Monday, July 16, 2018

Birthday LII, No A/C (July 5, 2018)

I’ll be totally honest with you. The wines sucked. Not because they were flawed or corked or old or cheap. On paper it was a very good lineup. It’s just that almost every single one failed to excite. Except for two wines. Two wines that brought the combination of complexity and vibrancy that make those elusive moments, when our senses just take us elsewhere, worth the never-ending chase.

Unsurprisingly, one was a Champagne, Gaston Chiquet, Dizy, Special Club, 2009. You know, writing about wine, in a blog, for free, is not a very obvious choice for a hobby. Sometimes I think this obsession is rather silly. And then I drink a Champagne and feel my life is really blessed, and since I have this need to express myself, why not write about the pearls of the world? For me, a great champagne is as much a balance of textures as flavors, in this case the fat and salinity of the nutty, mushroomy flavors against the slightly grainy, chalky finish, which is only possible because the fruit itself has such great, healthy depth. 2009 is considered an excellent, near-great vintage, although not as great as its classic predecessor. I guess this could easily coast to its 20th birthday and we caught it midway: vibrant, yet financed.

Alphonse Mellot, Sancerre, En Grands Champs, 2015

Mellot is a revered name in Sancerre. I don't buy nearly enough Sancerres (or Pouilly-Fumes) - not a lot is imported here and I always have different priorities when purchasing abroad - and until I tasted Vacheron, it had never crossed my mind to buy a red Sancerre. And now this, a single vineyard, old vines Pinot Noir, every bit as good a Premier Cru from Bourgogne, top class, deep, complex. I think the nearest Burgundian parallel is Gevrey, although this is lusher and would break the bank in any Burgundian blind tasting, as a joker.

Domaine d’Ardhuy, Gevrey-Chambertin, 2006

A bona fide Gevrey, this is more austere than the Sancerre, although the aromatics are decent, if not very exciting. I blame the vintage, not that I would expect an unknown producer to come up with a village wine that lasts 12 years. Although, to be honest, 2006 is such a charmless bricks and mortar vintage that I wouldn’t be surprised if the wines turn out too plain to die, a bunch of aged spinsters. 

Alona, Elegant Reserve, Kedem, Carignan-Shiraz, 1016

This really didn't give much during the evening, but it was actually one of the better wine, with a Saint-Estephe-ish character (stones and iron) despite the idiosyncratic blend. The leftovers the next day were really singing, with meatiness that could be the Carignan just as much as it could be brett, and fits seamlessly inside the black fruit. A good job.

Catherine et Pierre Breton, Bourgueil, Les Perrières, 1996

A wine for the ages, because that’s how long it will take it to open. I heard good things about the vintage, and a 1995 we drank six years ago to the day was wonderful, but this is disappointing.

Giacomo Borgogno, Barolo Riserva, 1996

Robust and kicking in a grinding, foursquare way. Not flawed or obviously bad, but a previous bottle was better.

Chateau Saint-Pierre, Saint Julien 4me Cru, 1996

At this point, we were waiting for the Bordeaux cavalry to storm in and save the day. On paper, this should have offered great pleasure, but it was a mildly fun wine (black fruit, cedar, a touch of mildew), but hardly as captivating as the Sancerre, which won the red wine bracket. 

Chateau Roc de Combes, Cotes de Bourg, 2009

This is not the Bordeaux we were looking for.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A Cna'aanite God Walks Into A Bar... (June, 2018)

Feldstein, Gilgamesh, 2014

There's an inky, graphite character I find here that I sometimes spot in the best Israeli reds. I could talk about that, but I think if that you're looking for a wine that has an inky and graphite character, I've pointed you in the right direction. I do want to touch on things that define quality. Complexity and finesse are not a matter of how many flavors and aromas a wine sports, they're about interplay and texture and weight and the way the weight is balanced. Avi makes better, or at least more challenging, wines than this, but even so, the Gilgamesh would make a run past many flagship wines. (June 22, 2018)

Something made me reach for Nebbiolo more than than would usually be appropriate on the cusp of an Israeli summer.

Icardi, Barbaresco, Montubert, 2013

Piedmont is in a tie for third place on my shopping list, which doesn't sound too bad, until you realize the race for first place is tied between three contenders and second place between three or four. And that I never buy Barberas (I actually prefer Dolcetto if I can't get a good Barolo or Barbaresco). What can I say, I'm hard to please. One of the nice things about the stuff available in Israel is that most of it is old school, like this one. TIt's a little one dimensional on the nose, red fruit and dried herbs, but the acidity leads to a rusty/spicy/saline finish that I look for in Nebbiolos. A nice wine, a little over-priced for what it is. (June 9, 2018)

Wine Route, about 200 NIS.

