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Monday, February 23, 2009

Two favorites of mine from the rose and unoaked Chardonnay category

Well…we’ll call it a ‘new favorite’ Rose (wine brings out my fickle nature). Mordoree and Tempier have got the Southeast of France covered, but Sancerre brings a real change of pace to the pink picture & it is certainly a genre that I need to pay closer attention to in the future.

Francois Cotat Rose '07
After Josh Raynolds blew my mind w/ the '99 version of this 100 percent Pinot Noir rose from Sancerre, I had to check out what this wine tastes like in its youth. The very pale salmon hue has transparent brilliance; w/ the mesmerizing clarity of a top rate diamond. The nose is still a bit shy, but promising in its sea air perfumes that hint at damp earth, strawberries on the vine and chalk dust. The entry is sappy, w/ framboise and cherry cordial notes gliding effortlessly over a buried mineral core. Without tasting the '99, I'd have obvsiouly underestimated the wine's longevity and potential evolution, but I think the understated depth is what really sets this guy apart in its youth, 90+ points.

To comment on the ‘scoring rose’ debate, those that want to lavish the Cotat w/ mid 90s marks should do so w/o hesitation or fear of recourse from the longevity police. You can allot 5, 10 or 15 points for Cotat’s rose from an evolutionary standpoint if the ’99 is any indication on what this wine will do in the bottle.

Diatom Huber Vineyard, ’05
Greg Brewer’s pet project w/ completely unoaked Chardonnay is a great niche in the California counter-cultural swing towards fresher, more transparent wines. The light golden speckled colors shake off some serious legs (the 16 plus percent alcohol a la Brewer Clifton is hardly noticeable), and the wine’s bouquet reveals ripe Granny Smith apple, honeysuckle, nectarine and a kinky sense of floral earth. The entry is juicy and enveloping, as pure, unadorned fruit fans out over an impressively rich, yet spry frame. While the ripeness is certainly evident, it’s equally met w/ potent, lip smacking acidity. In the spirit of all wines made by Greg or Steve, the ’05 Diatom keeps a keen eye on balance, 92 points.

'98 & '99 Chateauneuf at the top of their game, and a rocking '00 Gigondas

Charvin '98

Upon opening the bottle, I couldn't help but notice how even the cork smelled like garrigue! This vintage for Charvin is absolutely singing and at its peak; w/ a soaring nose of roasted herbs, black pepper, spice box, licorice, truffles and warm fig sauce. The energetic, flashy entry turns floral and full of flinty, spirited red fruit flavors that envelope the palate w/ a full bodied, harmonious presence. Sure to deliver primetime drinking over the next ten plus years, but who can wait? Qualitatively just a hair behind the ’01, but watch out for the ’07 that's still in the pipeline, 96 points.

Clos des Papes 99
The transparent ruby shade belies the intensity of the wine, which is very extraverted aromatically, with sandalwood, fresh garrigue, melted licorice, dark plum, macerated cherry and lead pencil shaving notes leading the way. Beautifully complex, spicy flavors pump over a silky textured, mouth-watering profile; propelled by the vintage’s invigorating acidity. The mesquite & black pepper kissed finish is draped in shapely tannins, reinforcing the structure w/ solid cellaring potential, 93 points.

Santa Duc Prestige de Haut Garrigues, ‘00
I am extremely vintage specific when it comes to Santa Duc’s wines. I found the ’98, ’01, ’03 and ‘05 to be exceptionally tannic, highly-extracted, almost coarsely textured wines; yet full of substance and complexity. On the other hand, the ’99, ’00 and ’04 all offer supple, exquisitely balanced versions (including the top Hautes Garrigues cuvee) that do not sacrifice power for their polish. The ’00 is currently irresistible, w/ a gorgeous nose of dark fig, hoison sauce, black currant paste and lavender notes that unfold seamlessly in the palate. Thick, yet lively waves of flavor pump over a round, mouth-watering finish that is sure to deliver enormous pleasure over the next decade, 94 points.

Are my varying levels of appreciation for this wine based on Yves Gras’ vintage improvisation? I still enjoy the more rugged versions, but find the more suavely textured vintages to be on a very different playing field. Does he substantially tweak extraction, maceration, barrique & general elevage for each vintage? While I’d never imagine a winemaker w/ his notoriety to take a cookie cutter approach, I find the variances in style at Santa Duc to be much more pronounced than most.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tour de Portugal, A Mark Squires Production

Aren’t people supposed to come to you when you live in New York City? I mean who goes from NY to Philadelphia for a wine tasting? Well, I guess I do. I removed that rather large, borough sized chip off my shoulder and trekked my way to Pennsylvania w/ my wife, Ejehan. After a maddening hour or so crawl through the Holland Tunnel, Ejehan and I weren’t sure if the Portuguese wines possessed enough alcohol to quell our city-fueled hate. Nevertheless, we arrived fashionably late (what’s 45 minutes amongst geeks?) and snuggled up to a street that was littered w/ free-parking, a more than welcome site. Maybe Philly isn’t so bad after all?

