Tuesday, January 15, 2019

December's Children


Michel Arnould et Fils, Verzenay Grand Cru, Mémoire de Vignes, 2011

What an absolutely romantic name, Mémoire de Vignes, for a Blanc de Noirs that showcases what this Verzenay master can craft out of Pinot Noir vines. A nutty, autumnal broth of lemon rind, mushrooms and salt, the very characterful nose is echoed by powerful, yet focused, flavors and a form that is broad, deep, detailed and gripping, its force tempered by elegance. This is a wine that unfolds new nuances as it and the evening unfolds: chalk, citrus fruit, white flowers. In short, a Champagne that delivers everything I look for in a grower Champagne, all this from a north facing Grand Cru and an erratic, cool, early vintage! (Dec. 12, 2018)

About 60 USD. Worth every cent and every effort required to find a bottle.

Gvaot, Pinot Noir, 2012

Sphera, Riesling, 2016

An impromptu theme tasting: the two grapes least likely to succeed in the Middle East. Both wines were wonderful, although arguably not quite typical. The Gvaot is firm and muscular for a Pinot Noir, all black cherries and pine needles, not so much forest floor and spices. Now, if I set aside my expectations and preconceptions of Pinot and just take this at face value as a local red, then its poise and structure are a treat. 

As much as I want to like Israeli Rieslings more, I've found that I've stopped reaching for my wallet when I see them on the shelves. Even my local favorites (Vitkin and Kishor) leave me wanting more. The Sphera surprises me by taking things to another level. I do need to actively search for the Riesling traits, yet they are there in the way the green apples cross over to white peaches and I trust they will become more pronounced with age. The big payback is the purity and form of the palate. Excellent. (Dec. 21, 2018) 

Castel, Petit Castel, 2016

I have very vivid memories of my first encounters with the Castel lineup. I drank the Grand Vin, 1999 at a tasting of Israeli boutique wineries in late 2002 and it was the obvious star by a distance. Which is saying something, as even in 2002, its peers were Flam, Tzora, Margalit and Amphora (with Gil Shatzberg at the helm, long before the winery had more reboots than Spider-Man). The Petit Castel, 1999 was the first Castel we drank at home and it was a revelation, even to my then very untrained senses, in how it went from an initially opulent fruitiness to a more reserved and earthy character. It was the first time I'd experienced such a transformation firsthand and it left an everlasting impression, an epiphany if you will. Before I went off Israeli wines for the better part of a decade, I drank through a good number of bottles of Grand Vin and Petit Castel, from 1999 to 2002. What can I tell you, Castel had rightfully earned the right to be the first Israel boutique to be recognized internationally. 

My initial thought when I drank the latest Petit Castel, was that Castel is still exercising the same level of quality control. This is still a very good Bordeaux blend, showing the ripeness typical of our local reds without succumbing to it. What it does succumb to is oak. I do wish I could tell you that it just needs time, but I just can't shake off off a gloomy feeling that it's started out in life with an unbalanced first step. (Dec. 22, 2018)

Chapoutier, Crozes-Hermitage, Les Meysonniers, 2016

The longest time between vintages: this is a wine I know for sure I haven't drunk since my 36th birthday, all the way back in 2002, when it was a sort of house wine at Yoezer Wine Bar. It must have been the 1998 or 99. I was too much of a newbie to write notes but I sort of remember it as being too serious and tannic for my barely formed tastes. It probably wasn't serious so much as austere, and the impression of tannins might have been caused by the austerity of the fruit. This, however, shows the softer, more effusive, side of Syrah, a lovely portrait that offsets floral fruit with black pepper and a lightly tannic finish. (Dec. 23, 2018)

Hakerem, about 100 NIS. Yowsah!

Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Riesling Kabinett, 2017

There is a light that never goes out. But sometimes it can be almost inscrutable. Despite the lightness of the frame (this is filigree kabinett, not a slimmed down spatlese), this is a very deep kabinett, so deep and with so much substance, belying its ethereal frame, that it feels as though it can express so much more than it's showing now. It's full of green apples and cool, mintly slate, yet their interplay only scratches the surface of their potential complexity. Impressive. (Dec. 24, 2018)

Fat Guy 145 NIS.