Rizzi, Barbaresco, Nervo, 2013

A bargain Barbaresco imported by Yaffo Tel Aviv, even at a mere five years of age, this is at a good spot between rusty tannins and soft fruit, its an initially intense core fanning out to echo the aromas of tar and spices. The top of all the Nebbiolos I had in June. (June 4, 2018)

Prunotto, Barolo, 2011

The unexpected lightness is a boon. The rust, dust, tar and spices are just what I expected. The complexity is on par. (June 20, 2018)

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco, 2014

This non-cru usually sells for about 200 NIS and is better than anything similarly priced carried by the big importers. This is friendly and approachable enough to drink. Initially too mute to fully appreciate, it develops complexity and texture.(June 29, 2018)

The rest of June was split between Israelis and Burgundies. But there was also a sherry.

Williams and Humbert, Dry Sack Jerez, Oloroso, Solera Especial Aged 15 Years, Oloroso

I was an avid Sherry fan about thirteen years ago. Read all the articles and books, drank every major name, hunted down the rare stuff. Basically mortgaged my luggage space for sherries on every business trip over a period of two years. Williams and Humbert was  the just about the only sherry I could find in Israel, mostly this Oloroso and the drier Amontillado. I don't recall being too bowled over, but this is better than I remember. For me, quality in sherry was always about a balance between savory, tangy, sweet and salty - truly, the only wine you can find at the crossroads of these families of flavors - and while I do have fond memories of the Oloroso's "roasted nuts, iodine and old wood furniture" personality, this bottle has balance and intensity that surprise me. Very good. (June, 2018)

140 NIS.

Serafin, Gevrey-Chambertin, 2010

A classic Gevrey nose - flowers and forest floor melting into leather - and a very refined palate, almost silky. Good complexity for a village Gevrey in general, only satisfactory for Serafin. That's the price you pay for being a big name. (June 6, 2018)

Bourgogn Crown, 280 NIS.

Goisot, Côtes d'Auxerre, Les Blaumonts, 2015

For me, this bottle is proof positive that this is of Chablis Premier Cru grade. The taut structure, even in a ripe vintage like 2015, the refined pungency, the length. (June 7, 2018)

IPVinum, 165 NIS - yes, you can get bona fide Chablis Premier Cru for the same price or cheaper, but given the relative rarity, I would still endorse the price.

Arnaud Baillot, Bourgogne, 2016 

This is a boutique negociant that Wine Route has started importing. I googled them. A link on the second page of the search results told me this is a negociant and not a grower. Other than that, I drew a blank. I can understand why people become boutique negociants in Burgundy. They want to make wines in Burgundy and can't afford or find vineyard land. What I can't figure out how much quality juice is up for sale each year for these negociants to grab a hold of. This is good, fairly fine for a regional Bourgogne, but not special enough for me to get excited about. (June 14, 2018)

Tzora, Judean Hills, Blanc, 2016

This lithe, savory, flinty wine reminds me that the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement of the early 2000's really should have been named ABOC - Anything But Oaky Chardonnay. Don't count out Chardonnay. (June 15, 2018)

Tzora, Shoresh, 2014

I said just about everything I ever wanted to say about Shoresh in general when I wrote about the 2016 last month. Then came the most mineral-laden, Old World, Israeli red I ever drank and  showed me something new about how the local fruit can be tamed and personalized without any blatant effort. There's a lesson here I recommend you learn for yourself, if you have a bottle around. (June 17, 2018)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Got It All Rhone

Domaine Vincent Paris, Saint Joseph, Les Cotes, 2016

My love affair with wine began sixteen years ago, in 2002. That's a long time, almost two generations in the wine world. Right at the start of my wine romance, Al Hashulchan, a local foodies magazine, ran an article in its wine section about the Rhone Valley. Something in the tasting notes and the background story hooked me and my first major purchases were based on the article's recommendations. Over the next few years I kept hunting down Graillot, Cuilleron, Chapoutier (I realized from the start that Guigal was out of my reach). That's more or less all we had in Israel at the time. I still buy them whenever I can, although the fact that the local Cuilleron importer has taken me off the mailing list has placed purchases from that producer on a hiatus.

