Subscribe in a reader

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Subscribe to Unidentified Appellation by Email Top Blogs

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Attention Syrah Lovers...

I highly recommend you give this producer a try, that is if you haven't already:

Rudi Schultz Syrah, Stellenbosch South Africa, ‘05
A really terrific Syrah, w/ an obvious Cote Rotie influence to its aromatic profile of char grilled bacon lard, espresso roast, black currant and crème de cassis notes. The smoky entry gives way to a rich, savory tune of juicy black fruit w/ ample weight & power, staying focused and silky through to the finish. While certain elements call a Guigal D’Ampuis to mind, others aspects seem to have a Stolpman-like sensibility. All in all, the 3 or so vintages I’ve had from Schultz have opened a window to something special, and this winery continues to be VERY competitive in terms of value, 94 points.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Backward Wine, A Nightmare Inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five

Reinier Palinal settled into a tightly wound leather chair, sliding back in it as it gave way to his soft collapse. He had sipped through a few glasses of warming Amarone after dinner, putting him into a sort of inquisitive haze. He liked to read about wine as he drank it. Scanning through pages of wine criticism, he began to appreciate how his favorite writers managed to anthropomorphize wine. Humanizing a beverage seemed foolish at first, but Reinier learned to look at wine as a vehicle of exploration. Discoveries on the road were always richer to him when someone else was doing the driving, so he learned to let the wine take him wherever it wanted to go. Always learn more from listening, he thought. Sometimes it was a woman behind the wheel, others were more masculine. He sipped the Amarone and let it flow through his body, numbing his tongue and blanketing the back of his throat like a lap cat. He wondered where he was going as he read on. Reinier felt it pushing forward through unseen hills, meandering along wavy smooth paths that trail on and on…misty colored, tugged left, right…sideways and backwards. Backwards, now how can a wine be backward he thought? He’d read several passages and found that expression’s obscurity baffling. Heady? Yes. Muscular, full…round, silky…tight, sure. Backward made no sense. He took another sip of wine and the heavy leather smell of the chair zig-zagged through his nose, weighing down on his eyelids…backwards.

Reinier Palinal opened his eyes to a group of fuzzy figures, slowly coming into focus as their human forms. There was laughter and a palpably jovial mood. Their teeth were charcoal colored, as if they’d been baptized in barbeque smoke, yet no one seemed to care. Reinier faintly made out other ambient noises amidst their giddy laughter. It must have been music but it wasn’t familiar. As he struggled to pinpoint the origins of the esoteric sounds, he noticed the merry groups of charcoal toothed people were walking backwards, up a series of steps and through rose colored doors. Through the doors lay a grand table, strewn w/ empty decanters and ruby stained wine stems that seemed to have lost their transparency in the light. Lipstick smudge and Vaseline residue spackled the edges of each glass. The group staggered towards selected seats, backwards and w/ all the calamity of nursery school children before naptime. A series of waiters and waitresses marched backwards into the room, paying each of the rowdy patrons hefty sums of money as they settled into their seats. The ridiculous mood of the event had all the fanfare of a college basketball tournament game.

Almost one by one, each person at the table raised a glass to their mouth, commencing a swirling, gargling motion w/in their cheeks. Once they were satisfied w/ their bubbling, they collectively un-pursed their lips and expectorated copious quantities of crimson colored liquid into each glass. As they put their glasses down, the stems filthy edges and stained bowl rims disappeared, as if their spew exerted a polishing effect. The empty decanters were then drawn above each glass; miraculously sucking each stem’s liquid upwards into each decanter until they were filled. Reinier noted that the emptied glasses sparkled in the light. The clean glasses were then put on stainless steel trays, as the waiters carried them backwards through a dimly lit corridor behind the table. As the wait staff disappeared into darkness, each patron unzipped their adjoined bags, removing dozens of empty wine bottles. Each bottle was topped off w/ an upside down cork, wedged halfway down the neck of each bottle like melted wax on a candle. The wine stained corks were removed from the bottle necks and placed on the table. The empty bottles were raised above the decanters and sopped up the wine like 750 mL vacuum cleaners. Once the bottles miraculously wiped each decanter cleanly, the wine stained corks were shoved on jagged screws, then violently sandwiched back into the bottles, tightly wound until level w/ the top of the bottle necks.

