Saturday, December 29, 2007

Montecastro, Ribera Del Duero, 2004 (Dec. 28, 2007)

Giaconda's pushing a red wine and that would be front-page news in our local wine puddle, except they've already been selling some German and New Zealand reds. Whatever else it might be, a modern, Spanish red that gets quite a nod from Robert Parker, or one of his assistants anyway, is quite a twist in this boutique importer's story.

For personal reasons, I always drink wine on December 28th, so I attended the unveiling of the new steed in the stable.

The wine is more modern than otherwise, let's put it that way. The nose quite obviously says warm climate but you have to look hard for signs of Spain or Temperanillo. The palate's balance would be a good indication of Ribera if you know what to look for, though in a blind tasting I might have guessed Southern Rhone. Anyway, this could be a local hit. The nose is even now very user-friendly; though ripe, it stops short of syrupy and has an interesting spicy aspect. Aromatically, I think it's what a lot of local wineries shoot for, though they'd never reach the same level of concentration while retaining the balance of the palate, with its ripe acidity and savoury, fine tannins supporting and balancing the jammy, fruit on the long finish. I'm not surprised about the high Wine Advocate score (94), though personally I'm less enamored of the style. Without the fine, ingrained balance, there's a certain hi-tech feel that would be more upfront. So in the end, the big question for me is how much personality it would pick up with some cellar age, which it certainly seems capable of (though again, I feel less confident about the WA prediction of post 2030).

Selling for 160 NIS for club members, it is certainly worth laying down for 5-10 years. And I wouldn't touch it for at least two or three.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Goodbye 2007

Well, everyone's doing it.

This is the year I started to come of age in wine. I can feel certain types of wines have started to reveal their secrets to me, though I sorely need to expand and taste many, many more wines. And I need to learn to concentrate more during blind tasting on one hand while learning to be more assured and to trust my instincts. As for this blog, I need to improve my writing skills, though I'm fairly satisfied with my tasting notes. If the wine speaks to me and there's a good connection and the time and space to let that connection thrive, then I'm confident I can put down a note that will preserve the essance of that connection and highlight the important aspects of the wine. And that's all I want, for now; I have no desire to be an objective wine reviewer, sifting through countless wines of various levels of pedigree and quality. That's a job, and I've already got one, thank you.

There's more I want to do with this blog besides tasting notes, you know, rants against the local industry, philosophical meandering, pandering to my artistic tendencies. But I'm up against a wall right now, because I've put my foot in the water there and I feel I've done all I can within my current level of self-expression. Basically, my style needs some maturing. Maybe I just need to expand beyond Dave march, Nero Wolfe and sports books...

So what did I do this year?

New Producers Discovered

I started to discover Germany in earnest in 2006 but 2007 was where German wines became an obsession. So it's little wonder that so much of this list is German winemakers: Koehler-Ruprecht, Christoffel, Heymann-Lowenstein, Muller-Catoir, Peter Jakob Kuhn, Donnhoff, Emrich-Schonleber, Gunderloch, Keller.

Not that the rest of the (old) world doesn't get its share: Francois Jobard, Domaine De La Vougeraie, Dauvissat, Raveneau and Mugnier from Burgundy; from the Rhone, Georges Vernay, Chateau du Trignon, Domaine Brusset, Domaine Marcoux, Domaine de la Vieille Julienne and Roger Sabon. I won't list any Bordeaux chateau because they're all so new to me I wouldn't know where to start but if I have to choose one, then it would be La Conseillante from Pomerol. And to round off the part of the list, a fantastic maker from the Loire, Philippe Delesvaux, and Kanonkop from South Africa.

The Wines I Most Enjoyed

Which, as most wine lovers will tell you, doesn't necessarily mean the best wines.
  • Muller-Catoir, Haardter Manderling, Scheurebe Spatlese , 2004

  • Muller-Catoir, Mussbacher Esselshaut, Rislaner Statlese Trocken, 2001/2005

  • J.J. Christoffel, Urzinger Wurtzgarten, Auslese *****, 1975

  • J.J. Christoffel, Urzinger Wurtzgarten, Auslese ***, 1990

  • Keller, Rheinhessen, Monsheimer Silberberg Rieslaner Auslese, 2005

  • Koehler-Ruprecht, Kalstadter Steinacker, Scheurebe Beerenauslese, 2004

  • Koehler-Ruprecht, Kalstadter Steinacker, Riesling Kabinett Trocken, 2004

  • Koehler-Ruprecht, Kalstadter Saumagen, Riesling Auslese, 2001

  • La Conseillante, Pomerol, 2003

  • Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac, 2003

  • Lynch Bages, Pauillac, 2003

  • Raveneau, Chablis 1er Cru, Butteaux, 2004

  • Heymann-Lowenstein, Erste Lage Uhlen Blaufusser Lay, 2005

  • Heymann-Lowenstein, Erste Lage Uhlen Laubach, 2005

  • Heymann-Lowenstein, Erste Lage Uhlen Roth-Lay, 2005

  • Karthäuserhof, Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg, Eiswein #36, 1995

  • Chateau Smith Haut Lafite, Pessac Leognan, 1998

  • Clos du Marquis, Saint Julien, 2000

  • Castello Di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico Riserva, 1998

  • Olivier Leflaive, Chablis, Premier Cru "Vaillons", 2004

  • Domaine Vincent Girardin, Chassagne Montrachet, Premier Cru Le Morgeot, 2004

  • Domaine A. F. Gros, Pommard Premier Cru, Pommard, Les Pezzeroles, 2002

  • Domaine Jacques Frederic Mugnier, Nuits St. George, Premier Cru, Clos De La Marechale, 2004

  • Francois Jobard, Bourgogne Blanc, 2004

  • Francois Jobard, Meursault "En La Barre", 2002

  • Kanonkop, Pinotage, 2000

  • Clusel Roch, Cote Rotie, 1999

  • Fattoria dei Barbi, Brunello, Vigna del Fiore, 1997

  • Frescobaldi, Lamoine, 1997

  • Vieux Telegraphe, La Crau, 2004

  • Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, 2004

  • Domaine Roger Sabon, Prestige, 2004

  • Domaine du Pegau, Cuvee Reservee, 2004

  • Domaine de Colombier, Hermitage, 1996

  • Chapoutier, Chateauneuf du Pape, Criox de Bois, 2000

  • Domaine De La Vougeraie, Clos Vougeot, 2004

  • Domaine De la Vougeraie, Bonnes Mares, 2004

  • Banfi, Poggio all'Oro, 1999

  • Domain Bouchard Pere & Fils, Corton-Charlemagne, 1996

  • Ceretto, Barolo Bricco-Rocche, Brunate, 1996

  • Chateau De La Tour, Clos Vougeot, 1998

  • Chapoutier, Cote Rotie, La Mordoree, 2000

  • Pegau, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvee Laurence, 1998

  • Sauzet, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, Champs Canet, 2004

  • Sauzet, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, La Garenne, 2004

  • Montille, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, Cailleret, 2004

  • Domaine Brusset, Gigondas, Hauts de Montmirail, 2001

  • Gunderloch, Rheinessen, Rothenberg Nackenheim, Spatlese, 2005

  • J.J. Christoffel, Erdener Trepchen, Auslese **, 1992

  • Peter Jakob Kuhn, Oesterich Lenchen, Riesling Spatlese, 2004

  • Faustino, Rioja Reserva de Autor, 1994

My Best Contributions

In short, the wines I brought to tastings with friends of which I am the most proud of. All could clearly belong in the previous list as well.
  • Koehler-Ruprecht, Kalstadter Saumagen, Riesling Auslese, Trocken, 2004

  • Tardieu-Laurent, Vacqueyras, “Vieilles Vignes“, 2001

  • La Rioja Alta, 890 Gran Reserva, 1989

  • Georges Vernay, Condrieu, Terrasses de l’Empire, 2004

  • Domaine Philippe Delesvaux, Coteaux du Layon, Selection de Grains Nobles, 1997

  • Jean-Luc Colombo, Cornas, "Les Ruchets", 1999

  • Penfold's, St. Henri Shiraz, 1996

  • Chateau Margaux, Pavillion Blanc, 2002

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Saturday Night Tasting (Dec. 22, 2007)

Jos. Christoffel Jr., Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Erdener Trepchen, Auslese **, 1992

I had this just the other month and here's an interesting comparison. The first bottle had a more petrol-y, classic nose, while this one I think has a more herbal personality. This is more complete and harmonic on the palate, although I slightly perefer the first bottle's rougher edges. Both have a jazzy acidity that really mean business. When these German beauties get to this age, each bottle has a different story to tell.

Trimbach, Reserve Personelle, Pinot Gris, 2000

Reading the winery's site, this is more or less the Pinot Gris equivalent of the much more famous Riesling Cuvve Fredrich Emile. But there's a but. It sucks. This particular bottle anyway. The nose is rather to my tastes, flowery and spicy, reminiscent of Condrieu. But it falls apart on the palate, which is all grapefruit pips, without enough acidity to balance it out, thus pushing the alcohol up front. I honestly can't tell if it was opened too early or too late.

Domaine La Roquette, Chateauneuf Du Pape, 2001

Not to my taste either. It's very ripe on the nose, maybe not excessively so but it's the kind of ripeness that really annoys me because it's all about aimless extraction. So even when it's reined in, as this one is by a touch of earth that strengthens in the glass, its core personality puts me off nonetheless. At any rate, neither time nor air seems to improve the palate much, which is overwhelmed by harsh tannins.

Camerano, Barolo, Cannubi San Lorenzo, 1998

I can't fully judge this wine's typicity but structurally, it seems to be of its place, very austere and almost rusty on the palate. The nose is very misleading, with discrete herbal notes that are very hard to place. I like it and would be interested in re-tasting in a few years.

We finished out the night with two Super-Tuscans from the famous 1997 vintage.

Antinori, Guado Al Tasso, Bolgheri, 1997

This was the more modern of the two, not overtly ripe but with near sweet tannins and silky fruit. To its misfortune, it followed the next wine, which wiped the floor with it. I suppose if I were a professional, I could have been more ojective, but all I wanted was to finish my glass and pour another one of the..

