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Friday, January 30, 2009

Terrific Chablis

Once it says 'Les Clos' on the bottle, there are very few deals left...and not to say that Fevre's are a 'steal,' but I still find this domaine's Les Clos to be the most consistently outstanding version in its price-range. In terms of its aging potential, it's tough to find a better price-quality ratio in the land of Grand Cru Burgundy.

Fevre Les Clos, '06
As I swirl this light gold colored Grand Cru I notice that it is shedding some substantial legs, perhaps the most pronounced I've ever seen in a Chablis. The shy aromatics slowly blossom in the glass, unwinding subtle layers of pineapple, crushed lilac, sea-shell, pear skin, powdered stone and lime candy scents. The entry is riveting, incrementally building on the powerful, multi-dimensional mid-palate that turns on the after-burners on the finish, leaving a cloud of chalk dust and mint to fizzle endlessly. In spite of its force and intensity, this performance remains firmly rooted in its Chablis pedigree, showing a compelling contrast of class and flash that I find to be irresistible, 95+ points.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

’07 Rhone, Recent Impressions

I attended a sampling of some yet to be released ‘07s at Crush Wine & Spirits this evening and wanted to pass along a few brief observations:
· Several of the wines were closed, likely from bottle shock. Tasting them in this less than flattering stage brought their deceptively structured backbones to the forefront. This is a vintage that is not short of flesh or power, but don’t underestimate the firmly tannic spines that lurk beneath each wine’s wealth of fruit.
· The whites, as well as the reds, seem to be on point and deliver vivid flavors that aren’t short of bright acidity or palate cleansing minerality. More and more domaines are utilizing stainless steel tanks to ferment their whites to prevent oxidation and maintain freshness. The consistent success w/ tank fermentation has obviously been contagious.
· Olivier Hillaire continues to improve from vintage to vintage, w/ his ‘07s hitting a high water mark. The recurring theme here is that the lowest level bottlings (in this case, his Cotes du Rhone Vieilles Vignes) over-deliver in terms of quality for their respective price points. I’ve found this domaine’s Cotes du Rhones underwhelming in the past, but this ’07 is a spicy, intense ball of Provencal flavors that is sure to please over the next several years.
· For whatever reason, Bosquet des Papes has remained under my radar, but their ‘07s have made that blip a bit more pronounced. The tradition and Chante Merle cuvees are absolute knockouts, already wowing w/ their wonderful concentration, flavor authority and persistence. If you haven’t sought them out yet, I highly encourage you to do so as I imagine they’ll leave you just as impressed as I.
· Is there a better base cuvee than Usseglio’s ’07? Before the prices get out of control, grab yourself a case of this explosive elixir. The sweet, floral aromas are completely intoxicating, and the density of the palate could fool just about anyone into thinking that this humble ‘appellation level’ wine is a super cuvee in disguise.
· Mas de Boislauzon’s ‘06s are some of the vintage’s finest, but look out for their ‘07s. The Cuvee Quet is quietly sneaking into discussions of the appellation’s best, but the Tinto (100 percent Mourvedre) has made the biggest splash. This label is a sheer crowd pleaser and I applaud Boislauzon for going out on a limb and making something so singular in the land of Grenache.
· The surprise of the evening had to be the Cairanne based Domaine named Boisson. I was somewhat familiar w/ their wines before but boy are my eyes open now! Their Cotes du Rhone is exceptional, the Massif d’Uchaux La Brussiere outstanding, but their highest end cuvee (from 70 plus year old Grenache vines), called Cairanne L’Exigence, was a sheer tour de force! At 20 dollars, you will NOT find more wine for the money. This is a meaty, chewy explosion of layered Grenache fruit, almost overwhelming the senses w/ its sheer palate saturation and dynamic array of flavors. Their line-up is not to be missed and I firmly place it in the run, don’t walk camp.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Pratts Invitational, Rock n' Rhone

Excess pushed to excess….gluttony gone ga-ga. The 4th annual Pratt’s pow-wow was embarrassingly my first (though I did show for the summertime siesta…so perhaps this makes me an honorary two-timer), but I think this year’s Rhone table put out a performance that more than compensated for 3 years of missed opportunities to over indulge during the Super Bowl bye week. I’d like to thank Mark Franks for his due-diligence in setting up yet another smashingly successful afternoon, complete with excessive libation, laughter and….lard. Kudos for rounding up 80 plus of us Yankees all the way up to the quaint village of Yorktown; which seemed as remote as the possibility of staying sober throughout the afternoon.