Sixteen years really is a long time. Enough to change the map a few times over. The Rhone, especially the north, has grown ever more trendy and popular. As the venerable names became more expensive, the new guard marched right in. And some lesser known, older names just leaped out of the cellar to become marquee names. Vincent Paris is one of the new guard in that he created his own domain, but he also inherited vineyards from his grandfather and was trained by his Cornas legend of an uncle, Robert Michel. In that sense he has real ties to the older generation.

This is one of his basic cuvees but it does live up too all that the 2002 article said about Saint Joseph, and everything I've learned about it since: the succulent fruit, the vivid smokey/peppery personality, all sprung to life with seemingly effortless ease. (Apr. 20, 2018)

Fat Guy, 125 NIS.

2015 is the most praised vintage for the north Rhone since 2010. Paris made such great wines in the much less acclaimed 2014 that it's a shame the only Cornas currently available in Israel from 2015 is the entry level Granit 30. The thing about young Syrah, as you'll see in all the notes here, is that it's very vital and crunchy/juicy, almost the most joy that such a tannic red grape can sustain. And Cornas is a tannic appellation, even though Paris is very good at taming the tannins, meshing them and the fruit in a rusty, mineral finish that is very food friendly but also works well alone.

fat Guy, 159 NIS.

Guillaume Clusel (Clusel Roch), Côteaux du Lyonnais, Traboules, 2016 

The Closel family has been making wine in Cote Rotie for over sixty years, which makes them old guard. Parker was already writing about them in the 90's, so they were known on the American marketplace. Their son Guillaume has ventured north with a few rented vineyards in Côteaux du Lyonnais. This is made of Gamay fermented and aged in steel tanks and captures a peppery character similar to North Rhone Syrah. That's actually befitting. Coteau du Lyonnais is an AOC between Beaujolais to the North and the Rhone to the south and this wine hails from a vineyard on the south side of the appellation. Besides that, it's plump and rollicking, the finish soft sandpaper tannic. (Apr. 21, 2018)

Fat Guy, 79 NIS.

Guillaume Clusel (Clusel Roch), St. Joseph, 2016

A very classic Saint Joseph with a more somber personality than the Paris version, the pepper and iron also more pronounced. I'd say it's midway between Cote Rotie and Hermitage: not quite as elegant as the first, less massive than the second. Nonetheless it is not an almost-ran, as it's just as complex as any decent sample of these two big names, just as tasty. (Apr. 24, 2018)

165 NIS.

Yves Cuilleron, IGP Collines Rhodaniennes, Les Vignes d’a Côte, 2016

Syrah from the wrong side of the tracks, sorry, river. This is Syrah as a forward nubile, plump and juicy and floral, a dead ringer for a Saint Joseph of the fresh and fruity kind, pure fun. Not complex but with a refreshingly peppery finish. This cost 12 euros at a supermarket in France, not even one within the Rhône, so ideally it should cost 70 NIS in Israel. But a good price point was never an ideal to die for, for some.

In a similar vein, Jean-Luc Colombo, les Collines de Laurie, Syrah, 2016 is also a very good introduction to the North Rhône. It is made of young Cornas vines. The vinification is the same as the more ‘serious’ wines of the house, other than being bottled after only 7 months in barrel. At 9 euros in French chains, comes across more as Crozes than a Cornas. It’s very fruity, its tannins silky, when you can sense them at all. There are hints of minerals and pepper. In the end, it's just simple fun, but never underestimate the value of fun.

Another wine from the Collines Rhodaniennes IGP is the Michel and Stéphane Ogier, Syrah d'Ogier, 2016, which is sourced from young vines from a flat plain. Wine Route is carrying Ogier again and selling this for 140 NIS. It carries itself better than the Cuilleron, the tone is a littler darker and more complex , carrying black pepper with hints of meat. An initial hole in mid-palate fills up within an hour, delivering juicy, saline flavors. The best of the three IGPs.

Like almost every North Rhone producer, Ogier has a Saint Joseph. The La Passage, 2015 is suave, ripe and juicy, on the modern side. How modern? It's just a little too suave and too ripe, the tannins too sweet and soft. The black pepper aromas are nice, but the nose on the whole lacks depth. The contrast with the less prestigious d'Ogier only emphasizes the disappointment.