Reinier noticed a change in mood around the table. The raucous volume quelled as an air of borderline civility feathered through the room. Waiters returned to the table, walking backwards, carrying separate trays of soiled stems, strangled by thick legs of alcoholic residue. Each dirty glass was cleverly planted in disorder along the table, yet none of the patrons seemed pay it any mind. Hands over stems they went back to their gargling, spitting volumes of wine back into their glasses. Their teeth whitened and smiles lessened with each spit. The waiters continued to dirty the table, followed by the patrons picking up after them, making those filthy glasses & decanters as good as new. Muffled footsteps could be heard in the distance.

What next? Reinier assumed those newly filled bottles of wine ought to be placed back in those bags, as the moods and behaviors of the patrons clearly demonstrated. Reinier imagined that the wine would later be returned to the retailers they bought them from, whereby the retailer would subsequently be responsible for re-packaging it with more bottles of a similar ilk. These packages would then be mailed back to the people that produced the wines, so they could deconstruct each bottle into its original components. Over the next few months, alcohol would be painstakingly removed from the wine until harmless grape juice was rendered. The grape pickers would then stomp backwards, until the juice solidified into separate grape clusters. Each cluster would then be hidden away among innumerable rows of vines, where each grape would retract in size over time, turning into little green peas as the sun set in the east and rose in the west. Eventually the little green peas would disappear, along w/ the wine and the people that made it.

In terms of exploration, Reinier Palinal still lets his wines do the driving for him….but that evening w/ the Amarone taught him there’s one place he never wants to go. From that point on, he vowed never to purchase or drink a wine that a critic described as backward.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A vertical of Chateau Rayas, alongside a smattering of others w/ Robert Parker & company

250 Miles to Dim Sum

On a typical Wednesday of a typical week, I took the day off and decided to board a 7 am train to Washington D.C. It was a damp, overcast morning, covered in a blanket of slow humidity. Oppressive late July heat has never been kind to me, but it didn’t bother me on that typical Wednesday of that typical week. I was headed to Mark’s Duck House for dim sum, some 250 odd miles away, 3 and a half hours by train. I hadn’t eaten that morning and was hungry, w/ the salty idea of steamy shrimp dumplings making my stomach tremors audible above the rustling hum of the train.

I arrived at 10:30 and grabbed a taxi. We crossed over the Virginia boarder and the cab driver asked where I was going and where I came from. “New York,” I said. “Here on business,” he asked? “No, dim sum,” I replied matter of factly. When he asked what dim sum was, I lazily referred to it as a sort of Chinese brunch. He dropped the small talk and plowed ahead to a row of amorphous strip malls, each indistinguishably suburban and lost in bland dimension. I immediately thought of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, wondering if all the great holes in the wall outside of New York reside in strip malls. I tipped the driver well and took my coveted bottle of ’05 Rayas inside Mark’s Duck House.

Inside the scantily lit, yet colorful restaurant lay a series of pedestrian looking tables, fronted by what looked like a counter service for to-go orders. Hovering above, as if it were on a stage, lay a broad, oval shaped table that appeared to be completely aloof from its surroundings. It was flamboyant and festive, adorned in large, Riedel stem glasses that towered over the other modest, tucked away stands drowned in background noise. I clumsily wandered around the table w/ my bottle of 2005 Rayas like a half blind dog off its leash, until a waiter stopped me, asking if I needed any help. I asked him if he had any decanters for wine. After a game of roulette, which featured an old water pitcher, a carafe half full of ice cubes and cola & a sort of porcelain tea kettle, I settled on a cork screw and took my seat. When Robert Parker arrived w/ a handful of bottles wrapped in old Rayas labels, my anxiety eased up, and I let my hunger turn to thirst.

As more people and more wine began to arrive, almost two dozen bottles piled up on an alcohol stuffed carousel, spinning around the table like a giant Lazy Susan. I foolishly began w/ a Gewurztraminer from some producer of some vintage. It tasted like….Gewurztraminer. I had Rayas on the brain for over four hours and knew that I wouldn’t be able to focus on anything until I sipped some of that ethereal nectar. Oldest to youngest, I poured some of the ’78 into my stem.

