Friday, March 6, 2015

Nono Take II (Feb. 2, 2015)

And there I was, thinking life couldn't get any better after staying up all night to witness Tom Brady win his fourth Superbowl ring, thirteen years after incredulously watching him drive the Patriots towards an upset over the St. Louis Rams.

Well, it didn't. But an evening with friends at Nono, enjoying, among other things, a Grosses Gewaches and a Barton mini-flight, was a good way to come down to earth.

Rebholz, Pfalz, Chardonnay, "S" Trocken, 2010

While I recalling enjoying a previous vintage in the past, this won't replace Puligny or Chassagne, maybe Meursault. It's vaguely Pinot Gris or Semillon-like in the way it sports floral trappings alongside pears and apples, and somewhat sweet, yet high in acidity for a Chardonnay. Baffling.

Schafer-Frohlich, Nahe, Schlossbuckelheimer Felsenberg, Grosses Gewaches, 2007

The Other Germany. Apples and chalk and assorted minerals combine for a regal explosion. Very complex and continually expanding in glass. This is in a very good spot.

Pierre Marey, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, 2011

Oaky and spicy. Interesting nose, annoying palate. I think few things are as deeply annoying as a mediocre white Burgundy. And this is actually downright bad.

G. D. Vajra, Barolo,Luigi Baudana, 2006

Typical tarry/spicy nose, with red fruit on both nose and palate. Still young and dourly brazen but I take to it. Very good.

Two siblings, separated by the usual French history of trading chateaus
Château Leoville-Poyferre, Saint Julien 2me Cru, 2001

Oh, what a lovely stink. Brett in spots, mellow black fruit and light cedar all over the place. If the Barolo was like being a Catholic - suffer now but enjoy the afterlife - here the party has already started and will continue for a long time.

Château Leoville-Barton, Saint Julien 2me Cru, 2001

The Poyferre sans brett. I like them both, but for me the Barton might be arguably better, even if less approachable.

Ferrer Bobet, Priorat, Vinyes Velles, 2010

Black yet grapey fruit. Not too modern, kinky enough personality-wise to make up for the ripe fruit. I enjoyed my glass without a great urge for seconds.

Chateau de Fargues, Sauternes, 2003

Like a lot of 2003 Sauternes, this is a heavy loaf of cheesecake. Tasty but plodding

Thursday, February 26, 2015

More Love - Another Set Of Beaujolais

Drink me
Tomer Gal almost managed to sneak in some more Beaujolais without informing me, but I caught on and made a quick purchase.

Jean Foillard, Morgon, Cuvée Corcelette, 2012

This cuvée is sourced from 90 year old vines and is seamlessly seductive, with a soft, juicy core so delicious that it's hard to put down the glass. Along with that, though, is an Old World grunge and mysterioso that appeals to the mind as well, with aromas and flavors of leather, sweat and the sort. This can definitely age, assuming I can keep my hands off it. At any rate, one I need to stock on. (Jan. 15, 2015)

150 NIS.

Jean Foillard, Morgon, Cote du Py, 2012

I loved the 2011, and Tomer said the 2012 was a knockout. And yep, it is. There's an earthy, spicy nose, with a peppery, stemmy feel as well - that reminds me of Pavelot, for some reason - and a round fleshiness on the palate that, combined with herbal tannins, is all Gamay. Like a great Burgundy, this balances texture and presence with a light, refreshing saline touch. (Feb. 9, 2015)

150 NIS.

George Descombes, Chiroubles, 2012

Chiroubles is said to be the lightest of the Beaujolais Cru, so I took that to mean it would be the most Pinot-ish, which isn't really the case here. It's more floral and, yes, lighter, than just about all the others I've been drinking, but it's just as round and earthy as the rest, just as Gamay. It's simple compared to its stablemates in Tomer's catalog, but develops nicely with air and the lightly tannic finish is quite savory. (Jan. 19, 2014)

140 NIS.

George Descombes, Brouilly, 2012

This is a darker, deeper, meatier wine. It has the same 'dirty', earthy, leathery feel as the Corcellete, although to a lesser extent. And very juicy acidity. I actually think this could use a year or two to fill out that savory finish. (Jan. 21, 2015)

140 NIS.

After three years of drinking the major names in Beaujolais, I've narrowed my short list to Foillard, Thevenet and Potel-Avion.

