Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Willi Schaefer 2016 Tasting

My first memorable experience with Willi Schaefer was three years ago. A wine buddy was hosting a big house party and we wine geeks were having a party within the party with a BYOB corner set up. My contribution was a bottle of Graacher Domprobst, Riesling Auslese #14, 2006, which I hadn't tried before. It was a great bottle and I was trying to be surreptitious about the whole thing - pouring it under the counter, so only the innermost circle of my wine friends would enjoy a taste - when along comes a hipster party crasher and says he's heard there was a bottle of "great German Riesling with petrol" and could he have a glass. Sure my friend, I said, and quickly poured him a glass of Koehler-Ruprecht that was standing on the table. I hope the party crasher enjoyed his glass of diluted fruit and harsh kerosene.

Many things have happened since but one thing sure hasn't changed. I'd still do the exact same thing.

Another thing hasn't changed: Willi Schaefer still sculpts immortal, ethereal Rieslings.

Importer Eldad Levy says 2016 was botrytis free vintage, so the Riesling fruit remained pure across the entire range and even the Ausleses don't have any hints of the spices botrytis may impart. Contact Eldad for prices but be prepared to learn everything has been sold out.

Graacher Trocken

This is pure, not very complex, but decent plus for the level, with green apple skin and a touch of minerals. Tasted alongside the 2015, it comes off as more complex and better focused. Analysis aside, it’s a better, more interesting, wine overall.

Graacher Feinherb 

This is the sweet version of the village wine. It smells as dry as the trocken, but it is, of course, sweeter on the palate. The fruit shines more overall, grapefruit with a dash of sugar, with the minerals in the background

Graacher Himmelreich, Kabinnet 

This is honeyed and fruity, almost luscious within the Kabinnet frame, and while I prefer leaner Rieslings, it’s so enticing and attractive, so well formed, that it wins me over. 

Graacher Domprobst, Kabinnet 

This is the kind of lean Riesling I look for, although I love both it and the Himmelreich this year - I'm a little flippant here, I loved them both last year as well. This is the more mineral laden of the two, a picture perfect rendition of the Mosel, a nuanced balance of apples and slate, sugar and acidity.

Graacher Domprobst, Spatlese #10

This is where the wines truly started speaking the language of minerals - not an easy language to abstract at first - because the minerals pull every which way.

Graacher Himmelreich, Spatlese

At the Spatlese level, the Himmelreich again shows as a more honeyed, luscious wine, but the differences are less pronounced than they were in the Kabinnet flight. Still, it’s such a sexy, attractive wine, although more straightforward than the Domprobst.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Spatlese 

Sheer elegance, airy, ethereal, with a lightness that is pure magic and laser sharp focus. 

Graacher Domprobst, Spatlese #5

On the one hand, it’s more concentrated than the #10, on the other, it’s more mineral and complex, with the coolness of the Sonnenuhr, yet with more weight and presence. In every sense, it’s the complete Spatlese of the flight.  .

Graacher Himmelreich, Auslese #4

I guess the Ausleses are really backward because this is the first Himmelreich that doesn’t immediately put out. It’s so reticent that it actually feels lighter and more understated than the Spatlese. The true measure of Schaefer's genius craft is how he manages to retain so much acidity in an Auslese.

Graacher Domprobst, Auslese #11

This displays what I expect from a young Auslese to an even greater extent. A mass of fruit that can’t yet pull the trigger. Concentrated, yet balanced, it will need decades to unravel the mysteries of all those minerals. Here, too, the acidity is a marvel.

