Thursday, May 31, 2007

Brancaia at Anavim (May 29, 2997)

Anavim is the recently reinstated importer of Brancaia in Israel. The following wines were highlighted in a tasting of Tuscan blends at the Anavim store in Tel Aviv this week.

Brancaia, Tre, 2004

A Sangiovese/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend that is the winery's entry-level Super-Tuscan. Red fruit, leather and cured meat on the nose. The smoke of the cured meats is echoed on the palate. A long espresso finish. Only moderate complexity for this charming, rustic, masculine wine. Amir Efrati of Anavim says this is his new house wine and I have to applaud his choice. It is an excellent value.

Brancaia, Ilatria, 2004

A Cabernet/Sangiovese, Petit Verdot blend this time and a more expensive wine. The nose exhibits riper fruit as well as chocolate and tobacco. It is a more modern wine than the Tre, softer, more feminine as well. A flirt perhaps but one that has undeniable potential.

Brancaia, Il Blu, 2004

Sangiovese/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon again, albeit in different proportions than the Tre. Despite a few hours in decanter, the Il Blu was very closed, revealing a clenched fist of ripe black fruit, with hints of sweet spices and leather. I had a moment of disagreement with Hagit Sasportas who hosted the tasting. I thought at first that the wine was too sweet-ish, too obvious, too much an immediate satisfaction kind of wine. But it showed much more complexity as it opened and it's got enough balance and fine tannins for the future. So I was wrong and Hagit and Wine Spectator and who knows who else were right.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Piedmont Tasting At WineRoute (May 27, 2007)

I was initially suspicious of this tasting and only signed up for it after I was assured there'd be no dumping, no 2002's. Then I totally forgot about the tasting and when the store rang up to remind me, my first thought was "oh, no". So as it happened, I approached the tasting in a lethargic state of mind. Turned out to be quiter an enjoyable evening, I must admit. No "big" wines, but highly enjoyables wines, charmingly presented by Ms. Hila Ronen Sofer.

Elio Altare, Dolcetto d'Alba, 2004

Jammy fruit on the nose, the jaminess fading away after a few minutes in glass. Despite Hila's claims that the wine was fermented in oak and matured in tank, I picked up a lot of oaky spices on the nose that morphed into toastiness. Bitter on the palate with a mid palate hollowness that fills in a bit after some time. Interesting but not very rewarding. (89 NIS)

Bruno Giacosa, Dolcetto d'Alba, Falleto di Serralunga d'Alba, 2005

Much more subtle and Old World than the Elio Altare, with red fruit and leather on the nose. Better balance, structure and acidity than the Elio Altare, longer too, but it stands on its own so well I may be rude for making a comparison. Not a big wine, but very, very nice and sometimes nice is enough. (99 NIS)

Domenico Clerico, Barbera d'Alba, "Trevigne", 2004

This was the second time I've had this wine. The first time was in a private blind tasting and no one guessed it was a Barbera, not even the more experienced Piedmont lovers. It was a similar experience this time, with explosive, highly extracted fruit, though not obnoxiously so, just confusing. Very youthful, with high acidity that needs to calm down. Develops aromatic complexity, with coffee notes. I would wait a year for my bottle. (129 NIS)

La Spinetta, Barbera d'Asti Superiore, Bionzo, 2004

Lots of oak overwhelming the fruit, managing to be both green and dusty. This is the second La Spinetta Barbera that I didn't enjoy but having said that, there is something interesting about the aromatics even with all that oak. Not very appetizing to drink, but interesting to taste. (199 NIS)

Roberto Voerzio, Nebbiollo Langhe, 2004

An elegant wine with a mostly red cherry personality and hints of tea leaves. Ripe acidity, smooth tannins. Still tight but an attractive package that needs a couple of years and should not be overlooked. (195 NIS)

Gaja, Sito Moresco, 2004

This blend of Nebbiolo, Cabernet and Merlot is more or less Gaja's entry level wine. It is, to my palate, a distinct improvement on the only other vintage I've tasted, the 1999. A charming, extroverted nose of smoky red fruit and leather. Quite intese on the palate, if not at the level of a Barolo or Barbaresco. No doubt it will keep several years but it's drinking so well now I wouldn't wait. But as much as I liked it, I prefer the Voerzio for its elegance. (195 NIS)