Domaine du Coulet (Matthieu Barret), Cornas Brise, Cailloux, 2015

Boutique importers IPVinum (aka Aron Teller and Uri Caftori) carry just a single North Rhone producer. This is the basic Cornas cuvee and this is all they carry, besides a Syrah based Cote de Rhone (a good go-to wine in local restaurants). The winery recommends drinking it at four years port-vintage, more or less. In a vintage like 2015, which is described as the sort of vintage where nature and weather smiled upon the Rhone, the rustic wildness of Cornas is almost too easily tamed here. The fruit is broad and friendly, with fairly complex and nuanced aromas of black pepper, olives, flowers, even meat. The tannins are soft and integrated, asserting themselves more with air and leaving a savory aftertaste, quite a tasty one, that scratches just enough to remind you this is, after all, Cornas. I'm familiar with the 2012, but this exceeded my expectations. Given the quality of fruit and winemaking, as well as how charming this is with patient airing, I'd buy this every vintage and hope to try the more upscale cuvees.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Every Day is Winesday (May, 2018)

Domaine Robert Chevillon, Nuits St. Georges Vieilles Vignes, 2010

Seems at peak maturity, which is surprising given what I know of Chevillon and 2010. The color is browning already, so it might be a bad bottle. As an experience by itself, it's very good, solidly packed forest floor, long if not especially complex. (Apr. 28, 2018)

Wine Route, 200 NIS on discount.

Zarate, Rías Baixas, Albariño, El Palomar, 2016

Everything I liked about the regular Albarino is here, in a wine made of 150 year old vines. I don't know what the aging curve of the grape is and I don't know whether I should have aged it longer. Curiosity killed the wine fridge. The nose is a little more complex than what I remember of the regular, more mineral yet less exotic. The extra yard it brings is greater intensity and a fuller body, but I can't tell if these are enough for great longevity. (May 4, 2018)

Fat Guy, 155 NIS.

Weingut Reinhold Haart, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Riesling Spätlese, 2012

I never bought a lot of Haart and that's a shame. This bottle definitely needs five years - or as many as you want to give, it's going to be a "forever" wine. It's quite hedonistic and concentrated, brimming with summer fruits and enough acidity to balance and promise a log life ahead. (May 5, 2018)

Fat Guy, 199 NIS.

Faustino,  Rioja Gran Reserva, Edicion Especial, 2001

I check the blog's traffic regularly. There's a bot out there that seems to fancy a note I wrote about Faustino ten years ago. I can't explain why that post keeps getting hits every week. I think the bot has an AI that assumes a correlation between consumers of porn and viagra and Faustino fans. Personally, I haven't enjoyed Faustino much recently., although it used to be a staple at home. And, as much as I love Riojas, as I've grown older, I've stopped enjoying Gran Reservas before the age of 20-30. I often find anything younger too muscular and oaky. This is especially true of this Edicion Especial. The fruit's savory enough, but the smell of roasted coconuts from American barrels is too prominent and the palate isn't very complex or interesting. Or well formed, for that matter. (May 25, 2017)

The kind of wine that Wine Route lists for 250-300 NIS and then routinely sells on discount at two for 300. 

Álvaro Castro, Dão, Quinta da Pellada, Carrocel, 2011

It's the Champions League Finals. Real Madrid vs. Liverpool. I don't have any British sparklers and I already drank a Rioja the day before, so Spain was not an option for me. I'm not a Real fan, anyway, and a Spanish wine would have been too obvious. So I opted for a Portuguese wine, one pricey enough to warrant a special occasion. This is too young. I remarked when I drank the 2008 that it was too flashy for me and I didn't think it would ever outgrow that flash. This is less flashy, what flash there is is directed at amplifying the fruit: tart fruit with subtle hints of minerals and less obvious hints of flowers. Elegant and long, its youth showing as broad flavors, same youth obscuring its potential. (May 26, 2018)

Eyal Mermelstein (Tchernichovsky)

I rebooted the laptop without noticing a few notes hadn't been saved. Let me go over them quickly from memory, as I think they're of interest.

It's no surprise that I'm a fan of Sphera. Just look how many notes about this local white wine specialist. Maybe the disappearance of my note for the Sphera, Suavignon Blanc, 2015 is a blessing in disguise as I'm sure I was just repeating my usual praises anyway. I would like to point out that even though no one at the time expected a lot out of 2015 due to the weather, this is a wine that has matured very nicely indeed. The Castel, C, 2016 is, sadly, a different matter. I have a lot of respect for this pioneer winery, the winery that arguably invented the boutique winery industry in Israel, blasting out of the kosher ghetto with near-mythic praises from Serena Sutcliffe. But I was never a fan of this Chardonnay. Like the Golan Heights Katzrin, it pays excessive homage to the old school, oaky Meursault style, a style whose faction is not even that popular in Meursault anymore. 