Where do I begin? Perhaps at the beginning…yet I’ve completely lost any sense of where or when that may have been. On to the fizz:

1996 Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame
A beautiful, yet tightly wound expression of the ’96 vintage that uncoils notes of buttered citrus, warm brioche, tangerine oil and passion fruit notes from the glass. A focused, fresh entry leads to a medium weight, lip smacking river of bubbles that zip along a firm skeleton, remaining backward and full of potential. This vintage showed very little yeasty characteristics, making me wonder if Veuve backed off the battonage in ’96, 92+ points.

2001 Les Cailloux Centenaire
I’ve had a total of 6 bottles of ’98, ’00 and ’01 that were underwhelming to say the least, and this example of ’01 was an outright wretched expression. The nose was an appalling array of rotten garbage, grilled vegetable and burnt soy notes that turned anemic and mouth-puckering in the palate, feigning a sour vinegar flavor that made me grit my teeth just to swill it. The brown, rust-colored hue was a dead give away that this bottle had been six feet under far before its time. What is wrong w/ this cuvee? 50 points

2001 Caillou Quartz
Relative to the Centenaire, this was an impenetrably dark colored Chateauneuf, full of vigor and extract, w/ a thick ‘n rich mouthful of black pepper, tea, anise and black currant paste flavors. The profile was a bit rugged and primal at first, but airtime really helped stretch out the texture, letting the dark fruits sing all the way through the finish, 95 points.
1990 Pignan
Next to Aubert (which is notoriously cloudy and crammed w/ chunks even in its youth), this was perhaps the most fun I’d ever had chewing my way through sediment in a glass of wine. Sloppy seconds will never taste this good! An almost shockingly primary, spry expression of pure bing cherry and raspberry fruit pumped along a fabulously juicy, full bodied current, cutting a broad swath from the attack to finish. Forward, fruity and full of intensity in reserve, this vintage showed fabulously well, albeit in a very youthful fashion, 94 points. This is as close to a ’90 Rayas high as I’ve had, and the little sister sure was a showboat.

1989 Beaucastel
This was the first in line for our impromptu ‘mini-Beau vertical,’ shouting ‘don’t look a gift horse in the nose’ from the glass. The ’89 Beaucastel demonstrates what the brilliant oxymoron ‘classy brett’ is all about. Though the archetypal leather, soy and game notes are all there, but it’s almost as if they were woven into the nose w/ kid gloves, playing background tunes as opposed to chamber music (read, 1999 Chateauneuf du Pape). The palate is impeccably refined, fleshing out its garrigue, tapenade, red currant and plum sauce notes beautifully along the fresh, gorgeously delineated spine that has yet to let go of its youthful tannins. While I find the ’89 to be in its prime today, it will likely continue to show well over the next dozen or so years, 96 points.

1998 Beaucastel
Thankfully Dave came much more prepared than me and reloaded our line-up w/ an extra vintage of Beaucastel to atone for my foul debris of a ’01 Centenaire. Although it was served a bit chilly (and sans decant), the ’98 revealed striking purity and sweetness of fruit that gained a full head of steam as it sat in the glass. A pretty, floral bouquet of cinnamon, kirsch liqueur, rose petals and licorice turn round and supple in the palate. The full bodied, multi-dimensional flavors are backed by a plush texture and great drive, leaving you thirsting for more, 95 points.
2000 Beaucastel Hommage Jacques Perrin
What a way to end the Beaucastel portion of the program! A flat out WOW performance from the house’s luxury cuvee, launching a spectacular nose of Indian spices, cured beef, fresh cedar, tree bark, melted licorice and warm plum sauce scents from the glass. Once this hits the palate it truly spellbinds, unfurling a stacked, almost primordial display of layer after layer of dark, yet exquisitely polished berry fruit that stays impeccably focused through the marathon of a finish. This tastes like a superhuman version of Domaine Tempier’s Tourtine, except the poise and sheer succulence of the wine simply can’t be matched, it is perfection personified, 100 points.