Graacher Domprobst, Auslese #14

This is the Schaefer masterpiece of a flagship wine and everything in the tasting led to a single glass that is a seamless marriage of the gift of nature and man's handiwork.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Taking Care Of Business (Jan. 2018)

Luis Pato, Bairrada, Vina Formal, Parcel Candido, Cercial, 2015

This is pure Cercial - another of those weird Portugese grapes grown nowhere else, and honestly, it doesn't taste a lot like anything else. It's unique without being too weird, not a hipster wine which makes too much effort to be a challenge. It's very mineral laden, but I couldn't tell you which minerals exactly without breaking into a geology exhibit and licking every rock. The balance of fruit and acidity is such that I wouldn't wager on long aging, but it's really perfect right now, a savory treat whose flavors would perfectly complement a spicy sea food dish. (Jan. 1, 2018)

Eyal Mermelstein (Tchernichovsky)

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Crau, 2005

I can never really go back to loving Châteauneuf, but I have to admit this was so stony and stern I actually liked it. I can appreciate the richness and it's much more structured that I'd hoped. Still, it's a bit one-dimensional. (Jan. 2, 2018)

Wine Route, 250 NIS, back in the day - y'know, the day when I was actually buying the stuff.

I'm here to once again clue you in on a winery very likely to have slipped under your radar

Kishor, GSM, 2015

Dusty and peppery, with a lithe tenderness and cool, vibrant, blue fruit you wouldn't usually expect to get from a wine with 14% ABV. (Jan. 4, 2018)

70-80 NIS.

Kishor, Savant, Riesling, 2016

Just because a Riesling is off dry and lean doesn't make it a Mosel Kabinett ripoff. I think the style isn't an artistic choice but dictated by the how balanced the wine is at this level of sweetness. It's too languid and salty to be a copycat, anyway. As always, the modesty of the Kishor wines is quite fetching. (Jan. 7, 2018)

About 100 NIS.

Kishor, Savant, Red, 2014

Modesty - and restraint - are also the keywords with the Kishor flagship red, which is a Bordeaux blend that ignores the fashionable "Mediterranean grapes" trend. Modesty and restraint also make it a hard sell and hard to write up. Because if you don't want to waste space and time on aromas and tastes, then all I can really say about it is that it's a compact claret, ready from the start to put out currants and iron and finesse your palate with a rusty, old school finish. It doesn't try to be flashy, it will just get you because it's so user and food friendly - and it gets me, because I buy it every year. I think the Kishor philosophy is that the star wine doesn't have to get as many points as it can, it just has to be the most complete wine. (Jan. 12, 2018)

About 100-120 NIS.

Bourgogne on through to the other side

La Maison Romane, Gevrey-Chambertin, La Justice, 2013

Oronce de Beler understands Gevrey. I didn't drink this blind, but I don't imagine it would be hard to nail Gevrey in a blind tasting. It has the typical thumbprint of animal hide and iron. The body has ample weight, yet with a silky texture, and a very tasty tart/sour finish, almost like pomegranate juice. (Jan. 5, 2018)

Bourgogne Crown - recent vintages are close to 400, due to the house's cult status.

Domaine Rossignol-Trapet, Bourgogne, 2014 

This is another product of Burgundian in-breeding. There are at least three Rossignol domaines as well as a Trapet. Think that's confusing? The domaine has holdings in Gevrey, Beaune and Savigny, so where does this come from? Turns out it comes from the Pressonier and La Grand Champs lieux-dits around Gevrey. La Grand Champs is just outside the village AOC, with no visible geographical reason for it to be a plain Bourgogne. In fact, it's bordered by three village crus. Pressonier is an even more mysterious story. There are three adjoining Pressonier plots, two of which are village Crus. I have no idea what was used here and the Rossignol-Trapet site is just about as useless as parochial France ever gets. As for the wine, it's very tasty, not very weighty, long or complex, with a dash of iron - and it's just what I expect from an entry level wine from a family domaine: a wine that shows a bit of terroir and a bit of the house style and won't make you feel like you got suckered into buying a wine designed to create a little cash flow, which is what you might get from a bigger house.  (Jan. 16, 2018)

30 GBP.

Chateau Lafleur-Gazin, Pomerol, 2011

A Bordeaux for variety's sake. This is more or less what I expected, oak-spiced fruitcake, modern, yet restrained -  a touch hollow, which I did not expect, or anyway had hoped not to get.
 At 200 NIS - at a discount! - this is a great example of how overpriced Bordeaux - which was never cheap in the first place - has become. (Jan. 19, 2018)

Wine Route.