Dr. Loosen, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese, 2009

There's a stretch between the 2008 and 2014 vintages where I stopped reading up on Mosel and Germany in general. I read now that 2009 is considered a great vintage. This is certainly a captivating, hedonistic auslese that exemplifies the Mosel ausleses reputation as liquid gold: a sweet, creamy confection reduced to nectar, with a strata of rock and parsley in the background, intense and complex, yet luscious and moreish. Too immediate and obvious for greatness, but a joy nonetheless. (Dec. 25, 2018)

Argyros, Assyrtiko, 2016

I consider Argyros one of the better surprises in the Wine Route catalog, both as an "off the beaten track" choice and as a world class white in its own right. I have no idea how it will age, but right now it's pure and crisp, balancing fresh fruit with saline flavors, its poise and focus very impressive. (Dec. 2, 2018)

Wine Route, 140 NIS.

Le Domaine d'Henri, Chablis Premier Cru, Fourchaume, Heritage, 2012

I'm burnt out on writing tasting notes for Chablis. There are only so many permutations of "sea shells, sea weed, sea breeze" I can conjure. It's a good thing the d'Henri style is so crystalline, steely and clear that you might reach for Puligny or St. Aubin in a blind tasting. The fruit profile, though, is all Chablis, green apples, crisp fresh apple skins. (Dec. 3, 2018)

Bourgogne Crown, 250 NIS.

Vitkin, Petite Sirah, 2012

Another chapter in the on-going success story that is the Vitkin Petit Sirah.  A full, fleshy, yet lithe, wine, black and blue fruit ornamented by black pepper, roasted meat, iron, graphite and hints of violets. All that, combined with rusty, grainy tannins make this a redneck Saint Joseph with Cote Rotie aspirations. (Dec. 12, 2018)

CARM (Casa Agrícola Roboredo Madeira), Douro, Maria de Lourdes, 2011

A big, monolithic wine, still primary, whose tannins and acidity are non-obtrusive enough to leave the taste buds comfortable and happy. The interest factor isn't prominent enough to draw me back right now, but the blue fruit is tasting enough and there's a hint of budding earth-laced complexity. (Dec. 5, 2018)

Eyal Mermelstein (Tchernichovsky)

Domaine Pegau, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvee Reserve, 2004

This is truly the last time, the last CdP in my collection. So it's a good thing I saved the best for last, as it really shows all - and only - the best about the appellation: savory red fruit with, clad with iron and garrigue, with no hint of over-extraction or immense levels of alcohol. (Dec. 8, 2018)

Ormanni, Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione Etichetta Storica, 2010

I gave it more than a shot. I waited a few hours the first day, put aside a third of the bottle for the second day. Beyond the heavy veil of oak are pleasant herbal and balsamic notes, but no way is this the world class wine it claims to be - or priced at. (Dec. 9, 2018)

Chateau Golan, Syrah, 2016

Typical Syrah nose, charred meat, dust, black pepper. The heat of the alcohol is still obvious on the plate. Brawny but not sweet, this needs time or air. (Dec. 16, 2018)

C.V.N.E., Rioja, Monopole Blanco, 2015

Hardly the oxidative, old school Rioja style, it almost comes off as an Albariño, with fresh summer fruits, crisp body and salty finish. (Dec. 2, 2018)

Wine Route, 80 NIS.

Domaine de Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) , Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Occultum Lapidem, 2014

A solid, small-scale Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend - which is my preferred scale for GSM. (Dec. 30, 2018)

Hakerem, about 100 NIS.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Hoildays Esprit - A Pierre Péters tasting (Dec. 26, 2018)

Even if Peters was just another grower, he'd still be a grower
from a town legendary for having no ordinary wines
We visited Pierre Péters in May and I'd like to quote two observations from my post on that visit by way of introducing this one:

"Even if Peters was just another grower, he'd still be a grower from a town legendary for having no ordinary wines."

But he's no ordinary grower. Which brings me to the second quote from the visit, which is actually something Fabienne Péters told us when she poured the Chetillons 2008:

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

We didn't, and it's not only a great tasting note but the best advice I can give for anyone attending a Péters tasting: grab a cab, don't drive, and then you won't have any regrets when the evening is over.

If you do need to spit, however, you might as well spit out the first three wines and enjoy the rest because the quality across the range progresses in a very orderly manner. The Cuvée de Reserve, Cuvée  Extra Brut and Rose for Albane are excellent, albeit obvious, showcases of skill and care, rather than visceral experiences; the Esprit a huge step up, shining in the great vintages, especially 2012; and the Chetillons is a classic that defies expectations in an off vintage like 2011 and immortal in a great one like 2002 (or 2008 for that matter). Finally, L'Étonnant Monsieur Victor is a unique approach that pays off.