Even though the Pennsylvania based group was mid-beverage once we arrived, they seemed to welcome us w/ open arms (perhaps because they were under the impression that my last name lent itself to knowledge about Portuguese wines?). Don’t let the Coelho in me fool you; I grew up on heavy doses of Lancers w/ an occasional Casal Garcia spritz thrown in for good measure. I do know that Tinta Roriz is in fact Tempranillo, but the rest of my skills are limited by my spiky hair and over-exuberant youth. That being said, I really enjoyed the company of the Philly crowd.

Rich Trimpi and Mark Squires did a great job putting together multiple flights of various Portuguese wines, beginning w/ the staple white grape, Alvarinho (known as Albarino in Spain). High quality Vinho Verde sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, but that is becoming more and more of a misnomer as time goes on. Anyone w/ a fondness for the crisp wines of Rias Baixas, Spain owes it to themselves to explore what’s going on in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal.

Andreza Loureiro Vinho Verde, ‘06
The nose has a likeness to Sauvignon Blanc, w/ zippy, fresh floral aromatics shooting from the glass. Bright and clean in the palate, not short on focus to the grass, chive and citrus flavors that linger easily, 88 points.

Andreza Vinho Branco, Alvarinho ‘06
Not nearly as precise as the first of the flight, marred by an attenuated, angular personality that comes across as one dimensional and short. This could have suffered from being opened too long or simply by being served at too warm a temperature, 81 points.

Solar de Serrade 2007
The roundest, most plump offering of the flight, w/ a core of melon and baked apple flavors that were somewhat reminiscent of a Falanghina. While the texture is soft and supple, there is no shortage of vivacity and follow-through to this beauty, 88 points.

Quinta Do Feital, Auratus, ‘07
The distribution of this wine has penetrated pretty deeply in the Northeast, as I see it on more and more retail shelves. A perennial favorite for me over the last couple vintages, the ’07 is a sneaky little wine, weaving in complex white flower, lime candy and crushed stone notes through the inviting, yet surprisingly layered and deep mid-palate. Auratus always has something to say, it just demands that you pay close attention to its delicate details, 89 points.

The first flight of reds all came from Herdade de Esporao, spanning from the nation’s two flagship grapes, Alicante Bouschet & Touriga Nacional, to the more upstart Syrah. I asked Mark where the recent love affair w/ Syrah came from and he responded ‘probably because it seems to make solid varietal wine from just about anywhere you plant it.’ Just wait until I force a Long Island Syrah down your gullet, Mark!

Alicante Bouschet, ‘05
A lavishly toasted, yet provocative red w/ scents of charcoal, tar and sun-kissed black and blue fruits leading the way aromatically. The sweet entry pumps over a slightly hollow mid-palate, yet gains grip and steam over the finish, 85+ points.

Syrah, ‘05
This performed poorly in the line-up and might have benefitted from a bit more oxygen exposure (at least from an aroma standpoint). A reduced, somewhat sweaty nose demonstrated a heavy layer of high toast and seared blackberry fruit, turning hard and chewy in the mid-palate. The extraction levels seemed too high for the wine’s underlying substance, leaving the finish clipped and disjointed, 77 points.

Trincadeira ‘04
A much flashier, ostentatious wine that brought some spicy aromatic fireworks to the table, expelling black pepper, smoky plum and sweet black currant fruit notes from the glass. The entry is a bit awkward, yet the flesh of the wine is enveloped w/ good stuffing, w/ rich, juicy berry fruit trickling through the youthful grit of finish. Good stuff, and would have been a better product if the winery eased up on the elevage, 85+ points.

Touriga Nacional ‘05
To me, this was the best of the bunch, simply because it came across as the winery didn’t try so hard and let their staple grape shine through. An elegant, suave red w/ excellent symmetry to the cola, anise and sweet berry flavors that pump over a velvety textured, juicy finish. Superficial for a Touriga, yet delicious and finely tuned, 88 points.

The last two flights shined brightest & gave us a glimpse into what terrific values this country is capable of producing.

Quinta Do Alqueve Tradicional ‘05
Let the QPR parade commence, as this ‘Cotes du Rhone’ priced beauty matched good weight w/ verve, letting the sappy berry fruit & cocoa flavors glide effortlessly over a bed of fine, well-rounded tannins. This has textbook balance and harmony, w/ enough structure to keep the fruit honest & should provide pleasure over the next couple years, 90 points.

Leo d’Honor, ‘03
The first wine that left me completely smitten had to be the Leo d’Honor, starting w/ its exotic perfume of vivid blueberry, menthol and violet notes that came off in such a kinky pitch that I couldn’t help but be seduced. The mouth-feel one-upped the nose, exhibiting an ethereal grace and plush texture that reminded me of a Pinot Noir, tap-dancing its way to a whispering finish, 92 points.

Conde de Vimioso Riserva ‘05
The darkest wine I’d seen yet, w/ an opaque hue and heady nose, revealing scents of freshly ground coffee, boysenberry, lilac and a varied array of crushed berry fruit. Not as showy in the mouth, yet exceptionally refined and suave, sneaking up on you until it really stretches its legs on the finish. She’s keeping it all in reserve, so watch out, 91+ points.