Albino Rocca, Barbaresco, 2003

Hot vintage or not, this wine is not approachable right now. A grungy monster with a tight, monolithic, earthy nose that hints at high fruit extraction. Very tannic, long and powerful with high acidity. (215 NIS)

Mauro Molino, Barolo, Gancia, 1999

Another tight wine, though a smoother monster this time, with sweetish fruit on the nose. The palate is more generous, with intense flavors and a long finish. Very classy and fairly priced for a single vineyard Barolo. (249 NIS)

Paolo Scavino, Barolo, 2001

Even tighter, about as muscular as the Albino Rocca. Took over 20 minutes in glass to even hint at its potential but getting at whatever lurks within it is beyond me. And it's only the generic Barolo, anything higher up the hierarchy would probably have completely baffled me. (279 NIS)

La Spinetta, Moscato d'Asti, Bricco Quaglia, 2005

A single vineyard Moscato d'Asti, said Hila. Buy me, said the bottle. Fun, fun, fun. (60 NIS for a half bottle)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

More Thoughts About Scoring Wines

A couple of years ago I participated in an amateur tasting of American wines. Of the Zinfandels we tasted, my favorite was a Seghesio because it was rather restrained and felt Old World-ish. I suppose it's not the typical cult Californian Zinfandel; the wine that fit that mold was a Helen Turley Zin, which was so alcoholic and over the top it was like drinking rum.

I wonder: should I have scored the Seghsio the highest because I liked it more and it was more in line with what I look for in a wine? Or should that honor have gone to the Turley because it is more typical of what a Californian Zinfandel "is all about"?

This simple question is actually quite complex. It can be broken down into several related questions:

  • Should you judge a wine according to your own tastes or accoording to what you perceive to be some objective standards?
  • Are there actually any objective standards, truly? Or are we always bogged down by cultural and stylistic expectations?
  • How much should stylistic typicity be a factor in scoring?

I hope it's obvious I'm all for individuality in tasting wines. In all areas of aesthetic enjoyment for that matter. There are, I agree, some objective standards but the lines are fuzzier than people would admit. Someone who drinks Californian Chardonnays all the time might perceive them as being balanced while I would see the oak as overwhelming the fruit and throwing the wine out of balance. On the other hand, I can read subtleties in Rothko while you might think it's boring crap. The point is, if I'm right - and I'm always convinced I am where art, in any form, is concerned - then I should be able to convince you of the internal logic of my aesthetics and that's how I personally bridge the gap between subjective and objective standards. Standards are always subjective but the ones that make enough sense to convince a lot of people are perceived as objective.

This need to convince other people explains why cultural differences are such bummers. I can't cite any actual research but I recall reading that certain cultures can't really grasp melody and harmonics, so don't try to explain Mozart to them. And of course, most people won't grasp modern art at once without stepping through, at least superficially, the various art forms that led to the explosion of non-figurative art in the 20th century; thus Aunt Shoshana thinks Rafi Lavie reminds her of her 4 year old granddaughter's drawings. Cultural differences also explain why most of my friends scream when I put on the Minutemen.

I will now attempt to tie all this in with styles and genres and the appreciation thereof. I believe in change in art through evolution rather than revolution. There are been very few heralds of artistic revolution, few instances where a new style/genre was created from scratch. Even Picasso didn't invent Cubism overnight, but it was rather a long process influenced by other art movements of the time and neither did he do it all by himself. I'll be a bit sarcastic now and say that most people will follow the flavor of the month like sheep. However, art movements are led by wolves who are smart and idiosyncratic enough to tweak existing art forms, giving at least a passing nod to tradition, and in the end coming up with something new. There is never a truly clean break, though, you can always find predecessors if you dig in deep enough. Having come up with something relatively new, a "whole new thang" will only become entrenched in the public mind if it convinces and makes sense to a strong core of individuals and then slowly seeps into the general public. Yes, I am in fact refering to Richard Dawkins' concept of the meme, which explains how ideas evolve and survive in a process similar to genetic evolution.

The only way you can play in the meme game is if you judge a work of art by your own individual taste. If it's convincing enough to alter your tastes and make you re-think your outlook, then all the better and tough luck if it can't. By following your own taste, you are not only being true to yourself, but in the end you are helping create a more vital, more robust, art form. Because only the strong survive (or the most unique or the most memorable or the most useful or, you know what, the most commercial). If you try to second guess what other people might enjoy, you're fooling yourself, and, worse still, the public - if you're a professional critic.