Cuvée de Reserve (2014 based)

This is a showcase of the Côte des Blancs aromatic and flavor profile: citrus fruits, chalk and yeast, a dry bitter, pit-like core with sweetness on the fringes. Like everything except the rose, this is 100% blanc de blancs, from the family's holdings in the grand cru villages of Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant. The base vintage always makes up about 60% of the blend, the rest being sourced from a solera with 20 back vintages. Full and direct, it's balanced and tasty without loads of complexity, probably because it's still very yeasty and that overshadows the mellowness that the mature reserve wines in the blend should purportedly provide.

Cuvée Extra Brut (2014)

This is a vintage wine in essence if not in legal terms, as Rudolph Péters releases it before it has matured enough to qualify for vintage status. It feels like step up in quality from the Cuvée de Reserve, which is odd when I think about it, because the base wine is the same. I'd expect the reserve wines and the lower dosage to make for stylistic difference, not a qualitative one. Whatever, the nose and palate are more complex, the palate fuller and more powerful, yet with more finesse. Without any reserve wines to temper it, the chalk is more pronounced.

Rose for Albane 

This is a good rose but whenever I drink it, it comes off a step behind the rest of the lineup. It’s tasty, with an excellent texture and a lovely finish, but I don’t think it has the star quality of their best. By the way, even though the Peters site doesn't say so, I'm guessing this is another de facto vintage wine.

Peters makes two de jure vintage Champagnes. Both are extra brut, the l'Esprit being sourced single vineyards from Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant (which I guess means the best vineyards, otherwise why limit yourself to specific vineyards for one of your premium wines), the flagship Les Chetillons from select plots in, well Chetillons, ranked by many as the best vineyard in Le Mesnil sur Oger.

l'Esprit, 2013 

2013 is the best wine in the lineup if you want to experience Côte des Blancs. The 2012 and 2009 are richer, more flamboyant, vintages and the character of the terroir is still in the backseat. Here, you get the full expression of the citrus fruit, the elegance and vibrancy of that fruit, the electric thrill of its acidity. Champagne, like many of the classic French wine regions, had to contend with uneven ripening in 2013, but that's not evident in this fine, enticing wine.

l'Esprit, 2012

This wasn't a blind tasting, but I'll wager that any lover of Champagne would have pegged this as really great vintage from the first sniff. What an amazing nose! - with sweet brioche and fruit and mineral aromas. This was more intense and concentrated than anything in the tasting, including the Chetillons - which outclassed it in other aspects. But what a terrific, terrific wine!

l'Esprit, 2009

This is step behind 2012, but 2012 was so many steps ahead that it’s not a crime. Complex, balanced and and already starting to mellow with age, this is the most rewarding to drink of the flight.

TL;DR classy quality for the “second” vintage wine. Buy the 2012 if you can find it but don't be shy about settling for a lesser vintage because it's still going to be great.

Les Chetillons 2010

As I wrote above, the Chetillons outclassed the 'lEsprit 2012, even though there is no single writer that would give 2010 any chance of catching up with 2012. And it outclasses the 'lEsprit by a magical trick that great champagnes have: that feeling that the picture of the world they place in your mouth has more colors and clarity than the real world. There is simply an additional dimension of fruit here, without loss of minerals, structure, freshness  or finesse.

Les Chetillons Oenotheque, 2002

This is a recently disgorged version of the 2002 bottling, that rare vintage that everyone agrees is a great vintage, the magnificent growing season where everything was just right. All signs of yeasts gone, what's left is a Corton-Charlemagne with bubbles, a super tasty masterpiece of smoky finesse.

L'Étonnant  Monsieur Victor MK11  (2011 based)

Eldad Levy, the local Peters importer says this is a unique attempt to place a non-vintage blend at the top of the hierarchy. Simply put, the idea is to take best juice of the base vintage and vinify with the best juice of the solera at the time of blending (while making sure l'Esprit and Chetillons get their share, I suppose). I can't really speak of the uniqueness of that approach (although the price is certainly premium), but it really is a great wine. Here the effect of the reserve wines is more pronounced, giving the fruit the mellow, sautéed effect of a mature wine, even while the fruit retains quite vivid freshness. This is less overtly fruity than any wine in the lineup, with the most immediate impact: the complexity, the mineral backbone, the wine-iness are very clearly stated.


Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Ends

I'd have this any time
Larmandier-Bernier, Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs, Longitude,  Extra Brut n.v. (2012 based)

This is a wine designed to compile a picture of the Côte des Blancs from the family's holdings in Vertus, Oger, Avize and Cramant, with the finesse and elegance of a vintage Champagne. It has developed, by now, compelling nuances of chalk, pears and a hint of baking powder. The actual descriptors are less important than the way the nuances create both depth and breadth. The savory finish, rocky and saline, doesn't hurt, either. 

Even if you truly love Champagne Pinot - and I do - this is the kind of Blanc de Blancs that would firmly entrench you in the Chardonnay camp.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Volnay, an Argaman Vertical and More! (Dec. 13, 2018)


Our monthly get-togethers rarely have a theme. I can't even say we make overt efforts to impress each other. When and if we get lucky, it's really a stroke of fate. This time, fate struck twice, with two highly enjoyable highlights.

The first highlight was actually thought out. It'd been a while since I'd drunk a (relatively) mature Bourgogne and I'd been eyeing my wine of choice for a while and moved it to the "to drink shelf" in my fridge. 2006 is hardly an impressive vintage, but like I said, we're usually not out to impress each other...

Domaine de Montille, Volnay Premier Cru, Les Chapmans, 2006

Montille is an empire and I'm not totally happy with how they've expanded the family's original Cote de Beaune holdings across the entire Bourgogne region, to the point where they even have a stake at the highly regarded Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Malconsorts. I can appreciate, even admire, the enterprise, but t has zero romantic appeal for me. Having said that, the winemaking is often thrilling and there have been few Montille reds from their Cote de Beaune holdings that I didn't love. This is no exception. In fact, I may have finally found a 2006 with the Burgundian sex appeal I love so much. The perfume is very intense, a shot of pure red fruit and forest floor, delicate and feminine on the palate, very detailed and nuanced.



The second highlight was an impromptu Argaman vertical tasting. While there may have been other Argaman verticals, I doubt anyone else had the chance to taste anything with the historical import of the four wines we drank. 

Argaman: a crossing of Souzão and Carignan, it was created in Israel and tailored for intense color, it was viewed for decades as "jug wine" quality, until Avi Feldstein in his Barkan heydays crafted the first single varietal Argaman. In those days, he fermented the Argaman grapes with the pomace of leftover grape skins and seeds from his Merlot wines, ripasso style. Always quick (perhaps even eager) to adapt, when he again picked up the Argaman mantle in his namesake winery, Feldstein started using another Valpolicella technique, appassimento, wherein he dries half his Argaman grapes before fermentation. Either way, Avi was looking for ways to extract the most character and flavors out of Argaman while avoiding a long hang time in the field.



So what's Argaman like, then? Think black cherries spiced with white and black pepper. Regardless of age and technique, the wines we drank had wonderfully fresh acidity. The Segal, Rechasim, Dolev, 2006 and the younger 2008 were almost breathtakingly youthful, yet sauteed with the complexity of encroaching maturity. I really don't have it in me to be adamantly patriotic, but with gems like these, I should be. I slightly preferred the 2008, as it struck me as more expressive and powerful. As for the latterday Feldstein versions, it's too early yet to tell how much they're an improvement on the achievements of the 'forefathers', but I think both the 2015, which I don't recall drinking in the past, and the barrel sample of the 2018 may both be slightly more personable and peppery.

Other than that, drank solid wines of some distinction and one spectacularly disappointing wine. Let's get that out of the way, shall we?

Chapoutier, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Barbe Rac, 1998

This blue chip confection is a single vineyard bottling of 100%, 90 year old Grenache wines. And what powerful, monolithic juice those vines produced. Twenty years later, it remains sweet and slightly fizzy, as though it was still fermenting. 

Domaine de Villeneuve, Cotes du Rhône, La Griffe, 2016

This is a bio-dynamic Chateauneuf estate I'd never heard of. And, while it's not really my cup of tea, this humble, single vineyard CdR, priced at about 30 pounds, just kills the much higher priced (and regarded) Barbe Rac. The sexy nose is full of pepper notes and seems to herald the Syrah in the blend, while the liquerish, kirsch palate is all Grenache.

Mullineux, Swartland, Syrah, 2013

This is the entry level wine from a family estate specializing in single-vineyard Syrahs. Most liked it more than I did. While the dusty/peppery nose did not lack charm, I found the flavors a little flat and mute. 

