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Monday, September 28, 2009

Recent Munchings on a Chateauneuf sandwich vintage

'99, '04 and '06 are hype's forgotten children, but us Chateauneuf drinkers will be getting plenty of mileage out of them for years to come. They sure get more to the gallon than the super premium jobs, and they’re ready to roll fresh out of the shop. I’ve been dipping into my ’06 stash of late, and I think the vintage will continue to compare favorably w/ ’04 in quality, style & value.

Clos du Mont Olivet, Cuvee Papet '06

A heady, spice rack of a wine, w/ a healthy dose of black pepper, cut cedar, cassis and game aromas working their way from the stem. The wine is classically structured and chewy in the palate, w/ a bit more bite than most '06s, w/ a firm, peppery command punctuating the close. This has the burly type of spice one expects from a young Crozes Hermitage. If you're curious to pop a cork now, you best be bringing beef to the table, 91+ points.

Vieille Julienne '06 CDP

Tight at first, but as it airs the purity of the vintage begins to shine through in the shape of rose, lavender, dark chocolate, blueberry and cassis fruit. Dense and layered, gently unfurling its polished flavors w/ grace and ease. A textbook Julienne, full on flavor & tannin, yet fair on the palate. She's another pretty one, 93+ points.

Colombis, '06'

06 was a lovely vintage for Isabel Ferrando's line-up, w/ her newlest label showcasing a harmony between the finesse of a Pinot Noir and the flesh of Grenache. This medium ruby shaded red smells of potpourri, fig paste, cinammon & sweet cherry liqueur. The flavors tap-dance across the palate, w/ succulent texture, fabulous purity and an easy-going freshness. Great out of the gates, and sure to please over the next dozen years, 92 points.

*I purchased each of the previous 3 wines for under 40 dollars (and the Colombis for 20 and change!).

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.

Pegau '06

This is my first taste of ’06 Pegau since sampling it from barrel a while back. The scents burst at the seams, with a flurry of pepper, leather, garrigue and warm cassis notes swimming away from the stem. A seamless, mid-to heavy weight boxer in the palate, with its tannins packed away under a silky veil of earthy fruit. The finish lays down the most blatantly bloody flavor I've ever noticed in a wine, rich in iron and lingering like bits of beef wedged between the teeth, 94 points.

Thus far, the most impressive '06 I've had outside of Vieille Julienne's Reserve has been Clos des Papes. It was rip-roarin' yet again over the weekend, with all the pepper, kirsch and gorgeous cassis fruit one could hope for. The depth and length are tape-measure jobs, and I can see this one going the distance, 97+ points.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Giving the Mailing List a Reboot

Almost exclusively a domestic wine phenomenon, the ‘mailing list’ is rejoiced in as often as it is reproached. Its maladies have been chronicled here ad nauseam, so I feel compelled to cite what endears me to it. While scarcity and exclusivity are obligatory reasons to march along the mailing parade, variety is what turns its necessity into a gift. Oddly, I think the two examples that provide me the most joy come from opposite coasts. Foxen, pocketed within a Santa Maria canyon, and Channing Daughters, near the edge of a fork at the east end, each exemplify all that’s right with the mailing list.

While each producer has their signatures, neither clings too tightly to a flagship. Channing Daughters finds their inspiration from Italian soils, crafting the only Tocai Friulano Pinot Bianco & Pinot Gris blends on the island. While its pulse may lay in Friuli, Channing breathes an air of all sorts of variety, including Gewurztraminer, Blaufrankisch, Aligote, Semillon, Muscat Ottonel & a mélange of the usual suspects one would expect form most any Long Island Winery. Over 25 different cuvees are made at Channing Daughters, experimenting not only w/ a variety of grapes, but clones, yeasts, oak casks (Slovenian, Hungarian, American & French oak all make an appearance in the cellar) and fermentation technique (whites co-fermented w/ reds, whites fermented on the skins, etc.) all vary from wine to wine. Channing Daughers not only sounds unique on paper, their wines deliver distinction to the more important senses of smell & taste. Their Tocai Friulano carries a telltale note of bitter almond, the native yeasts wildly punctuate the Sauvignon Blanc & each Chardonnay clone casts its own series of defining characteristics. The field blend, Mosaico, pays homage to Friuli by highlighting a particular spot in the vineyard, and their most novel blends, called Meditazione & Envelope, carry all the fiery layers of nuance that fermenting w/ grape skins can provide white wines.