Marchesi de Frescobaldi, Lamaoine, 1997

I've saved the best for last. If you love the Old World (and if you're not and still bother to read my blog, why not be a sucker all the way and click on the Google ads and help me make some money?) then this wine is where you decide to get off your horse and set up camp for the night. This - is - it. Just enough of the barnyard/sewer whiffs I love so much, buffeted by lovely fruit; just numbing aromatic complexity you can't get across with words because the aromas have started melting and melding with each other. The palate is just as good, arguably even better. This ain't no Merlot! At least no Merlot any silly date ordered because she prefers a soft wine. This wine has muscles, not flashy muscles but rather Muhammad Ali/Sugar Ray Robinson muscles, sleek and elegant, cool, calm and collected. A riveting, profound wine

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Back In Business - A Night Out In Rokah 73 (Dec. 17, 2007)

Various obligations had kept me away from informal tastings with friends for about a month. This, then, was a return to the fold, in much the same way as Rokah 73 is chef Eyal Lavie's return after a somewhat longer absence than mine.

At its heyday, before Lavie left, Pastis was one of my personal favorites, though it never made the absolute top of the critics' lists. And truthfully, I've never minded. All it ever seemed to want to be was a small bistro with personal, creative flourishes. Rokah 73 presents a different atomsphere and although the table count is probably more or less the same, it seems less homey. Right now still has some growing pains; the dishes don't quite display the same precision as the ones in Pastis did. They're creative without going overboard but something just doesn't click. I assume the staff still hasn't got the details just right. But it's nice anyway to have Lavie virtually in my backyard and I'll wait a couple of months and come back for a re-visit.

As for the wines...

William Fevre, Chablis Grand Cru, Bourgos, 2005

Very obviously a Chablis, though I'm not sure it cries out "Grand Cru". A blast of sea air on the nose and very saline on the palate. The palate is very tight, though the length is very obvious. So are the influences of the oak. Imported very recently by WineRoute for around 300 NIS. I would pay a few extra shekels for the Clos 2004 from the same producer, though admittedly I haven't tasted it yet, just going by the vineyard's rep.

Chateau La Nerthe, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 2003

White chateauneuf kills. I haven't enjoyed one in ages. Drinking them is like coming into a party at the wrong time, unable to tell whether you're too early or too late. I've enjoyed a few early in life but then they go into a slumber that true believers say is just the start of something much more glorious. Except for a mature Beaucastel, I've yet to find proof of this potential. One dud after another. This one seems to have already gone into that dreaded shell. Alcoholic and flat. Just expensive mouthwash, as far as I'm concerned.

Faustino, Rioja Reserva de Autor, 1994

Mature, classic Rioja is terrific but sadly this is very much close to the end of my stock. I worried it would be a modern Rioja but this is an Old World beauty. Leather on the nose at the start, later joined by herbs and dried figs. Mellow red fruit on the palate followed by that leather again on the finish. Balanced, long and continually changing in glass. Faustino labels it a Reserva though miles ahead of their Gran Reserva I. France-Israel imports it at a rip-off price unless you buy it on sale or in duty-free Eilat.

Muga, Rioja Reserva, 2001

A fine match for the Autor. Since Muga has at least three labels ahead of the Reserva in the pecking order, its performance was an amazing display of the surprises (and smiles) wine can bring. It feels more modern than the Autor, but that is due to a certain cleanliness of the fruit and not, God forbid, any overt oakiness or anything nasty like that. It's got enough old Rioja traits as is that I'm sure time will only enhance as it seems very virile and five more years seems like a very conservative prediction. I sure am glad I've got another bottle. I don't remember who imports it but I've seen recent vintages sold for about 120 NIS.

And I almost forgot...

Chateau Climens, Sauternes, 2004

A honeyed nose full of botrytis and hintes of orange peel. There was much candied lusciousness on the palate that quite a few of us were fooled into guessing 2001 or 2003 but it was only 2004, a Bordeaux vintage not renowned for its dessert wines.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Zind-Humbrecht, Riesling Gueberschwihr, 2005 (Dec. 8, 2007)

If you, dear reader, are keeping track, then it's obvious I've been posting less often than when I started this blog. The main reason is that due to various personal involvements and entanglements, I've had less time for tasting events. So, though I suppose my weekly intake is more or less the same volume-wise, the variety and quality has dropped. And a lot of the wines I have been drinking are re-visits of old friends and I don't always have anything new and original to say about them the second time. For example, I've had the J. J. Christoffel 1994 Spatleses again and greatly enjoyed them but it's a pleasure that can bear transcription just the once. So a lot of notes just get lumped in the month "Misc. Notes" post.

And all that's assuming I even get so far as enjoying a wine. You can't stop evolution and it's a sad and very pertinent fact that quite a few wines I greatly enjoyed only a year ago leave me feeling nonchalant at best. So my excitement at seeing the Zind-Humbrecht 2005's on the shelves at WineRoute was mixed with trepidation. Will the magic still be there?

See, what I love about Zind-Humbrecht wines on the village level is the powerful intensity complemented by an an underlying structure and balance that tempers the rich spiciness and the sometimes high alcohol level. If there is also elegance and finesse as well, all the better. And though from my experience over the past three years, the village Rieslings are more likely to show elegance than the Pinot Gris or Gewurztraminer, a year's worth of German Rieslings had messed with my "Riesling compass" and I wasn't quite sure whether I'd still be attuned to the Zind-Humbrecht rendition of the varietal.

As it turned out, the jury's still out on that one. I'm willing to concede I'm not a good enough taster to understand certain young Rieslings. I can tell it's not showing great right now but I can't tell you whether it will improve.

Very much a youngster right now, the flowery yet minerally nose gets the nod but the palate is still taut, almost tannic with its abundance of grapefruit peels and pips. You can get a sense of the structure and the wine's potent and spicy enough but unlike the 2004 version, which I first tasted when it was six months older than the 2005, the fruit doesn't really mesh with the spiciness and the kick of the alcohol. Really, I've had 15% abv Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminers from Zind-Humbrecht where you couldn't sense the alcohol as such yet here you can, not enough to make the wine unbalanced but enough to confuse. If I were it buy any more bottles it'd be solely due to Zind-Humbrecht's reputation, not because I can get a clear sense of the fruit here.

Beautiful Loser

If Paul Westerberg was starting his musical career today, he'd be a lot more successful than he ever was in his heyday, mainly because his famous 80's band, the Replacements, laid down a lot of the ground rules for American alt-rock (as opposed to the hardcore scene from which the band sprang). Not that they were ever commercially viable; like a lot of underground bands, they crumbled apart soon after they signed with a major label (REM is just about the only band that escaped that fate).

Westerberg's gifts were quite amazing once he caught fire around 1984. Half the time, at the very least, he displayed major-league songwriting talent. He had quite an ear for catching telling details of a misfit's life and he could come up with intuitive synergies of anything from punk to arena rock. He was obviously a kid who grew up on rock and roll and he could pay offhand tributes to his heroes without sacrificing the gist of the song. He had a rough, tobacco and alcohol tinged voice that could be almost achingly expressive and while he wasn't a great guitarist but he knew his chords and he understood how to make his playing sound classic, unforced and sexy.

Given all that, it saddens me to admit that all the great Replacements albums are faulted in one way or another. Let It Be seems relunctant to give up the band's earlier juvenile stance. Tim tries too hard to be commercial and Pleased To Meet Me doesn't sound enough like a band. Still, no one can deny the power and charm of their high points and songs like "Unsatisfied", "Bastards Of Young", "Never Mind", "Valentine" and "Can't Hardly Wait" make you want to hop inside a time machine, go back to high school and re-live all pain and angst and nausea.

Paul's solo career was a bomb for the most part yet the one album I return to most often comes from early in the millenium when everybody had just about given up on him, myself included. Stereo is a home-made double disc set. The Stereo disc is mostly ballads which is not really a great set, though "Only Lie Worth Telling" can rip your world apart and his throwawy cover of Flesh For Lulu's "Postcards From Paradise" is inspired and amazing, telling you just about all you need to know about Paul, the depth of his failures and the heights he aspires to.

But the "rock" disc, Mono, is the supreme distillation of everything he wanted to do with the 'Mats. Remember the Lou Reed quote, "you can't beat two guitars, bass, drums"? This is the proof. It rocks, it riffs, the solos - whoever played them - are short and to the point. Westerberg is trenchant, cocky, confident yet sensitive enough to break and plead at exactly the right places. As always, it's got a few poetic lines that will settle down in your brain for life: "I know it's kind of low but to me it's high times", "from a distance you look peaceful and so faraway up close, you're leaving in the morning I suppose". But most of the magic is inexplicable and undescribable; it's all about the timing and the phrasing, the sound and the snot and the sweat.

Don't download, it, just buy it, the man deserves it after all these years.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Misc. Notes (Nov. 2007)

Langwerth Von Simmern, Erbacher Marcobrunn, Riesling Kabinett, 2003

Starts out less distinctive than last time. Less complexity and concentration on the palate, though the aromatics are textbook German Riesling, with apple pie, peached amd talc. The last bottle had more fat and greater intensity. Not bad but I'm re-thinking my premise that the 2003 was better than the 2004. (Nov. 10, 2007)

Imported by Giaconda, about 100 NIS.

Also from Giaconda:

Josef Leitz, Rudesheimer Magdalenenkreuz, Riesling Spatlese, 2006

This is not a very complex wine right now but it offers a very pure, beautiful Riesling nose, with peaches and hints of chalk and spices, becoming floral after time in glass, with apple pie notes as well. The purity of the fruit is reflected on the palate, which surprises by hinting at raspberries over delicious green apple acidity which carries on a very decent finish (not a home run, but gets the man on base home). This doesn't hail from any of Leitz' grand crus which shows, I think, in a certain lack of intensity and sophistication but it is very fine in its own right and at 100 NIS for club members, attractively priced. (Nov. 24, 2007)

Chateau d'Armailhac, Pauillac, 5me Cru, 2001

I'll be the first to admit I don't know enough about Bordeaux, but I'm getting there, I'm getting there. The nose is just lovely, a mixture of red fruit - almost crossing over into black fruit territory - earth, tobacco and minerals. The aromatics project an image of a chef working detereminedly in the kitchen and you know, this is what I want on regular basis, New World flamboyance be damned. The palate is less rewarding - though I'll defend it and admit I opened it on the early side, although it is drinking nicely - lacking a bit of concentration and finesse, but there's enough well-proportioned fruit, judicious acidity and lingering salinity on the finish to earn it a couple of extra points. (Nov. 14, 2007)

Imported by WineRoute. I don't remember the exact price though I recall it was a "good value for Bordeaux'.