So, to answer my own question, yes, I should have given the Seghesio the higher socre.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Somehow, I Jinxed Liverpool, Too

2-1 Milan. Jesus. The only highlights were two spastic goals by a striker who looks like a reject from a Kevin Smith movie.

I had carefully thought out which wines to serve and thought the lineup was neutral enough not to hex Liverpool's cosmic destiny. But who knows how these things work, maybe without my wines Milan would have won 3-0?

Zind-Humbrecht, Riesling, 2003

What a surprise! Apples and peaches on the nose, a hint of petrol. Echoed on the palate with saline notes and a long, green apple finish with surprisingly ripe acidity for the vintage. Actually, damn good acidity for any vintage.

Margalit, Merlot, 2002

A very rich nose with lots of oak at first enveloping ripe black fruit, spices, leather and cocoa. Full bodied, long, spicy. Needs time in glass to mellow but it’s still the embodiment of Anti-Elegance. Where’s the Merlot anyway?

2-0 Zind-Humbrecht!

Two wines from hot, problematic vintages. Neither wine was very complex, but at least the Zind-Humbrecht overcame the vintage whereas the Margalit seems to have given up before the first bell. And you can't beat Riesling anyway.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Couple From Chablis

The Chablis tasting in April really whetted my appetite.

Jean Durup, Chablis Premier Cru, Fourchaumes, 2002

Citrus and pears with hints of minerals at first. Somewhat earthy and limpid at first for this slow opener until the nose starts complexifying, outputting more minerals and herbs and the palate becomes fuller, more saline, longer. It’s hard to return to Durup after tasting Dauvissat and Ravenau but this is still an appetizing wine, though I was surprised it had changed relatively little in two years. (May 6, 2007)

I'm not experienced enough to hazard a drinking window, usually, but I will say this: Having tasted quite a few Durup Premier Crus from 2002, 2004 and 2005 as well as the Vau De Vey 1995, I think that if you like their youthful incarnation, there's not a lot to be gained from aging them once they're ready (two-four years post vintage). However, once they cross the line into respectful middle age, they're another wine altogether, judging by the Vau De Vey 1995. So I'd suggest aging them only if you enjoy that particular incarnation. Which you'd never be able to extrapolate from the youthful version, so you really have to try a ten year old first and decide if you want to hazard longer cellaring.

Dauvissat, Chablis, 2000

Subtle aromatics, very similar to the bottle from the Chablis tasting. Sea water, nut oil, lemon in the background. Very subtle and austere on the palate with a long finish. It’s lightly oxidized yet interesting and I like it. But it doesn’t hold up as well as the other bottle, maybe at this age, it's not meant to be drunk alone but rather with friends and appropiate food. (May 10, 2007)

Both have long been sold out, but more recent vintages of Durup (as well as a re-released Vau De Vey, 1995) can be found at Hinawi in Hertzeliya.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Saturday Night (May 19, 2007) - David Wolberg Takes The Stand

A few notes from the regular Saturday night tasting with my freinds, and then a guest speaker.

Andre Perret, Condrieu, Chery, 2002

Overwhlemed by oak to start with: on the nose, ripe pears, flowers, caramel notes; fat and akward on the palate. An hour or so later, it had opened nicely, showing minerals, nuts and citrus fruits. Greater delineation on the nose, whereas the palate is still rather sweetish. My guess is it should have been opened a couple of years earlier and had required some airing even then.

Felsina, Chianti Classico, Berardenga, 2001

Ripe, forward fruit on the nose, overbearing at first, then calming down. Tannic, with only adequate acidity, which I found surprising for a Chianti. Adequate complexity but no great shakes. The weakest wine of the evening.

Chateau d'Angludet, Margaux, 2000

I found the nose to be elegant, with ripe red fruit and a touch of earthiness, with later on a hint of chocolate. The palate is still tannic and backwards. “Not sexy enough for Margaux” was the general verdict around the table, "at least not yet". I don’t have enough experience for an opinion on that but I liked it and will open my other bottle in 3-4 years.