Broadly speaking, Channing Daughters wines possess more punch & flesh than the vast majority of whites I’ve tasted from the east end. Each bottle exhibits a sense of creative artistry that is particularly daring when considering its humble origins. Imaginative wines that also manage to be pleasurable are some of wine’s richest discoveries, and thanks to the mailing list, I can relish in this find every other month.

Foxen, on the other coast, is a producer that I’ve had difficulty defining. Although they’ve upgraded their tasting facilities to a more contemporary dwelling, I can’t help but associate the Foxen label w/ the homey, unadorned shack that tugs you away from the road like a toy to a child. A quick glance at their line-up leaves you w/ the impression that Bill & Dick specialize in Rhone varietals, but that thought quickly dissolves into a soupy haze once your eyes crust over the words ‘Chenin Blanc.’ Not to be outdone, the Chenin anomaly finds company in various shapes & sizes, as their roster is filled with the likes of Sangiovese, Bordeaux & Burgundian varieties, Zinfandel and the Mission Grape (aptly listed in the ‘other wines’ section of their website). Wineries that attempt to master innumerable, finicky grapes usually render my intrigue idle, but not Foxen. There’s a spunky flash to be found in each of their wines, as if they were comedic on the surface but proud & humble at the core. Each bottle is packed w/ exciting, vivid flavors that remind you how fun good wine can be. In fact, tasting through Foxen’s wines is one of the first memories I have of anthropomorphizing wine. The personalities of each were too bright not to notice. While I’m certain I’d had other wines that were deserving of human characteristics before, I felt too mired in falsity to put a name to their faces. Sometimes I’m limited by environment, but at Foxen, the scent of pretension wouldn’t dare skulk through that shack’s stratum. A bit of irreverent wordplay always helps the young taster along too. Toasted Rope anyone?

The variety shared by each producer plays out like a bi-monthly gift, arriving at the base of my doorstep as if it were a Christmas tree rug. Each delivery finds me excited, with my interest on high and cynicism in the shadows. There’s something precious about the unpredictability of each package. I still view each bottle of Foxen as openly as their facade-less shack in Santa Maria, and each bottle of Channing Daughters as a liquid painted canvas, with all the artistry of one of their winery's wooden sculptures. The prices are modest and the shipments are small, keeping the debit dent well below the wife’s radar screen (nothing ruins child-like bliss more than fiscal responsibility). Foxen and Channing Daughters have taught me to embrace the mailing list, almost forgetting the four letter words attached to concepts like ‘allocation size’ and ‘waiting list.’
Yep, I can easily say that these guys do the mailing list right. Who out there has changed your perception of what is right w/ the mailing list? Or, if you are in more pessimistic spirits, who most perpetuates the odious connotation we have w/ the mailing list?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Biodynamics, Method to the Madness?

Just how many domaines are biodynamic in Chateauneuf du Pape? For a quick temperature check you need not look any further than to consultant extraordinaire, Philippe Cambie. With close to three quarters of Cambie's clients practicing biodynamic farming, this statistic takes on heavy relevance when considering his reach. While Chateauneuf is hardly the only region where biodynamics have taken a fashionable stronghold, its rampant proliferation brings to mind the question:

Gimmick or greatness?

Most fads tend to die out as quickly as they emerge, but when considering the fact that biodynamic farming demands excruciating diligence as well as obedience, it is difficult to paint it with an ephemeral brush. While there are certain to be some pockets of false brands that hope to use a biodynamic calling card as a sales pitch, the sheer difficulty of becoming certified (much less the laborious practice itself) is likely to discourage this as a widespread practice.

In terms of my personal understanding of it all, I'd like to appreciate how taste, or viticultural growth & vitality, are affected from a gravitational perspective, but I'm still wrapping my brain around the moon's more linear effects on tide & weight. Walk before I run.

What I find compelling is that at the root of this philosophy there is an immutable dedication and almost fanatical passion which often does find its way into the bottle. I am certain there are biodynamic wines that I won't enjoy, but I'd imagine the sheer attention to detail will almost always lead to something at least moderately interesting, if not convincing. If I looked at bottle selection purely from an inorganic, organic and biodynamic point of view, I'd imagine my batting average would increase as I moved along that pendulum (not to say there wouldn't be plenty of caveats). Even if I can't grasp how one can be so unearthly to say that 'they became a vine' or comprehend their extolled virtues of the 4th dimension, I have noticed that the crazier the vigneron, the more likely I am to find their product to be provocative in the least. While I've yet to find a true quality guarantee, a biodynamic stamp is as close as it gets to immediate intrigue.