Friday, February 20, 2015

With Lifshitz and Friends @Popina (Jan. 5, 2015)

Dominique Laurent, Nuits-St.-Georges Premier Cru, Les Bousselots, 1999

Dominique Laurent is a proponent of intensive barrel use and it shows. Over fourteen years post harvest, the forest floor aromas on the nose are accompanied by notes of oak aromas, and I think the barrel regime also contributes to the drying tannins on the finish.

Domaine Bizot, Bourgogne, Chapitre, 2011

Here the balance between red fruit and forest floor on the nose is much better gauged. Much better. The tannins are present, yet refined in the soft rasping way fine Burgundies bring to the table. Placed in the decanter for an hour after the initial sips, it emerges with flowers and exotic spices. Very tasty and savory. Almost intoxicating and always changing. As always, this is way better than any Bourgogne has a right to be, Premier Cru level in fact.

Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, Clos de Vogeot, 1998

Lightly liquorish nose, with refined, yet warm fruit and spices. Very, very tasty and complex with savory acidity. Lovely, lovely, lovely - obviously mature but at the same time still quite fresh. Oh so much better than a bottle three years ago.

Jean Grivot, Nuits-St.-Georges Premier Cru, Aux Boudots, 2006

Raw meat at first, which for me is strange in a Bourgogne. But initially it works, with a hint of flowers and minerals, and settles into a very complex portrait, with more weight than the Clos de Vogeot shows. Then it abruptly closes and throws up oaky aromas. Thumbs down at this stage of its evolution.

Domaine Matrot, Meursault-Blagny Premier Cru, 2011

Starts out with aromas of Atlantic salt and pears, with flint coming out later. Despite  it's youth, already complex and mellow, especially after a short detour in the decanter, with baby fat counter-pointed by welcome salinity.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Morning At Vitkin Winery (Jan. 15, 2015)

A morning well spent!
I spent a very fun and educational morning with winemaker Assaf Paz at his family's winery, Vitkin, which for the last few years has been one of my favorite local wineries. We tasted some work in progress specimens, some back vintages and some recent releases. The only wine we didn't sample was the flagship Carignan, because, as I'd told Assaf, I've had it so many times it'd be a waste of our mutual time to go through it. I told him that as far as I could recall recall I hadn't a lot of much experience with the Petit Sirah, so he opened a back vintage of that - which was a very, very good idea, as I'd learned that we with enough (read: long) bottle age, the Petit Sirah gives the Carignan a very decent fight.

Assaf's philosophy is to make interesting, fruity wines, that pair well with food, don't necessarily require a lot of bottle age and that are imbued with local character. At the same time, he also wants to make wines that will intrigue the illumenti. And turn a profit while keeping his professional integrity. Which is probably a blanket statement you'd get from a lot of wineries. You have to taste through the range and listen to Assaf's rationale for winemaking decisions he made for specific wines to see how well the unofficial mission statement works out in practice.

We started out with a tank sample of a mystery grape that will probably go into future White Journey blends. Whatever it is, the sample was spicy/herbal with good acidity and a touch of anise. We then moved on to a sample of Grenache Blanc that had spent a relatively short time in barrel. Here, the oak was obvious, but not blatant - rather it served as a signature, a spicy wisp. It was fatter than the mystery sample, with lower acidity, but in both cases, as I told Assaf, I'd be happy if was served in a carafe in some bistro around the Mediterranean basin, which was probably his intent in the first place.

At this point, we tasted some finished wines. The White Journey, 2014 was open for business on the nose, with the Gewürztraminer in the blend showing rose water and lychee. The palate was more sullen, though. The 2013, a blend of said Gewürztraminer, French Colombard and Viognier (the 2014 presumably contains the mystery grape, which, by process of elimination, I think is Sylvaner or Muller-Thurgau) is nuttier and fatter. Both have very good acidity.The combination in each vintage works quite well, and really seems to project the occidental character Assaf aims for.