Domaine Jean-Claude Bachelet et Fils, Saint-Aubin Premuer Cru, Derrière la Tour, 2014 

Here's why I love Burgundy. You think you got a lot of it down and then you discover a little corner that's a totally new experience. The little I know of Saint-Aubin reds is the Lamy Derrière chez Edouard, Vieilles Vignes,. This is not on that order of intensity or quality, but it shows a specific aspect of Bourgogne terroir I haven't tasted yet. A lot of earthy forest floor,  but the earth is packed and dense, and it shows a vein of flint that you'll find the village's white wines. Finally there's even a touch of black pepper. It's only medium bodied, but it's lithely robust, and fills out, deepens and lengthens as the fruit gains black shadings and floral notes. It's an everyday house wine, but one I'd love to drink, well, every day. (Jan. 22, 2018)

Bourgogne Crown, 155 NIS.

Well, then, I did mention Lamy...
Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint Aubin Premier Cru, Derrière chez Edouard, Vieilles Vignes, Rouge, 2013

It's no surprise that this is the better wine, even though it expresses its quality in rather reserved terms. Lamy is a killer winemaker and the vines here are half a century old. Derrière chez Edouard is earthy and floral and you notice the vibrancy, depth, length and silky filigree of the red and blue fruit from the first sip. The complexity comes later. If you must score a wine, you might as well score for how good it tastes - this would be a 95 pointer. (Jan. 25, 2018)

Bourgogne Crown, 290 NIS.

A few wines from a short trip to Budapest

Lenkey Human, Tokay-Hegyalja, Feher, Furmint, 2011

A terrific hipster house wine with a funky/mineral /reduction thing going. And what a name for a winery!

Kreinbacher Birtok, Prestige, Brut, n.v.

A Hungarian sparkler with the traits that speak to me - mushrooms, baked apples - and, in addition, really nails the Champagne core value of placing the mushrooms and minerals upfront, albeit with less finesse than Champagne. Plenty of character, though. My first impression was a Pinot Meunier heavy Chanpagne.

Gilvesy Pinceszet, Badacsony, Taranyi Rajnai Rizling, 2016

A complex and interesting wine and I’d return to it for sure. Honeyed and spicy with residual sweetness. I can’t really find a parallel to contextualize it. Maybe old school Austria?

Gunzer Zoltan, Villany, Kekfrankos Selection, 2012

I’m lost. A spicy/dusty red, I would have guessed something much closer to the Mediterranean basin. On reflection, I can also find parallels with a Merlot based petit Bordeaux. Not bad, quite good actually, clean, modern, yet not made by someone out for points,but I have no way of understanding what voice it’s trying to find. I

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Tramps Like Us, Baby We Were Born To Rhone (Jan. 12, 2018)

Syrah  - my fourth favorite grape
Syrah is my fourth favorite grape. Well, actually it's almost tied with Chardonnay for third place; Chardonnay broke ahead because of Champagne. Riesling and Pinot Noir won the two top seeds.

This was one night where we not only had a theme - but, hey!, everyone stuck to it. We didn't bother with too much variety, though. Except for the Israeli representative, we held firm to our love for the North Rhone.

Carmel, Kayumi, Syrah, 2006

The Kayumi hails back from the days when everyone thought Syrah would be the next great thing in Israel. Which isn’t quite how it turned out. Syrah never sold as well as Cabernet, and, recently, other varieties have successfully courted the hipster crowd. Anyway, this is a nicely mature Israeli red, not breathtaking, but with enough winey nuances to keep you interested.