Giacosa Fratelli, Barbera d'Alba, 2004

A dark rose, really. Strawberries, a touch of earth and a dash of chocolate on the nose, followed by a light, somewhat tart body. You think it's over and then the finish sustains a heartbeat more than you'd expect and leaves a delicate, saline kiss on your buds and I like it better than some of it's more extroverted peers. Give the little feller a hand, folks. (Nov. 20, 2007)

Paternoster, Don Anselmo, Aglianico del Vulture, 1997

I have shitty luck with this wine. My first encounter was very promising, but things have been going downhill ever since. The nose is ripe, sweet fruit with cocoa and raiseny, oxidized notes, at times reminding me of an Oloroso. The palate has its moments, there are still plenty of dusty tannins and acidity so it doesn't feel over-ripe and it has its idiosyncratic charms. But that's just it, this wine is an idiosyncratic oddball and as such, it has much more interest than quality per se. I was going to devote a whole post to it, but it's too depressing: I really loved the first bottle. (Nov. 22, 2007)

Imported by Anavim. Look, guys, I'll still want to try any new vintage you bring in, please don't give up on this wine.

Another unfortunate encounter:

Leroy, Bourgogne Rouge, 1999

The 1997 blanc was just lovely. This, however... Maybe I'll just blame the bottle? Nothing there at all. Meager nose that hints at Bourgogne and a flat, acidic palate. (Nov. 24, 2007)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bordeaux 2004 Tasting At WineRoute (Nov. 29, 2007)

WineRoute's Shaked family can - and often do - produce excellent tasting events. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of them.

Maybe it's the vintage. From the samples I tasted, 2004 seems to me like a relatively hot vintage but without the luscious sex appeal of 2003. I didn't read up too much on the vintage beforehand and the tasting didn't really make me want to run out and catch up.

Or maybe it's the logistics. The Tel Aviv event was a stand up tasting. Ran Shapira attended the sit down tasting in Raanana and said many of the wines needed some twenty minutes in glass, even though the bottles had been opened previously. In Tel Aviv, new bottles were opened on the spot and the pourers admitted they were not at their best. And that's annoying. Come on, Shakeds, you've been doing this for years, you knew how many people were going to show up and you knew the wines needed air and time. Was it so hard to come up with some sort of plan so that there was always a bottle ready and already aired?

I think in the end it's a mixture of the two. This is not an easy vintage and at least some of the wines required time to present themselves and the discourteous hosts decided to ignore that need. I assume RP, WS and DR - as listed on the score sheet we were handed, whoever they are, wink - had a better setting for their tasting. Though I ahould stress that time was not a factor for all the wines; with some, say Gazin and Rauzan-Segla, I felt this is as good as they get.

Here, then, are what pass for my notes on this year's Bordeaux tasting, the crown jewel of the Shaked empire. I admit I was so fed up I almost didn't bother to post them at all. Some I almost couldn't be bothered to write down, as will be quite apparent. Prices in NIS (1 USD is about 3.9 NIS as of this writing) before tasting discount and refund.

Gazin, Pomerol

A generous, expansive, jammy nose. The ripe fruit is not echoed on the palate, which is tight and lacking depth and length. Mediocre. Will anyone really pay 349 NIS for this?

Magdelaine, St. Emilion

At first there is an illusion of improvement over the Gazin but I found the wine less appealing as it opened in my glass and the oak took over. Still, a better nose for what it's worth, not as obviously ripe and arguably more nuanced. 349 NIS again and by this time I'd never suffered so much for so much money.

Lafleur-Petrus, Pomerol

An actual improvement this time, especially on the nose, albeit still displaying the same drawbacks - ripe nose (though more reined in than the previous two) and a certain lack of depth on the palate. Though the palate has a better tannic structure, it is strcture without any depth or interest discernible at the tasting. 449 NIS (gulp).

Rauzan-Segla, Margaux

Starts off well, until the ripe fruit and oak take over. The nose calms down in time and this went well with the bread and spicy spreads served. Elegant though still not inspired nor inspiring. 349 NIS.

Pavillon Rouge du Chateaux Margaux, Margaux

The evening finally started to resemble a tasting with Chateau Margaux' second wine. A tempting, smoky nose that nods to the New World in an offhand way. I could bury myself alive in the nose and the structure is pretty neat too, very classy. Still, I ask myself whether I would want to pay 379 NIS for it. Like most Bordeaux, it used to be cheaper and I can't concile myself to the rise in prices.

Leoville-Poyferre, St. Julien

An elegant, almost austere nose. And an elegant palate as well, deep, long, light on its feet despite the depth, very focused. Actually worth the 349 NIS.

Lynch-Bages, Pauillac

The 2003 was a very tempting, sexy wine and the 2004 shares the same qualities but on a lower level. And the price has gone up to 549 NIS. Give my regards to the oligarchs.

Pontet Canet, Pauillac

A cross between the elegance of the Leoville-Poyferre and the sexiness of the Lynch-Bages, this is an excellent wine - in the context of the tasting, that is. I've tasted the 2000 through 2002 and they were better and cheaper. 399 NIS.

Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac

A nice wine, well made, but uninspiring. 599 NIS and I'm tired of joking about the prices.

Pape Clement, Pessac Leognan

I think this was the only wine I actually caught improving in glass. On the dull side at first and too similar to the worse wines of the tasting, it went on to surpass that bad start and to reveal greater appeal and, even now, complexity. Appealing smoke on the nose and a minerally bite on the finish. 579 NIS.

Calon-Segur, St. Estephe

One of the best of the evening, and made an impression even on my fatigued palate. 319 NIS is an increase in price over previous vintages but still relatively sane.

Rieussec, Sauternes

Has everything you'd want in a Sauternes only less of it. Glaring lack of concentration. 249 NIS (half bottle). The 2003, I'm told, is better and still available for 199 NIS - a no-brainer.

The Shakeds must have lost their marketing touch. The way some of these wines tasted last evening, pouring them at the tasting was a foolproof way to ensure that no one would buy them. Or maybe it was a setup to push the Leoville Poyfere and the Pontet Canet by making them look even better than they were.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Baked Onions

This is probably one of the weirdest taste descriptors I ever thought of but it really fits a certain brand of ripe Rieslings, much better than say, white fruits. The smaller onions are half sweet when baked and have a gentle spiciness that I often find in this kind of Rieslings.

Case in point:

Peter Jakob Kuhn, Oesterich Lenchen, Riesling Spatlese, 2004

I tasted this wine last December and what a difference a year makes! It had been so closed it was hard to decrypt but this time, though still very young and embryonic, it had opened enough for me to finally make an informed opinion and I found it to be very round and fleshy and ripe enough to be a de-classified Auslese, with a Sauternes-like nose and notes of baked onion. Very sexy, reminding me more of the 2005's I've tasted than of any German Riesling from 2004. (Nov. 23, 2007)

Imported by Giaconda (listed at 206 NIS for club members)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Leroy Bourgogne Blanc, 1997 (Nov. 21, 2007)

Naturally, Leroy is a big name in Burgundy and I'd read positive online musings about this wine on various forums. Yet the actual encounter with this simple Bourgogne that had lasted and thrived for ten years post-vintage still managed to defy my expectations.

The nose did, anyway: overtly, charmingly minerally, with the fruit lighgtly baked and seared with age. Everything I'd look for in a mature, white Burgundy. The palate is nice enough, flavorsome and long, but lacks density in mid-palate. Still, it was only a generic to begin with...

Off Topic

Because I haven't posted in almost two weeks, some non-vinuous plugs are over-due.

If you haven't heard Neil Young's Chrome Dreams II, yeah, the squeeky voiced guy's back. Might have never been gone 'cept I wouldn't know since I gave up on him in 1995.

Go out and buy the Minutemen's Double Nickels On The Dime or Three Way Tie For Last. Wny now? No special reason except I was telling a friend about them and I got an ache in my heart thinking about "History Lesson Part 2" and "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing" and "Courage" and "Tour Siege" and how they bridged pompous 70's studio rock with the ideals of left-wing punk when they covered Steely Dan's "Dr. Wu". Mike Watt once wrote a succint epitaph to his friend, partner and fellow bandmate that went "I love you d. boon. Forever." Minutement fans everywhere carry that pledge for them because d. meant that much to anyone who ever heard him sing or play.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Domenico Clerico, Barbera d'Alba, Trevigne, 2004

I've had this screwball twice in the past, when I found it overextracted. I thought I'd wait a year and opened it some four months ahead of schedule, out of boredom.

It's not overextracted now so much as out of sorts. The nose has settled down and though cloaked by oak, there's nice spicy red fruit that's should have been given center stage. Instead it has to struggle and I don't think the Barbera grape appreciates that kind of hardship. It starts out relatively soft on the palate - in a skewed way, the palate feels limp and under-concentrated after the attack on the nose - but then finishes with hard tannins that weren't really softened by food.

Steroid wine, not my cup... of anything.

Imported by WineRoute, sold for around 120 NIS if my memory serves me.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Age, Youth and Beauty - Two German Rieslings (Nov. 3, 2007)

I come to prostelyze German Rieslings again.

Gunderloch, Rheinessen, Rothenberg Nackenheim, Spatlese, 2005

A very round wine, with great length and a solid grip, exhibiting yet again the sexiness of 2005 in Germany. Off dry, with ripe, green apple acidity and minerals to balance. Oddly enough, the nose already hints at mature petrol notes that back up a melange of comely fruit and honey. The sexiness is what I love about 2005, it's not an opulent sexiness, more of an assured caresse on the palate. A lovely gem.

Not imported to Israel, price unknown.

Jos. Christoffel Jr., Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Erdener Trepchen, Auslese **, 1992

Obviously mature, with lots of petrol as well as mildew. The palate feels more mature, the flavor profile not as obviously fruity though it has retained a great deal of fruit. More austere and more drying on a comparitively shorter finish, it too boasts fine acidity and minerals, though they're made of a more delicate cloth. This is what I admire in mature Rieslings, the way the fruit takes on a different facet while retaining its vigor as the petrol doesn't simply add shades, it reveals the depths that were there to begin with. Very fine, though not great.

Imported by Giaconda, sold for 207 NIS.