1997 Guigal La Landonne
The perfumes of the ’97 had a subtle allure, almost hypnotizing w/ the sweet cassis, milk chocolate and mint notes that seemed far more primary than I’d expected. Far less evolved in the mouth than the La Turque of the same vintage, yet silky and plush, cut by a seamless ease to the fruit, carrying the wave of flavor to the firm, youthful grip of the finish, 93+ points.

1998 Delas La Landonne
Far more mature than the Landonne and perhaps a more enjoyable drink today is the Delas ’98. A classic rendition of spicy blueberry, bacon fat and smoke shoot from the glass as if it were sitting on a spring. The entry isn’t as suave as Guigal’s, unfolding to reveal a bit harder, more foursquare dimension, but not sacrificing flavor one bit. The concentration is outstanding, which bodes well for drinking over the next decade, 92 points.

2000 Guigal La Landonne
The nose is much more savage than the ’97, w/ a smokier, beefier profile that speaks more to the animal end of the spectrum. The sweet attack of black currant paste turns surprisingly rigid in the midpalate, flexing some serious tannic sinew and closing down a bit on the finish. A la ’86 Bordeaux, I expect this to evolve glacially, but I don’t imagine patience will be awarded w/ a sheer transformation, 91+ points.

1998 Autard Cote Ronde
While very good, I found this cuvee to be a bit disappointing. Perhaps it simply couldn’t stand up to the company, showing a lightly colored robe and smelling of fresh pepper, strawberry, nori wrappers and fleur de sel. A brisk, almost sour cherry entry fans out on the palate to a medium bodied, juicy close that left me wanting a bit more depth and intensity of fruit, 88 points.

1998 Jamet Cote Rotie
First thing I thought of when I stuck my nose into the glass was ‘mmmm, beef jerky!’ A gorgeous leather, pepper, iron and blackberry sauce scented boquet sailed off to a resolved, juicy palate of fresh fruits that tuck away to a round, tidy finish, 91 points.

I had the good fortune of tasting various other terrific bottles...including Romanee Conti (I broke my cherry!), Quartes de Chaume, Clinet '89 & a Richebourg....I'll try to get up a vague picture of those wine experiences in a bit...I've got a bit of the Monday morning blues to fight off first!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

White Bordeaux Resolution

This has been a long time coming. My New Year’s resolution (other than to not make anymore New Year’s resolutions) to get more cozy w/ white Bordeaux has finally come to a head. I’d like to use this thread as a platform for white Bordeaux, giving it its 15 minutes in the wine-geek sun. If you were looking for an excuse to buy a bottle, pop a bottle, or to simply yap about white Bordeaux, here it is. I’ve got plenty of white claret locked and loaded for consumption over the next couple of weeks, so I’ll kick things off w/ a bottle of baby Carbonnieux, which showed beautifully last night.

Carbonnieux Blanc, '06
Beautifully crafted, classy white Bordeaux, w/ Sancerre-like scents of hay, green fruits, wilted flowers and ginger notes. The Sauvignon Blanc characteristics are buffered by a honeyed, waxy current of Semillon, which brings added dimension and complexity to the bouquet. The palate is lively and sharp, shaped by great detail, as the grassy, mineral bath-drenched fruit flavors end w/ the slightest hint of shaved vanilla bean on the finish. There's ample sweetness of fruit through & through, which prevents the acidity from becoming too severe. While it’s already outstanding, I wouldn't hesitate to put a few bottles down for consumption over the next decade, 91+ points.

Feel free to add any recent impressions of white Bordeaux to the thread…especially if it is under the radar and reasonably priced!

Thunderous '03 Chateauneuf du Pape @ Hack's, Mordoree Reine des Bois & Pegau

Just a few impressions on some rocket fuel as I licked my NFL playoff wounds at Jay Hack's. For those that don't know, Jay is quite the Chef Boyardee and makes a mean lamb!

Saxum, Broken Stones ‘04
This was served blind. When Jay asked what I thought of it, I simply said ‘tastes damn good to me!’ Believe it or not, my first thought was ‘heady Tinto de Toro,’ as the precocious, expressive nose of road tar, mocha, violet and boysenberry soared from the glass. The sweet entry paved the way for a mouth-filling, lush palate of blue-fruit speckled flavors that pumped along a juicy, suave frame. The sturdy tannins are almost lost in the layers of fruit, which unfurl gradually on the expansive finish, 93 points.