We then moved on to the Grenache Blanc, 2013. If there is one wine I really longed to taste (and buy, by the way), a wine worth the drive to Vitkin, this was it. Although I have to say I'm usually not very fond of Rhone white grapes and wines, this avoids the oaky, oxidized character I often encounter there, instead showing a unique signature of peanuts, minerals, ash and tobacco leaves. This is intellectually stimulating, existing in the same niche for me as Savennieres, a wine that challenges first and pleases later.

Grenache Rose, 2014

Complemented by a side dish of Carignan and Tempranillo, this is fruity yet restrained, with a touch of minerals. Quite nice.

Pinot Noir 2011

A good Mediterranean Pinot. Meaning I get both the Pinot and 'local' aspects. It's rich and complex with earthy and leathery notes, more tannic and foursquare than any Bourgogne I'd buy.

Red Journey 2013

The Red Journeys have been very good lately, and the only reason I don't buy any for my fridge is that I wind up ordering them quite a lot off of restaurant wine lists. This particular vintage is charming ,floral and fruity, and it should eventually show a tasty, mineral tint, if it is anything like the 2012 version.

Cabernet Franc, 2010

This has a lovely, piercing  nose, with typical lead pencil. The fruit is sweet yet balanced.

And finally, proof that Assaf makes wines that can age!

Riesling, 2007

This has a spicy, mature appeal (petrol and herbs), with a unique signature not of  Pfalz or Alsace, that I find holistically captivating despite a few off notes that make their way in and out of my attention span.

Petit Sirah, 2005

Once more, a very captivating nose, with black fruit, bacon and leather. It is still tannic and drying, so I think it could go a few more years, probably always remaining tannic. This was clearly my favorite wine of the visit, and I have to admit it preyed on my mind on the drive home.

Post-script: Assaf planned to taste the Late Harvest, 2011 with me, but we didn't get around to that, so he gave me a bottle to try at home. This is a dessert wine comprised fully of Sauvignon Blanc, which goes some way to explaining the similarity to Sauternes. I'm no longer a big fan of Sauternes, so for me, the relative lightness is definitely a boon. An enjoyable wine.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Taking Care Of Business (Jan. 2015)

Oddero, Barolo, 2007

This being a basic Barolo purchased for 30 GBP in a London supermarket 2 years ago, I didn't see any upside in aging it too long. It has the typical herbal, dusty, iron aromatics, surprisingly complex, and while the tannins are still stern at first, with air, they impart a long, spicy effect so that the overall impact is tasty in a rustic, yet clean manner. Nothing outstandingly great about this, just a nice, moderately expressive wine making for a fun evening in front of the TV set, a very good buy and an even greater surprise. (Jan. 3, 2015)

Lewinsohn, Garage de Papa, Rouge, 2011

Syrah 50%, Petite Syrah 25%, Carignan 25%. It's hard  for me to say which variety dominates and what each contributes. Right now, this is midpoint between herbal, floral and peppery, with fresh fruit and ample complexity. I always like Ido's work, and this is a step up from last year's version, which I liked enough, probably because 2011 was a better vintage in Israel. Very drinkable, high class, and a good place, for me, to head for when I want a Mediterranean wine. (Jan. 7, 2015)

150 NIS.

Koehler-Ruprecht, Pfalz, Kallstadter Saumagen, Riesling Auslese trocken, 2005

I finally open a good bottle and the cork crumbles! Anyway, green apples, petrol and dill here make for a really complex nose that's everything Saumagen is about when it's on: a small scale grandeur that evokes, for me, bread ovens and wheat fields (and it's been ages since a K-R made me feel that way). A fine, dry Auslese, with just a hint of sweetness on the finish. My purchases over the years performed erratically, but if they were all like this bottle, I'd have bought cases. (Jan. 8, 2015)

Giaconda, 150 was what it used to cost.