Clos du Marquis, Saint Julien, 2000

An elegant, complex nose, with hints of tobacco and smoke, that went on to improve further in glass and show menthol and spices. The palate, though exquisitely balanced, was very closed, showing a strong, tight structure. Excellent stuff. Wine of the night.

A Moment Of Controversy

David Wolberg told me after we had the Clos du Marquis, "write in your blog that your friend D. said all Bordeaux wines, even from good vintages, are ready to drink after five years, unless they are first growths". Well, David, you can't make a statement like that and hide behind an initial, even if you are a lawyer!

And actually, he isn't hiding.

"I generally think that wineries, critics and some wine drinkers, tend to set drinking windows well beyond reality. Though I do not posses enough drinking experience relating to Premier Grand Crus, in my experience, red Bordeaux, including high level Bordeaux, can be approached and enjoyed within 5 - 7 years. Yes, you may quote me.

"I have found that all the 2000 Bordeaux we drank on Saturday night were ready and approachable. Will they improve?, They may and they may not. Non of us, even the wineries, snobs and 'experts', are not prophets. Moreover, Bordeaux 2003, is already approachable. Thus, here you have an example of an approachable Bordeaux vintage short of its fifth anniversary. Again, I am sure the 2003 vintage has some more drinking years ahead. Will some of the 2003 improve? This is a question of personal taste. In any event, most the 2003 are ready to be opened and drunk. Remember, an 'over the hill' wine is more disappointing than an 'approachable, though a bit young' wine.

"And yes, of course there are exceptions. Thus, an email reply by an expert claiming that he recently tasted a 15 year old red Bordeaux which was completely closed, will not undermine the above.

"Bottom line, drink up and enjoy."

Thanks, David. It all depends on your definition of "ready". And how many bottles you have of a particular wine. I would have regretted opening the d'Angludet or the Clos du Marquis right now if they were the only bottles I had.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Night Out at Porterhouse

Here's an old joke:

The phone rings at the Bellows' residence at ten in the evening. Dr. Bellows answers. It's Dr. Silver on the other end of the line. "Jack, we need another hand for poker", Dr. Silver says, "Dr. Meyers, Dr. Levine and Dr. Berkovitz are already here."

"I'll be right there", Dr. Bellows answers and picks up his coat.

"Who was that on the phone? Are you going out?" asks his wife.

"It's the hospital", her husband answers, "there's an emergency operation and they've already called in four specialists."

I felt that way this Wednesday when Ran Shapira phoned to say he's convening an emergency wine tasting at Porterhouse. Or rather, "the shrine", as he called it.

Porterhouse is a meat restaurant near Kadima, in the Sharon area, a few kilometers north of Kfar-Saba. This was my first time there and, oh momma, "the shrine" is a very apt name indeed. I can't single out any specific cut, I just enjoyed getting in touch with my carnivore self in a meal whose only concession to health was a few measly baby greens.

It really did not hurt to have good wines to drink.

Jos. Christoffel Jr., Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese, 1971

This wine reminded me of something Terry Thiese wrote about aged German Rieslings: that the mature flavor manifests as a singe around the edge of the fruit. This felt as though the fruit was lightly fried in kerosene and sugar. Very pure and amazingly fresh on the palate, albeit without any significant complexity. We didn't have a lot of luck with the serving temperature, served too warm at first then cooled down too much, so maybe we missed something. Still, an experience.

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

The nose is brett paradise: deep, sweet barnyard aromas over black fruits, with notes of burnt rubber. It might be over the top in that respect to anyone would be offended by brett but I loved it with a passion. A balanced palate, with ample acidity and excellent length, good grip, no holes in the middle. I expected a more modern wine but was so glad to be wrong.

Chateau Kirwan, Margaux, 1999

A lovely wine, a bit disjointed, at least at first, with the fruit and acidity not integrated yet and bitter on the finish. Still, it comes together in glass and presents lovely fruit, is quite long and the nose is elegant and complex.

Chateau Smith Haut Lafite, Pessac Leognan, 1998

I really loved the nose. With its delicate fruit, mildew, mushrooms and coffee, I mistook it for Rioja, foolishly airing my opinion. Just a bit austere. The meat distracted me from making a more detailed note, so I apologize, this lovely wine deserves better.