Pahlmeyer, Napa Valley, Merlot, 1997

This is a very distinguished name in Napa and this wine gets the Parker scores you'd expect. And is priced accordingly. Me, I found it foursquare and workmanlike, like a Medoc from a cold, dreary vintage, without a lot of flash or sexiness.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Garage de Papa Retrospective (Dec. 7, 2018)


Time waits for no one. It’s almost a shock to realize Garage de Pape has gone through eleven vintages already - and that I’ve known Ido Lewinsohn through about seven of them.

When Ido invited me (along with a couple dozen chefs, sommeliers and other wine writers and bloggers) to a retrospective tasting, I figured I'd just file any notes away as corollary data points. I didn't think I could find something new to say about Garage de Papa after all these years. The plan was just go to the event, have a fun time with people I like. It would be an educational event, not a blogger/pseudo-journalist gig.

But the thing is, if you do learn something new, you should be able to write something new.

Basically, I learned a few things about Ido’s philosophy that I probably knew to begin with, but a retrospective tends to re-conceptualize things you already knew.

I think the basic thing I learned is that while Ido has grown, learned and developed, his basic approach is the same today as it was when he started out. In addition, I picked up a few interesting technical details I had not been aware of.

Ido's goal is to craft tasty, complex, food friendly wines that Ido himself would enjoy drinking. Most wineries advocate similar rules of engagement, but Ido laid out to us a very practical, no-nonsense approach that, by his own admission, hasn’t changed much in the eleven vintages he has worked. He's on the lookout for combinations of terroir and varieties that encourage early phenolic ripening, as that is way of dealing with the hot Israeli summers. He utilizes as many used barrels as he can manage. All that in order to avoid over-tannic reds and overripe whites and maker lithe, peppery reds and flinty whites.

The major change is the gradual move to larger barrels. Besides the obvious reduction in exposure to oak aromas and flavors, it allows the winery to improve the quality of the staves at a lesser expense than had they upgraded the smaller barrels. The eventual aim is retain the current ratio of 10-20% new barrels.

The Whites

2016

The nose is remarkably flinty. This wine is consistently the flintiest of any Israeli Chardonnay I taste. The fruit is ripe, laid out on a very structured frame with good acidity - which is what Ido looks for in Chardonnay and he gets it by blocking malolactic fermentation. The blend is sourced from vineyards in Galilee, which Ido finds to be strong on a mineral character and lemons flavors. 

2007

The first Garage de Papa Chardonnay ever was sourced from Karmei Yosef, which isn't an area Ido particularly likes for Chardonnay, but that's what he able to get for his freshman vintage. Of course, his tenure at Recanati and the current one at Barkan* have opened up better sources since. I'm guessing it must have been a good wine, although I never tasted it (I probably started following the winery with the 2010 vintage or so). It's alive, no doubt about it, but past its best, the way I see it, an old man facing dementia in years to come. Both the nose and color are very mature, the nose a potpurri of cheese and chocolate, while retaining hints of flint. It's surprisingly lively on the palate, where there’s breadth and complexity, but the focus of the young 2016 is so utterly convincing and gorgeous it swats the 2007 away without a second thought.

2018 barrel

This is an educational exercise, but one I admit I am not able to get a lot out of. Though I suppose I could node my head sagely and tell you how excellent the acidity is.

The Reds

Initially made of Bordeaux varieties, Ido quickly moved to the  so called Mediterranean grapes (Petite Sirah, Syrah, Carignan, Marsellan).

2013

Sweetish fruit and black pepper on the nose. Full, long, laced with acidity, sensual with supporting structure.

2011

Excellent maturity, greater aromatic complexity than the 2013, sweeter on the finish but with a mitigating spiciness that adds complexity. I slightly prefer the 2013, especially after the 2011 recedes in glass.

2009

There's a little brett here that shows as rubber and not poop. A nice wine but I think I prefer the reds at 4-5 years. 

Vendange Entière

Ido has always fermented part of the red cuvée whole cluster (that is, without de-stemming). In 2014, Daniel Lifshitz and Eldad Levy talked him into selling them a barrel of the whole cluster batch. Simply because they loved it - and it was an apt reaction. In 2016, Ido set aside two barrels for the cuvée. Both have the making by of iconic wines. The 2014 was aged in a new barrel because he had planned to blend it in the Garage de Papa Rouge and comes off as superficially more impressive. The 2016, I think, is the better wine, with a pre-planned barrel regime. The bottle I opened two months ago was alluring, almost feminine despite a firm backbone, but it has gone into a shell since and tastes very embryonic now.

