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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Outstanding Spanish White

Vineda de Nieva, Pie Franco '07

Along w/ Do Ferreiro’s Cepas Vellas this is yet another ancient, pre-phylloxera northwestern Spanish gem; coming from Rueda, in the form of 100 plus year old Verdejo vines. A slightly spritzy haze accompanies the straw robe, revealing an idiosyncratic nose of wintergreen, salt, apple, citrus peel and a leafy, almost arugula like note chiming in to add intrigue to the fabulous bouquet. The attack is wispy, almost weightless in nature, w/ a nice fleshy edge to frame the seashell-mineral core. This is fascinating, complex stuff and yet another reason for me to believe that vineyard maturation does indeed make a difference in determining a wine’s ultimate quality, 90 points.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Take the Pepsi Challenge...

Or at least take an esoteric one ;) The price tags of Long Island's wines have been bombarded from all angles, w/ their relative lack of quality at competitive price points being as redundant a theme as the next 'government bailout.' That said, Cabernet Franc shines just about as brightly in Long Island as it does anywhere else, and Schneider's line-up offers an uncompromising, hand-crafted sense of versatility & complexity from top to bottom. Before the proverbial 'sighs' are released from the frugal audience of naysers, the wine I'm referring to checks in at a relatively modest 20 dollars or so. I am not simply challenging you to try the wine, but I'm triple-dog daring you to find a Loire competitor that can bring this much quality to the table for a similar tariff. While you may not have much of a problem finding a worthy competitor, I doubt a 20-something Loire based Franc exists that can outclass this obscure little North Fork gem.

Schneider Le Breton Cabernet Franc, '07
From the highly touted 2007 vintage, Schneider checks in w/ another winner from their deep stable of Cabernet Franc cuvees. The obvious Loire inspiration shines brightly here, w/ a Chinon-like perfume of wild raspberry, red currant paste, graphite, wilted rose, underbrush and pipe tobacco notes. Though frank and almost vigorous at first, the mouthfeel reels in all of its funky flavors w/ supple precision (a sense of refinement that I find lacking in most Long Island Cabernet Francs). Juicy & wild, yet tamed, Schneider's wines continue to demonstrate that Franc's character alone won't put the North Fork on the map, but a touch of finesse goes a long way, 89+ points.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How old are your vines?

Vine age has to be one of my favorite, controversial arbiters of wine quality (next to native yeasts). I strongly believe that my favorite region of the wine world, Chateauneuf du Pape, benefits greatly from the century old Grenache vines that dug their roots in the ground sometime before World War One. Well how old is old? According to Lenz Winery in Long Island, they happen to have the oldest Merlot vines on United States soil, checking in a little over 30 years of age. Well the gnarly vine Zinfandels of California can claim close to 100 years of age or greater, so I suppose that puts Zin in such rarified New World Air that they can rival some of the oldest bush vine Syrah in the Australian outback.

How about 200 year old vines?

Now you must have just done a double-take, so let me repeat for effect.

How about 200 year old vines?

I guess vine age is all relative.

Do Ferreiro, of Rias Baixas Spain, reportedly has Albarino vines that push the 2 century mark, planted on sandy soils just west of the Atlantic (and just south of the War of 1812). The prestige cuvee, referred to as Cepas Vellas (or Vieilles Vignes to you Francophiles), is from a single plot of ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines that are so old they could have been a great grandfather to shoeless Joe Jackson. Whether or not vines hit a particular age that ‘maxes out their potential’ (in terms of clusters per vine, root penetration, minerality, depth or concentration) is certainly debatable, but really, how many 200 year old vine data sets to we have to form an educated opinion?

While 200 year old vines are a notable, freakish accomplishment of enduring viticulture in and of themselves, what does it mean in terms of the actual wine product they’ve created? Well I’ll just say this; the historical pundits won’t be the only ones interested as the wine’s quality is nothing short of remarkable. Think warm vintage Chablis, w/ a bit of Sancerre tossed in for good measure.

Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas Albarino, '07
Profound Albarino may seem like an oxymoron, but Do Ferreiro's Cepas Vellas absolutely smashes any preconceived notions of this varietal’s potential. Deep straw in color and surprisingly flattering in the nose, as a whiff of a tropical breeze rises from the glass in the form of peach, sea salt, cantaloupe, white flower and hot stone notes. A powerful, honeyed attack turns expansive and full in the midpalate, chiseling its way to a lacy, mineral-rich finish that seems to sail on and on. A unique display of force and focus that really stretches out as it evolves in the glass. What breed! 94 points.
*Eh-hem, behind the bottle the winery makes a rather modest suggestion of pairing this wine w/ oysters. Do yourself a favor, up the ante and bring something more serious to the will plow right through shellfish.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Pauillac’s top values go head to head, Pontet Canet vs. Grand Puy Lacoste

One of the advantages of setting up a vertical w/ ‘lesser’ chateau is that it is easier to incorporate the best vintages, as opposed to going the route of tasting top chateau from less than ideal years. Grand Puy Lacoste and Pontet Canet will never get the top billing of the famous firsts or super seconds in their storied commune, but they’re formidable, downright affordable Medocs that merited our attention. Our vertical encompassed top vintages, including: ’82, ’90, ’95, ’96, ’00, ’03 and ’05, which served single blind. The wines, for the most part, did not disappoint.