Pierre Gonon, Saint Joseph, 2014

Gonon, as the textbooks and just about every Rhone lover will tell you, is the star of Saint Joseph. The best twenty dollar wine I've ever drunk was the Gonon second red wine, a Syrah VDP. This bottle captures the deep, beautiful mystery of the North Rhone: the olive tapenade, the meat, the lithe fruit whose power never overwhelms. The Gonon is complex enough, but that evocative mystery is its strong suit.

Yves Cuilleron, Saint Joseph, Les Serines, 1999

1999 was a great vintage in the North Rhône but some things just weren’t meant to last this long. I remember how suave and juicy this was at its youth, now all that's left is an oaky cask for a tombstone.

Bonnefound, Cote Rotie, les Rochains, 2013

An indifferent Côte Rotie, a little overripe, a little too oaky. Maybe we caught it at a bad phase, because the internet claims "the wine is aged in 25% new, 400 liter barrels for up to 20 months before bottling" (les Rochains is also right next to famed la Landonne, as if to add insult to injury). The internet also claims "this can be difficult to find as the production is limited to an average of 300 cases per vintage". Thanks for trying so hard, Ido, you really shouldn't have.

Levet, Côte Rotie, La Chavaroche, 2011

The real Côte Rotie deal at last. As good as the Gonon was, this shows why the Côte Rotie is such a highly regarded gem of an AOC. What we have here is bacon and pepper carried to a very balanced free floating extreme. Still, there’s oak in the drying finish and I’d call it five years from its window.

Delas, Hermitage, Domaine des Tourettes, 2010

Pepper and oak, young. I stopped here, possibly grand on another night, but I must say it’s not the best Hermitage I’ve ever had.

Gaston Chiquet, Valee de la Marne, Millésime Or, Premier Cru, Brut, 2007

Ripe and sweet, more so than previous vintages I've had, but for all that, very sexy with palate etching chalk and a whiff of mushrooms. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Taking Care of Business (Dec. 2017)

Luis Pato, Bairrada, Vinha Formal, 2012

Every country has its signature grape(s) - Touriga Nacional in Portugal's case - and some also have a list of indigenous grapes that no one outside the country seems to have heard of. Just about every grape grown in Portugal seems to be a mystery outside of the country, especially their whites. The Vinha Formal is made of such grapes, comprised as it is of 85% Bical and 15% Cerceal. It's hard to get my head around the aromatic and flavor profile of this wine. It smells lightly oxidized and nutty, but it could be the character of the fruit and not a fault and anyway it doesn't taste oxidized. There's also something earthy and herbal going on here. When I drank the 2013, I called it garrigue. Ah, yes, 2013 was the last vintage imported and a year later we have the 2012. Go figure. (Dec. 2, 2017)

Luis Pato, Bairrada, Vinha Formal, 2010

This is the sparkling rose that Pato makes from the Formal vineyard and it's dominated by Touriga Nacional. I can't find a good reference point for this. It's a wonder, but it's really a "love it or hate it" wonder thing. It smells light a light Iberian red, earthy, slightly meaty, pungent. It's very savory and funky and it's totally unlike Champagne. In fact, it's so funky that if you pour it next to a Champagne, then Champagne is likely to run off to cry to its mommy. (Dec. 13, 2017)

Quinta de Saes  (Alvaro Castro), Dão, Reserva, 2013 

A field blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Alfro-Cheiro and others, the profile is typical of the wines Eyal carries. The nose is pungently spicy and floral and that clash of spices and flowers defines the wine. The palate is long and fresh, with felicious softness, and although it is not especially complex, this is my favorite Castro red so far. (Dec. 9, 2017)

Eyal Mermelstein (Tchernichovsky)

Salomon, Kremstal, Undhof, Kogl, Erste Lage, 2014

A wine I used to drink more of, this is a very useful bistro wine. We had with dinner at Milgo and Milbar, whose dishes are very complex and rich and it went well with everything from anchovy focaccia to crab-meat and shirimp paste. It has the same icy veneer of slate that I love in the Mosel, but the dill and spices and the dry finish is all Austria. (Dec. 8, 2017)

Fat Guy, about 130 NIS.