Mordoree Rein des Bois, 2003
While the Boisrenard cuvee makes a strong case for the most deeply hued Chateauneuf du Pape, I’d be hard pressed to think of a Grenache based wine from France that is as pitch black as Mordoree’s ’03. The glass staining robe drips w/ extract and glycerin, as a blockbuster nose of roasted nuts, asphalt, freshly ground coffee, date bread and fig fruit launches from the glass. The flavors (believe it or not) are ratcheted up even higher in the massively endowed, almost shockingly ripe palate. A torrent of over-ripe strawberry, tanned leather, cocoa & dried fruit flavors barrel through a sinewy frame; somehow finding a way to tie it all together. How this type of opulence can be controlled is well beyond me. This is an awesome rendition of what Chateauneuf looks like in Amarone clothing and is sure to have as many fans as foes, simply due to its severity in style. Consider me in the category of tasters that fawns all over it, 97 points.

Pegau Reservee 2003
I’ve had this over a dozen times but jotting down my impressions never seems to feel tedious or redundant, perhaps because the wine is simply so much fun!? This showing was a bit shyer in terms of aromatics, w/ a flicker of salty game, wilted flowers and saddle leather notes stemming from the glass. The flavors pick up steam on the attack though, w/ a wave of cherry liqueur and plum cake filling out the impressively full-bodied, chewy core of fruit. The telltale savory spine emerges on the backend, wrapping the package together beautifully through the finish, 95+ points.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Leoville Las Cases Vertical, 75-03, it is indeed 2nd growth quality!

First off let me state that being ‘2nd growth quality’ isn’t a bad thing. Ranking hierarchies seem to have existed since the dawn of man, but in today’s developed world they no longer come w/ the blatant distinction of social class and seem to be best defined in Sports Center terminology. Who did you pick in your bracket for the NCAA pool? What’s the latest NFL power ranking? Or, worse yet, the BCS top 25 is out next week….better duck.

Subjective banter and Monday morning debate for the armchair quarterbacks…now that’s my idea of ‘ranking.’ It is light-hearted fun, yet gets the juices going enough for creative debate (or at least I’d like to think of it in those terms, because it is a pastime that I partake in w/ regularity). So in terms of the 1855 classification, we’ve taken a somewhat ridiculous document of an era lone gone and brought it to our ESPN headset-wearing times and turned it into a 21st century version of who’s on first. In defense of those estates that have been slighted by this prehistoric ranking (how dare Lynch Bages be called a 5th growth!?), Leoville Las Cases has become the poster child of ‘first growth quality.’ What the hell does that mean? Well, whatever you want it to mean I guess. How about…damn expensive, yet delivers no matter what the circumstance? Terroir is great, as is the track record, and they spare no expense in maintaining the integrity of the grand vin. Ho-hum years are still exciting and, while maybe not worth the price of admission, they still provide you w/ a window to Bordeaux’s great world.

Well, the last thought is what makes me think ‘hey, not so fast Leoville Las Cases lobbyists,’ at least at the conclusion of our vertical. Yeah, yeah I know, it wasn’t the most comprehensive of tastings (and we neglected to add the ’90 and ’82…I mean come on, there is a recession going on!), but all verticals leave you w/ a particular impression, and this tasting left me thinkin’ that they got it right after all. Super second is nothing to sneeze at, but it also ain’t Lafite….nor is it Latour. Mouton…well, that boy’s been taken out to shed plenty of times before, so let’s stick w/ Las Cases for now. The not so great vintages were…not so great. They were very good, better than most…but unexciting. Is that asking too much for a 1st growth? For first growth money…I sure as hell don’t think so.

That being said, the great vintages of this wine are nothing short of breath-taking (unless you are Levenberg, who lacks the Las Cases gene), and at the end of the day, there certainly is something super about this second. I couldn’t help but reflect on our Pichon Baron vertical and think ‘damn, why doesn’t this guy get a bit more bandwagon momentum in these classification debates?’ Sure, It has only been great since ’88 (and what an ’88 it is), but isn’t 20 years enough for the Monday morning QB’s to start serving up hail mary passes for Pichon Baron?
Then again, I really like the wine- why the hell would I want it to raise its price simply because it isn’t getting its due? Make it a Cru Borgeois and call it a day.