* While I realize my admittedly narrow audience is probably aware of the details, I should at least briefly go over Ido's CV. After the requisite oenological education and stages abroad, Ido returned to Israel for a decade's tenure at Recanati winery. After eventually advancing to the co-head winemaker position, he moved to Barkan a couple of years ago to assume head winemaker duties. In parallel, he's been the winemaker at the family winery, which was actually located at his father's garage before the operation was moved to a proper boutique winery facility.

Monday, December 10, 2018

How sad would be November if we had no knowledge of the spring


Fourny et Fils, Vertus Premier Cru, Rose Vinotheque, Extra Brut, n.v. (2012 based)

This is made of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, a portion of the Pinot coming from still juice for color and flavor. It captures both the autumnal essence of Pinot Noir as well as the bracing chalkiness of Vertus. Ripe without flab or sweetness, complex and elegant but at the same time youthful and powerful, all freshness with not a hint of brioche or mushrooms. I like it as is. I’m sure it will age but it’s really a point for me. (Nov. 9, 2018)

Feldstein, Dabuki, 2017

Albarinho sauteed with mushrooms. (Nov. 5, 2018)

Feldstein, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, 2014

Discrete aromas of rainwater, gunpowder and roasted almonds, even more demure aromas and flavors of melons and peaches and a gentle sensation of sauteed herbs in the background. A wine of complexity and nigh regal finesse. (Nov. 13, 2018)

Feldstein, Shalem, 2016

Avi's legacy white grape blend is predominantly Viognier (35%), with Rousanne, Sauvignon Blanc and Dabuki making up the balance. This isn't a wine aiming at an expression of terroir or grape, but rather a wine where Avi maps his vision of what an Israeli wine should taste like, by piecing together components drawn from across the country. The result is as a refined and flinty as any other white he makes. (Nov. 17, 2018)

Pierre Gaillard, Côte-Rôtie, 2010

The 45 GBP I paid for this is almost a silly price. Sometimes a fine wine, like a fine dish, only needs 2-3 components handled with a deft hand. Here, nature offered violets and smoked bacon to complement the lithe fruit. The succulent depth and captivating finesse  showcase the feminine side of Côte-Rôtie. (Nov. 10, 2018)

Moccagatta, Barbaresco, Bric Balin, 2011

Moccagatta is a likable modernist. a moderate modernist judging by my limited experience, but I fear I opened this too soon, at a phase where the Nebbiolo's telltale aromas (roses, tar) are still overshadowed by a whiff of oak. The oak adds vanilla on the palate, too, softening, to some extent, the typical savoriness of the Nebbiolo. This showing saddens me, because I loved the 2008, and I'll have to live with the results of my haste. (Nov. 15, 2018)

40 euros in Rome, not a bad price.

Louie Jadot, Bourgogne, Domaine Gagey, La Chapitre, 2015

La Chapitre is one of three vineyard in the Cote d'Or whose name may be legally mentioned on the label, despite being a lowly Bourgogne AOC. Apparently, the entire Chenove commune, where it resides, was left out of the Burgundy ranking because its vineyards were untended at the time the Burgundy appellations were given legal stature. However, La Chapitre had enough historical significance for the legal exemption and there are at least two single vineyard bottlings from the La Chapitre that take advantage of the law. The Bizot bottling from the vineyard would help make a case that it could have been a Premier Cru, Jadot's version is not quite as convincing as that, but damn if it isn't a fine wine and you might peg it as a village Marsannay in a blind tasting, what with its black cherries and autumnal, leafy aromas and flavors adorning a firm structure. It has much more depth and grip than a mere regional wine. Except for a slight astringency on the finish, it's the first Jadot I've had in ages that I like as much as the stuff coming in from the Young Turks small growers. (Nov. 17, 2018)

Wine Route, 170 NIS.

Bestheim, Marckrain Grand Cru, Gewurztraminer, 2015

I'm a guy who doesn't drink more than two or three Gewurztraminers a year, so my experience isn't very wide, but I have been drinking the stuff for 12 years and I have spent some time analyzing what I like and dislike about the grape. I think there's a sweet spot in Gewurztraminers where their elusive magic lies. The dry versions are the most aromatic, because they tend to show the full palate of the grape: litchi, rose petals, white pepper, ginger. But they dry versions can be aggressively spicy. The sweeter ones temper the spiciness but seem to highlight the exotic fruit and flowers. The middle ground between the two extremes is what I'm always looking for, but even the ones that hit that fulcrum point aren't necessarily great, they're just the half-tame, half-wildlings that I can appreciate and enjoy drinking. The Bestheim Mackrain , for example, isn't a great wine in the overall scheme of things, but it does balance sweet and spicy flavors, it's not aggressive or over the top and it's decently complex . It's well priced and can age 3-5 years. (Nov. 18, 2018)

TL;DR There's no need to drink more than two or three Gewurztraminers a year and the Bestheim Mackrain is a well priced candidate for being one of them.