A. Margaine, Le Brut, Villers-Marmery Premier Cru, n.v.

Villers-Marmery is an anomaly in the Motagne de Reims district of Champagne, being an island of Chardonnay on a sea of Pinot Noir. Le Brut, formerly known as Traditionelle, is about 90% Chardonnay. It's comprised of a large portion of reserve wines, the most recent vintage taking up a just little over half the blend, which is a rare proportion for a small grower. The basic character is of ripe fruit, the ripeness providing a full body rather than sweetness, but that body is framed by a sharp cut and a chalky texture and counterpointed by a saline finish. So it makes for an appealing mix of that fruity forwardness and that mineral-laden backbone, a touch of plump fat and  chalk/mushrooms notes. (Dec. 12, 2017)

Fat Guy, 229 NIS. 

Girolamo Russo, Etna, a Rina, 2014

This is only the second producer I've tried so far from trendy Etna in Sicily. The wine is comprised of 98% Nerello Mascalese and 2% Nerello Cappuccio, sourced from the San Lorenzo, Feudo, and Calderara Sottana vineyards and is the winery's entry level red. The nose is very pretty and intriguing; there are earthy, floral and tarry elements, but they're not easily broken down to discrete components. I just enjoy the interplay and the complexity. The palate is dominated by cherries and bitter tannins and needs air. The other Etna producer I know is the arguably more famous Terre Nere and I think this is the better entry level red. Let me be a little more forward: this is wonderful and I can only imagine what the single vineyards are like. (Dec. 15, 2017)

28 euros.

Sphera, White Signature, 2016

This year, the flagship wine is 75% Semillon and 25% Chardonnay. I'm glad Semillon was chosen to be the featured grape this year because I generally love how it performs in Israel. I have fond memories of the Semillon Doron Rav Hon produced in his tenure in Ella Valley. Having said that, while this wine was blooming and mineral-laden when I drank it two months ago, it is starting to shut down now, so it shows more honey and only hints at minerals. (Dec. 17, 2017)

140 NIS.

Domaine Denis Berthaut, Fixin, Les Clos, 2013 

I know Amelie Berthaut is highly regarded, and by people whose opinions I highly regard, yet for some reason, while I liked the basic Bourgogne and Fixin, this is the first time I've fancied either of the village lieux-dits imported locally. This is soft and sensual, fresh red fruit decorated by clay, earth and a pungent, vegetal herbaceous which fits in without being too prominent and completes a fairly complex aromatic tapestry, with a sauvage personality that nods at neighboring Gevrey. And the palate. We talk about how acidity provides structure, but we sometimes forget it also lends tasty sour/tart flavors, as is the case here. (Dec. 21, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 189 NIS.

Feldstein, Gilgamesh, 2014

This Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Argaman and Viognier blend is probably Avi's friendliest wine, but that doesn't mean it's not a very interesting wine to dissect and examine. Its primary selling point - and this is the only aid you need to fix Gilgamesh's fingerprint in your memory - is that juicy acidity that anchors the black fruit and gives form to what could have otherwise been a too lush a texture. (Dec. 23, 2017)

Hudelot-Noellet, Chambolle-Musigny, 2014

Chambolle is the easiest Burgundy town to write about. You don't have to verbalize or explain sauvage, as in Gevrey; you don't have to extol the charm of the exotic spices as in Vosne; you needn't discuss the rusticity of Nuits; or compare the so-called femininity of Volnay with the iron-like muscularity of Pommard. All you have to do, with Chambolle, is mention flowers. But, although the flowers are a very useful tip in blind tastings, they only get you through the first sentence or so of the tasting note. Because the Burgundy villages are never defined by just a single characteristic and you always have to grasp for more nuances. Thus, the Hudelot-Noellet does get you with flowers before you start to notice forest floor and spices - but throughout, it is about those flowers and how they make a young Chambolle so fresh, fluid and irresistible. (Dec. 30, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 270 NIS.