Notice how my notes are getting shorter? Now then, the next wine would probably have been the wine of the night in any other circumstances, but though I enjoyed sniffing the glass of Aldo Conterno, Barolo, Colonello, 1997 that was used to lower the shoulders, when we finally drunk the wine, my palate was ailing and fatigued. It drank well, I knew it was great, I just couldn't focus on the details. Just imagine an excellent Barolo accompanying the steak of my dreams.

Thanks, Ran.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Two Short Book Reviews

The missus has recently returned from a trip to the US, where she picked up two pocket books for me, Hugh Johnson's Wine Pocket Book 2007 and Tom Stvenson's Wine Report 2007. She also bought some wines, duh, that I picked out from the Table and Vine online catalog.

Wine Pocket Book 2007

The Wine Pocket Book is an especially convenient shopping aid and I've made surprisingly good shopping choices with it. Each country has its own vintage chart and an alphabetical list of regions and producers, along with a rating and a concise description that manages to pack in a lot of useful information, such as whether the producer makes old world wines or modern ones. It won't help you avoid buying an off wine from a good producer in a good vintage, but overall, I think its batting average - for me - is around .750.

Glancing through the book, I see the chapter introductions were (finally) updated. They all look promising, but Germany's is especially interesting, discussing how warmer vintages and better winemaking are rationalizing the German predikat system by making it a description of style and not necessarily of quality.

Johnson has written a special chapter comemmorating thirty years of the Wine Pocket Book, which seems to be a companion piece to the "2007 Agenda", a regular feature. Taken together, they are a fascinating, thought provoking distillation of some of the most interesting debates going on today. Also included is a long list of recommended sherries, some of which I've tried (and deserve being listed), some which I'd love to taste.

To sum, minor facelifts and tweaks for an old warhorse that had never needed a major overhaul.

Wine Report 2007

This is more of a book for reading. Each chapter is devoted to a wine region, written by a regional expert, and contains commentaries on recent issues, some 'gossip', vintage charts and various lists of outstanding and value-for-money producers and wines. There are also chapters on wine and health, bio-dynamism, auctions, wine on the web and others, again written by experts on the subjects. There are some very big name contributors, including Clive Coates, David Peppercorn, Julian Jeffs, Serena Sutcliffe, Tom Cannavan and Tom Stevenson himself. Israel's own Daniel Rogov is there, and he got three local wines into the 100 Most Exciting Wine Finds list at the end of the book: Flam Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (mediocre wine, IMHO, Flam's little fall from grace), Margalit Special Reserve 2003 (excellent wine) and Carmel Cabernet Sauvignon Kayoumi, 2003 (haven't tasted it).

It's one of the best examples, these days, of printed material that you can't get online.

And look, ma, the Villaine Bouzeron 2005 is listed by Clive Coates as one of the most exciting finds in Burgundy!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Marques de Grinon, Dominio de Valdepusa, Petit Verdot, 2002

This was really an impulse buy on a business trip to Madrid. I can't quite re-construct what made me buy it except a Petit Verdot varietal wine seemed intriguing. The description in Hugh Johnson's Wine Pocket Book did make it seem like another Spanish New Wave venture but I'd already bought enough Sherries and Old World Riojas on the trip and thought I'd pick up a modern wine as well.

Marques de Grinon's Dominio de Valdepusa enterprise is based in Toledo. Spain legally recognizes a Vinos de Pago as "a vineyard or area of limited size giving rise to exceptional wines" (the Wine Pocket Book) and Dominio de Valdepusa was the first to be awarded this Denominacion de Origen. I did some more reading up and it does sound New Wave-y indeed: French varietals like the Petit Verdot, drip irrigation, gravity fed tanks, the works. Whatever, if I have to go New World, I prefer the Spanish version. For whatever reason, modern Spanish wines do seem to combine sleek New World winemaking with hints of their Latin origin. My romantic notions is they try to build up on lost traditions as they search for an idenitity whereas Super-Tuscans, for instance, seem to just try to court money with international varietals.

2002 seemed troubled in Spain, from what I've read, though there's no vintage chart on a small backwaters like Toldeo so it's hard to get a clue about this wine. I coould hardly find any tasting notes on it so I had to guess that five years post-vintage would be a good time to test it. As it turned out, it's quite well made and interesting, if not a thriller to remember forever and ever.

