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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dynamite Rose for a Fair Fare

Bastide Blanche, Bandol Rose '09

A pale (surprisingly so for the appellation) salmon hued rose, draped in iron, sea salt, blood orange & strawberry aromas. From its mildly earthy nose it deepens in the palate, broadening to a savory scope of flavors that I found myself nearly chewing through. Powerful & texturally brilliant, finishing w/ a fine, pebbly edge that dangles a dusty graphite note on a string. Packs a Tempier punch at a discounted fare, 91 points.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Excellent Value in White Bordeaux

Value in the un-value of wine categories can be a particularly enjoyable find. At 14 dollars and change it doesn't get much better than this for boutique blanc:

Graville Lacoste '08

One of my favorite cepages for Bordeaux blanc, w/ this Kermit Lynch import layering a larger portion of Semillon in the blend, keeping Sauvignon Blanc & Muscadelle in the passenger seat. The light golden colored wine has a sensational, waxy nose of chive, freshly cut grass, white peach, guava and honey. Bracing on entry, yet paradoxically wrapped in an unctuous texture that balances well tailored oak w/ good concentration. A lush tug of acidity echoes on the finish, teasing you to another sip. Just a terrific value in white Bordeaux & a great gateway drug to boot, 89 points.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Hospice du Rhone Installment 4: Chateauneuf du Pape

After the dust settled from the whipping mane of Charles Smith, the tone & texture of Hopsice du Rhone began to soften. I’m uncertain whether or not the stridence of Smith’s exposition submarined the Chateauneuf seminar, but I will offer that it was my least favorite of the exquisitely run events at the 2010 Hospice. Heretical words from a bleeder of Grenache blood I know, resembling a rough equivalent to a closet confession from ESPN’s Dick Vitale- sobbing his preference of NBA to the NCAA. 10 Hail Mary’s, 4 Our Fathers. Please submit to the court some self-damning evidence: I’ve had all these wines on numerous other occasions, the translation of our esteemed French guests was staticy, Charles Smith got me drunk on Grower Champagne at 9 am…but I digress.

Michel Tardieu (the namesake ‘Tardieu Laurent’), Vincent Maurel (Clos St. Jean) & Philippe Cambie paneled the ‘Incredible Cambie-nation,’ aptly named when one considers the expanse of Philippe’s resume. Cambie consults to a nation of Chateaueneuf producers, a who’s who in globally great Grenache. Zealots that cast Rolland-size stones towards Cambie’s houses should reconsider, when looking up & down Cambie’s ladder from Clos St. Jean to Vieux Donjon we objectively see that these houses are in fact, not all alike. In fact, they are about as polarizing in terms of style, approach & execution as wines get in Chateauneuf. The one commonality they all seem to share: critics love them. If you’re a start-up domaine in the region and are looking to craft a ‘Cambie-ized wine,’ I suggest the following approach. Draw from ancient vineyard, bio-dynamically grown Grenache, planted to sandy, stony, alluvial soils. Make one cuvee, scratch that, multiple cuvees…make both. Take a traditionally modern approach, incorporate cement tanks, foudres, small barrels, de-stem, don’t de-stem. Vinify ripe fruit w/ native yeasts, stir, wash, rinse. Aim for fruity, earthy wines. Spicy, subtle, explosive- geared for the masses and the artisanal consumer. A little dab will do yah, coated completely.

There’s your Cambie-ized wine. A simple, complex approach. Thank goodness Philippe Cambie doesn’t paint with the grossly generalized, erroneous brush that’s blotching up the blogosphere, otherwise the Chateauneuf faithful would be draped in cloaks, dogmatic and clanking, a spewed rhetoric. If you ask me, his palate & his wines are emblematic of the acute heterogeneity I noticed sitting next to, behind & in front of me, from palate to palate. If all the estates he’d been working with had crafted similar wines, I’d think our collective passions would be all the less…passionate.