The Gunderloch would win by a point, but it's more a matter of taste and mood.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Williams And Humbert, Dry Sack Solera Especial 15 Years Old (Oct. 27, 2007)

Sherries can be broadly divided into 2 categories, sweet and dry, and so far I prefer Williams and Humbert's sweet sherries over their dry ones. This is one of the best, similar in style and quality to the more famous Old East India from the Lustau house. Though the Dry Sack Especial is labelled an Olorso and the Old East India a Cream Sherry (probably a catch-all phrase as the Old East India is supposedly made in a technique designed to simulate the aging effect of a long sea voyage), they both reek of an old wodden Pirate chest full of dry raisins and dark chocolate. Oh yes, these wines always bring out the romantic side of my notes writing.

The label indicates a non-vintage sherry whose solera components' average age is fifteen years. Olorosos are made from sherry barrels where flor did not thrive so it's an oxiditive style because flor based sherries are protected by the flor layer from the effects of oxygen. Despite the lack of flor in the Oloroso soleras, I usually find the telltale iodine signature in them anyway. Must be something in air in the bodeags. Naturally dry, Olorosos may be sweetened by the addition of Pedro Ximinez, as is the case here. Olorosos - and sweet sherries in general - are exceptional in the sherry world because they can be cellared, or so I've read. I'm guessing aging would reduce the sweetness while endowing them with a welcome, brine-y, meaty overlay, because that's the effect I get the same effect after a few days of airing. If you do cellar them, it's best to store the bottle upright so the glue used in the sherry cork won't affect the wine.

Having said all that, this Oloroso struck out this time.

On the first evening, the wine seemed lackluster and a bit dillute. The nose was was as pungently aromatic as I'd expected but like the palate, lacked focus and vitality. I've had this wine twice in the past and it always showed better a couple of days after opening so I remained hopeful. Second day, the cured meat and olive brine aromas are in full throttle. Really, every thing I love about sherry is in that nose, but the palate is in a middle age crisis. It was the same thing all over on the third and fourth days. Shit happens.

As always, Wikipedia is a good place to look up the terms I didn't bother to explain and even the ones I did.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Misc. Notes (Oct. 2007)

Jean-Louis Chave, Hermitage Rouge,Selection, "Fraconet" 2001

A nose laden with ripe fruit, complemented by leathery notes. The palate is balanced enough and though I'm not enamored of its sweetish overtones, I think it will outgrow them. Not a great wine and I really don't have a lot of interesting things to say about it but it is a bargain Hermitage, a rare creature indeed. (Oct. 6, 2007)

Imported by WineRoute, out of stock by now, but sold for about 170 NIS.

Sea Horse, Antoine Special Edition, 2004

The nose nods at high extraction, cherry-berry aromas over chocolate and spicy oak, with a hint of something musky I can't quite pinpoint, almost feral, though it does not overcome the wine, just gives it an interesting shade. The palate follows it up with a rustic bite at the end, which I find charming. As I've said before, I'm not very confident of the cost effectivenes of cellaring Dunie's wines but I quite like their rustic youth these days, when over-extracted ripeness doesn't kill them.

Domaine Brusset, Gigondas, Hauts de Montmirail, 2001

In Raging Bull, Joey LaMotta counseled his brother Jake about taking on a tough opponent: "if you win, you win, and even if you lose, you still win". I often feel the same way about the Rhone and this is a lovely sample. An expressive if not an immensly complex or refined nose. Cherries and berries, leather, earth and coffee, with the typical Rhone stink in the background. Somewhat more earthy on the plate, in a charming way. The tannins are still obvious, driving the long finish. Good value abroad so why doesn't anyone import the stuff? Too little money and too many Chateauneufs vying for local attention? Damn it. (Oct. 23, 2007)

Guigal, Condrieu "La Doriane", 2005

An almost inconceivable disappointment, on the order of the Katzrin Chardonnay (order of quality, not disappointment, I haven't had any high expectations from the Katzrin in a long while). It has a pretty nose - not great but very nice - laden with flowers and honey, textbook Condrieu I suppose. But something went really wrong with the palate, which I found alcoholic, bitter, unbalanced, lacking acidity and fruit. (Oct. 30, 2007)

Ramonet, Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge, 2000

An oddity, for me, although I think Ramonet makes a respectable amount of red wines. 2000 wasn't an exciting vintage for red Cote de Beaune and this being a village wine, you wouldn't have expected it to survive and thrive after seven years and, indeed, at first it seemed quite senile. Well, not quite; it cleaned up its act enough to show mature Pinot aromas and though the body was a bit limpid, I'd have enjoyed it in its own right alone at home. You know, there is a time and place for a not-so-great Bourgogne. As it was, in the context of a group tasting, it got a thumbs down. (Oct. 6, 2007)

Used to be imported by Tomer Gal but not any more. I called it a not-so-great Bourgogne so you'd expect to pay a not-so-great price and I see it listed in the US for about thirty dollars.

Other Tomer Gal imports:

Francois Jobard, Bourgogne Blanc, 2004

Look, the guy's a genius, okay?

I suppose white Burgundy comes in a few distinct flavors. The nose on this wine is a distillation of a couple of major themes: a heavy dose of flint on a background of ripe pears with some citrus and nuts lurking on an even deeper level. Guaranteed to put a smile on any fan of the style, especially those of us who can't afford the really expensive stuff. The palate falls short, however; there is very good acidity but it is at odds with an astrigency on the finish. There's an interesting tug of war and the weight and oak level continually change and there are enough good things about it to make me want to gamble on a year or more in the cellar. (Oct. 9, 2007)

Listed at 140 NIS.

Dauvissat, Chablis, 2002

Much longer and more intense than the previous bottle I had, actually the best bottle of Dauvissat village I've tasted (2000, 2002, 2005) and better than almost any Premier Cru Chablis I've drunk. An intense and pungent nose of grapefruit peel and chalk at first, then more subtle citrus aromas join the fray and even hints of white chocolate, oddly enough. I can sense a very specific mineral bite on the palate and this is really a flavorsome wine with an excellent acidic backbone and a lightly saline finish. It boasts 13% alcohol, just like the La Foret 2002, so I guess the grapes were more or less as ripe as a Premier Cru. I love it right now though more bottle age might mellow it without making it too tame. (Oct. 25, 2007)

Listed at 150 NIS and sold out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

And Now Puligny-Montrachet (Oct. 21, 2007)

The latest in Tomer Gal's series of Burgundy tastings found us tasting the wines of, well, Puligny-Montrachet. Just a little town no one's ever heard of...

On the downside, the wine list was too short to be very educational; we only got a glimpse of the producers and vineyards. And of course Burgundy is a minefield if you want to do any shopping. Really expensive wines, the entry price for an exciting wine is over 300 NIS (70 USD). Granted, I splurge it up every now and then but I have to swallow the receipt and smuggle the bottle home late at night.

On the plus side, we tasted at least four very serious wines to cellar and drool over.

A few technical comments. First of all, I'm going to revert back to scoring just this once, to put the quality of the wines in context. Against one another anyway. Also, I'm listing the discount price of the tasting because let's face it, without the discount, even the cheaper wines are barely affordable. (1 USD ~ 4 NIS)

Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet, Bourgogne Close du Chateau, 2004

Delicate lemon aromas complemented by chalk powder. Nice acidity with mellow bitterness on the finish. I'm going to call it a fun wine if it's understood that it's not a simple quaffer. This has come a long way since I last tasted it, in June. 88. 120 NIS.

Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, 2004

Much more of a presence though I'm tempted to chalk it up to more oak. Not that it's an oak bomb by any means just that it has more oak to soak up. Lemons again, flint, and an overlay of greeness, of a herbal character more than a Sauvignon Blanc/ cut-grass greeness. The palate exhibits youthful incohesion right now. I'll open my bottle of the 2002 in a year and decide when to drink the 2004 based on that. 89. 280 NIS.

Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, Chalumeaux, 2004

A joyful leap upwards in quality. Cut from the same cloth as the village, but to extend the metaphor, the tailor used better threads and took his time. The nose shows lemon and flint again and adds honey, baked apples and grain wheat to the mix. The palate is even more minerally, with the acidity lending greater grip and structure. 90. 340 NIS.

Sauzet, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, La Garenne, 2004

This is the first wine that showed terroir-y personality. Very flowery, crispy, austere, even ephemeral at times, though I'm not sure if that isn't too much of a good thing. La Garenne is a high, cold vineyard so I'd be interested in tasting the 2005, which was a hotter vintage. I think just a bit more ripeness would have given it an extra dimension while still remaining faithful to that endearing austerity. 91. 340 NIS.

Sauzet, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, Champs Canet, 2004

A very austere nose that hints at complexity as it opens. The real story is on the palate, whose great length and even greater structure, laced with gripping acidity, will surely serve as a fine foundation for its future development. Even now, it tells an exciting story to my taste-buds. 92+. 410 NIS.

Montille, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, Cailleret, 2004

Cailleret is a direct extension of the Montrachet vineyard and it shows. A head-turning, gorgeous nose, rich and complex, with flinty minerals compactly integrated with the fruit. The palate is not quite as complex right now and I prefer Champ Canet's palate because I think it had a better structure and greater length but the Cailleret is the better wine overall right now. 93-94. 590 NIS.

Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru, 2004

A flowery nose with notes of apple pie. Closed, even non-descript on the palate but has appealing purity. Longer than the Cailleret but unrefined in a way that casts doubts. I'm not sure whether this is an extremely young wine or simply not living up to the Grand Cru tag. 91. 1100 NIS.

Auvenay, Puligny-Montrachet En La Richarde, 2000

Madame Leroy makes expensive wines, for God's sake, and the price isn't a typo. This wine not only has to justify the hefty price but also prove that it merits it without being even a Premier Cru. Talk about having to live up to expectations.

A mature wine at last. The nose is a fascinating oddball, with the usual minerals but sea salt and mushrooms as well. The palate has restrained power and length, but the structure is frayed compared to the Champs Canet and the Cailleret. 91-92. 1600 NIS.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Perils Of Tasting Blind (Oct. 20, 2007)

The evening started off with a white wine that was obviously Burgundy, the question was where in Burgundy. Now, the nose really said "sea". Sea air, sea breezes, sea water, fossils. So I said, tentatively, Chablis. But the palate just wasn't crisp enough so I withdrew my guess and opted with the majority for Puligny. Turned out to be a Chablis, Louis Jadot, Chablis Premier Cru, Vaillons, 2000. I tasted it last summer and thought it was going downhill at the time. This bottle survived and fared better and I must admit it was an interesting experience, especially the nose but overall, nothing to sings psalms about. WineRoute have been selling it for 200 NIS for close to three years and can't seem to get rid of the stuff.