Terra do Zambujeiro, ‘05
This could be an exceptional wine, if it weren’t for the unnecessary over-oaking which I’m hoping will resolve in time. Shaved vanilla bean, mocha, milk chocolate and warm fig sauce flavors are polished, round and downright delicious, yet the wood is frank, invasive & distracting at this stage in the game. If the flavors integrate, I imagine the wine will merit an outstanding rating, 89+ points.

Paving the way for the wine of the night…

Quinta do Pellada, Dao ‘05
According to Mark, this is the top producer in the Dao region and after this performance, who am I to argue w/ him? At first glance I noticed that the color was flat out black, so dark so that I even obsessed over it for a moment (which I never do) and that was just the beginning of the obsession. The aromas were spellbinding, almost as if it married the savageness of an Alban Syrah w/ the sleekness of a Colgin. Dazzling scents of barbeque spices, cracked pepper, licorice, sizzling bacon fat and crushed blue fruits oozed from the glass. The entry was slick, unfolding its spicy, tremendous layers of flavor from cheek to cheek, yet staying light on its feet to the intense, persistent finish. What a stud, 95+ points.

Quinita do Noval Cedro, ‘05
While the Pellada is a tough act to follow, the Cedro didn’t do itself any favors by bring its vanilla game to the stage, w/ its milk shake-like concoction of shallow, sweet and innocuous flavors. Sure she’s creamy and cute, but a one night stand at best. An un-enthusiastic yawn- 86 points.

Pocas Reserva, ‘05
To me, the tragedy of the evening, because this seemed like a structured, savory gem at first, perhaps in a backward stage that didn’t allow it to fully sing. As it sat in the glass, TCA reared its ugly head and even though the character was bright, it wasn’t quite up to the challenge this evening, N/A.

Quinta Do Vale Meao, ‘05
I don’t know if the rest of the group saw this in a similar light that I did, but I think it is going to be an absolute homerun. The Meao is an exceptionally young, even monstrous wine that is completely undifferentiated, yet its substantive heft is undeniably impressive. Espresso roast and pure crème de cassis explode through the mouth in a fantastic, multi-dimensional array, rendering descriptors other than ‘wow’ & ‘blockbuster’ fairly useless. This is an exploding rocket on the launch path, but its potential is obviously years away from take-off, so patience is obligatory, 94+ points.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

MONSTER Chateauneuf from...Sardinia? With other intriguing Italian oddities...

Some fascinating juice…

Italy is the type of wine growing nation that I feel like I could spend the rest of my life studying without even scratching the surface. Countless varieties, traditions, terroir and technique make it an almost intimidating odyssey to explore, yet I chose to jump into the shallow end of the pool and play w/ some Dettori over the weekend. Dettori is a Sardinian based producer that specializes in Cannonau (Grenache) and Vermentino, yet technique and terroir seem to trump varietal importance by a long shot. Stainless steel tanks, cement vats, old vines, low yields and hands off winemaking seem to rule the day at Dettori. As you’ll note from my impressions, these aint’ your Grandmother’s Chianti….

The following whites are fashioned in ways that are never likely to achieve commercial success. Their fermentations kick off after a period of liberal skin contact, essentially mirroring the red wine making process. The end result could be described as a bit quirky, yet it is a singular, imaginative way of extracting something special from white grapes. Dettori’s wines are unfined, unfiltered, unclarified expressions of terroir that could be likened to uncompromising pieces of art. No rules, no compromises. The whites are so cloudy and oddly hued that they make Aubert’s Chardonnays seem brilliant by comparison.

My take on Dettori’s Vermentino is a bit muddled. I don’t love it, though I don’t hate it. I find it provocative and challenging and I consider it to be a wine experience that just about any adventurous palate should have. Even if you find it more bizarre than beautiful, you’ll still come away w/ one damn funky conversational nugget that is sure to be a hit at the campfire.

Alessandro Dettori says it best:
“I don’t follow the market, I produce wines that I like, wines from my territory, wines from Sennori. They are what they are and not what you want them to be”
Alessandro Dettori

Dettori Bianco ‘06
While technically made from Vermentino, I’d be hard-pressed to find even the most experienced of palate pick this varietal blind from a line-up. The color can be likened to cloudy, unfiltered pineapple juice, w/ a beguiling nose of sea breeze, macerated papaya, fennel, pine needles, and varied warm, tropical nectars. The entry is heady, w/ an intense tidal wave of orange tinged, eccentric flavors that whirl their way along an almost fuzzy, somewhat flat finish. What a crazy ride! This is sure to leave you enchanted, enraged or downright exhausted 83 points.

For comparison purposes, I juxtaposed a similarly made white from Slovenia (the vineyard is a stone’s throw from Italy) to see if it would help me better appreciate this style of wine. The producer, Movia, is certified biodynamic & never fines, filters or clarifies.