Chapoutier, Hermitage, La Sizeranne, 2005

The Sizeranne 1998 was the first great wine I ever bought, twelve years ago*.  Not everyone is enamored of the Sizeranne, generally speaking, but in a good vintage, and if you can get it for a good price (and re the 2005 I did, for 200 NIS at Wine Depot), it's one of the best values in the Rhone. 1998 was one of the best years ever for the Sizeranne and the 2005 actually lives up to that level of quality, even if it is currently only a year or two into its drinking window - which in  Hermitage terms means adolescent, so it could still use a few years to soften. This is lovely, text-book Hermitage, with black pepper, leather and bacon on the nose, the fruit very mildly sweet in the initial attack and then tapering off to a tannic, rusty finish, that grows very supple with air. (Jan. 10, 2015)

* As a side note: back then, provenance for the Sizeranne was iffy: the 1996 had been badly stored and by my count four out of five bottles that I had encountered were off. One bottle of the 1999 was suspicious while the 1998 was just fine. Ironically, the high tier Chapoutier Hermitages were so rare and expensive they were safely stored in private cellars before we blue collar wine fans could ever get our hands on them, hence the importer storage conditions was moot).

Domaine de Rochebin, Mâcon-Azé, 2013

Simple fare, a Chardonnay on the tropical end of the spectrum, which seems unoaked. A very decent quaffer, with a touch of minerals. (Jan. 11, 2015)

Wine Route, 99 NIS. 

Sphera, White Concepts, First Page, 2013

This is a blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Semillon, with the Riesling in the background (as apples) I think - but it doesn't matter which grape plays which instrument because the thing that really captivates me about this wine is the way the blend begets a speckless new breed: Griesellon. Which is floral, fruity and saline, with great purity and clarity. (Jan. 14, 2015)

About 100 NIS.

Donnhoff, Nahe, Oberhäuser Brücke, Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel, 2006

The sweetness is starting to recede, so the balance of fruit and acidity is quite racy. Subtle complexity is the keyword, as it seems to be in a reticent phase, so even after it blooms and fans out with air, it still plays out in sotto voce crystalline, mineral notes. For me, that very understatement is what makes this a great wine. Even the botrytis ia very delicately embroidered into the fruit. (Jan. 16, 2015)

Giaconda, 196 NIS (half bottle)

Domaine Leroy, Bourgogne Aligote, 2008

This is one incredible Aligote! At a little over seven years of age, the color is pale enough to to fool any blind taster into thinking it was only a couple of years old, while the nose has the fine, complex mineral notes and light hints of roasted almonds of an especially elegant Chassagne, maybe even a Puligny. The palate gives the grape away, not because it's inferior, but simple because few Chardonnays, even from the Cote or Chablis, have such racy acidity. There's citrus fruit in there, and I don't know how to fit that with the rest of the note, but I really like the way it plays. (Jan. 17, 2015)

Burgundy Wine Collection, 200 NIS. I usually think Leroy is over-priced, despite the pedigree and quality, but considering how good this is, I'd ignore the lowly label and say outright that this is a great value.

Pierre Gimonnet, Champagne, Blanc de Blancs Brut, 1er Cru, Cuvee Gastronome, 2008

As always, this bargain basement vintage cuvee is pleasure. This particular bottle is right at the plateau of maturity, full of brioche and nuts and mushrooms. I'm running out of new things to say about it, although I'll never stop loving it. (Jan. 22, 2015)

Fat Guy, 279 NIS.

William Fevre, Chablis Grand Cru, Les Clos, 2006

I used to think Chablis is the shit, and it still is, in many ways, but the "but" here is that my interest level has waned. I think one of the reasons I grew disenchanted is that the playing field just doesn't have great breadth and that once I went through the range of producers available locally I just grew bored with the lot (except for Raveneau and Dauvissat, which are too expensive and rare to get bored of). Anyway, this is still good stuff. This has a dour personality, but regal dour. It smells like the fish docks around sunset and tastes like sour apples, a little soupy on the finish. The fact that it becomes fat and dull after an hour might be typical of my disenchantment. Or of 2006 whites inability to age gracefully. (Jan. 25, 2015)

Wine Route, this was on sale at 190 NIS, but the price is usually 350 NIS or so.

Telmo Rodríguez, Alicante, Al Muvedre, 2012

This is a charming, unoaked Mourvedre. It's lightly green and floral, peppery, clean and tasty. I think the world is a happier place for little wines like this, and I hope Wine Route's marketing machine manages to find a market for it, year after year, (Jan 27, 2015)

90 NIS.

Dani Galil has started importing a few Italians. He told me to open this one quite some hours before drinking, so I slow-oxed for about seven hours then lowered shoulders and waited another couple.