The first red was mine, so I didn't have to endure another fumble but as soon as I tasted it, it was obvious to me no one would guess the country or varietal. Darkly colored and highly extracted, the almost unanimous opinion was Super-Tuscan; what it was, though, was Alion, 1999, a Ribera Del Duero in other words, 100% Temperanillo. I had read it was a modern wine but I had hoped eight years post-vintage would have been enough to bring out some Spanish characteristics but no such luck. Sweet, ripe black fruit, a touch of red, great length and all but really not what I (used to) buy Spanish wines for. I've been told since that Alion needs more time to mellow and I think it had enough structure for laying down some five-seven years longer but it's academic as I don't have another bottle. My bottle was bought in Barcelona, thank God, as HaKerem imports it for a marked up price, which I don't recall offhand.

The second red had me guessing Bordeaux for some reason, then Rhone. Turned out to be a Chianti. A very good one, though: San Felice, Chianti Classico Riserva, Poggio Rosso, 1999. In my limited experience with Chianti, only the Castello di Fonterutoli was better. Nice touch of leather over the red fruit, savoury, very good structure. Imported by Zamir, price unknown.

Finally, a wine I found boring at first and said so out loud. It started to catch my attention just about the time it was revealed to be Giacosa Fratelli, Barbaresco, 1997 (not imported to Israel). At this point the conversation went something like this:

- So you didn't like my Barbaresco.

- I didn't quite say that.

- You said it was well made but boring.

- Well, I like it better now that it's started to open up.

- You're just saying that now that you know it's a Barbaresco.

Friday, October 19, 2007

New Wine Fridge Arrived Today

I am such a hopeless junkie.

"There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself." - Philip Marlowe

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Koehler-Ruprecht, Kalstadter Saumagen, Riesling Auslese, 2001 (Oct. 16, 2007)

Arguably one of the greatest producers in Pfalz, from what is acknowledged as his greatest vineyard and a vintage hailed as Germany's greatest in recent years... Oddly enough, the first non-dry wine I've tasted from Koehler-Ruprecht.

A fine example of pubescent German Riesling, it's almost profane to call it a sexy wine but it is, with plump fruit over a backbone of crispy acidity and such harmonic sweetness it's tempting forget dry wines forever. The nose - lime, peaches, apples and chalk - is not powerful per se though it's so aromatic you can smell it from feet away. At first, it doesn't have quite the nuances the 2004 Kabinetts are already showing, though they do come after a couple of hours, and anyway right now the real story's on the palate, where the fruit, acidity and sugar really carry the finish and aftertaste a long way, revealing layers of quinie and spices, even hints of strawberries as the wine opens. It's elegant and airy on the attack but really dense beneath that.

We'll meet again in a decade, my friend, I promise you that.

Imported by Giaconda, 166 NIS for club members.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Banfi, Brunello, 1997 (Oct. 13, 2007)

Steve Tanzer's IWC loved it (97), Parker was lukewarm (86), Wine Spectator rated it highly (94) but called it "a Brunello for everyone", a backhanded compliment if I ever heard one. From where I'm sitting (Seinfeld and Boston Legal re-runs instead of the Israel-Ukraine game, too depressing that one, no matter how it turns out), it's a wine I'd prefer to drink alone rather than have it get lost in a tasting.

Not a Brunello powerhouse ten years post-vintage, in a way it almost seems like a Chianti or a Vino Nobile. Very elegant, the fruit is very mellow on both nose and palate, adorned by roasted meat, gentle spices and chocolate as well as a hint of mushrooms. Quite an aromatic nose but not a huge body. A lot of flavors, though, etched in small strokes over the juicy acidity, that linger at surprisingly great length. I think this particular bottle has peaked but the structure is firm enough to ensure some three to five years at this plateau. Adding my bit to the score controversy, it's probably a 91.

Current vintages are imported by Anavim.

I actually only paid about 160 NIS (less than 40 USD these days) for it and in retrospect should have bought more at that price.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Flogging Israeli Reds With Pelter, T-Selection, Cabernet Franc, 2004

"...May impress once or twice with consistent craft... then it won't". *

Don't get me wrong, I like Tal Pelter's wines and this is a very good one, but, good as it is, it exhibitsthe usual faults of Israeli reds. Here it is, folks, the futility of scoring wines if you approach wines with love instead of professionalism because it probably merits something close to a 90, objectively.

But...

Though it boasts (I abhor Parker's excessive use of the word but it is very appropiate here) a powerful, long, iron, minerally finish and a fine structure backed by crisp tannins, everything up to that is just the same old scene. Ripe fruit and chocolate on the nose followed by a sweetish attack. It is mellowed by spices but even these somehow seem as though they came from the same local cookbook: a bit of this, a pinch of that, yadda yadda yadda. What the hell about this wine makes it that different from a Cabernet Sauvignon? It seems fairly ready now and though time might mellow it, there's little in there to make me me think that in a couple of years I'll be eating crow.

* Robert Christgau

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Domaine Philippe Delesvaux, Coteaux du Layon, Selection de Grains Nobles, 1997 (Oct. 6, 2007)

I was impressed with the 2001 version of this hedonistic dessert wine a few months ago yet I like this older vintage much more, though I can't really explain why. They're very similar to each other and the extra four years of bottle age were not that obvious, perhaps a bit more mellowness and complexity on the palate but nothing quite earthshattering, nothing that would obviously place one wine above the other.

Perhaps it's just a case of familiarity breeding appreciation. Now I do indeed see the complexity and the elegant acidity behind that delicious sweetness and in hindsight recognize they were also present in the 2001. This revisionistic insight may simply be a product of post cloital bliss yet for whatever reason, and further examination would require professional help, the encounter left me longing for more.

Purchased in Paris for about 40 Euro for a 500 cc bottle.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Misc. Notes (Aug - Sep. 2007)

Emrich-Schonleber, Nahe, Monzinger Fruhlingsplatzchen, Riesling Kabinett, 2004

This is the fourth time I've had this wine over the last year. The nose is still discrete at first, playing a quiet peaches-and-minerals riff, but the palate has finally opened up, having consumed all its earlier fizz and delicately balancing sweet fruit against a lightly bitter, minerally backdrop and ripe, well integrated acidity. An hour later, the wine releases aromas of green apples and apple pie and gains a greater length and sense of ripeness. Not a great wine but a delightfully good one. (Aug. 4, 2007)

Imported to Israel by Giaconda, listed at 117 NIS (about 25 USD).

Langwerth von Simmern, Rheingau, Erbacher Marcobrunn, Riesling Kabinett, 2004

A graceful wine delineated in simple strokes: apple pie on the nose and green apples with refreshing acidity balancing the delicious sweetness on the palate. Slightly fizzy. The least complex of Giaconda’s 2004 Kabinetts? Well, yes, and it's so delicious now a part of me wishes it will never grow up. But as it picks up mineral nuances on both nose and palate, I find myself having second thoughts. A sweet wine, pun intended. (Aug. 13, 2007)

Imported by Giaconda, listed at 110 NIS.

Sea Horse, Antoine, Tete de Cuvee, 2004

Ze'ev Dunie gets it right, really right. Earthy, red fruit with mineral overtones on both nose and palate, with a rich, slightly hedonistic personality that asserts itself as the wine opens to reveal more and more chocolate. Very succulent with nice acidity. There's obvious oak but not more than in a decent Ribera Del Duero, which I think it resembles. On the downside, I can't find a lot of Syrah typicity, as you can probably tell by the Ribera comparison. Which might not bother everyone and certainly if Syrah thrives in Israel it will find its local identity; I just miss, personally, the peppery notes of a good Syrah, which this wine only hints at. This bottle seemed at its peak; will keep but in my opinion won't improve. (Aug. 28, 2007)

About 90 NIS at the winery but it's sold out anyway.

D'Arenberg, Laughing Magpie, Shiraz/Viognier, 2002

Black fruit over charry oak, at first, but then the fruit turns a bit candied before the telltale black pepper kicks in to even the score. Potent with little trace of the Viognier, except, possibly, for some candied fruit at the end. Bigger and less elegant than the 2001 as well, with the alcohol in the fore, exaggerating the sweetness and tiring the palate. Overall, I prefer the 2001, 2-3 points worth. (Sept. 1, 2007)

Imported by WineRoute and current vintages are usually listed at about 150 NIS.

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000

Still the classic Israeli Cab, I suppose, although overshadowed by the irregularly produced Katzrin and Elrom. Typical Cabernet nose, with hints of chocolate and leather complementing the spicy currant aromas. Very long and rich. Almost too rich for my taste, actually, though the smart structure keeps the richness in check. (Sept. 15, 2007)

Lucien Le Moine, Bourgogne Blanc, 2003

Well, well, well. An improvement over last time. The nose is flint and pears complemented by, yes, oaky notes, but altogether very reined in, subtle and decently complex. The palate is oakier, but still less so than previously, well structured with no signs of over-ripeness or flabiness, good acidity leading to a long, saline finish. I opened my second bottle only because I was disappointed by the first; had I waited until now for an initial try, I’d have made a note to wait until 2009-10 for the next bottle. Despite some local hype, it would only scrap the 90’s for me, but a savoury, impressive wine nonetheless. (Sept. 23, 2007)

Imported by Private Wine Collection, out of stock.

Riesling, Jubilee Riesling, 1998

This venerable Alsatian producer, like Trimbach among others, is opposed to the Grand Cru classification in Alsace, so the label won't tell you this is 100% Schoenenbourg Grand Cru. And although it doesn't offer the kind of earth-shattering experience the words grand cru evoke, it's the kind of very-good-but-not-great wine that makes the world a fun place. I've had it a couple of times this past year and it's been rather youthful but now there are hints of petrol and even mildew over a backdrop of peaches and stone and in general the fruit has very much receeded. The palate is very minerally, indeed like sucking on quartz, sporting a wonderfully saline finish with a green apple overlay. (Sept. 25, 2007)

Imported a few years ago by France-Israel, when they were still bringing in French wines.