Pontet Canet has caught fire, beginning w/ the blockbuster ’03 vintage, and hasn’t skipped a beat from ’04-’06 under proprietor Alfred Tesseron’s guidance. Although the estate’s prices have caught up to the wine’s quality, it still represents excellent value relative to its more illustrious Pauillac neighbors. I regard the ’05 as one of top 3 or so wines of the vintage for the money, and taking into consideration how stiff the competition in ’05 is, that is some lofty praise.

That being said, my experience w/ Grand Puy Lacoste could be labeled as anemic at best. If this vertical left me w/ one prevailing conclusion, it is to drink more Grand Puy Lacoste. This estate’s wines were consistently showy, yet pure, and bested its streaky opponent in the majority of the vintages that we tasted. I don’t know if any Bordeaux fanatic would consider it to be an under the radar Chateau, but I can say one thing for sure…it is no longer just a blip on my screen.

My blind white, from the venerable Ferret estate:

I brought this for a couple reasons. First, I felt like being a bit of a weasel and tricking the crowd a bit by bringing a Burgundy (white Rhone & white Bordeaux were obvious guesses by default). Second, this is one of the final vintages made under the Ferret family label, as this estate was bought out by Domaine Jadot in ’07. The nose of subtle brioche, lanolin, honeysuckle and green fruits rose from the glass w/ brightness in pitch that sang of its structured youth. The warmth of the fig fruit enveloped the palate w/ a creamy, yet piercing profile that turned my cheeks inside out from its lively acidity. The wine finished exceptionally strong, leaving the impression of green apple skins and rocks skipping along a river stream. The ’05, Les Moulins showed beautifully, but the best is yet to come, 91+ points.

The ’82 and ’90 Grand Puy Lacoste were served side by side, and their differing characteristics revealed themselves immediately. The ’82 was aromatically brilliant, w/ a perfume of freshly cut cedar, truffles, smoky plum and cherry fruit that picked up a dusty note upon palate entry. This particular bottle revealed more evolution than the one I tasted this past Saturday, drying out a bit on the compressed finish, 88 points. The ’90, on the other hand, took a bit of coaxing to reveal its beautiful core of crème de cassis, pencil lead, crushed berry and anise. The palate was exceptionally round and full, building incrementally to the broad and persistent finish, 95 points.

The ‘95s were served side by side, beginning w/ the exceptionally pure Grand Puy Lacoste. Primary, yet fabulous, the palate revealed the essence of cherry fruit, as if each sip were the flesh of a cherry itself. The juicy, succulence of the flavors were framed by long, shapely tannins that were underscored by a flinty suggestion of minerals, 94 points. The Pontet Canet followed well, yet lacked the harmony and intrinsic beauty. Chunky and flashy flavors of seared beef, licorice root, blackberry, spice box and toasty oak screamed through the attack, but lost a bit of steam on the narrowing finish. Whether or not time will help stretch out this savory gem is debatable, 91+ points.

As we approached the 1996 vintage, we did so under a microscope, as selecting a favorite required fairly exacting science. Both were decidedly funky, w/ the Grand Puy Lacoste revealing a wild mushroom, cassis and spicy anise nose that shifted to a soft, enveloping caress on the palate. The Pontet Canet, perhaps even gamier aromatically, possessed similar supple texture but more structure, reinforcing its plumy, cocoa flavors w/ excellent freshness and length. I put them at 91 and 92 points, respectively.

We had labeled wines as A & B up to this point, but this flight had a 3rd musketeer which was dubbed as ‘?’. The first in line from the 2000 vintage was one of the biggest disappointments of the evening, with a transient nose of espresso roast & blackberry that sparked up initially, and then tucked itself away for the evening. The mouthfeel was ungenerous at best, becoming gaunt on the mid-palate, chipping away on the narrow, squat finish. Pontet Canet is certainly in a dumb phase & didn’t show me enough life to breathe much optimism into its future, 84 points? This was followed up by the exceptionally balanced, precise Grand Puy Lacoste, demonstrating that classic nose of crème de cassis just as the ’90 did. While mouth-filling and frankly opulent, the deep core of flavor never steers away from its grounded, exacting focus, 93+ points. As for the ‘?,’ it was a dark, nearly inky explosion of layer upon layer of menthol, blue and black fruits, w/ awesome palate penetration & sheer flavor authority. Perhaps in the vein of ‘under-classified’ Pauillac, Ben Goldberg tossed a 5th Growth, Lynch Bages, into the 2000 bunch, and I think it is best labeled w/ one word, powerhouse, 95+ points.