That said, Clos Saint Jean really is Cambie’s wine. Out of all the domaines he consults for, Clos Saint Jean is one of which he comes closest to ‘making’ on his own accord. The style of this particular domaine is of the darkest and most brooding the region’s ever seen. From this stylistic perspective, it makes wines grouped w/ Clos St. Jean show feebly by comparison, as if they were a welterweight competing out of class. Michel Tardieu’s wines, to my palate, suffered that fate to a degree- but I’ll also posit that Tardieu’s wines simply aren’t as objectively impressive, even in isolation. This was a Clos St. Jean pow-wow, with Tardieu’s tickle tangling in the afterburners.

Clos St. Jean CDP Blanc, ‘07
The weakest of the group for Clos St. Jean remains their white offering, which resembles a workman like affair of modest melon, pineapple & honeyed toast notes. The entry has an immediate lushness, yet fans out to a bit of a foursquare body, teasing out a finish of green apple peel bite, 87 points.

Michel Tardieu CDP Blanc, ‘07
The one area where Tardieu’s wines eclipse Clos St. Jean was its white, a Grenache Blanc dominated blend that adds a drip of Roussanne to the mix. The color is a deeper, more saturate gold than the CSJ, with a creamy, rich nose of nutmeg & tapioca pudding notes filling out the bouquet. As if on a swivel, the palate turns a bright shade, with its sharp, exacting focus giving light to the baked apple and honeysuckle flavors that linger nicely on the long, alluring finish, 92 points.

Michel Tardieu CDP Grenache, La Crau ‘07
A nice offering from Tardieu, with a dark core of baking spices, roast coffee, black raspberrry & kirsch notes dominating the profile in very 2007 fashion. As it airs the bouquet soars into plumes, through still reserved in the palate, taut yet supple, awash with crushed berry notes. Pushed by a generous thrust of acidity, the finish tugs at the cheeks with a snap of dark pepper. This wine really seemed to augment & strut with exposure to air, boding well for the near-term future, 92+ points.

Clos St. Jean Deus Ex Machina, ‘07
A bit early to be sampling the big kahuna (much less a neonatal version of said kahuna), yet one never turns down a chance to dance with this Colossus. 60% Grenache & 40% Mourvedre, 100% beast…an immobile titan of a wine, carved of stone, with a deep, impenetrably closed façade that showcases as much raw power & density as one could imagine a performance enhanced Chateauneuf could achieve. The palate is jammed with mouth-coating tannin, towers of raw extract & enough glycerine to choke a horse, barely delineating its pitch black flavors that bite like heady espresso. Too young to taste, too palpable not to marvel, 96+ points.

Michel Tardieu CDP Grenache, La Crau ‘06
This was not an impressive 2006, as it was plagued by a blowzy aimlessness from nose to palate. The risks of stand alone Grenache cuvees are numerous, with one consequence being its propensity to develop dried fruit notes that teeter-todder one’s personal levels of acceptability, what I like to call the subjective debate of ‘when does a fig become a raisin.’ This wine was pricked by such a defect, alongside its salty, seaweed like characteristics that just didn’t mesh with its turbulent structure. Is it crawling into an awkward phase or simply awkward? Let’s hope this showing was an intermittent one, for buyer’s sake, 76 points.

Clos St. Jean Deus Ex Machina, ‘06
Surprise, surprise; guess which domaine found unexpected opulence in 2006? Alongside Clos des Papes, CSJ crafted wines of uncanny power in this vintage, yet the Deus is noteworthy for the clarity that’s found in its muscle. The dark fruited, profound tactile experience is brought into focus with an airbrush, as the tannins are impossibly fine for a wine of such raw youth & mass. Don’t confuse this with drinkability, as I’d recommend owners of this wine keep it under lock & key for at least 5 more years, 95+ points.

Michel Tardieu Grenache, La Crau ‘05
The stony, sea-salt theme found in the 2006 is also evident in this vintage, yet it’s wrapped in a much more classic, well-proportioned frame. The spice cake, sweet date & damp earth notes zip through the firm, surprisingly brisk palate with nice follow-through & length, 91+ points.

Clos St. Jean VV, ‘05
In case you were wondering, the domaine has been vacated of all ’05 uber-cuvees. Their stay in the cellars of Clos St. Jean was a mere weigh station, leaving their storage blocks immediately dusty, in abject vacancy. However, one of the most impressive deals in the Southern Rhone, the ‘entry level’ CSJ cuvee, cannot be overlooked. Just a big, fat WOW was my tasting note for the first few sips & slurps. Entry level my ass. Blot the spittle, elbows off the table, stop staring, compose thyself. She’s just a gorgeous, brilliant young wine, full of an energetic rush in the shape of dark fig, espresso roast, bittersweet cocoa & hot stone notes. Full, long & awash in vibrancy, as the crackle & smoke of the finish stays with you long after the juice leaves your lips, 94 points.