The most interesting of the AWOL notes are from Chablis and its satellites.The Chablis is from a producer I haven't been drinking regularly in years, Jean-Marc Brocard, Chablis Premer Cru, Vau de Vey, 2013. When I started drinking Chablis, there were maybe three, four producers imported on a regular basis. Brocard was not one of them and I bought a few bottles of Le Clos abroad. Two out of three were off and I gave up on Brocard. It's a small sample, I know, but so was my luggage space. This bottle was a fine way to get reacquainted. 2013 seems to be one of those "business as usual' years in Burgundy: not a disaster, not a star, plagued by the usual headaches - rot, hail - quality strictly a matter of the winemakers' competence and perseverance. Brocard did a good job. They're carried by the Flam family's import business, Hagefen, and at 160 NIS I would buy more bottles. The Chablis satellite I mentioned is the Goisot, Côtes d'Auxerre, Gueules de Loup, 2015. 2015 is the sort of rich, ripe vintage that caters to American tastes, if I'm being crude and condescending. It's not a bad vintage, certainly no 2003, more of a repeat of 2009, and it's really overshadowed by the bracing, classic 2014, by all accounts a great vintage for whites across all of Burgundy. My reading tells me that 2014 offered a much more typical rendition of the Chablis style. Having said all that, the three Goisot 2014's I drank were so bracing and austere that I expected Goisot would stay true to Chablis form even in 2015. And I was right. Give them a chance if you want to experience a slightly different aspect of the Chablis marine mineral style. Sold by Uri Caftory's IPVinum, at 165 NIS this costs as much as a Chablis Premier Cru, so you're paying a markup or the novelty factor - I'm telling you that the novelty, such as it is, is worth the price.

Monday, June 4, 2018


Ben Ami, Noble Carignan, 1977

Yair Haidu brought this to a dinner at Pronto last week. I rarely get patriotic and shit, but this makes me proud. While so many Israeli winemakers worked their asses off over the last decade to put Carignan on the map, this bottle slept out of sight and mind in someone’s fridge, made with winemaking technology that was probably a few steps behind contemporaneous standards. A gift of time.

I doubt anyone at Ashkelon Wines thought forty one years ahead. Probably, they were just glad to sell whatever they could to restaurants. I'm not sure anyone expected this to age even ten years. The Carmel 76 and 79 Cabs are generally viewed as the first serious Israeli reds, but the ones I tasted ten, twelve years ago were never as vital as this. I thought this was a thirty year old Rioja or Bandol. It showed the well formed classicism of an ageworthy wine at its peak, yet without the more delineated lines of a colder climate wine like Bordeaux or Burgundy. Given the state of vine growing and winemaking in Israel in the seventies, this is like finding out the Belgians had landed a man on the moon in the fifties. 

The label says the grapes came from a vineyard in Dir Rafat in the Judean Hills and it would have been both ironic and moving if we could be sure it’s the same vineyard where Recanati’s Wild Carignan is sourced from.

This was the evening's unquestionable emotional core, but it was just one wine, albeit a wine that held its own with wines from all over the map.

Tissot, Arbois, Les Graviers, 2012

This is Chardonnay from the Jura. I love Tissot's Cremant du Jura, Blanc de Blanc and had started to explore the Chardonnays when... well, that's a story for another time. This is lovely, showing a facet of Chardonnay I never got anywhere else: sweet, sour and tangy, orange marmalade laced with Atlantic salt, bacon fat and clay. 

Jacquesson, Grand Cru Avize, Champ Cain, 2005

A great Champagne to open when you want to extol the virtues of Blanc des Blancs. For me, it's all about orange blossoms and chalk, spiked with mushrooms, and shows a good marriage of complexity and power, minerals and the savory effect of the mushroom flavors. 

Rene Rostaing, Cote Rotie, Ampodium, 2011

The lithe, tasty expression of Syrah that is Cote Rotie. Utterly drinkable, the tannins soft, yet savory, with just enough presence to lend structure, the aromatics complex and typical (black pepper and bacon).  No one raves about 2011, yet this is still young and already an excellent wine despite being the house's entry level Cote Rotie. 

Chateau Larrivet Haut Brion, Pessac Leognan, 1995

Sometimes Bordeaux surprises you, but for the most part the wines are only as good the reputation of the house and vintage. What we have here is a tasty, but not complex, wine, just what you’d expect from just an average Pessac Leognan property from just a good vintage: rustic black fruit, lead pencil, iron, a touch of brett. 