After some damp, musty scents blew off, the ’78 Rayas began to round into form, highlighting wonderfully fresh layers of dried cherry, olive paste and sweet balsamic notes. Very light on its feet, & picking up a bit more density on the back end, the palpable mineral core reminded me of an older Burgundy that has stayed afloat, yet is well beyond its youthful paddling. The perfume of the ’79 was exceptional for a 30 year old Grenache, w/ scents of sweet cedar, graphite, wilted rose and cranberry fruit. Light to mid-weight, she danced across the tongue w/ plenty of grace, wearing each wrinkle in style. The ’82 Fonsalette, a year Jacques Reynaud dumped all the Rayas & Pignan fruit into the Cotes du Rhone label, was mouth-watering & full of damp earth notes, underscored by a ripple of gravelly texture. Better to feel than to taste, as its fruit has atrophied a bit, leaving the midpalate hollow and a touch short.

Moving to the middle of the decade, the ’85 was the first Rayas to show a heartier, dense character, flirting w/ the black fruit end of the spectrum. The wine has good concentration and an outstanding mineral presence, leaving the palate w/ a pebbly impression that reminded me of the prickly texture of a warm day at the beach. The ’88 was top flight, an obvious ripe vintage product, w/ a bouquet of iron, sweet raspberry and kirsch liqueur. A more round, mouth-filling personality nestled in the palate, w/ layers of sweet red fruit wrapping up the gentle finish. The ’90, which Bob said was representative of his most recent experiences, relies on purity over exuberance (which I gather has waned over the years). The warm licorice, sweet berry and spice cake notes are all there, filling out the mouth w/ good weight and excellent drive. While I unfortunately never had the opportunity to taste this legendary vintage at its apex, its character still represents the essence of how sensual a fine Grenache can be.

The tragedy of the afternoon was found in the ’95, which was battered in TCA & relegated to a pile of newspaper excrement. The ’96, my surprise of the tasting, wiped the ‘95s failure off the slate & performed brilliantly. Jacques Reynaud’s last vintage really seems to have come into its own, demonstrating a delicious coat of glycerine-like texture and packing in just about as much flavor into its mid-weight frame as it can handle. It was never overwhelming but always suave and sincere. This type of vinous seduction is more than worth whatever its going rate on the secondary market may be today. The vertical was capped off by the neonatal ’05, which went from strength to strength as it aired. The perfume was pure ambrosia, full of cocoa dust, warm ganache, garrigue and the liqueur of black raspberry fruit. Coy at first, but as I came back to the ’05 it continued to gain length, weight & richness, yet always retained grace and elegance. While I truly enjoyed the ’03 & ‘04, this vintage appears to be Emmanuel’s first masterpiece & is one for the cellar.

A mélange of other bottlings filled out the carousel, and I chose to stick w/ the southern Rhone, sampling an ’00 from my favorite producer, Vieille Julienne. While this just misses the mark of its more recent vintages (namely the ’05, ’06 & ’07), this is a fine example of how excellent their entry level Chateauneuf can be. The ’00 has terrific concentration in its blackberry, cedar and lavender flavored palate, glazed in a layer of silky, impossibly refined tannins. The depth of fruit unfolds on the finish, uncoiling like a snake. Then it was on to Beaucastel, w/ the sweet honeysuckle scents of their ’06 Chateauneuf du Pape blanc calling my name. This is the finest vintage of this cuvee that I’ve sampled, and I imagine it would stand up to many vintages of their singular Roussanne Vieilles Vignes. Expressive and opulent, the roasted nut, fig, citrus oil and floral flavors unfold on the full-bodied palate like a tropical breeze. In spite of the intensity of fruit, the wine has plenty of energy to keep it alive & fresh. The ’06 Chateauneuf du Pape rouge from Beaucastel is also outstanding, and almost in line qualitatively w/ their immense ’05. Dark and big boned, the tree bark, grilled meat & spicy black currant fruit have an impenetrably deep, almost brooding character about themselves. Layered and sinewy, yet the tannins are surprisingly gentle at this stage relative to the raw titan they fashioned in ’05. The final Chateauneuf du Pape of the evening was nothing short of surreal. Clos St. Jean’s ’07 Combe des Fous (a.k.a ‘Spanish Fly’) is fantastically immense, w/ its black forest cake and blueberry fruit almost melting atop the taste buds like warm butter on sweet corn. In typical fashion, this cuvee is suave as well as rich and fresh in spite of its fullness. Clos St. Jean’s ‘07’s are flat out sensory bombs that will push just about any taster’s pleasure gauge well beyond oblivion.