Michel Tardieu Grenache, La Crau ‘04
This ’04 was the only red wine of the tasting that was ready to be not only tasted, but drunk. A fresh, red-fruited wine, with a nose of cherry, dusty plum and cedar notes. Its spry entry was buffered by deceptive structure, funneling the mid-weight frame to a long, tangy finish resonate of garrigue, 91 points.

Clos St. Jean Combe des Fous, ‘04
The only sampling of the Combe des Fous came from the 2004 vintage, with its singular character coming from its seasoning of old vine Vacarrese & Cinsault. A distinctively floral note forms the trademark, buffered by scents of dark olive, sweet earth & kirsch liqueur. Again, the wine has an almost sinfully mouth-filling presence that reaches the point of surfeit, yet this particular cuvee demonstrates threads of finesse that make it unique & almost beguiling. As the mass begins to shed, watch out, there’s something undeniably sensual here, 95+ points.

For the next installment I’ll put together a Cliffs Notes rendition of the dozens of wines sampled during the mosh-pit style tastings at Hospice du Rhone. There were several new faces (and appellations) to be found amongst the legions that comprise our familiar Rhone folklore, and I’ll try to give the upstart producers a bit more attention in my commentary.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Hospice du Rhone Installment 3: Charles Smith

Quiet Name, Loud Wine

We were all hung over. The night before involved some 60 odd bottles that took us well into the jet-lagged night. Notes for said bottles escape me, but the residual Sahara grip on the roof of my mouth remains as clear as a Pacific sunrise. 9 a.m. is too early for a damn seminar. Apparently Charles Smith, of K Vintners & Charles Smith wines, agrees- considering he was nowhere to be found at that ungodly hour. Was he dangling out of a dumpster somewhere in downtown Paso Robles? Perhaps his hair, somewhat of a cross between Carlos Valderrama & cotton candy, was taking a tad longer to blow dry than expected? We waited, dry mouthed, staring into our diner placemats complete w/ K Vintner vertical flights and a curious flute of bubbly. A bit of Washington fizz perhaps? Tick-tock tick-tock…Poland Spring bottles pounding down parched lips like they’ve got the cure inside. Desiccated eye lids, swelled red like over-ripe strawberries, watch bound and wondering. Where the hell is Charles Smith?

Yo, M.C. Alan Kropf of Mutineer Magazine grabs the microphone like Del Preston at Waynestock to a thunderous pronouncement of “Charrrrrrrrrrlllleeeesssss Smmiiiiittthhh!” Playing possum- the man in question was a former rock band manager. Who’d a known?

Buckle your seats folks; get ready for the F-bomb brigade. A command assault of profanity splattered our wings like vulgar clouds of high level flak. No amount of bullet-proofing could prepare our ears for the pummeling they took. The barrage of F-bomb shrapnel left some of us wounded, some in stitches & others simply open-mouthed. ‘Who here loves wine? Raise your hands…if you don’t put your hand up you’re gonna get a beat down! Let me tell you something about Rhone producers and Rhone drinkers, they’ve got F’n balls! It’s not some boring F’n Bordeaux seminar, at Hopsice du F’n Rhone, these F’n wines F-you up!’ Etcetera. The cobwebs were shaken off, we were officially awake.

As for the bubbly in question, ‘F’n grower Champagne and don’t F’n spit it out!’ Your wish is my command. Kurt Cobain’s local grunge music & Robert Plant’s hair- all the terroir parallels you’ll need (he threw in Barossa’s AC/DC riff to balance Walla Walla’s Nirvana). When asked about his viticultural practices, Smith replied ‘these grapes are gonna be my bitch!’ Alright Charles, your wines better bring it as much as you do.