Le Macchiole, Bolgheri Rosso, 2012

This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The initial sip after lowering the shoulders shows a modern, very well made wine. The oak is in there, that's for sure, but the winemakers made sure not to overwhelm the fruit. Despite the French varieties, there is a distinctly Tuscan feel about it - except that Sangiovese would have a lighter touch in a similar entry level niche. There's chives and minerals, and the Syrah contributes a dash of black pepper, so there's a nice vibe to it, but even after all those hours of air, it's too grainy for my tastes. (Jan. 31, 2015)

110 NIS.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Pair Of Mature Muscadets

I've been waiting a couple of years to drink a mature Muscadet - due to their vaguely underground, hipster reputation for being lean, tasty and long-lived. Wine Route, who import Chéreau-Carré, recently brought in a few measly bottles of back vintages directly from the house, costing 130 NIS or so, and I immediately grabbed a couple.

Chéreau-Carré, Comte Leloup de Château de Chasseloir, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie, Cuvée des Ceps Centenaires, 2004

"The Melon de Bourgogne was introduced into the Nantes area by Burgundian monks in the early years of the eighteenth century", says the Chéreau-Carré site, and I get a sense of a similarity to Chardonnay. Like Chardonnay, there's a similar neutrality that supposedly brings the terroir to the forefront: here, the very complex bedrock of mineral inflected aromas covers every type of rock and soil from flint, to clay to marine fossils, and I'd be very pleased to get that level of effortless elegance in a mature Puligny (only that rarely happens anymore in the Cote d'Or, due to widely discussed premox issues). Unlike Chardonnay, the fruit is more about melons than apples, so the Melon part of the name is apt. The palate packs a lot into a lean, saline frame, and is actually more complex than most Chablis Premier Crus I've had. In short, this is an amazing value and I hope producers like Chéreau-Carré manage to thrive under the radar for a few years longer. (Jan. 9, 2015)

It's hard to make an accurate vertical tasting spaced four days apart, especially with two very similar wines to begin with, but the 2005 seems to be slightly more mineral inflected, with clearly greater focus and definition, although it probably could still use more fine tuning than than the 2004. Both have terrific acidity, that, combined with  the saline, chalky finish, are the reason these wines have earned a reputation for pairing with oysters.

Just to put things in perspective, this cuvée is sourced from 100 year old vines!

That bit I quoted about Melon de Bourgogne being introduced to Nantes reminds me of a great Farside cartoon. I hope I'm not violating Gary Larson's intellectual property, I'm just taking the opportunity to salute a great comic genius - and if you're not familiar with him already, look him up!

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Writing about sparkling wines before New Year's Eve is so 2014!
I'm crazy about Champagne, but it's not exactly a state secret that they can be hard on the wallet. So I have to look elsewhere to fill in the gaps between splurges. Eldad Levy, who's the best local source of excellent Champagnes producers (often at sane prices) also exports the very worthy Languedoc producer Jean-Louis Denois, but I've already written about him several times. Other than that,arguably the best imported 'substitutes' are carried by Giaconda.

I placed quotation marks on 'substitutes' because the sparkling wines in the Giaconda catalog are anything but substitutes. First of all, they are from appellations where sparkling wines are part of the local culture. And more importantly, the best are good in their own right and have their own very specific personalities.

For the most part, we're talking about German sekts. And it seems just about every German producer in the catalog has a sekt. I've written about just about every one of them in the past, but now I'd like to focus on a couple of Pinot-based wines made by the only pure sekt specialist in the portfolio. Raumland makes Riesling based sekts, of course, but those haven't arrived in Israel yet. And call me a sentimentalist, but what really move me are the Champagne grapes, anyway.

Raumland, Rheinhessen, Cuvee Katharina, n.v.