Recanati, Special Reserve, 2003

A very Recanati and Israeli wine, which for me means it reins in the worst tendencies of Israeli reds without streering wide clear of them. Ripe on both nose and palate, though on the nose the ripeness is tempered by red fruit and earthy and herbal aromas (Lewis Pasco's signature) and later chocolate and mushrooms, while the palate is structured enough albeit still needs to shed some baby fat. (Sept. 27, 2007)

Friday, September 28, 2007

d'Arenberg, Sticks And Stones, 2002 (Sept. 23, 2007)

At the high end, d'Arenberg makes polished wines with finely tuned tannins and though I find a certain roughness about them, and what I suspect to be tampered acidity, they have a reined-in, savoury structure. The winery's calling card is an explicitly "me-too" range of labels, thus their portfolio is based on proprietary versions of Old World appellations: Bordeaux, Rhone, Port, and even Bandol. One can enjoy or mock this approach but at any rate it seems to be how the winery markets itself. And now this, a Tempranillo-Grenache-Souzao blend, which took me an hour to figure out is supposed to be a Priorat look-alike with the Souzao, a Portugese varietal, thrown in for good measure - or is that a red herring?

The Grenache overwhelms the wine at first, betraying the lollipop fruitiness of the d'Arenberg Custodian (a 100% Grenache and a wine I used to be, alas, fonder of), though I sense the tobacco leaf signature of the Temranillo underneath and hopefully a few years in the cellar will coax it out as well as smooth and soothe the burning acidity. Its trump card is a near-sweet yet saline finish and that's good enough for me right now.

Off-Topic

Had lunch last week at Tike, a Turkish restaurant in Hertzeliya Pituach (quite nice but not the best value in business lunch deals for the hi-tech working man), and I must say it's got a surprisingly extensive and versatile wine list, compiling not only the best of Israel but quite a lot of Old World classics, and purchased from at least three different importers. Which means it's no wine bar but someone worked harder at the wine menu than I'd have expected from, let me be quite un-politic, a Turkish restaurant. Prieur-Lichine is quite an original notion around these parts yet I have to wonder how many of its target clientele is going to have it with donner kebab.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ran Shapira's Birthday - Grand Cru Inside

A birthday party is just the right occasion to reflect on people's best sides and the best of Ran Shapira is this: he lives well, he knows it and he shows it; and when you dine with him, he wants you to live well too.

Thus this. September 18, 2007, the Voilet restaurant in Moshav Audim, a nearly cult secret on the cusp of becoming everybody's latest fling. Ran brought all the wines, one from each of his favorite wine regions. The notes are more impressionistic than usual because we came to party, not to take notes.

Golan Heights Winery, Blanc de Blancs, 1997

I'm sure GHW's reds don't show as much old world character as this wine, though I don't have enough "bubblie" vocabulary to talk much about it. Shame the mousse faded so fast, though.

Pichler, Von Den Terrassen, Gruner Veltliner Smaragd, 2004

I'm rather distraught over my dismal experiences with young Gruner Veltliners, since this was similar to my encounter with Nigl, Kremser Freiheit, 2005. A nice enough nose with flecks of minerals, but the palate is tight, bitter and drying, the effect exaggerated by having been paired with the next wine. Better with food, though.

Weingut JoS. Christoffel Jr., Erdener Treppchen, Riesling Spatlese, 2006

I never thought I'd drink so many Christoffels in the same month. Infanticide for sure, although it offers plenty of enjoyment as is. As usual with the good, off dry German stuff, the sweetness simply highlights the graceful elegance of the fruit.

Domain Bouchard Pere & Fils, Corton-Charlemagne, 1996

The lineup was half blind: we knew which region each wine came from but not producer, age or pedigree - but this was obviously fine stuff from the first sniff. Though I do recall it felt just about to fall off its peak plateau, it proved one thing: when Burgundy gets it right, few dry white wines can get within spitting range. You'll find better dry whites elsewhere than this one (I'd score it 91-92 if I were still into that just to contextualize) but few would be as savoury, elegant and characterful.

Ceretto, Barolo Bricco-Rocche, Brunate, 1996

Chateau De La Tour, Clos Vougeot, 1998

Served together in the same flight to prove - or disprove - that Piedmonte is Italy's Burgundy, which with the wines in question is like comparing Chalie Parker's Dial Masters with the Miles Davis twin-sax group with Coltrane and Adderly, that is, one is brainy yet heart-breakingly ephemeral, the other so sensously groovy you can't put it away. Thus, excellent stuff, similar enough in style to note a connection, different enough to evoke debates.

Chapoutier, Cote Rotie, La Mordoree, 2000

Pegau, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvee Laurence, 1998

Another flight. How Ran made us suffer... The Mordoree was pure, distilled, unadulterated elegance - I could wax poetic but I rather extended myself with the jazz stuff just now - yet the Cuvee Laurence caught my fancy as well, not just for being a "blonde with big boobs" sort of wine (it's never wrong to recycle a good metaphor because you never know where your next metaphor is coming from) but because its initial hyper-ripe, over-extracted core opened up and calmed down so nicely in glass that I couldn't help but thinking, ten years from now, this wine could be the ultimate test as to whether Robert Parker, Jr., knows what he's talking about.

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, 1998

Let's hear it for great, tight-assed Bordeaux. Queen of the class, everybody's Saturday night fantasy, yet won't put out, won't even kiss, simply give you her cheek when you bring her home.

Chateau Suduiraut, 2000

Great, expensive, liquid toffee but, to be just the slighest bit super-critical, noticeably alcoholic.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Two Finely Balanced, Well Aged Spatleses

Weingut JoS. Christoffel Jr., Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Spatlese, 1994

The wine's age has rendered the aromatics subtle, rather than complex, with minute, elegant brushstrokes of peaches, chalk and herbs, with hints of kerosene. The palate is no more complex but there is a great interplay of fruit, sugar and green apple acidity that is both riveting and lingering. Damn good, especially the acidity, which makes me wonder what this wine was like as a youngster. (Sept. 2, 2007)

Weingut JoS. Christoffel Jr., Urziger Wurzgarten, Riesling Spatlese, 1994

Same producer, same year, same pradikat, different vineyard. The aromatics are different: the Wurzgarten is more extroverted, with little petrol, instead mildew, honey and slightly veggie notes complement peaches and apple pie. The palate offers the same "French kiss" of sweetness and acidity as the Wehlener Sonnenuhr, the same length too, but texturally feels more interesting and more subtle on the finish. (Sept. 13, 2007)

Imported by Giaconda, listed at 150 NIS.

Friday, September 21, 2007

When Worlds Collide - German Riesling Meets Amarone (Sept. 21, 2007)

The first week on the new job finds myself looking up the hill for the first time in years. And that wasn't the only thing keeping me from updating this blog - actually, a family Bar Mitzvah and a dear friend's birthday (more on that later, this wasn't a run-of-the-mill-friend, this was a wine buddy) more than took care of the dreary task of soaking up my time like a sponge. But finally, a long week culminated in Ronnie James, a very good Tel Aviv restaurant, and two wines whose separate universes intersected only because their respective owners decided to share them.

Juliusspital , Franken, Wurzburger Stein, Riesling Trocken 2005

This has got the VDP logo on the capsule as well as the grand cru thingie on the label ("1" followed by a grape bunch icon). It also boasts the weird shaped bocksbeutel bottle unique to the Franken region, as well it should, since Juliusspital is one of the "Three Hospitals" of Wurzburg, founded in 1756 and a trocken specialist to boot. No pradikat, though it tastes like a spatlese. A very good, nigh-near excellent nose of green apples laced with minerals, so just two colors but it elegantly riffs off them and morphes subtly with every whiff, eventually evoking aromas that almost belong in the red wine spectrum, ripe fruit that borders on white chocolate. The palate, alas, lacks behind but the balance is effecient enough and there is enough acidity in place to surmise it simply needs some three years in the cellar. Not a great wine yet t's different enough from the other German appellations I'm familiar with for me to earnestly thank the friend who brought it.

Masi, Grandarella, 2000

Sometimes, it's not what you drink, it's who you drink it with. Amarone is no longer a regular port of call for me but it's a favorite of a couple of long time friends so the plan is to open the bottles remaining in my fridge with them (technically, the Grandarella isn't even an Amarone as it's sourced from vineyards outside the DOCG but let's not quibble). At Ronnie James, this was a perfect accompanyment to the sirloin and company. The nose betrays its hyper-extraction, with raiseny, black fruit and a tarry core, although that works well here, since the ripeness that follows it up on the palate has got enough zip, spiciness and presence to lend it credibility. It evolves well in the glass and all that but really, the reason it works is, sometimes you don't want the pretty girl with the faraway eyes, sometimes you want the blonde with the big boobs.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"But It Goes Up To Eleven" - A Grand Old Riesling (Sept. 11, 2007)

We had gathered to taste some Koehler-Ruprecht and Muller-Catoire wines at importer Giaconda but the star turned out to be one of the guest contributions. Before I get to that, a few words about the raison d'etre of the gathering.

Though I didn't take formal notes, I will note that the Koehler-Ruprecht 2005's were the tightest young whites I've ever tasted outside of certain vineyards in the Cote de Beaune. The nose would show all the naunce and definition and specific minerality I've come to love over the past year but the palate just wouldn't put out, wafer thin and stingy. It's the vintage, I suppose, as the 2004's were approachable last year. The Steinacker Spatlese Scheurebe, because it's a fruitier grape, was the most approachable and proved again Scheurebe's inherent breed and importance, with a guyava-and-flowers nose no other varietal offers.

The Muller-Catoire wines were delicious and friendly and in stark contrast with neighbor Koehler-Ruprecht. The Haardter Herrenletten Riesling Spatlese 2006 was very decent QPR and as tasty as they come but the real star was the Mussbacher Esselshaut Rieslaner Spatlese 2005, vinified by young Martin Franzen, which seems brasher and edgier than the 2001 rendition, which was the last vintage produced by venerable Hans-Gunter Schwartz. It feels like the work of a younger man, with weird, meaty, almost brett-like notes.

The evening's peak was a 5 Star, 32 year old Auslese. Five stars, count 'em. I had no idea these things went past three stars, hence the Spinal Tap quote in the title.

Jos. Christoffel Jr., Urziger Wurzgarten, Riesling Auslese 5 Star, 1975

Intense, nuanced aromas of petrol, dill and parsley almost flaunt the wine's age. The palate is long and succulent. It's obviously mature yet still so fresh and powerful and while it must have been sweeter in its infancy, the fruit, sugar and acidity have melted and mellowed into a harmonic whole. A lingering aftertaste, though it was hard to keep away from it long enough to notice, if you know what I mean. This is the sort of wine I "hate" because it achieves its effect with so little effort and so few frills that I can't help thinking all wines should be this good. And they're not.

