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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Banter Amongst Grapes

Grenache asked Cabernet, “why do all the other vines always pick on me so?” Cabernet responded abruptly, “quite simply, you aren’t a noble grape.” Grenache wondered what noble meant. Cabernet wasn’t exactly sure, yet always assumed it was noble because it came from Bordeaux, the best region in the world (and that sense of false bravado always made Cabernet forget about the fact that it was spawn from a one night stand between the floozy Sauvignon Blanc and its not so admirable father, Cabernet Franc). Grenache didn’t like being in oak very much, the place where all the noble kids tend to play, but felt defiant today and challenged “if you are so damn noble, then what do you need oak for?” Cabernet got a bit defensive. “Just because you can’t handle it doesn’t mean you have to knock it,” Cabernet said. Grenache replied, “Well all you taste of is oak these days. Since when were mocha, coffee, toast, graphite, vanilla and smoke your varietal character? Do you even know what you taste like without that oaky façade?” Now Cabernet was getting angry. “Listen you overly alcoholic runt, I last longer, have more muscle, better structure and cost a hell of a lot more than you do, so you best step off before I splinter you w/ my mighty oak tannins!” Grenache scoffed at Cabernet’s antagonism, growing in confidence as the verbal sparing continued. “Well I happen to be the world’s most influential wine critic’s favorite drink and I don’t need any make-up to look good. Last I checked wine drinkers no longer have the patience for you to come around while I am delicious right out of the gates.”

Cabernet, once austere and rigid, was aghast that it was challenged by something so low on the vinifera food chain….but had to admit that there was something kinky about the way Grenache argued. “Well you certainly are a cocky little one. Although I’m somewhat repulsed by your inadequacies, you are growing on me…like a fungus. Care to step out for a drink?” “Gladly,” said Grenache. “How ‘bout a Chateauneuf?”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A 1981 horizontal, where neither of the two outstanding wines are red Bordeaux

The shadows of greatness can be a very cold, damp place, and for good reason. 1982’s big splash must have left its older sibling sitting on retail shelves over the past few decades, complete w/ cobwebs piling atop their worn, tired labels. Often overlooked and somewhat maligned, I wondered if 1981 had anything going for it besides the fact that it wasn’t 1980. Is there anything special that’s locked up in those lonely old bottles, or have they already gone quietly into that goodnight? Well, any investigation involving wine is a worthwhile one, and oddly enough, two terrific vinous experiences (complete w/ 1981 birthdates) emerged from this study. Unfortunately, for Bordeaux’s sake, they were not claret.

Now don’t get me wrong, the wines involved in this horizontal were not awful, but the term ‘claret drinker’s vintage’ strikes me as overly apologetic w/ regards to 1981. If claret means hollow, short and attenuated, perhaps the phrase would be apropos….but I suppose semantic discrepancies abound in our beloved hobby. It’s not like the estates were run of the mill either, as the line-up included Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante, Haut Bailly, Pichon Lalande, La Mission Haut Brion & Leoville Las Cases. Out of the group, I found La Mission to be the most affable, albeit in a foursquare fashion. The Lalande was a bit weedy, yet still packed a punch, and while there was a sense of delicacy to the Leoville & La Conseillante, I imagine their flavors faded quicker than ‘81 vintage hype after the ‘82s arrived on the scene. Pleasant without profundity was perhaps the conceit of the vintage, at least from this small sample size. While it is tempting to purchase the more regal Chateau from off years at lower prices, this group of ‘81s did little to validate that logic. I didn’t score any wine higher than 88 points (most were in the low to mid 80’s).

Wait a minute…didn’t I have a bit more rosy theme for this vintage? See I got all caught up in Red Bordeaux that I completely forgot some of the Graves estates make white wine too! Well, our horizontal tasting saved the best for….first. A blind white wine of unknown origin (and pristine provenance I might add) was graciously donated by Ben Goldberg to kick things off. Well folks, it was just about all downhill after this one. The white was shimmering (in what I thought was its youth), with fascinating detail to its nose of pine, powdered stone, candle wax and marzipan scents. The attack was surprisingly sweet, w/ a honeyed, quince-like flavor buttressed by a round, almost grassy palate that flowed brilliantly to the finish. The complexities of the ’81 Laville Haut Brion Blanc were as intricate and precise as they come, and she was a simply outstanding bottle (91 points, in most anyone’s book).

The ‘other red,’ which we were told was an ’81 as well, couldn’t have been further from the Left Bank of Bordeaux if it tried (at least from a qualitative standpoint). The poise and depth were immediately evident, as the bouquet of rosemary, damp underbrush, cedar, sweet cherry and hints of high quality balsamic left a big impression on all of our olfactory senses. The sense of vivacity and intensity in the wine’s mouth-feel was tremendous for an ’81, w/ a sappy, almost succulent texture filling out the body from cheek to cheek. As it aired, it seemed to go from strength to strength, picking up steam on the juicy, persistent finish. This was easily the liveliest ’81 I’ve tasted to date, and to my palate, only Beaucastel came close in quality to this performance by Vega Sicila’s Unico (94 points).