Movia ‘Lunar’ 2006
This is a blend of Tocai Friulano and Sauvignon Blanc that again, blurs any varietal recognition w/ its amber tinged, foggy hues that look more like a cider than white wine. Like the Dettori, this is a heady, high alcohol wine that leaves sappy legs behind. The scents are enigmatic and change like a chameleon w/ each sniff, presenting in a fascinating array of flower, orange peel and herb notes. The entry is savory, w/ a nutty edge to the caramel, toffee and white currant flavors that envelope the palate w/ warmth (yet not from alcoholic heat). The big boned heft turns surprisingly salty on the finish, leaving the essence of crushed stone in its path. Talk about esoteric stuff, yet this one has a bit more structure, depth and minerality to reel you in, 88 points.

As for the Cannonau, I was absolutely astonished. There is a Cuvee Speciale Bonneau-like sensibility to it which I’m sure will lend itself to plenty of detractors. That being said, I found it to be as thrilling a red as any and a must try for any serious Chateaunuef du Pape lover.

Dettori Tenores ‘03
This is the highest listed alcohol I’ve seen for a dry red wine (at 17%, perhaps they are just more honest than others?), from the Romangia I.G.T. of Sardinia comes a pure, 80 plus year old vine, cement aged Cannonau (Grenache) that brings some serious Amarone-like thunder to the table. An impenetrably deep, seething nose of loam, liqueur soaked herbs, graphite, warm blackberry sauce and spice cake rises from the glass as if it stemmed from a controlled explosion. The mouth-feel is an absolutely stunning display that I think is best described as old vine Grenache shoved in a blender doused in kirsch liqueur until it is liquefied to oblivion. As the finish persists, a myriad of complex nuances sneak up, leaving me w/ one impression, ‘from the earth.’ This is a tremendously powerful (the monstrous tannins are deceptive and silky), naked expression of immensely endowed, terroir driven fruit that I’d pen as a Chateauneuf made by Dal Forno if the label were disguised, 96 points.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I broke my Rhys cherry!

When I’m late to the game, I tend to start imagining how a wine will taste and why each respective group of palates has fallen in love w/ it. Of course, it's all speculative, but the game really seems to heighten my anticipation of what's in store once I finally pop the cork. Thanks to the generosity of Rhys own Kevin Harvey, I got the opportunity to talk a walk on the Rhys side last night. While expectations tend to be a dangerous thing in fine wine, this is a case and point where it was fairly obvious to see what all the hub-bub was about.
What intrigued me most about Kevin’s wines was how many Euro-centric palates seemed to gravitate to them. When mineral junkies drool over any Californian wine I’m immediately interested in the product. The legions of Edmunds St. John, Ridge, Arcadian, Calera and company were firmly ingrained into my psyche, but Rhys was the new kid on the block that I’d yet to sink my teeth into. After tasting them, I feel confident in saying that the Pinot Noir was indeed Burgundian. I know, I know- blah blah, blah…been there, done that- trite story. I’d like to avoid the whole ‘trying to be something it’s not’ debate and plead my case rationally.

In terms of what I mean by Burgundian (a term that is thrown around so often that it essentially has no meaning anymore), I’d first like to state what I don’t mean. I don’t mean barnyard. There are a handful of producers from California that don’t shy away from brett, almost tricking your palate into thinking it is an old world product, but that really isn’t what the Rhys Pinot was all about. What struck me initially was its aromatics (which could be due to site, whole-cluster fermentation, climate, time of harvest...who knows), as the wine genuinely smelled like a youthful Burgundy. Whether or not I’d call that blindly I’m not sure, but if you were to tell me it was a Morey Saint Denis, I’d certainly believe you. In terms of mouthfeel, it was elegant, exceptionally fresh and had a firm, mineral core that immediately made me wonder what a bit of bottle age would do to it. I seldom apply any of these adjectives or concepts to California Pinot Noir- but maybe that’s my fault. Either way, I actually am interested in how this wine evolves. For fair balance, I could give a crap how a Kosta Browne evolves….they are huge, outrageously delicious wines that I would personally rather pound than practice patience. I don’t think there is anything wrong w/ that, but just so you understand my perspective- that is how I’ve pigeon-holed the majority of California Pinot Noirs which I taste.

Needless to say, I’m definitely mowing what the Burgheads are growing. As for the Chardonnay (which I preferred), it was distinctly Californian. It was not Meursault, definitely not Chablis and I wouldn’t have been so bold as to call it....Oregonian (whatever that means). It seemed like a naked, exceptionally intense and flawlessly balanced Californian Chardonnay. Comparisons to Peay make a bit of sense, and I personally found it more impressive than Aubert’s 06 line-up, though not quite at the level of his ‘05s (but what is?). In terms of peer group comparisons, I think that Rhys is already up there w/ the cream of the California Chardonnay crop (I don’t need to taste multiple vintages to make that statement- the ’06 makes that statement on its own). As for the Pinot Noir, it is a very singular wine that, to me, opens up a new door for how I subjectively look at California Pinot Noir. Quite frankly, it made me more interested in it as a class. I actually started to wonder what that BV Pinot that Andre Tchelistcheff made in the ‘50s tasted like in its youth. Hell, it actually made me feel a bit dismissive…