I didn't take any formal notes, like I said, thus I'm mentioning by name only those wines who stood out and made a deep enough impression for me to remember them clearly the next morning. The Christoffel wouldn't need formal notes for me to remember it under any circumstances.

Shana Tova!


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Donnhoff, Weisser Burgunder (Pinot Blanc) QBA, Trocken, 2004

I have an ongoing debate with a friend about German non-Riesling varietals. His stance is, basically, why bother? Personally, I liked the few samples of Scheurebe I've tasted quite a lot, each in its own different way, as well the Muller-Catoir Rieslaner and I concur with Terry Theise's recommendation that a healthy diet include Scheurebe as a minority partner to Riesling (go here, download one of Germany catalogs and read the chapter "Why Scheurebe?"). But my friend's firm opinion is that no matter how much you like them, you've only got so much money in your budget and any money you spend on Scheurebe and Rieslaner is going to cut into the money you spend on Riesling, which is a sin since Riesling is intrinsically finer than the other varietals. To which I would reply that I like them enough to expand the Germany budget but that turns the debate circular as his obvious reply is "buy more Rieslings then!"*

So what to make of this wine, which is not only a QBA, it's a Pinot Blanc and Donnhoff probably only plants it in lesser sites not fit for outstanding Rieslings?

The first time I had it, there something beguilingly Alsatian about it yet it was still Germanic in its core. I had it a couple of weeks ago and the flinty nose was very much Cote d'Or but there was enough residual sugar on the palate to nail it as a German wine. A different bottle, a couple of weeks later, and it's very dry and just screams Chablis. Borderline Premier Cru Chablis at that. Chalk, hints of flint, apples and peaches intermingled, fine acidity, a long and saline finish, its possibly mudane origins showing as a certain lack of dimension. At its peak, I suppose, but you know what? I liked it better in its simpler, more German incarnation.

Imported by Giaconda, listed at 130 NIS.

* To play the Devil's Advocate to my own aguments for a sec, Scheurebe as a cross was supposed to thrive on soil less suitable for Riesling only it turns out it prefers the same soil as Riesling so more quality Scheurebe would mean less Riesling. Also, in 2006, some growers did not produce any Scheurebe because the harvest conditions forced them to place all their efforts in Riesling which just goes to show what their priorities are. I read about it in Thiese's 2007 catalog, so if you're curious, just follow the link above, download the catalog and read about the 2006 vintage.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Degustation Dinner at Barcarola (Sept. 5, 2007)

What a night. Barcarola is one of my favorite local restaurants, with precise, reasonably imaginative handling of good raw material, often foregoing corkage fees. With great company and lovely wines, the evening turned out quite successful and informally celebrating my change of jobs didn't hurt.

I'm not that great at writing food crits. I don't have the vocabulary for it, I never get the names of fish and meat cuts and fruits and vegetables right. But I will say that the seafood dishes at Barcarola are a condension of the essance of the sea and if you like that direction - and I do, very much so - then they'll charm you out of your socks.

The order of the wines was quite unorthodox, as the degustation menu turned out to be difficult to match with the usual progression of whites to red. On top of that, we had to nursemaid a vendange tardive until it cooled down to the proper temperature. So we started out with a Gewurztraminer vendange tardive from Alsace as an apertif, but as it obviously needed more time to cool down, we went on to the San Felice, Vigorello, 1999, which wasn't as good as my previous experience with it had been. Just a bit foursquare but still a very good wine. Following that, we had a Bordeaux white and finished off with a bottle of Malescot-St-Exupery, 2000, which proved that the good Bordeaux 2000's must be approached with caution as this potentially elegant wine was still coming together after two hours. We then returned to the Gewurztraminer for an encore.

And now, I will indulge in my oft-stated bias and go into the white wines in greater detail.

Andre Blanck, Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive, Alsace, 2000

This small winery is not very well known and the wine's contributor admitted he didn't know whether he opened it too soon, which he did, as it turned out. At first, you get the typical Gewurztraminer fruitiness, tropical fruit and lychee and rose water, but not the trademark pungent spiciness. Which is rather surprising for a seven year old, even if it is a vendange tardive. I think more overt typicity will come in time, as by the time we returned to it for dessert, an initial bitter pip-like bitterness had rounded out into the first hints of mature Gewurtz spiciness.

Chateau Margaux, Pavillion Blanc, 2002

Some might consider this classy wine oaky but I beg to differ. First of all, the nose is so laden with minerals, mostly flint, with so little signs of wood, that it is irresistable. Then the palate is oaky, but it's not your typical, blunt, buttery, toffee-ish instrument of malevolence. Rather this is what you get if you have access to really fine barrels and good terroir: the oak is seemlessly integrated and only serves to highlight the minerals, so the overall effect is like sucking on flint and salt. In other words, dry and savoury.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Nigl, Kremser Freiheit, Gruner Veltliner, 2005

I've noticed a certain minor lapse in posts recently and my only excuse is I'm coming up to my last days at my place of work for the past seven years and the overall effect is one of mindless sleepwalking so my faculties have been dull all around. Thus I'm forced to reprint something I posted on another venue last fall. I was in Lvov in the Ukraine on business, a fairly boring week wine wise and in just about every other sense except for a short snack at wine bar in the Vienna airport on my way back.

I re-read my post recently, trying to decide whether to open the bottle in question. Decided against it but realized I was very fond of the post.

Eight rounds of vodka on the first evening at Lvov conned me into thinking it would be a fun trip. But a quick reality check the next day showed dismal, grey weather and for my money a decaying city with vague flashes of what big money might do to it, if it hasn't started already (though I guess it does have a university or two and my Polish family say that's a good sign). Three days of trying to impart technical knowledge across a wide cultural gap and suffering through deadening boredom and lunatic drivers, I wanted a piece of my own world back and I found it at the Wine and More shop at the Vienna duty-free. Okay, not a great store, no great range, but it had a small wine bar and I ordered a glass of the Kremser Freiheit 2005 and a small platter of cheese and meat.

I've only drunk the Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner and at a fairly mature age so this is my encounter with its young version. And I found to my dismay that I was totally unable to read it. This is a very tight, steely wine and it seems balanced but everything about it seems impacted into a tiny black hole and very little gets out. So it's got structure but most of the flavors seem buried inside. I've had more enjoyable barrel tastings.

I know I love Gruner Veltliner when it's mature so I don't want to give up on this wine and certainly Nigl has a reputation. Thus I bought a bottle (and ahem, I suffered too much to come home empty-handed) and my question is, what did I miss?

Originally posted on Stratsplace, Nov. 3, 2006.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Brunello Tasting at Anavim (Aug. 30, 2007)

Anavim, which I've mentioned before, is a local importer specializing in Tuscany, headquartered in a very friendly store in Tel Aviv, on the corner of Ben Guriyon and Ben Yehuda. They don't have a web site but you can contact them through Hagit Sasportas, the store manager.

The Brunello tasting was a mixture of some recent and not so recent vintages, some regular Brunellos and some Riservas. Some of the wines were decanted for a couple of hours and some opened on the spot, making it tricky to gauge their drinking windows. I'll mark the decanted wines with a (D).

CastelGiocondo, 2002 (D)

A good wine from a bad vintage, I suppose, though it has some obvious faults. Both nose and palate are very rich, with earthy overtones, though after a while in glass, the richness turns jammy. There is some hollowness in mid-palate and the tannins are coarse.

Banfi, 2001 (D)

Going up a few steps in class. The nose is more interesting and nuanced, with shades of earth and mocca over a background of black fruit, then a bit of leather, pine and herbs. Very concentrated with ripe acidity. I'd guess it needs a couple of years of aging but I don't know how to factor in the decanting.

San Felice, Campogiovani, 2001 (D)

A much more reserved nose, with great aromas of wild berries, leather and smoke. Then... you know, it's a common disappointment with wines. You sniff and get excited then you sip with great anticipation and wind up muttering curses in your neighbor's ear. In this case, the palate is so ripe it's near sweet and you look for the grip and structure the nose hints at and it's barely there, though the tannins do assert themselves on the finish. I can't tell for sure, but maybe the decanter did it.

Il Poggione, 2001 (D)

This wine elicited different reactions 'round the table yet I'm not sure it's taster variation, more likely a bizarre case of glass variation, because I compared my glass with a friend's and they were much different, mine having been the last poured from the decanter. Mine was very stingy and austere, highlighting the alcohol on the nose. I managed to make a note of a spicy/bitter finish before the wine died in my glass. Obviously, the decanting did it little good.

Banfi, Poggio alle Mura, 2001
This is the middle rung in Banfi's Brunellos, the regular Brunello being the lower rung and the other Riserva, the Poggio all'Oro, being the upper one. Quite a nose on this one, a concentration of berries, leather and smoke, with good impression being carried over to the palate, which is powerful, chewy and long.

CastelGiocondo, Ripe Al Convento, Riserva, 1995

A little carmelized at first, it solwly, very slowly, opened to show wild berries and hints of meat. I'm not sure whether the serving conditions did it any justice. It probably didn't need decanting, which it didn't get anyway, but a longer time in glass to open. Actualy, I thought we rushed to the next wine much too fast so I poured the Ripe Al Convento to a second glass but the other glass was too small and though the wine did start opening, at the end of the day I had to give up on it. Possibly a wasted opportunity.

Il Poggione, Riserva, 1998 (D)

Ripe and modern on the nose, possibly the fruitiest wine of the evening, before it shuts down in glass. Makes up for a relative lack of power and complexity with smooth elegance.

Banfi, Poggio all'Oro, 1999 (D)

A very focused and elegant nose, though it feels embryonic. The palate is very youthful, showing great length, beautiful acidity and elegant tannins. High breed.

Banfi, Poggio all'Oro, 1993

Lightly oxidized at first, which might have been the reason a few people proclaimed "Bissli Grill!" Whatever, as the wine recovered from its long slumber, the bissli aromas became more refined, more along the lines of steak seasoning. Very elegant and fresh on the plate, if not very complex, with the mellowness of bottle age.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Paternoster, Don Anselmo, 1997

This is one of the leading wineries in Basilicata (south Italy, folks) and this wine is one of the outstanding examples of Aglianico, the signature grape of the area. I've had it several times, and at its best I'd describe it as:

A fascinating Old World wine. Browning yet solid color. The nose has a signature of cherries at first, then black fruits, but as this wine isn't really about fruit, the prominent notes from the first are of an intriguing herbal mix and some earth. The palate shows good acidity, the kind that backs up a solid core of fruit and doesn't make a lot of noise; a spicy, lingering finish; bitter tannins that are very well integrated; and it's so well balanced you don't feel how full the body is. (Oct. 29, 2006)

If only I was lucky enough to consistently catch it at its best. My second encounter was very similar only less enchanting. That is, similar notes and a lower potential score. My last encounter was a couple of weeks ago, when the palate proved as structured as in the past but its aromatics were so raisen-y it pushed the wine in an Amarone-ish direction and as a whole, the wine was so befuddling it turned everyone off.