Foradori, Trentino, Sgarzon, Teroldego, 2014

Sometimes it's all about context. Served after the Ben Ami, the Sgarzon comes off as a well mannered role player, even though it's probably the better wine. Context. A well formed wine with good complexity, tasty and savory, it's worthy of all the praises lavished on the work Elisabetta Foradori has been doing with the Teroldego grape.

Feldstein, Dabuki, 2017

I would guess that of all of Avi's wide (for a boutique) range of wines, the Dabuki is the one that the consumer is the most eager to taste each vintage. At least, consumer me. This is one of the clearest Israeli whites I've tasted, just brilliant clarity of fruit, almost floral like, with a hint of minerals in the finish that I wager will assert themselves more as the wine develops.

Chateau Montus, Madiran, 1998

Well formed and robust, reminding me of a Bordeaux in a year where the grapes ripen enough for a little fat, yet still retain good acidity. This Tannat (and Madiran) benchmark shows currant spiciness and leather, as well as a tannic finish that is both powerful and sharp. Great. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Where The Boys Go (May 3, 2018)

Raveneau, Chablis, 2015

The history of Chablis in a nutshell is that it was perceived for decades as an outlier of the Cote d'Or, the source of a very marketable brand (due to an easily pronounced and remembered name) for the negociants, the identity of the actual Chablis producers and afterthought at best. Until foreign importers discovered producers like Raveneau - and the rest is history. Except history is never limited to just one chapter and the current chapter is the one where the competition has caught up with Raveneau. I would be able to tell you exactly how far they've caught with him if I could still afford Raveneau, or if I could even get an allocation, but going over old notes and memories, I'm pretty sure that Droin and Henri, at least, are on equal footing, at times arguably even better. Henri certainly makes a village Chablis that punches above its weight, unlike the Raveneau 2012 Chablis, for example. The 2015 is even weaker, because it was hard to make classic Chablis in 2015. This is not as lean and linear as I'd expect from Chablis, with hints of tropical fruit.

Thierry Germain, Domaine des Roches Neuves, Saumur, Clos Romans, 2015 

At one point during dinner, someone asked, which famous person in the history of wine would you have liked to be? And I immediately said Kermit Lynch, because living on the West Coast, travelling all over Europe from the 70's and onwards and discovering new wine regions seems like a golden life. Well, Lynch carries Germain and based on Lynch's track record, this has to have been a bad bottle or a bad vintage. A bad something, anyway, annoyingly bad, one dimensional and oxidized, unbalanced, starting ouu ripe and finishing sour and thin.

G Guinaudeau, Bordeaux Superior, Acte 2, 2010

Sylvie Guinaudeau and Jacques Guinaudeau own the legendary Chateau Lafleur in Pomerol. They also own Chateau Grand Village in Fronsac, which as far as I can figure out is where the Acte 2 comes from. The debut vintage was 2009 and labelled Acte 1 and the number is updated with every vintage. You can guess what the 2011 was named. This is not very complex but so balanced and tuned that it its placidness dullness by dint of craftsmanship.

Haut-Bages-Liberal, Pauillac 5me Cru, 2000

This isn't a very dramatic wine, but, probably due to the great vintage, it is very balanced and poised, the elegant grit of Pauillac married to the elegant finesse of Saint Julien,

Radio-Coteau, Sonoma County, Timbervine, Syrah, 2006

Blue fruit, bacon, a freshness that belies its fucking 15.2% abv. The alcohol becomes tiring, eventually, yet the wine's depth and complexity are undeniable.

Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino, 1997

My group is prejudiced against Tuscany. Although some of us, and I won't name names, will make an exception for Tuscan reds made of Bordeaux grapes. Thus, this was served blind to see what we would make of it. I liked it, it didn't knock me out, but I had it pegged as a good, rustic blend of Bordeaux and local grapes I couldn't quite identify (obviously, I was wrong).

Domaine Fourrier, Gevrey-Chambertain, Vieilles Vignes, 2007

The kind of wine that makes for a successful night, it has the vitality and initial oomph of a Grand Cru, albeit without any of the complexity, just Gevrey sauvage and that sense of completeness that elevates a wine. The acidity, that feels like biting into a freshly picked apple, doesn’t hurt. And neither does the forest floor. 