Gaston Chiquet, Brut Blanc de Blancs D’Aÿ, n.v. 

This is usually a vintage Champagne sold as non-vintage for legal reasons. This bottle was disgorged in July 2015 so this is probably 2012, or at the very least 2012-based. This is a pure Chardonnay from the Pinot stronghold that is the Grand Cru village of Aÿ. It's not very complex or weighty, but it makes up for that with its purity and pinpoint focus. It's not a brioche and mushroom style of Champagne, rather the aromas and flavors are all about wet stones, baked apples, citrus fruit and flowers. (Dec. 31, 2017)

Fat Guy, about 250 NIS.

Weingut Wittmann, Rheinhessen, Westhofener Morstein, Riesling Auslese, 2009

Unctuous and hedonistic, almost to the point that the sugar overwhelms the acidity. I don't think it will shed its baby fat in the next decade so you might as well open it now and enjoy it as liquid toffee. And great liquid toffee it is. (Dec. 31, 2017)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Selbach-Oster 2015 (Dec. 28, 2017)

En Bloc
Tasting through the 2015 as depicted by house Selbach-Oster can be a great many things, but most of all, it is great fun. Mosel Riesling is beautiful, moving, delicate. But it's also fun, joyful, vibrant, arguably the most delicious wine in the world. The quality among the top ten/twenty/forty/whatever producers is so high that I could probably load up on cases from any given producer in that rank. I could make a case, though, that the price point at Selbach is the best in the Mosel.

Weissburgunder, 2016

White fruit, minerals, a very nice midweek or brunch drink, if you want some variety in your Riesling diet.

Saar, Kabinnet, 2015/16

The 2016 is apples and chalk with such intense acidity it comes off as dry and rough. The 2015 has much better balance, which allows the wine to show more fullness, depth and nuances.

Zeltlinger Schlossberg, Spatlese Trocken, 2015

An outright dry wine, and even though I’m not a fan of the style in the Mosel, the nose is complex and interesting. However, while the palate is almost as focused as it is lean, in the end it’s too austere for me and not as successful as the 2012 was.

Graacher Domprobst, Spatlese Feinherb, Alte Reben, 2015

A moving nose, deep, almost brooding, very complex. The palate is as complex, earthy, a little bitter, with the pungent bite of green apple and lime.

Zeltlinger Sonnenuhr, Spatlese Feinherb, Ur Alte Reben, 2015

Lighter than brother Domprobst, it doesn’t show the same bass notes of brooding melancholy. It's more restrained and the finish is cleaner, salty rather than bitter.

Zeltlinger Schlossberg, Kabinnet, 2015

This has been a fave year in and year out and tonight it’s the first wine to really make me grin. Finely balanced and wonderfully evocative, a classic Mosel with its apples, peaches and slate.

Zeltlinger Schlossberg, Spatlese, 2015

A very classic Mosel, a very classic Spatlese, a sweet gossamer snowflake of apples, apricots and a touch of Atlantic salt. Addictive. 

Zeltlinger Sonnenuhr, Spatlese *, 2015

Eldad thinks Johannes doesn't use the German star system to denote a higher level of quality, necessarily, but this seems to me purer and finer than the Schlossberg. But then again, I'm always biased towards Sonnenuhr and this wasn't a blind tasting, so...

Zeltlinger Schlossberg, Auslese *, 2015

Very young and very dense. If the Spatlese was a snowflake, then this is a snowball that will take decades to unwind - or rather melt, if I want to maintain my simile.