Truth be told, this was my first experience w/ K Vitners, but be lying if I didn’t admit some serious expectations. Charles Smith, a winner of Food & Wine’s winemaker of the year, owes quite a bit of his start-up to Christophe Baron of Cayuse fame. Anyone that reads me knows my holy grail is branded w/ a Cayuse insignia, so upon hearing such a connection I doffed the earplugs, licked the lips & braced for impact. Offensive guy + access to Cayuse fruit is sure to produce an = amount of excitement & disgust. I’m pumped.

Enough F’n foreplay, onto the F’n notes!

All of the following wines are Syrah from the 2006 Vintage. The wines were foot crushed & basket pressed, utilizing native yeast fermentation w/ varied upbringing techniques based upon the vintage/vineyard characteristics.

Pheasant Vineyard, Wahluke Slope
Coming from mostly sandy soils, the Pheasant Vineyard was one of the shyest in the K line-up (oxymoron), w/ its reticent hints of plum, flowers and spice notes peeking through. The attack turns fleshy, w/ a suave, violet-tinged texture coating the mid-palate nicely. The wine really picks up the pace on the finish, which leaves the palate awash in smoky, mesquite spice flavors, 92+ points.

The Deal, Sundance Vineyard
This is another Wahluke Slope site from K, yet this vineyard is currently demonstrating a far more savage, animal character in its tarry, black shaded scents of pepper, fur & wild beefy suggestions. The mid-palate has a hearty, savory bite to it, rife w/ more up-front power and depth than the Pheasant Vineyard, powering through to the long, heady finish. I absolutely loved it, 95 points.

Cougar Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla
The first Walla Walla designated Syrah, w/ a serious, immediate density to its briny black olive & tobacco notes. Sometimes crass descriptions serve as the best ones, so let me call this what it is, a brick shithouse. The palate of the wine is a muscular flex, with a spunky beef jerky note (a la Cayuse) holding sway over the vivid belly of purple fruit. Firm & fresh all at once, with its weighty body taking a load off on the mouth-watering finish spiced in white pepper, 94+ points.

Wells, Walla Walla
To me, this was the Camaspelo of the bunch, more provocative than it is pleasurable. Flat out funky in its bouquet of cooked cabbage, leather, porcini mushroom, tapenade and sweet balsamic scents. It is a paradoxical wine in that it feels ripe to the tongue yet has a vegetal streak (which could be a vineyard characteristic, brett or Charles Smith’s feet), as the mouth-feel demonstrates surprisingly structure, complexity & intensity. It’s just one of those oddities of overtly expressive wine, leaving you w/ an objective admiration, yet abject revulsion. The score fails me here, much like an awkward stamp on impressionistic art, 84 points.

Phil Lane, Walla Walla
What a difference a site makes- moving to the minty end of the spectrum on Phil Lane felt like a cool breeze through the nose in its menthol, licorice and milk chocolate notes. Think Andes Candies. Pure, polished and impossibly elegant through the palate, w/ a seamless bent that puts it on an island from the rest of Charles Smith’s portfolio. This is a Syrah for fans of the classics who loathe the obnoxiousness of the rest of the bunch, 93 points.

Motor City Kitty, Stoneridge Vineyard, Royal Slope, Columbia Valley
The 2006 saw zero new oak, bringing us back to the beef in its tightly coiled, savory scented nose. Undoubtedly in need of extended aeration (or more preferably, ageing), the wine incrementally builds on the palate, un-locking its layers upon layers of spicy, purple fruit flavors. This really augmented in the glass, shifting to an expansive gear that didn’t truly explode until its crescendo of a finish. She needs quite a bit of time to let loose, as 4-5 more years should help shed some of that power left in reserve, 94+ points.

Royal City, Stoneridge Vineyard, Royal Slope, Columbia Valley
Shall we save the behemoth for last? We shall, with this 17 plus percent alcohol bombshell completely shocking us in its restraint. The nose contradicts its heft, seeming fairly classic with its dusty graphite, cedar & savory plum notes. The raw materials don’t reveal themselves until the wine passes the lips, as the viscosity & sheer mass seem close to bursting at the seams, yet the weight stays in proportion, thanks to a firm skeleton & jazzy bright acidity. The length here is tremendous, suspending dusty earth, hard spices & warm blackberry sauce notes in thin air, resonate and complete, 95+ points.