That said, I am certainly going to be a consumer of these wines. The Chardonnays won’t last a New York minute in my cellar, and the Pinots will keep me patient. Perhaps more importantly, the Pinots will keep my eyes open.
Rhys Alpine Vineyard Chardonnay, ‘06
This is a Santa Cruz Chardonnay that delivers the best of both worlds, full flavor and finesse. The bouquet is sharply focused, hinting at spring blossom, honeysuckle, lemon oil and sweet nectarine notes. The entry is smooth and succulent, enveloping the palate with fleshy white peach and orange fruit that effortlessly glide through the bright, citrusy finish. The profile is clean (revealing little to no oak), exceptionally fresh and tantalizing in its purity of fruit. Rhys is the new modern classic on the California Chardonnay block, 95 points.

Rhys Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir ‘06
This is one of the first (next to Calera and Whitcraft) authentically Burgundian Pinot Noirs I’ve had from California. The scents remind me of a baby Morey St. Denis, w/ spicy anise, cardamom, violet, black cherry & cinnamon stick notes. True to the nose, the palate is crunchy, yet w/ a sappy, mineral-rich underbelly that suggests cellaring may really let this puppy fly, 91+ points.

Friday, February 13, 2009

'03 Chateauneuf blind w/ the region's stars Philippe Cambie & Vincent Maurel

Tour de Rocket Fuel

Before I delve into some tidbits of the evening, I have a declaration of guilt to make. The backlash of A-Rod’s confession has brought one of my deep, dark secrets to a head. For the record, I would like to state that I tested positive for tasting enhancing drugs during the 2007 vintage. I am not going to cop out and say it was to compensate for a sinus infection, but I’d also like to clear the air and let it be known that it was during ’07 and ’07 only. I apologize to my friends, family and fans for all of the anguish that this may bring upon you but rest assured, the only juice I’m taking these days is of the fermented variety.

Boy that feels good to get off my chest. Phew, onwards and upwards.

I put together a mélange of tasters from the Rhone persuasion, some that were fond of 2003, and others that abhorred it. In totality, there were probably too many damn people at the dinner table- so much for my theory of ‘its 2003, expect at least a 50% attrition rate.’ In spite of the veritable mosh-pit of bodies and bottles of booze, I couldn’t have been happier w/ the eclectic group of guys that ended up swilling the hot sauce w/ me for the day after my birthday. Josh Raynolds, of Steve Tanzer’s IWC fame, mentioned that he had a couple ‘special guests’ that were interested in attending. I figured hell, why not? With a few dozen bottles of wine on tap we could sure use the help of a couple more palates. Little did I know that the guests were active participants in the vintage themselves, as renowned enologist Philippe Cambie & Clos St. Jean’s Vincent Maurel were those very guests.

I consider the two to be inextricably linked. Looking at all of Philippe’s success, the transformation at Clos St. Jean has been the most dramatic. Before Vincent recruited Cambie in ’02, the wines were austere, dry and attenuated, receiving little fanfare or recognition. After the breakthrough ’03 vintage, the resurrection year for the estate, Clos St. Jean exploded onto the scene in blockbuster style & hasn’t looked back sense. This domaine is arguably one where Cambie’s involvement has made the most dramatic impact & it is a consultancy where he wields an enormous amount of influence on the viticulture as well as the winemaking.

Although my French is appalling, I made sure it was clearly spoken to Philippe that I found his breadth of work to be the most impressive aspect of his resume. While flying winemakers tend to be painted w/ a globalized brush, Philippe’s projects span from the most traditional of wines (Vieux Donjon), to the most progressive (Domaine St. Prefert & Olivier Hillaire). The range in his palate is really astonishing, and when I asked what types of wines he liked to drink, he seemed to list just about every appellation under the sun. Exactly as I thought, a guy that likes good wine, in all shapes and sizes, and that is exactly the types of wines he likes to make.

I had the good fortune of meeting Vincent in Chateauneuf and it was great to see him again. Thanks again to Josh for arranging things as such that their visit would coincide w/ our evening of overindulgence. It was a genuine pleasure to share the evening w/ both of them.

As for the ‘03s, all were served single blind, w/ the token ringer or two thrown in for good measure. We began w/ an anomaly; a ’99 rose from Francois Cotat, which demonstrated brilliant freshness in its delineated profile of strawberry preserve, flowers and crushed limestone notes. Sharp, mouthwatering and tantalizingly pure, the wine seemed to scream of site, punctuating w/ its liquefied minerality. If a wine like this doesn’t change preconceived notions about how a fine rose can age, none will. Josh’s take on why there is such life in a ten year old rose was simply that ‘it comes from Pinot Noir.’ Fair enough. The first flight was not exactly a profound beginning, as the first wine demonstrated an overt nose of sur maturite, w/ candied watermelon, over-ripe strawberry, cola and grilled herb notes. The sweet entry turned compressed and came off w/ a bitter disposition, as the tannins seemed under-ripe in spite of the wine’s obvious alcohol. This Clos des Papes was nowhere near the caliber wine that I had tasted w/ Rich Stahmer at Tribeca Grill, and I purposely asked Rich to bring the bottle (his last one was singing, though it did have a bit more air time). The second bottle was a step up, showing a good fleshy core of plum sauce, tapenade and spicy garrigue notes that were wrapped around a savory spine. There is a layer of unresolved toast that the Cote de L’Ange Vieilles Vignes needs to shake, but the key ingredients are all there.