What a coup! How does a Spanish stalwart come out on top in a horizontal of ’81 Bordeaux? Always beware of the ringers I say, but this got me to thinking, did the sun only shine in Spain in 1981? Was Laville lucky in that they picked before harvest rains? Are there any Chateaus that truly stood out in this vintage? I’d heard a rumor that Penfold’s Grange was a contender in 1981, but I personally haven’t had the pleasure of making its acquaintance….are there any wines out there from a forgotten vintage that come to mind as truly being exemplary?

As a prologue, I felt privileged to have tasted the Unico….I mean a lot of geeks know the great vintages, but how cool is ’81 pillow talk?!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The '07 Cotes du Rhone train rolls on

The quality price ratio for Cotes du Rhone in 2007 is pretty much's yet another example of how pound for pound, this vintage is an undisputed champion:

Grand Veneur Reserve CDR '07
Another delicious '07, w/ a deep ruby hue, revealing a nose of hoison sauce, pepper, seaweed and pure black cherry liqueur. The wine splashes an equal dose of spice and tang in the palate, w/ a beefy spine pumping some serious dark fruit through to the finish. High octane, yet decidedly authentic, 89 points.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A producer that should not be ignored by Old World palates

The buzz on Achaval Ferrer, from a critical standpoint, is seemingly approaching a zenith, yet I believe their wines still get lost in the shuffle w/ regard to many fans of old world wines. The fast appeal of Argentina’s flagship grape seems closely linked to value, their immediacy of primary fruit and easy going supple textures. Flying winemakers like Paul Hobbs & Michel Rolland (not to mention a project involving Cheval Blanc) have flocked to South America, making wines of exquisite polish and explosive flavors. While their success certainly speaks for itself, I don’t believe that is all Argentina has to say. Achaval Ferrer is a case and point, and is a producer that I believe Old World fans should not ignore.

The reasons I think Achaval Ferrer lines up nicely w/ Old World palates (unlike several popular Malbecs from Argentina):

· Low alcohol, low pH (high altitude vineyard sites, early harvesting)
· Serious, legitimate minerality
· Potential longevity (how many producers actually recommend decanting their wines on the back of the label?!)
· Familiar thread (old, pre-phylloxera vines, poor soils)
· Lazy wine-making (judicious use of oak, minimal S02, wild fermentations)
· Singular wines (they don’t taste like Cabernet or Merlot…they don’t seem as if they could have been made from ‘just about anywhere’)

That being said, their profiles are unique and of course, aren’t for everyone. While the single vineyard designates are pricey, the entry level Malbec blend is a qualitative equivalent to a good vintage of Vieille Cure or Chateau D’Aiguilhe (for less money). If you haven’t tried a Malbec from Achaval Ferrer or if you have any preconceived notions w/ regards to what Argentina is all about, give a recent vintage of their entry level Malbec a shot. It’s a low risk, high reward proposition….and as the team at Achaval Ferrer recommends, please decant.

Achaval Ferrer Malbec, Mendoza '08
The most fresh Malbecs almost always come from Achaval Ferrer, w/ their '08's 'typicity' blend (the SVDs are more about showing off each particular parcel) revealing about as dark a robe as any, yet clocking in under 14% alcohol. The fresh and lively perfume is filled with lilac, basil, cedar, wild blueberry, cassis and roast beef notes. In the palate, the wine has mouth-watering acidity and laser-like focus, gliding w/ ease to an elegant mineral-bath of a finish (the likes of which I seldom notice in any red wine of this intensity). In my opinion, the only other appellation that can produce wines with this remarkable level of clarity and finesse at this price point is Bordeaux, 91 points.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Hard at work in the Podcast Studio...

I wanted to pass along a brief update on the podcast project to give you all a status report. Each show is just under 30 minutes in length (which we feel are jam-packed and ADHD friendly), though the inaugural cast is more of a 15 minute teaser. Roughly 6 episodes have already been recorded (including an in-depth interview w/ Santiago Achaval of Achaval Ferrer, arguably the top producer of Malbec in Mendoza) & Ben and I are fine tuning a few odds and ends. Between tweaking the sound quality and editing out a few ummms and uhhhs (I had no idea I used the phrase 'at the end of the day...' in nearly every sentence- gotta love those verbal ticks!), we are doing what we can to make this product as top shelf and entertaining as possible. I'm very excited to report that the content thus far is as irreverent as it is informative!

The launch of our weekly series is on the horizon so continue be on the lookout for it!