The final three wines are what Johannes Selbach calls the "en bloc" series and are made from a single pass through specific parcels in their respective vineyards. The idea is to highlight the terroir and not necessarily the pradikat, despite the label. I assume the grapes were picked at a date that ensured the combined must weight of an Auslese. I'm less sure about the presence of botrytis; only the Rotlay exhibited any signs of that.

Zeltlinger Himmelreich, Auslese, Anrecht, 2015

Crystalline, regal and cool, a perfect balance of the sweet and the saline.

Zeltlinger Schlossberg, Auslese, Schmitt, 2015

This seems the most complete and complex of the three, deftly combining sweetness and laser-like focus.

Zeltlinger Sonnenuhr , Auslese, Rotlay, 2015

Tropical and and a bit unfocused, it seems like one of those Auslese that need 3-4 decades for the acidity to overcome the baby fat and sugar. 

A good way to sum up the tasting would be to recommend an optimal purchase strategy. A couple of Saar Kabinetts for immediate pleasure. A six pack of the Schlossberg Kabinetts to follow over two to eight years (who am I kidding, they'd all be drunk up within a year). One or two Sonnenuhr Ur Alter Reben. None of the other Spatlese or Ausleses are imported except for the "en block" wines, and here I'd pass up on the Rotlays and buy a bottle of the Anrecht and as many Schmitts as you can afford. The Schmitt is a treasure and a real keeper.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Domaine Fourrey, Chablis Premier Cru, Mont de Milieu, 2015 (Nov. 28, 2017)

As much as I love Chablis, it's getting harder to write about the merely good wines. The great ones are great, of course, and any bad wine can be fun to pan. Other than that, there's only so much even a compulsive-obsessive like me can write about the aromas and tastes that make up the marine theme that is Chablis: oysters, shells, sea air, sea weed, kelp. Kelp! That's a good one, I haven't used that word before. 

Is that why there's a backlash against Chablis recently? Have we writers run out of interesting things to say about it or has it really become an annoying prevalence on the restaurant scene, a brand whose recent popularity with the masses has become a turnoff for the cognoscenti? Is it so wrong that it's become a bestseller because civilians find it so to pronounce? -  never mind that its style and reserve makes it an easy food pairing. We've been spoiled with something on the order of two dozen Chablis producers being imported to Israel in the last few years. Me, I can still remember when all you could find in Israel was two-three negociants and Jean Durup. I don't know whether I'm jaded, but I have been buying less Chablis in general, and what I have been buying I rarely cellar these days, basically I just drinking it up.

The names, though, the names get me. Doesn't Chablis really have the most romantic and exotic vineyard names? My favorites are "L’Homme Mort", which I think even the most rudimentary of French speakers understand to be "the Dead Man"; and "Montée de Tonnerre", which Google Translate has just told me is "Ascent of Thunder" and blew my mind.

Mont de Milieu is romantic for its geographical, not linguistic, pertinence as it signifies the border between Burgundy and Champagne. If Chablis really needs an advocates then how about this wine, whose mineral and saline flavors highlight the best of what both regions make of Chardonnay?

Oh, and by the way, the Fourrey Mont de Milieu isn't all about the sea and the beach - truly, Chablis is never only about that - it has a good measure of pungent apple skins. I'd go with up to five years of cellaring.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Larmandier-Bernier Tasting (Dec. 14, 2017)

Eldad Levy's Champagne catalog lists seven growers. They are all very dear to my heart and I'd hate to have to choose between them or even rank them. But if I had to make a case for Larmandier-Bernier as the number one seed, my argument would be that Larmandier makes the purest, most intense wines of the lot. We like our Champagnes to flirt around with maturity and show that lovely brioche/mushroomy/biscuity character, but they all start out as young and fruity with traces of yeast. Which is where, I think, you can make the best cross comparisons, at their youth, before age starts to obscure any differences

Having tasted most of the catalog both in youth and with some age, I can say that the young Larmandiers are full, ripe wines, arguably the ripest of the lot, but that ripeness is backed by solid, almost intense acidity. The dosage is very low, so with the acidity being so generous, they don't taste sweet at all. In fact, they seem lean and lithe, almost electric, the balance of fruit and acidity making for powerful tension. At the same time, they're so well crafted that their intensity is never abrasive and, at the end, they impress for their finesse. I enjoy drinking them young because that tension is so very gripping and fascinating to experience. The reason I have enough patience to lay them down is because drinking ten and twelve year old Cramant Grand Crus has taught me how long lived these wines are.