We could call the 3rd bottle ‘ringer number one,’ as it wasn’t technically a Chateauneuf, but its wild, almost burly characteristics of salted pork, green peppercorn and black currant sauce still screamed Rhone as loudly as any wine could. Unfortunately its intrigue was met w/ true grit in the palate, as the taut, unyielding wave of austere, almost leathery tannins left me wishing the Santa Duc Gigondas had at least a hair of the suppleness exhibited by the rest of the bunch. The Marcoux that followed provided a view into the other end of the spectrum, w/ its knockout nose of framboise, raspberry preserve and sweet rose petals. The liqueur-driven attack unfurls a delicious wave of flavor through the full-bodied, slightly one dimensional palate, finishing w/ slightly drying tannins. Three or four more years of cellaring should really help this ’03 blossom into form. As for the fifth bottle of the evening, I confess that I suggested this as a ringer, yet I still felt somewhat accomplished in being able to discern it from the rest of the bunch. The ’04 Turley Ueberroth Vineyard Zinfandel was about as flaccid and cloying as Zinfandel gets, lacking any sense of verve or definition that even the soft ’03 Chateauneuf du Papes possessed. What a clunker. On to the sweaty, yet supple Chateau de la Gardine Cuvee des Generations, which stood out from the Turley, yet not much else. While there is a decent core of crushed dark fruit, chocolate and café crème flavors, the wine was plagued by its one dimensional, banal character.

You ever get that feeling when you taste a wine blindly & know it is your wine but wish it wasn’t? Well, my bottle of Mas de Boislauzon Quet was definitely not on point during our evening, in spite of its provocative nose of cocoa dust, seaweed, cassis and dusty herb notes. The flavors were plagued by a streak of warm alcohol, starting fast and ending abruptly on the clipped finish that packed quite the bite. For the record, the importer of this wine, John Junguenet (who was sitting next to me) agreed w/ me that this was not a representative showing. Next was an outstanding, yet undistinguishable Chateauneuf that sprinkled its freshly brewed coffee, warm ganache and cassis flavors along its suave, sexy spine w/ good persistence and generous texture. While this is an outstanding vintage for Vatican’s Sixtine, it tastes like a wine that could have come from just about anywhere.

The flight of the night began w/ a wine that screamed Janasse Vieilles Vignes so loudly that it was almost too easy to guess. An absolutely dynamite 2003 from start to finish, w/ drop dead gorgeous flavors of kirsch liqueur, fruit cake and freshly cut flowers that fill an immensely constituted, layered body that retains exquisite balance, staying light on its feet through the wispy finish. Even though it is a real classic, I don’t think it would crack the top 3 vintages for this cuvee. The bookend to this flight was a great little find, a Clos des Pontifes fashioned by none other than Cambie himself (a man that really understood how to handle ’03…patiently). A fleshy, juicy torrent of sweet cassis, melted licorice and toasted nuts flavors glide over an almost seamless palate to a long, plush finish. This property was purchased by Chapoutier and I believe that the ’03 was the final vintage.

Now the next wine parted the table a la Moses & understandably so, as Vieux Donjon is a traditional stalwart of the appellation that has a fairly consistent profile from vintage to vintage. The aromas were almost bubbling out of the glass, w/ freshly ground pepper, saline, crème de cassis and crushed raspberry fruit all making an appearance. There is immediacy to the flavors in the mouth, which were atypically approachable and hedonistic for such a young Vieux Donjon, but I found it to be unquestionably delicious and complete from head to toe. The Chateau des Tours Vacqueyras was mildly marred by a TCA streak so we finished things up w/ the always reliable Domaine du Pegau Cuvee Reservee. I’ve had this wine over a dozen times and have come to the conclusion that it is beginning to firm up, as you can sense that everything is there until it practically caves in on the finish. I’d recommend sitting on these for at least another 3 years before dipping back into your stash.

Now the rest of the evening was a double-blind free for all. Bring whatever you feel like drinking and let it rip, w/ the first bottle of the bunch making a huge impression on just about all of us. The nose was pure Cote Rotie, with that exotic hint of the sauvage luring your nose to the glass for another sniff. Beautifully symmetrical and fresh in the mouth, w/ a spry, almost ethereal texture caressing the smoky flavors of raw beef and blackberry sauce. I wasn’t completely shocked to see it was a Lignier Morey Saint Denis Vieilles Vignes ’93, so color me pleasantly surprised. An ’00 Monpertuis followed suit in outstanding fashion, w/ an exceptionally lush profile of crushed berry and grilled herbs that tickled the palate through the silky smooth finish. This is a definite sleeper pick of the ’00 vintage that is worth seeking out.