Blind white for starters:
The nose initially strikes me as a ripe, yet sophisticated Sauvignon Blanc, w/ bustling scents of passion fruit, hay and spearmint. Yet the second this hits the palate, a chalky, mealy attack speaks in Chablis tongues, weaving in lime candy note to the firm, focused spine. Izzy and I went back and forth w/ our yogurt discussion and came to the conclusion that this had to be Fevre, w/ Chris chiming in on the ’04 vintage. I guess its better to be lucky than smart, 91 points for the Fevre Cote Bougros ’04 (those that found it spoofy, just give it a few more years and I think you’ll be pleased).

Las Cases parade:

The first sip was the best, sending a spicy, tarry note through the air amidst hints of reduction that blew off as the wine sat in the glass. A savage, smoky attack of dried meat and olive paste covered the plumy fruit on the back end, which seemed soft and full for a ’75. Time revealed its flaws though, firming up and turning a bit more foursquare, though it had enough character to make for a full-filling experience, 87 points.

I could smell this all day. In fact, if it were a deodorant I’d stock up at Costco and apply it liberally to attract chicks. The earthy fumes of black truffles, damp moss, decaying flowers and currant paste notes were almost hypnotic, like the first scent of a rare cheese that you can’t stop immersing yourself w/. Unfortunately she was a bit shrill in the mouth, w/ sharp angles and a quick finish. Unlike the ’75, time served this vintage well, perking up a bit and showing that there is a bit in reserve and time may help fill out those sharp edges, 88 points.

This was a fresh and lively customer, w/ sharp, red-fruited flavors of cranberry, red cherries, iron and cold steel filling out the palate. While I think this is drinking well, I was surprised at how little it had evolved, w/ only a slight dried mushroom peeking in on the finish. The acidity was also surprisingly, behaving a bit Burgundian in that regard, yet never seeming too sharp for its substance, 90 points.
Now we are firmly in Brad territory, as this nose could have easily fooled me that it came from the steep slopes of Cote Rotie. Smoky perfumes of pork grease, blackberry and iron roared from the glass like an Ogier claret (oxymoron?). While the acidity was a bit elevated on the attack, this was the beefiest, most mouth filing vintage yet, w/ a supple bed of tannins carrying the hearty, savory flavors to a sweet finish, 92 points.

Yikes. I never have any regret for poppin’ a ’00 too early, but wow this wine is just too painfully primary to be drunk now. A super-dense, brooding nose of smoke, gravel, toasty oak and lead pencil shavings leaves you anticipating something primal and serious is about to come in the palate, and boy does it come with the thunder. Full bodied and hot blooded, w/ pure crème de cassis waves of flavor being sandwiched equally in between mouth-watering acidity and palate expanding tannin, w/ a really alluring hint of marzipan checking in on the long finish. Perfectly ripe and impeccably balanced, the 2000 Leoville Las Cases is going to be a 100 year wine, likely out-living me and also likely to be on its way to sheer perfection, 98+ points.

Who let the transvestite into this masculine vertical? An inky, awkward, seriously confused performance left all of us shaking our heads, as the ’03 showed a warm ganache and reduced cassis aroma that turned soft, woody and fragmented in the palate. While it actually did taste good in a superficial way, it was not impressively constructed and too disjointed at this stage to make any feasible wager on where it is headed. For those that thought the '03 Calon Segur was showing strangely, what till you get a load of this nut-bag, 77 points? Again, I don’t hate it, but I don’t really know what it is. Dr. Jay, this guy could definitely use some counseling!

Alas, an ’86 that is truly compelling! I know, Mouton is great- but one great wine does not a vintage make, yet this performance demonstrates to me that other Chateau made seriously noble, praiseworthy stuff in this titan of a year. While shy aromatically, it uncoiled in the mouth to reveal notions of freshly roasted espresso, crushed lilac, pepper, cedar and cassis notes. The frame was frank and stout, yet the flesh really filled things out beautifully, showing fantastic equilibrium and definition all the way to the finish. This is perhaps the most supple, endowed ’86 I’ve tasted yet. Fantastic stuff, 95 points!