I'll be mentioning the vineyards and villages worked by Larmandier in my notes. So a little background first. Laramandier is based in the Côte des Blancs, which is Chardonnay country, as the name broadly suggests. The domaine is located in the Premier Cru village of Vertus, but also works vineyards at Cramant, Oger and Avize, all Grand Cru villages. The debate around the Champagne classification system will never end, which is appropriate because it's dumb and classifies villages instead of vineyards. I'm telling you this because the Larmandier Vertus is almost as grand as the Cramant, just so you know when you plan your purchases. 

You can read more about the domaine here or skip to the notes.

Latitude, Premier Cru, n.v.

This is made from young vines south of Cramant and it's primal and citric and in need of time. To wit, fifteen minutes were required to show more aromatic complexity and chalk.

Longitude, Premier Cru, n.v.

Made from all the Laramandier holdings in the Côte des Blancs: Vertus, Oger, Avize, Cramant. This is obviously where the real fun begins. Greater nuances and power, probably as good as an ‘average’ vintage Champagne. 

Terre de Vertus Premier Cru, 2009

This is the kind of wine that is almost too easily labeled as intellectual. Which means it's too rocky and electric to drink casually and really demands you pay attention to it. Now, I wrote earlier that it's of Grand Cru caliber, but it's not quite as broad and complete as the Cramant. For one thing, it's a fair bet that while the Vertus vineyard this hails from is at least a match for an average Cramant vineyard, the family's Cramant holdings are hardly average. For another thing, it's a different style of wine, lean and angular and made with zero dosage, which makes it less approachable. This is probably a good place to quote the Larmandier philosophy on dosage:

At Larmandier-Bernier, no secret recipe: once again, our ambition is to allow the terroir to express itself. After all the care lavished on our wines, starting in the vineyard, we are not going to add anything which might go against them.

While most brut Champagnes are dosed at around 12 grams per litre, we never exceed 4 grams for our cuvées. For the 'Terre de Vertus', it's simple: we add no sugar at all. Generally speaking, there is about 1 gram of residual sugar anyway. We prefer to favour the maturity of the grapes and their natural sugar rather than adding sugar when the bottles are disgorged and running the risk of making the Champagne heavier and losing sight of the terroir.

Rose de Saignee Premier Cru, n.v.

Sourced from the family's only Pinot Noir holdings in Vertus, this is floral, very Pinot ish. Still, despite its obvious sex appeal, it is very discreet. This is the only wine in the lineup that I would enjoy a great deal more with age, because it's really too demure to impress right now.

Les Chemins d’Avize Grand Cru, 2009

This is the newest single village wine in the portfolio, and 2009 was the first vintage. Again, a whole bedrock of minerals, but complemented by flowers, it's a  sedate wine, less angles and knees and elbows sticking out than the Terre de Vertus

Les Chemins d’Avize  Grand Cru, 2010

The year is cooler and I get more flowers, a more intense bouquet, while the body is leaner. Never mind the descriptors, the common thread of the evening is how Larmandier puts so much stuffing without loss of grace, all the while insinuating and hinting at nuances. The specifics are less important.

Vieille Vigne du Levant Grand Cru (formerly known as Cramant), 2007

The house’s crown jewel, this is a very full wine, so full that this time the minerals are buried under baked apples. In a way, it's paradoxical how such a backward and monolithic wine is also the most complete wine.