papes to embody all that makes Chateauneuf du Pape great. I can’t drink as much of it as I’d like, but I certainly cherish each opportunity I get to savor this liquid treasure.

The inspiration:

Clos des Papes ‘06
This is an atypically structured, powerhouse of an ’06 (not unlike the ’04), w/ a brooding purple color and an exceptionally closed, backward bouquet of violet, lavender, crème de cassis, kirsch liqueur and rose petals. The wine has a hauntingly pure, opulent sensibility in the mouth, cramming fabulous layers of bittersweet cocoa dusted flavors from cheek to cheek in a full bodied, tannic, multi-dimensional fashion. This is a seriously endowed, beautifully proportioned young C los des Papes that has the sinew of the ’05 allied to the fruit of the ’00 and should prove to be one of the longest lived wines of the vintage, 97 points.

Can any of you think of other wines that you would choose to represent an appellation?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

2007 Southern Rhone Value Advisory

In light of the trepidation that Chateauneuf du Pape will become the next 'Bordeaux' in terms of pricing, I have decided to make a weekly '07 Southern Rhone Value' tasting note post. While economic turmoil, a strengthening dollar and reduction in consumer confidence will likely contribute to a downfall in 'luxury goods' purchasing, the hype surrounding the '07 vintage in the Southern Rhone has left consumers jaded about an inevitable upsurge in pricing. Well folks, even if a couple brands can pull off ambitious pricing (as their scarcity & scores may provide enough of a push), the style of the vintage is sure to introduce new consumers to the region and believe me when I say values abound. T here is such a depth of quality from Cotes du Rhone to Lirac that 'baby Chateauneufs' will exist for fractions of the price tag that their more illustrious peers command and consumers from across the globe are certain to become acquainted w/ outstanding, less than household names like Ferrand and Milliere.

Get ready for the ride folks, the appellation is on a roll and the '07 train is leaving the station!