True to left bank in ’96 fashion, this is yet another polished, superbly crafted wine from the vintage, demonstrating sheer refinement and grace in its cassis, melted licorice and dark chocolate flavors. Strong and sturdy, yet already delicious and suave enough to drink, this should continue to provide pleasure over the next 15-20 years, 96 points.

Like most point-counterpoint discussions on ’95-’96, the stuffing is likely as impressive as the ’96 (perhaps even more so), but currently the flesh isn’t front and center enough to mask its more pronounced structure. The tannins are a bit coarser and the acidity is keyed up a bit brighter, but the graphite, black currant and spices are all there. I’m sure the ’95 has more longevity in store, but it will not be in prime drinking mode for at least another 5 years and may never reach the heights of the ’96, 94+ points.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Two fabulous, yet contrasting styles of Argentinian Malbec that won't break the bank

Achaval Ferrer, Quimera '05
What makes Achaval Ferrer's line-up so distinctive is the alignment of their deep, vivid colors & rich flavors to such refreshing, almost briskly acidic profiles. Their mile high Malbecs (in the case of Quimera, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc round out the blend) achieve brilliant flavor delineation at very low alcohols, w/ the '05 Quimera displaying a nose of graphite, violet, black currant paste and warm ganache scents, with the slightest hint of orange peel bringing up the aromatic pitch a couple decibels. Things turn Bordeaux-like on the palate, w/ fantastic vibrancy and lift allied to the flavorful palate of sun-baked blue fruits. The wine feels airy in spite of its flavor authority, maintaining great zip from start to finish. I find that the altitude tends to distinguish Argentinian Malbec and to me, none shine brighter than Achaval Ferrer, 92 points.

Nieto Senetiner Cadus, Malbec 2004
I believe that Nieto’s Cadus is all estate fruit from Lujan de Cuyo, and the ’04 vintage is available at retail for 30 dollars and change. This is a complete contrast to Achaval Ferrer, ratcheting up its weight class by more than a few notches (in terms of alcohol and extract). The nose behaves a bit in the vein of a high class Napa Cabernet, weaving in heady scents of spicy hickory smoke, cigar humidor, menthol and spicy black currant notes. A sweet, jammy attack of black and blue fruits gets reeled in by a beefy, tannic spine. Things really stretch out on the finish w/ outstanding depth, presence and palate penetration. Not to quibble over points, but I think Jay Miller was a point or two stingy w/ this big leaguer, 93+ points.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A few favorite producers in Chateauneuf alongside an absolute favorite Champagne

Clos des Goisses 1999
Boy is this an exceptionally young Champagne or what?! Undoubtedly a bubbly that is crammed w/ long-term potential, a glimpse into the bouquet reveals honeyed citrus, green apple peel, smoke and warm brioche notes that take quite a bit of coaxing to unfurl. An awesome, yet backward mouth-full of stone and chalk dust permeate the palate w/ energy and vigor, leaving me w/ the impression of the essence of minerality. As the Champagne airs, it kicks into a subtly nutty gear, as the mousse stretches out, showcasing its awesome length and penetration. The quality and class are unmistakable, yet this vintage needs at least 6-8 more years of bottle age to reach a comfortable drinking window, 94+ points.

Vieille Julienne Vieilles Vignes 2000
Those looking for a 2000 Chateauneuf w/ long term ageability, look no further than to Vieille Julienne. Their entire line-up is much more closed than most, but can be enjoyed now if you are patient enough to watch them over time in the glass. The Vieilles Vignes (only made in ’98, ’00 and ’01) has a hypnotic perfume that slowly trickles out a sweet core of cassis, black currant paste, crushed violets, melted licorice, incense and allspice notes. The sheer first growth-like sense of refinement is evident in the attack, as the wine uncoils a textural overlay of exquisite beauty w/ nary a rough edge to be found. Sumptuous, primary and dazzlingly pure to the finish; where a fresh, minty note chimes in and seems to linger for as long as minute. This is really poised for the cellar and I think another 3-5 years is necessary, but it should keep for at least 15 after that, 96+ points.