Wine Route, 130 NIS.

Barbeito, Madeira, Malvasia Single Cask, 2005

A truly fine Madeira, whose filigree is evidenced by the subtle complexity of its aromas - a nuts, caramel and dried fruits - and the way pungent flavors and an angular frame are contained within a light, creamy envelope. The acidity is remarkable for a wine matured in warm and humid cellars.(Nov. 22, 2018)

About 40 euros for a 500 cc bottle (in Lisbon).

Tzora, Judean Hills, 2016

Surprisingly, this is less approachable than the 2016 Shoresh red, which is the greatest Shoresh Eran Pick has come up with so far (and which would be a flagship wine at any local  property that didn't have a Misty Hills to sell). Like just about every Tozra red, the fruit is amply red for my tastes, with an overlay that suggest to me pines and dusty earth. But you need to give it a very long airing. Or age it - and one day, I will. (Nov. 24, 2018)

Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre, 2017

One thing people don't often notice or comment on Sauvignon Blanc is its versatility. Depending on where and how it's grown, it can be leafy, tropical or mineral-ish. The Vacheron version manages to touch on all bases. Vacheron is a great house and  I wish the single vineyards were a little cheaper or at least easier to find, but even so, it's one of the stars in the Wine Route portfolio. (Nov. 24, 2018)

Guimaro, Ribeira Sacra, Finca Meixeman, 2015

Finally got what I was looking for in Guimaro: fresh, supple floral fruit that goes a long way to explain why Mencia isn't just another grape heralded as a would-be Pinot Noir. (Nov. 27, 2018)

Eldad Levy, about 190 NIS - your mileage may vary.

Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello, Barolo, Villero, 2009

When old timers talk about the delicacy of Nebbiolo, this is what they mean, I guess. Of course, they refer to mature Nebbiolo, not a ten year old youngster, but then 2009 is not considered a vintage for long cellaring. I get subtle, nuanced aromas of dried cherries, exotic spices and tea leaves, as well as hints of forest floor, and savory, chewy tannins that are balanced by an almost feline softness of fruit. Here is a Barolo with a Barbaresco, nigh Burgundian character. (Nov. 30, 2018)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

File Under Portugal (Autumn, 2018)


I had set myself some wine geek goals on a recent family trip to Portugal. I wanted to expand my horizons. Granted I’ve drank some of the big names in table wines (Luís Pato in Barraida, Álvares Castro in Dao, Niepoort in Douro), but to a large extent, I know more Portuguese wine grapes than wine producers. 

So I wanted to try some Baga based reds made by someone other than Luís Pato. I wanted to try more whites - which I consider the real secret weapon of Portugal. And I wanted to taste some Vinho Verde.

Vinho Verde, green wine, is an AOC named for its style or flavors rather than its color (which is why there’s a red wine in the appellation, which I have yet to try). They offer a rather immediate pleasure: racy, green apples without a lot of complexity. They are rather ubiquitous in Portugal. Every supermarket carries the same 5-10 names, up and down the coast from Lisbon to Oporto, and you can get a good, if rather interchangeable, bottle in the price range of 1 to 5 euros a bottle.

The book on Vinho Verde says the best whites are Alvarinho from the Moncao e Melgaco sub-appellation - and that Soalheiro is the leading name. You can find the basic, plain  Alvarinho bottling in both supermarkets and boutique shops. The 2017 presents very pure and clean apple fruit, finely laced with minerals. Having drunk a decent beginner's selection of Vinho Verde and Spanish Albarino, from good value wines to good quality wines, I can testify this stands at the very top. And this just the basic bottling.

Beyond the basic Alvarinho, Soalheiro test the limits of the genre with Alvarinho-based blends, oak aging, sparkling wines, different alcohol levls and vineyards. The Soalheiro section of the Vinho Verde shelf in the wine shop I visited in Porto was a treasure trove. I opted for the Mineral, 2017, which is sourced from vineyards planted above 200 meters and aims to showcase the granite terroir common to Moncao e Melgaco. What I find here is greater clarity and form than in any other Vinho Verde, a longer finish and, yes, a more intense expression of minerals.