Dobogo, Tokaji Aszu, 6 Puttyonos, 2006

Hugh Johnson calls this a benchmark Aszu, and he should know. This is complex and multilayered on both nose and palate, the botrytis providing a whirlpool of flavors lifted by ample acidity.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Champagne Road Trip

What is your favorite wine region?

The old desert island question is puerile and annoying. If you put a pistol to my head and made me whittle my wine purchases to the bare minimum, I really don't know what I'd do, but Champagne would still be in the top five along with Burgundy, Mosel, Rhone and Bordeaux. I'm almost sure I'd drop Bordeaux long before Champagne, but hell, why should I have to choose?

But if I get to choose another road trip with the missus, I'd head straight back to Champagne, visit any of the ten to twenty houses I missed this time, buy a dozen bottles and pay for the overweight and have lunch at Relais de Sillery every day the chef isn't out fishing.

Larmandier-Bernier, Vertus 

Larmandier was the first stop on our getaway to Champagne and Paris. I hardly ever go on the wine route and visit wineries, especially not abroad. It’s one of my biggest regrets in a life otherwise regretless. Or, if not exactly regretless, a life where regrets are easily cast aside.

Vertus was a ghost town when we arrived. I know the town, the region, the country, was AWOL celebrating the anniversary of V-Day, but we simply felt trapped in dimension devoid of human life. Lack of humans I can handle, but the even more terrible downside of the situation was lack of open dining establishments. The impromptu cure: an impatient wait for the local Carrefour branch to open and a roadside picnic. Fed and rested, we were now ready for Larmandier.  

To paraphrase William Burroughs, tasting Larmandier is seeing through to the bottom of every glass. There may be better Champagnes, but none with Larmandier's clarity and purity.

Here was what I got out of a twenty minute tasting of their six wines, a tasting that underlined and reinforced all I learned about the lineup over the last two years:

Latitude n.v. is lithe, happy and toasty, the Longtitude n.v. more somber, suggestive of darker minerals. The Rosé de Saignée 2015 (technically a n.v.) is very autumnal, by which I mean the Pinot shows leaves rotting on the forest floor just as summer fades and the first rains hit. Terres de Vertus 2011, always Larmandier's most mineral wine, explodes in your mouth. Les Chemins d’Avize 2009 is very complete and again very winey and comes off as the most elegant wine. In both, the character of the fruit is stronger than the character of the autolysis effects. On to the Vieille Vigne du Levant (formerly known as Cramant), as expected it is the fuller and most flavor packed of the lot. We tasted the 209 and 2008,. The 2009 is much readier than the 2008, which would surprise no one following the vintage reports. I'll sum briefly: the Vertus is the most mineral, wiry and wild, the Avize the most elegant, the Cramamt the most complete and complex. And someone should just market them as a three pack because choosing one over the other a wine geek’s Sophie’s Choice.

On the way back to our B and B at Epernay, I stopped at the local legend of a wine store, Jean Silvatori. It's  a great little store, stocked with both grower champagnes and major houses, non-vintages through vintages and premium bottlings - as well as choice selections of still Champenois and Burgundies. I picked up bottle from a great grower at a decent price of approx 30 euros and we drank it in the garden that evening. 

Paul Bara, Bouzy Grand Cru, Grand Millesime, 2010

Tasting out of crappy flutes is not a good way to hunt for aromas, but as far flavors are concerned, this is a very transparent wine, with broad flavors where the salinity and acidity manage to contain blatantly bold fruit. Bouzy is one of the warmest crus in champagne and this sees a dosage of 8 mg. In the bad flute it feels a little blunt, but on the other hand, its punch has a lot of acid power to it. Only the V-Day clampdown kept me from getting another bottle to ferry back home for a second round with decent stemware.

The continued national obsession with the V-Day celebrations forced a break from actual wine tastings the next day and I filled the void in the itinerary with a pedestrian romp at Pommery. All touristy and superficial flash, it's the kind of marquee brand designed to depress the earnest Champagne lover. The following day, though, was very busy, starting off with a visit to one of the the first grower Champagnes I'vd ever bought.

Gaston Chiquet, Dizy

I’ve never been able to really pinpoint the character of the Chiquet wines in easy, catchy copy. But after talking with Nicolas and reading over my notes, I think the key is that they artful and practical. The Chiquet family are all about expressing their terroir with careful, artifice-less craftsmanship. This is quite evident in the Nicolas Chiquet's offhand comments about his decisions and considerations in the vineyard and winery. A key decision that exemplifies their approach is to not release a Special Club in 2012, a vintage widely regarded as one of the best in recent decades (alongside 1996, 2002 and 2008) because 2012 made for wines too intense for what Nicoals is looking for.