Finishing things up w/ ’03 and ’05, the vintages couldn’t have formed a starker contrast. The ’03 Pontet Canet, perhaps the vintage that put this estate on my map, still has the seething, exceptionally rich nose of black cherry liqueur, sweet earth, milk chocolate and roasted nuts that I found enticing a few years back. While the entry is creamy and fat, the palate takes a shrill turn, as the flesh that I once adored is a bit hidden, completely exposing the underbelly of the wine on the grippy, almost mouth-searing finish. The Grand Puy Lacoste’s ’03 was doomed from the start, smelling of Turley’s Juvenile Zinfandel cuvee w/ its brambly, wild berry fruit which receded in the palate faster than Andre Agassi’s hairline. At this point, the finishes are really killing the ‘03s, w/o the exuberant make-up to hide their drying, almost coarse tannic shells. Rating these wines in this state of their evolution isn’t exactly fair, but the superiority of the Pontet Canet is obvious and bears noting.

The ‘05s, crammed with potential, are going to be nothing short of breathtaking. The Grand Puy Lacoste began at a disadvantage, revealing next to nothing at first, save for the char of the new oak it was just housed in. As it sat in the glass, it remained compact, but its raw power and depth became more and more impressive, in a brooding, fascinating way, 94+ points. The Pontet Canet ’05 is a bright shining star, as everything is there, brilliant fruit, acidity and exceptionally sweet tannins that frame the package with sheer artistry. This wine is a modern classic and tastes like it has the stuff that legends are made of, 96+ points.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A collection of '07 Cotes du Rhone, a Treasure Trove of Value

There isn't often a sense of palpable excitement over 10 dollar wine, yet this group of cheapies offer a window into the recent explosion of quality that generic '07 Rhones are offering at the most modest of price-points. This vintage of Cotes du Rhone continues to provide the best bang for your recession era buck (notice the consistent themes of intensity of flavor, color saturation and round, mouth-filling texture) and these widely available bottlings are a great place to start your foray into the heralded class of 2007:

Domaine Les Grands Bois, Cuvee Les Trois Soeurs '07
Nearly opaque Cotes du Rhone? Oh yeah baby- get used to that tune in this vintage because it is as redundant as a rendition of ‘Who's on First,’ during Rain Man. A powerful, extraverted bouquet of big, black licorice, cherry liqueur, orange peel and cola scents dazzle their way from the glass. The mouth-feel is tremendously lush, full-flavored and tastes like the essence of liquefied Grenache. I love the intensity of fruit, supple texture and sheer hedonism of this cuvee, absolutely shattering any preconceived notion of what can be accomplished at this price-point, 91 points.

Domaine La Garrigue Cuvee Romaine, '07
How many 'never miss' 11 dollar wines are out there? Will, this is easily one of them, and the '07 is a particularly well built, powerful expression of old vines. The hue is deep ruby, w/ a serious, barrel sample-like nose of crushed black cherry, seared beef, pepper and plum sauce scents. The palate is simply a fistfull of big, fully loaded Provencal flavors that unwind spicy dark fruit notes through to the round, surprisingly fresh finish, 90 points.

Mordoree CDR La Dame Rousse ‘07
07, are you kidding me? CDR is an acronym that takes on a entirely different meaning in this vintage, w/ the cheapie (12 bucks and change for the recession sensitive) Mordoree early release churning out an immense, purple color. A smokin’ bouquet of crème de cassis, plum cake, maple wood and smoky fireplace notes scream from the glass. The flavors turn lip-smackin’ and almost chewy in the palate, stirring up vivid, purple fruit flavors that are allied to a well rounded frame; echoing a sweet milk-chocolate note on the finish, 90 points.

Monpertuis Vignoble de la Ramiere, Cotes du Rhone ’07
Another fruit forward, expressively perfumed ’07, w/ a spectacular array of blueberry, cherry liqueur, rose petals and damp firewood notes that gush from the glass. A mouth filling entry turns juicy and well rounded in the palate, w/ good acidity, medium weight and excellent flavor authority. While not quite at the level of the crème de la crème for ’07 Cotes du Rhone, it has to be the best version I’ve had from Monpertuis, 88 points.

For fair balance, here's one that I wasn't thrilled with:

Paul Autard CDR '07
A big, grapey performance, w/ a purple colored robe that is nearly impenetrably dark. The sweet entry shifts violet, blueberry and cola notes through the palate with a surprisingly high level of tannins. In spite of its firmness, things manage to roll on w/o a hitch, thanks to the glycerin charged-ripeness. Fails to really impress at the end of the day, as it is little more than a one-dimensional experience, 84 points.