Vieille Julienne Reserve, '99
Trademark creme de cassis nose of Vieille Julienne pops from the glass, w/ an exotic flicker of blueberry, violet and high class tobacco making an appearance in the bouquet. The palate is effortless & super-suave, seamlessly gliding along an uber-refined bed of tannins (which are surprisingly powerful for the vintage). As the wine sits in the glass, a river of mouth-watering acidity lets alluring bittersweet cocoa & garrigue notes chime in on the finish. This is a pristine performance that is in its prime, yet should provide plenty of sex appeal for the next decade, 95 points. Come to think of it, this vintage really began the almost un-interrupted run of quality for the domaine (the '98 was solid, but lagged behind the best of the vintage) and is easily one of the best wines of the vintage.

Charvin '06
This vintage played right into the hands of Laurent, providing plenty of forward, fresh fruit in a way that this domaine always seems to take full advantage of. '06 is easily a superior vintage to '05 and '04 for Charvin, w/ a lively bouquet of crushed raspberry, espresso roast, sweet cherry liqueur and spicy herb notes. The palate is pure, polished and as seamless as any Grenache based wine could hope to be, w/ an effortless vein of minerality pumping under the beam of pure cherry fruit. This is surprisingly precocious but should cruise in the cellar for 15 years w/o shutting down as the '01 has, 94 points.

Marcoux Domaine & Selection '03 CDP
Marcoux has hit a total home run w/ every one of their '03 cuvees, though each is stylistically very distinct from one another. The vineyard came into Marcoux's hands in '99 and this selection, mostly Grenache, sees some small barrel aging. The aromas reveal the intensity of the vintage, w/ spicecake, grilled duck and macerated black cherry scents emerging from the glass. In contrast to the warmth of the nose, the palate is surprisingly spry, w/ high toned raspberry fruit gracing its way over the bed of tannins, finishing w/ good lift and a mouthwatering focus, 91 points.

The token ringer:

Tablas Esprit Beaucastel Rouge '06
The epiitome of France in California yet again, as I'd easily be fooled that this was a southern Rhone blend from CDP or Gigondas if this was served blind to me. The aromas of cracked pepper, kirsch, cedar, anise and tree bark are all there, reeled in w/ a moderately tannic, chewy mouthfeel. While this isn't a top vintage of this cuvee (as the acidity is keyed up and the finish tails off a tad quicker than usual), it's breed and finesse are as clear as European day, 91 points.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Quickly becomming my favorite source of the finest values in Rhone wines.

Pesquie, Ventoux des Terrasses '04

When I envision Eric Solomon traipsing through the backwoods of the Rhone valley, I can’t decide whether I see him as a blood hound in search of garrigue or more of a magician; turning all that he touches to gold. The '04 Terrasses, perhaps the biggest bargain in all of Rhone-styled wines from France, checks in at 70% Grenache & 30% Syrah, w/ smoky scents of crushed plum, iron, grilled steak and wild herb essence setting the stage for a mouthful of goodies. The palate serves up juicy, brambly flavors awash in a supple, round texture that finishes strong, oozing Provencal bliss. Just like Solomon’s comparably priced Domaine de la Garrigue Cuvee Romaine, Pesquie continues to redefine what Q.P.R. is all about. If Pegau made a top Ventoux cuvee I'd imagine it would taste just like this from a stylistic perspective, 90 points.

This is just one example in the long line of Eric Solomon’s portfolio of values that have emerged from places like the backwater Ventoux region. While some of you have already jumped on the Pesquie bandwagon long ago, in general, I still wonder if Ventoux has been painted w/ a stigma-tipped brush. Has the enveloping grasp of the ho-hum Vieille Ferme stained the appellation? Is its perception too obscure to distinguish itself from generic Cotes du Rhone? Or is this just another case of the Grenache blues? Either way, if you are a Rhone lover that has yet to bathe in Ventoux colored waters, I highly recommend that you grab a recent vintage (and don’t worry about the economy, this trip to the piggy bank is about as intimidating as the color pink). If you venture a bit deeper into the woods of Provence (or Luberon for that matter), instead of looking for a flashy label on the front of the bottle, turn it around & check the importer. If you see Solomon’s name, throw it in the shopping cart and don’t be afraid to pop those corks early, and often.