So much for philosophy, but at the end of the day, I prefer to talk about flavors and aromas. In Chiquet's case, that translates to clear fruit flavors with minerals and sauteed mushrooms pulsating beneath. I would have assumed that this would be expressed best with the Special Club, but the 2011 vintage that we tasted was rather demure and delicate and felt stylistically removed from the rest of the lineup (albeit highly recommended). Even though Special Clubs are always no-brainers (expensive but always top value for your dollars), for me, the true representatives of the house style are the Cuvee de Reserve (2011 based in this case) and the Millésime Or, Premier Cru, Brut, 2008. The first more about truffles in mid palate, the latter ripe fruit with a mineral backbone. Lower down the food chain, the Tradition n.v. is always a useful wine, but the real fun begins with the Blancs d'Ay, Brut, Grand Cru, n.v. Sourced as is it is from Ay, a Pinot town, it is different than anything from the Cotes de Blancs, less tense, the Chardonnay fruit evoking Chassagne rather than Puligny, if the Burgundy pigeonholes are any help.

Pierre Peters, Le-Mesnil-Sur-Oger

Even if Peters was just another grower, he'd still be a grower from a town legendary for having no ordinary wines. As it is, the family has been  bottling wine for generations and carving out their portion of world fame in the last few decades. Cuvée de Reserve Brut is very fruity and floral; although at the core you can see the resemblance to fellow Cotes de Blancs grower Larmandier, it is markedly different, mainly due to more overt yeastiness. A very complex nv that will need four-five years more in the cellar. The Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (pure 2014 but not aged long enough to be sold as vintage) is much more reserved and mineral laden, and while it may not need more years than the Reserve to show its potential, I expect it will always show better. In fact, I suspect the 2008 or 2012 versions maybe even match the actual vintage wine, the l'Esprit. We did taste the l'Esprit 2013 and it was a tough call. The l'Esprit was more Champagne-y and even more yeasty. Is it more complex or was that a mirage sprung of the flattering brioche aromas conjured by the yeast? The Rose For Albanne is a an assemblage of still red wine bought from friends with a blend of various vintages of BdB wines, it is almost sherbet fruity on the nose, yeasty in the palate, close to an extreme at this stage of its life.

The house's flagship is the single cru Chetillons, one of the grandest of this Grand Cru village's vineyards. Chetillons 2011 is still all chalk and yeast, unbridled power for now, a long distance and tangent away from a 2011 like the Chiquet Special Club (just a warning against generalizing on the vintage).

Fabienne Peters served the Chetillons 2008 last and prefaced it with the best tasting note ever:

"You probably don't want to spit this."

We did not.

Open for a week, its mousse on the decline even stoppered, it was all nuances of mushrooms and broth, its past and future trapped for an eternity in our tasting glasses.

Bruno Paillard, Reims

I had no experience with Paillard prior to the visit. They're not imported to Israel, I'd never bought them abroad and none of my friends had ever brought a bottle to a tasting. I'd read about them in Peter Liem's book about Champagne and simply took a chance and sent off an email. Alice Paillard wrote back and invited me over for a visit and it all worked out quite well. Alice is a terribly charming and attentive host, walking me and a group of Italian restaurateurs through a tour of the winery and a barrel tasting and on to a short, yet instructive, tasting of the latest release. She's the kind of wine lover who can provide fruitful insights on any wine you'd care to share with her.

The house's wines are very finely expressed, elegant wines, almost the opposite of what I expected from a relatively big house. For once, the house's inbred hype rings true. Elegance and complexity reign over power, and even the relatively big boned vintage BdB is a marvel of efficiently expressed complexity. I really wish I'd brought some back to Israel, but, low cost airline, only one checked in luggage, yadda yadda yadda.

Premier Cuvée Extra Brut n.v. (disgorged 9/17): a delicate nose with citrus, light minerals, then spices. With loads of finesse, albeit without obvious complexity at this point, this is patently not just a brand, but rather a delicate wine made with care.

Rose Premier Cuvee Extra Brut n.v. (disgorged 10/17): even though initial sniffs don’t show a lot of red character, eventually I get light strawberries and spices. On the palate, it creates a trompe l'oeil of sweetness and spiciness embracing the same elegant body.

Blanc de Blancs ,2006: blossoms, chalk and light toast on the nose.  Where the nv’s were delicate, this is more assertive and broad, brimming with chalk.