Imported by Anavim. Not sure about the present price but it's still available. Wine Advocate liked the 2000 vintage, by the way.

Off Topic

My wife thought my new glasses were rather Elvis Costello-ish and searching through YouTube to follow up on this premise we found this: the famous appearance on Saturday Night Live that practically got him blacklisted off American radio (some months later he would get into a bar brawl and describe Ray Charles using the N word, putting the final touches on the unenviable task of killing his own career). As you will see in the clip, he starts out singing "Less Than Zero" before stopping the song, saying "there's no reason to sing this song" and plunging straight into "Radio, Radio". I suppose prime time American TV in the late 70's was just about ready to accept a song about fascism in the UK but not a song that claimed fascism was everywhere on the radio.

Personal growth really sucks if it means you stop writing songs like this and start writing songs about people who write letters to Julliet.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Penfold's, St. Henri Shiraz, 1996

How often do a bottle's leftovers survive overnight? How often do they improve? And how often does that happen with an eleven year old wine?

The St. Henri 1996 was an excellent wine on the first night, accompanying a sirloin steak at Porterhouse. A complex nose of black fruits interlaced with mint and eucalyptus was complemented by a rather simpler palate, which was elegant and structured enough, but still young and fruity with succulent acidity. The 1/3 bottle that I carried back home made good use of a night's oxygen and on the second night, the nose was very much the same but the fruit had complexified and receded somewhat, without being overwhlemed by the tannins. Thus, the structure was highlighted while there was enough fruit to keep the whole thing very palatable and a better and more interesting wine by my palate. (Aug. 26-27, 2007)

Friday, August 24, 2007

German Wine Tasting At Giaconda (Aug. 24, 2007)

I tasted the following wines at a very recent tasting at Giaconda. The tasting cost 125 NIS (30 USD) and the prices are quoted from their catalog and are for non-club members. I'd tasted most of the wines before but was interesting in following their development.

Schafer-Frohlich, Nahe, Weisserburgunder (Pinot Blanc) QBA, 2004

Initially closed aromatically, leaning towards tropical fruit, but after a few minutes, green apples take over as well as a chalky minerality and hints of oatmeal. A nice wine, albeit not especially complex, that didn't really really catch my interest when I tasted in winter (at a Nahe tasting at Giaconda in the pre-2GrandCru days), so I was moderately surprised by the minerality. 99 NIS.

Donnhoff, Nahe, Weisserburgunder (Pinot Blanc) QBA Trocken, 2004

I prefered this Pinot Blanc in the aforementioned tasting and likewise this time. Surprisingly slow to open, it too showed minerality, though more intense and edgier than the Schafer-Frohlich's. The nose, with an abundance of flint, is almost Burgundian but the palate is very German, with sweeter fruit than you'd get in a decent white Bourgogne, balanced by ripe acidity. Decent length but lacking the complexity of the nose. 139 NIS.

Koehler-Ruprecht, Pfaltz, Kallstadter Steinacker, Gewurztraminer Spatlese, 2005

This is a wine I'd been waiting to taste since I saw Giaconda were importing it, since I thought Gewurztraminer would thrive within the Koehler-Ruprecht style. And I was right, although it's an unexpected spin off a typical Gewurztraminer, and I loved it as much as I usually do this producer's wines. The signature rose petals are there so it's recognizable as a Gewurztraminer but it's a cooler kind of Gewurztraminer than you'd get in Alsace, say, with varietal intensity but little lychee or spices. It's also very, very young and disjointed right now, with a sweet attack followed by Gewurztraminer spiciness but as separate elements and not as a harmonic whole. My guess is it needs a couple of years of cellaring and I intend to follow it. 118 NIS.

Koehler-Ruprecht, Pfaltz, Kallstadter Saumagen, Riesling, Kabinett, 2004

I had this wine a couple of times, most recently with friends where due to lousy logistics on my part it was served too warm. Very intense and complex minerals on the nose, with the fruit in the background. Again, the palate is overshadowed by the nose: it's balanced enough, but closed and right now simply doesn't have the intensity nor the complexity of the aromatics. But at least I was reassured that the lack of acidity we noticed last time was due to the temperature and I intend to cellar my bottles and see how it develops. 130 NIS.

Muller-Catoir, Pfaltz, Mussbacher Eselshaut, Riesling Kabinett Trocken, 2004

Another wine I'm familiar with. It's starting to emerge from a slightly fizzy stage and shows gentle fruitness complemented by flint and, once again, sweet dough, oatmeal or whatever you want to call the yeast induced aromas a lot of Rieslings imported by Giaconda show (which I enjoy, mind you, and which I suppose will be gone within a few years as these wines mature). It's much more approachable than the Koehler-Ruprecht Saumagen, but less intense and complex. 130 NIS.

Schafer-Frohlich, Nahe, Vom Porphyr, Riesling QBA Trocken, 2004

Like their Weissburgunder, this wine had failed to impress me in the past. It's much better now, with simple fruitiness on the nose but surprising acidity and crispy minerality on the palate. Giaconda has a couple of QBA's that surprisingly manage to seem to be in a league above QBA; this one doesn't but it's still at the very top of the QBA league. 139 NIS.

Heymann-Lowenstein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Schieferterrassen, Riesling, 2004

I tasted this wine rather offhandedly because I'd had it so many times in the past months, but it surprised me for feeling lighter than I remembered, despite being higher in alcohol than the other wines at the tasting. 129 NIS.

Peter Jakob Kuhn, Rheingau, Graziosa QbA Feinherb, 2006

The fruitiest wine of the tasting, but not a blockbustery kind of fruitiness, but rather the usual German kind: mellow, pure and clean. So clean, in fact, that I started looking for some minerals and yeasts to capture my interest. And they do come in time, hints of them anyway. I've tasted Kuhn's Quarzit QBA so I know he produces wines that are QBA only because it says so on the label, but the Graziosa seems like a 'regular' QBA, albeit an expensive one. 139 NIS.

Langwerth Von Simmern, Erbacher Marcobrunn, Riesling Kabinett, 2003

I was looking forward to this wine in order to get a gist of how Kabinetts fared in hot 2003. This one did very, very well and seems to be at the start of its mature drinking window, with traces of petrol on the nose and the beginning of a complex palate. Despite the ripe fruit, it is not at the least over the top, but shows instead a very taut structure. Better for my money than the 2004 and decently priced. 103 NIS.

Leitz, Dragonstone Riesling, 2005

Terry Thiese, Leitz's US importer, raves about this wine in each edition of his catalog and though he's obviously biased, he writes so well that my curiousity was aroused. So naturally, I was a bit disappointed. Don't get me wrong, it's a lovely wine, classic German for its sweetness but I was looking for a bit more, maybe just more focus and intensity. I'll try it again in a few months. 109 NIS.

Unckrich, Scheurebe Kallstadter Annaberg Auslese, 2004

It never fails. Whenever I drink this cute (and I mean that in the most positive way) wine, an inner voice tells me this is a wine for immediate enjoyment, not note writing. So, if you must have a note, here it is: guayava sherbert. NIS 89.

All in all, a nice couple of hours, with very pleasant company (both customers and hostesses). Perhaps not the greatest Rieslings in the world, or even in the Giaconda catalog, but very good ones, some of which are starting to become the main staples of my home consumption.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Barkan, Altitude 720, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003

When V. recommended this wine to me last year, I considered tagging her email as spam, but then V. does not suffer Israeli wines gladly, so this seemed worth looking into.

She not only liked the wine, but I think she used the term "old world". Or maybe she said it was the most old world-ish of Barkan's Altitude series and I think I can see her point. It's as slick, clean and commercial as you would expect from Israel's second largest producer (yeah, I know I'm stereotyping) and as ripe as most Israeli wines get. But, probably because it hails from the highest vineyard from Barkan's Altitude series (the others are 415 and 624 meters high), the near-sweet ripeness of the fruit is reined in by a earthy, tobacco leaf overlay and nicely complemented by crisp tannins. So good call, V., but while the relative elegance lends weight to your old world reference, I think I'd have guessed Australia blind.

A very nice wine, drink now, could survive cellaring for a couple of years but I'm going to save my personal storage space for Riesling.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Domaine Weinbach, Muscat Reserve, 2004

There's a bit I like in hip-hop classic Entroducing D.J. Shadow where Shadow samples a somewhat dorky sounding music teacher who says "I'm a teacher of the drums, but I'm also a student of the drums". I enjoy the moment because I know the feeling. That of being a student, I mean. Of my various hobbies, wine and music give me the greatest intellectual pleasures because they (still) make me feel I'm actively learning new things.

That's why on trips abroad I try to buy at least one wine that expands my horizons. A joker, an oddball. Something to befuddle friends with. On a recent trip to Paris, the Weinbach Muscat Reserve 2004 was it.

I'd read Weinbach is a very good domaine and I was debating whether to buy one of their Gewurztraminer cuvees offered at one particular store but I was dubious about the vintages in stock and finally decided that - since I'd already tasted Alsace Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris, albeit much too few - it was time to try Alsace's fourth 'trademark' varietal.

According to the Weinbach site, this wine is sourced mostly from their Clos des Capucins monopole, which I'm not sure is a part of their grand cru holdings but does supply fruit to the domaine's premium cuvee. And that's it for the background spiel. Now for the wine.

The kindest thing I could say is I don't know what to make of it. The textbook on Alsace Muscat says it's a fruity, "drink close to purchase" wine. The wine I had this evening was no example of the former but arguably proves the latter. On both nose and palate, it is very minerally and peppery, which is good, good, but only if it's backed up by fruit. But insofar as the wine opens over the course of the evening, there is so little fruit the 13% alcohol shoots straight to the fore as though it was a much more alcoholic wine. I can't really tell whether I opened it a year too late or a few too early, but tonight, this particular bottle was a depressing experience. Probably one I wouldn't even be able to rightfully chalk up as an educational experience.

Overpriced for the 25+ euros I paid for it and not available locally.