On to 'proper' whites. As good as the green wines can be, as pure and deep as they can be at their best, they  just don't have the breadth and flair of the whites. The whites are Portugal's secret weapon and the best are glorious even in the ostentatiously red regions. It took me a while to understand I prefer them to the reds. The wines I've tasted, now and over the years, make it impossible for me to choose between Dão, Duoro and Bairrada, but I do admit my biggest regret from our Portugal getaway is not buying Bairrada whites.

Moreira, Olazabal e Borges, Dão, M.O.B., 2014

This is a blend of Bircal and Encruzado (currently my favorite grape name). Someone once told that you shouldn't use the word "minerals" in a tasting note if you can't name the minerals and I'm often guilty of that. Especially with Portuguese whites, where the best free association I can come up with is oysters marinated in exotic herbs. This could face down a decent Bourgogne Premier Cru, with its focused composite of acidity and extract. Given its local retail price of 17 euros, I'm considering a relocation.

The Dão is represented in Israel by Alvaro Castro, who has two labels imported to Israel by two different importers, Quinta de Pellada and Quinta de Saes. The Quinta de Saes, Dão, Encruzado, 2016 is a mono-varietal. Encruzado is arguably the crown jewel among the Dão white grapes. It shows elegant minerality, without the explosive, exotic, punch of the M.O.B, offering more overt fruitiness and understated finesse instead. Understandably, its youth is a factor here and deserves a re-visit in a couple of years. 

My experience with Duoro whites has been very successful. The mid-tier whites I drank in Portugal were all very tensile and saline, a perfect expression of sour-sweet fruit and rock. The Niepoort premium wines carried in Israel by Eyal Mermelstein are broad and deep and will carry the same mineral stamp in a more Burgundian mold once they mature. A somewhat more reasonably priced portfolio from the Duoro is CARM (Casa Agrícola Roboredo Madeira). I've drank a good share of the low and mid-tier whites. I find them exotic and tropical, rather than mineralish, and offer a refreshing and fruity, rather than a tense and bracing, character. The house's premium white wine is the Maria de Lourdes, Vinho Branco, 2016. The blend is 40% Gouveio, 30% Viosinho and 20% Rabigato and it's an intense, bracing, flinty wine. It, too, is made in the same dry, savory mold that made the Cote de Beaune famous, albeit, in a cruder, smaller scale, and still mired in disjointed puberty. 

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

This is the most special Portugese white I know. It's also one of the most mineral laden wines I know, the minerals so exotic they could well be moon rock. If this was Hollywood, the Cercial might not win an Oscar, but it would steal any scene it was in. This and the M.O.B are the highlights of the whites in this roundup.

Baga, Baga, we accept you

I'm planning a Portuguese wine tasting in the near future with friends and hopefully there will be more reds to write about. For now, a single red wine will have to do. 

Luis Pato has spent a lifetime marketing himself as Mr. Baga. And he's earned it. I like his quirky lower level wines a lot: his Rebel, Baga Natural, the sparkling wines based on Baga - wines seemingly designed to show how versatile Baga is and how suitable it is to creative and imaginative winemakers. What I still haven't come to grips with is the Big Baga wines, the single vineyard wines (Pan, Barrosa) that look to require a decade or two to show well. Pato's direct inheritor is his daughter, Filipa, who runs her own operation. She was on my list and I picked up an interesting wine in Porto, Filipa Pato, Bairrada, Post Quercus, 2016, which is Baga aged in amphorae. There's an almost Burgundian/Beaujolais feel to it, due to its silky tannins, earthy aromas, and tart cranberry fruit. But Baga is a much darker grape than Gamay, let alone Pinot Noir, and it has a very distinctive shade and flavor of iron that I don't find in any other grape, and none of that is lost here. In short, Filipa shows yet another facet of Baga as she crafts a complex, sensual wine out of it.

Well, I managed to go through another post about Portugal without writing about Ports. Instead, I offer a glimpse of the other other Portuguese dessert wine. 

Blandy's, Malmsey, Harvest, 2006

This is labelled as Harvest because Vintage Madeira is required to be aged for 20 years in cask. It has an appealing mixture of savory and sweet aromas and flavors, with just enough complexity to broadcast pedigree. Whatever it does lack in complexity it makes up for with an interplay of nutty richness and fruity softness, as it reaches for excess and pulls back. After a few days, the finish grows longer and saltier, while the iodine rancio character evokes a salty caramel/dark chocolate concoction.