Jim Gallagher, in typical fashion, brought a knife to the gunfight w/ his ’95 Lenz Merlot that more than held its own at our version of the O.K. Corall as it was a dead ringer for a right bank Bordeaux (I actually thought it reminded me of Viader too), w/ that classic claret combination of silky Merlot and spicy Cabernet Franc fruit sending notes of violet, menthol and sweet plum from the glass. Sexy, round and fully mature, this bottle is certain to turn a head or two & make people think twice about the North Fork’s potential. The ’97 Guigal La Mouline was not nearly as electric as one would hope for as it seemed more like a modern Rhone wannabe than the real deal. While full of sweet cassis, spice box and cocoa notes, it had an obvious glycerin induced, youthful superficiality about itself and lacked the depth, class and persistence that I’d expect from this bottling (counterfeit bottle?). The ’98 Chante Perdrix is now fully mature, w/ berry compote, roast beef and underbrush notes flowing through an abundantly sweet, soft profile. Paul Jaouen allowed me to nail another wine, simply because he ALWAYS brings a Chateau Musar to a blind tasting! The vintage is always a tricky proposition though, considering how slowly they appear to evolve. The ’91 sports an herb, cold steel and sour cherry inflicted nose that turns sappy in the palate, w/ firm, crunchy acids carrying a bed of warm red fruits to the resolved finish. Another disappointing showing came from the ’96 Phelps Insignia, which perhaps could have used a bit more airtime, as I had guessed it was the base Cabernet from Phelps w/ its sweet vanilla bean, black currant and toast notes. Ripe, round and a bit soft, with its gravely under toe creeping in on the straight forward finish.

We moved on to the most modern of Chateauneuf du Papes, Boisrenard, which turned in a fairly stout performance for ’04, with its big, layered mouthful of dark fig, licorice, melted chocolate and toast flavors that unfolded in the opulent finish. The fresh acidity was just enough to keep all its exuberance in check, which the vintage seemed to deliver in spades. The next two wines were unique older gems, starting w/ the ’88 Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico Riserva showing little signs of age, maintaining its fresh zingy acidity that carries along its tangy red fruits to an easy finish. With 6 more years under its belt, the ’82 Cayran Cahors turned out to be an exceptionally elegant, linear Malbec expression that opened our eyes to the longevity of the unheralded wines in the Southwest of France.

I suppose I threw in the Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova ’01 just to see if it would stick out in the crowd like a Brunello, or simply dissolve into the dump bucket as another innocuous modern interpretation. Well, the latter seems to be a bit more accurate, as the dark, almost inky colored robe paved the way for an over-riding sense of ripeness, w/ nebulous licorice and black currant flavors masking any sense of origin. I found it to be a delicious drink, yet not exactly one that evoked images of sun-drenched Tuscan soils. By the time we were pouring Santa Cosme’s Gigondas into our glasses, I noticed that my handwriting slipped somewhere into the unknown- so hopefully a generous soul will enlighten me to the vintage. Whatever the year, it was a class act showing of sweet cherry, bramble, pepper and spice box flavors that demonstrated great poise, freshness and balance. As for the ’89 Les Cailloux, in a word, WOW. While I love 1990 today, I adore 1989 tomorrow- and I often go back and forth between the two- but this was a spectacular showing in its textbook balance and claret-like regality. I think we popped another Gardine Generations w/ dessert and I believe it was a ’98. To say I can recall its characteristics would be more foolish than A-Rod’s trips to GNC, yet I did give it a score (which I wouldn’t put the most stock in).

All in all, ’03 Chateauneuf had some studs and its fair share of duds. The obviousness of the fruit is a trait that won’t appeal to all, but my problem w/ the vintage lies w/ the wines that had high alcohols and under-ripe tannins, leaving them w/ hollow mid-palates and clipped finishes. That said, it probably hasn’t been sense last year’s Super Bowl that I got that blitzed on a Sunday evening. I needed the nightcap w/ Josh & Ben like I needed a hole in the head. With that I bid you a fondue- peace.

Wine Score
Cotat Rose ’99 89 points
Clos des Papes ’03 84 points?
Cote de L’Ange ’03 91+ points
Santa Duc Gigondas ’03 87 points
Marcoux ’03 91+ points
Turley Ueberroth Zin ’04 78 points
La Gardine Generations ’03 87 points
Boislauzon Quet ’03 87 points?
Vatican Sixtine ’03 92 points
Janasse Vieilles Vignes ’03 95 points
Clos des Pontifes ’03 93 points
Vieux Donjon ’03 94 points
Chateau des Tours ’03 ?
Pegau ’03 94+ points
Lignier Morey St. Denis ’93 93 points
Monpertuis ’00 91 points
Lenz Merlot ’95 90 points
Guigal La Mouline ’97 89 points?
Chante Perdrix ’98 87 points
Chateau Musar ’91 89 points
Phelps Insignia ’96 90+ points
Boisrenard ’04 93+ points
Rocca ’88 86 points
Cayran Cahors ’82 88 points
Casanova di Neri TN ’01 90+ points
Saint Cosme Gigondas 90 points
Les Cailloux ’89 94 points
Garine Generations ’98 89 points

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Birthday night number one- Dauvissat Les Clos & Lafite

Technically, my birthday didn't commence until today, yet any excuse is a good excuse to pop an interesting bottle or two. My wife and I get cozy w/ these guys during a quiet dinner together last night.

Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos, '03
With '03 you've always got to be leery, which I assume is what had kept this bottle on the shelves over the past few years, but its tough to go wrong w/ a Dauvissat Les Clos, even in a dog of a vintage. The color is a deeper golden hue than one would expect, w/ a generous, ostentatious nose of creme friache, mango, melted butter, white currants and an intriguing saline element. While the attack is relatively soft and a bit obvious, it fans out to a fat, beautifully sweet midpalate that stylistically is reminiscent of a young Aubert Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast (which perhaps would be interpreted as a very backhanded complement, yet not from me). Even though it thins out a bit on the back end, this '03 is absolutely delicious. The structure manages to stay knit together, thanks to a buried pocket of acidity; though the wine does lose a bit of steam on the finish, 91 points.

Off to my favorite of the firsts:

Lafite '99
I feel that the '99 and the '01 are in a very similar place qualitatively as well as stylistically. A classic presentation of textbook Lafite stems from the glass, with a nose of lead pencil shavings, black truffle, tapenade, cedar and dusty cassis. The purity in the aromas translates beautifully to the palate. In the mouth, the ’99 weighs in w/ a lighter than air profile, yet doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of flavor intensity, as an ethereal, supremely elegant wave of toasted nuts and black currant flavors pirouette their way to the fresh, yet deceptively firm finish. To me, this is the archetype for how singular a Bordeaux expression of Cabernet can be. When you take a thick skinned, burly grape and dress it up in a regal Lafite robe, some real dynamic poetry happens, 94 points.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A top California Chardonnay that no one seems to be talking about

Peay Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast '06

I've had this wine twice and have no clue why it hasn't already become a California classic. The color is light gold, with flecks of green, swirling to a transparent nose of dandelions, honeysuckle, creme brulee, nectarine and sweet spices. The entry paves the way for a superbly focused, brilliant attack, chanelling high toned flavors over a pure beam of well defined minerality. This stuff glides along the palate as if it were guided by an artist's paint brush, leaving the canopy coated in bright citrus fruit. Effortless juice, and based on the descriptors I've consistently heard about the Rhys Chardonnays, it seems that Peay may be cut from the same cloth, 94 points.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Contrast is what makes them Compelling

While dozens of other illustrations cold exemplify my thread title, this particular thought was actually inspired by an Albarino. In terms of what 'varietally correct' actually means, the definition is likely best described w/in our own minds, tastes and perceptions of literature. That being said, my subjective bias comes into play w/ Albarino. From all I've read and tasted, I've surmised that the archetypal Albarino is a nervy, somewhat lean little bugger that isn't the most expressive grape in the bunch, yet it lures you in w/ its whispering complexities that unravel sip by sip. One taste of the '06 Do Ferreiro and it immediately struck me as if it were the original model, w/ its breed and character showing as clearly as a cloudless view from the harbor. Whether or not that impression is a correct one is surely up for debate, but what I loved most about how it struck me was that I almost immediately thought of its polar opposite cousin from Pazo de Senorans. Polar may be a bit strong, considering that I haven't found many extremities in terms of breadth from Albarino, but 'very different' is sure to suffice for the purpose of this discussion. Equal and opposite, yet on any given day, they are at the top of their game- and I find them to be two of the best Albarinos of the bunch (not to say I've had exhaustive experience...but these two producers surely can compete at the top of the pyramid). So what's all the hub-bub? For me, excellent wines from the same region and same grape that strike you totally differently is what makes the world of wine so fascinating. If a little glass of Albarino can remind me of what makes this breed of booze so beguiling (say that 5 times fast!), then I can't help but wonder if there are other wines out there that do the same for you guys?

In terms of region or variety, are there two wines that you can think of that are at odds w/ each other stylistically, yet qualitatively the best in the business?

The inspiration:

Do Ferreiro Albarino, ‘06, or 'the little Albarino that could'...

This is a really classically styled, complex Albarino that begins w/ a multi-layerd nose of lemon verbena, chalk dust, salty sea breeze and petrol that call an Alsatian Riesling to mind. Subtle and whispering, yet it keeps you coming back for more just to it to see if you missed something. The palate weaves in a vivid array of white peach and dried pineapple flavors that stay bound by that unmistakable sense of Albarino austerity, keeping things focused, angular and palpably mineral-toned. It all ties in beautifully at the end, letting notes of stone and jasmine chime in on the lingering finish. I can think of very few wines that juxtapose this type of weight w/ such a sense of severity in the spine. This is a far cry from the battonage bombshell by Pazo Senorans, but I find it equally compelling in its take from the other side of the spectrum, 90 points.