This is Pinot Noir/Meunier based, and it's actually fairly entry level in that it's made of lesser quality grapes. Some tasters on Cellar Tracker are calling it coarse, but I do find plenty of refinement for the price. This was disgorged in early 2012, and, from what I've read, it's usually kept on its lees for 42 months. So some back dating says it's based on the 2008 vintage, which is a decent year (although no German vintage chart ever talks much about sekts) and the bottle has some nice age on it. Which probably explains why I don't find it coarse. It's a very good basic wine, indeed, with nuances of brioche and nuts, and fresh and tasty. Plus, it's dry - no makeup here to draw in the the casual drinker! What it lacks in my eyes, in comparison with a decent non vintage Champagne, is more girth and sheen on its fruit. (Dec. 6, 2014)

130 NIS.

Raumland, Rheinhessen, Rose Prestige, n.v.

I was really looking forward to trying this because of the whole rose mystique. This is one of the palest roses I've encountered, shaded a pale bronze like an orange wine. At first, the fruit doesn't lean so much towards red fruit as other roses I've had, sparkling or otherwise, unless you count pink grapefruit as a red fruit. Then it picks up intensity and presence, as well as an obvious Pinot character. It's slightly sweeter (riper?) and less complex than the Katharina (which wasn't that complex in its own right), but livelier and more refreshing and mineral laced. As it's recently disgorged (June, 2014), I'm willing to wager it will develop complexity and a more definitive sense of wineness with a couple of years of patience. (Dec. 7, 2014)

160 NIS.

My favorite Giaconda sparkler, though, is not a sekt.

Andre et Mireille (now Stephane) Tissot, Cremant du Jura, Blanc de Blanc Cleve en Fue, n.v.

Despite the label, this is actually a pure 2007 bottling and is probably the best sparkler in the catalog, unless there are surprises in the sekt department since I last ambled through it. As always, I get cashews and mushrooms and savory salinity. If you like that sort of thing - and who wouldn't, these are some of the traits one looks for in a good, basic Champagne - then this is the best offer in the bubbly section of the portfolio. (Dec. 12, 2014)

160 NIS.

Over the last few years, I've bought, drank about the Huet, Vouvray, Petillant, 2005 and it's a crazy value. Terrific stuff. The only reason I've stopped buying it is because of the changes in the wine-making regime at the domaine.

On the local front, The Golan Heights Winery is renowned for making the best methode traditionelle in Israel and I've been meaning for years to try their Blanc de Blancs (I've had the discontinued Brut on several occasions, but never the BdB for some reason). I finally got around to it. The Blanc de Blancs, 2007 has plenty of chalk and both citrus fruit and citrus blossom. It's a little sweeter than what I usually drink (although there's plenty of acidity to rein that in) and, after five years in its lees, more than hints at the roasted nuts/brioche/mushroom character I love, especially on the gorgeous nose. It's much more tame and correct than the any of the above (that's not necessarily bad, but worth mentioning at the very least), but it is very tasty and fresh and crazy value, at about 120 NIS. I should get some more. (Dec. 28, 2014)

There. Now you can't say I never say anything good about GHW!

Of course, there ain't nothing like the real thing.

Gaston Chiquet, Valee de la Marne, Millésime Or, 1er Cru, Brut, 2004 

Opened to celebrate the New Year, this shows greater depth and 'seriousness' than any of the above, as well as the nuts and brioche of a robustly mature Champagne. The fruit is ripe, feeling sweet despite the low dosage. Yet despite that sweetness, there is a fresh backbone of fine acidity that belies the lightly oxidized notes on the nose, and a long, brothy  finish. At the end of the day, it's hardly the most elegant Champagne I've had, but I wouldn't ever throw it out of my bed. (Dec. 31, 2014)

Fat Guy, 295 NIS. 

Jean Lallement, Verzenay Grand Cru, Brut, n.v.

This is one of my favorites, probably the wine I most often long to open, ever since I first drank it last year. I have no idea what vintages this bottle is based on, but the cuvee is heavily into Pinot Noir (80% of most bottlings, from what I read). It's not only supremely tasty, it's always interesting and unique. It's always about chicken stock, sauteed mushrooms and salted cashews, even more than it is about minerals and fruit - and there's plenty of minerals and fruit in there - always lifting my spirit and imagination. There's more complexity and detail in here than your average non-vintage has, and eventually the erstwhile Monsieur Lallement will release his first vintage wines and I will be able to sleep peacefully. (Jan. 1, 2015)

Fat Guy, 269 NIS.