I moved north to the Hermitage hill to sample an ’06 from the master, Jean Louis Chave. While most ’06 Northern Rhone Syrah I’ve had to date are fresh, forward and trim, Chave’s bucks the trend w/ its inky black color and sinewy texture. Its personality is backward, subtly revealing aromatic nuances of black currant sauce, crème de cassis and smoky mocha, yet its presence truly takes hold in the palate. The mouth-feel is best described as sculpted, as if it were carved out of stone. While there’s a thickness to the wine’s concentration, the fresh acidity and firm spine keep everything in symmetry. The Chave white Hermitage was engulfed too quickly for me to enjoy, which is a bummer as its one of my favorite white wines in the world. Further north, I was reminded of one of my favorite smells, the bouquet of a mature Cote Rotie. Jamet’s ’00 has a nose that is as heavenly as they come, akin to waking up to the sizzle of apple wood smoked bacon after a week of fasting. The palate was exemplified by its seamlessness and grace, weaving in spices like cinnamon and clove to the black currant fruit, which washed over the mid-weight frame, leaving a mouth-watering impression on the finish.

The Jamet’s counterpoint was Guigal’s ’03 D’Ampuis Cote Rotie, an effusive, almost lavish take on the appellation w/ its black currant paste, dark olive, bacon fat and sweet toast notes. A delicious initial attack fans out over the palate, offering up a texture that has a certain luxury about it, so much so that I almost felt guilty for drinking it (a la chocolate chip cookies at 3 am). No rough edges and no apologies…damned if I know what lightning they put in that bottle. The cherry on the sundae was a fascinating Italian take on Syrah, a ‘table wine’ from a domaine called Les Cretes (the stalwart producer of the Val D’Aosta region), their ’04 Coteau La Tour. The wine is loaded w/ up front liqueur of blackberry-like fruit, but spiced in a savage, almost beefy cloak, which keeps things interesting. Suave, yet shows good spine, the Les Cretes manages to pull together a great synthesis of fruit w/ earth and should age well over the next decade.

Surprisingly enough, Rhone-based wines have much more flexibility than most wine aficionados give them credit for, and this group mingled very well w/ the varied dim sum dishes put together by Mark’s Duck House. I wasn’t keeping track, but it felt like we put back over a dozen different courses. We survived through them by eating like birds, I a pigeon and the rest, vultures.

Robert Parker is as generous an everyman as I’ve met, and only an everyman to those that know him. He tells his stories of Chateauneuf du Pape freshly, w/ the excitement of a young child on Christmas morning. When my father used to question me if it was possible to transform a passion into a profession w/o bastardizing your love of the thing, I can look to Mr. Parker for a resoundingly affirmative answer. I’d imagine the answer to how he’s done it is a clandestine one, but all the same, I can’t see his giddy enthusiasm expiring before he does.

I enjoyed being in the company of Bob and his friends as much as I could have hoped to. I left them in a bit of a haze, lacking the faculty to draw any substantial conclusion from our afternoon. As I boarded the late afternoon train back to New York I came to appreciate what I’d learned. See I never used to leave D.C. w/ much inspiration to return, save for a hankering for crab cakes. This time was different. I knew that I’d be back and I knew why. In fact I couldn’t wait to board the early train again. After all, 250 miles isn’t very far to go for good dim sum.

Wine Rating
Rayas ’78 91
Rayas ’79 90
Fonsalette ’82 84
Rayas ’85 93
Rayas ’88 94
Rayas ’90 95
Rayas ’95 NR
Rayas ’96 93
Rayas ’05 98
Vieille Julienne ’00 93
Beaucastel Blanc ’06 95
Beaucastel Rouge ’06 94+
Clos St. Jean Combe des Fous ’07 98
Chave Hermitage ’06 95+
Jamet Cote Rotie ’00 92
Guigal D’Ampuis Cote Rotie ’03 97
Les Cretes Coteau La Tour VDT ’04 93

Monday, August 03, 2009

A terrific deal in mature Chateauneuf du Pape

If you've got a few in the cellar, I highly recommend popping one now. If you don't, Crush has it on sale for 30 and change...thievery at its finest.

Roger Sabon Reservee Chateauneuf du Pape '98

This '98 Sabon is an absolute beauty & typifies what potential glories lie w/in moderately aged, mature Chateauneuf. The aromas have taken on tertiary, complex naunces of sou bois, pine resin, date bread, savory plum, mesquite & cinammon spice notes. The texture is fine, as the tannins have melted away into the belly of the palate. The acidity propels a dusty sensation, fleshing out the hearty, dried herb flavors in the mouth to a long, dry finish, 91 points.