Very dark color. An attractive, smokey, New World nose just starting to shake off the barrel influences, full of red fruit, with hints of leather. Full bodied, ripe fruit, though not overly done, with near sweet tannins, yet quite balanced. I might have guessed Spain blind, but I’m not sure. As it opens, it shows herbal, meaty and gamey notes and I guess this is where it will devleop in time as it gains complexity within a year or two. Should last a few years at any rate.

I believe it was imported to Israel (had I known I'd have never bought it abroad) but I don't remember the name of the importer or the price.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Revisiting Sea Horse

It's easy to romanticize Sea Horse. It is a small boutique winery run by a man with an artistic past and a philosophical bent, who is not only interested in making wines but in working the land and growing grapes. He works his ass off for his wines and he's constantly trying to find the best ways to express himself.

But recent encounters with Ze'ev Dunie's wines have left a bitter taste (in more ways than one) and now I must ask myself: are good intentions enough?

The best way to document my palate's struggle with Sea Horse is to list my notes over the past couple of years. Obviously, this will reflect my own evolution rather than any changes in the Sea Horse style, but that's why it's my blog, not Dunie's. :)

Antoine, 2003

'Homegrown' Syrah whereas the Camus is made of bought grapes.

Nice acidity for a change. Starts off with a blast of raspberries and VA on the nose and lots of sulphur and acid on the palate. The nose grows more complex and fleshes out to show earth, wild berries, red cherries and in general a complex array of red fruits and peaks after about 2 hours to add some black fruits and spices (lots of black pepper) to the mix. As the sulphur subsides, the palate reveals a tannic, medium-full body and a long, lingering finish. It’s still a little flat and backwards at times, but is still drinking nicely with cherries, anise and, on the finish, some leather; I’m fairly certain it will complexify. Wait a bit for my next bottle. (Nov 26, 2005)

The following, dismal note seems to have been caused by bottle variation. I'm sure Sea Horse would have replaced the bottle but that wouldn't have helped here. The bottle was opened at a group tasting and, since it wasn't obviously corky, poured after about an hour. Thus, no bottle to return to the winery but on the other hand, some fourteen negative opinions.

Very disappointing. Fruity, simple nose. Flat, lacking in acidity. (Feb 7, 2006)

A return to form. Sort of. I was still scoring wines and the score for the this note was lower than for the first. And in retropsect, I think a year would be enough to see where this wine is going, if at all.

A nice nose of sweet red fruit (cranberries and cherries) and pepper, later some chocolate. The palate has decent structure, the acidity is okay, but the fruit is still subdued, so it feels a bit tart which is fine, most Israeli reds will just go the other way. But it gets better and reveals sour-cherry fruitiness and hints of minerals on the finish. Mostly it’s just subdued right now with some hollowness in mid-palate. I’d open the next bottle in a year, maybe even two. (Jan 10, 2007)

Antoine, 2004 (from a special barrel selected by Ben Kfir and Doron Omer in their role as part-time, non-profit, negociants)

This is one of the best wines I've had from Sea Horse but then Ben and Doron's choices have been special so far.

Sweet and ripe, chocolate-y black fruit, spicy oak, a little brett. Pretty good despite the youth, less foursquare than the last couple of Sea Horses I’ve had. Opens nicely and the spicy oak is replaced by cigar box aromas. More drinkable than I’d have thought (but I did pick the bottle with the lowest ullage for my experiment) and quite delicious and elegant. Reminds me of what I liked about Flam, without being carried by brett. (Apr 9, 2007)

Antoine, Tete de Cuvee, 2004

Another good wine.

Plummy and bretty and actually quite tasty for a change, smooth with relatively balanced acidity that still manages to leave a very faint burn down the throat. There are oaky notes that creep up every now and then, but that’s fine, this is still the best wine I’ve ever had from Sea Horse and it reminds me of a modern Ribera del Duero. It’s just too damn ready now and given my recent heartbreaks with Sea Horse I plan to open my next bottle within a year. (May 1, 2007)

Camus, 2002

I have quite a few notes for the Camus. As can be seen, my experiences have been rather erratic.

An intriguing nose in that it kept shifting its accents: at times (red-) fruity and floral, other times peppery, smoky and chcocolatey and at times spicy-meaty. The palate is less fleshed out: soft tannins, tangy, acidity reminescent of cherries and licorice. Medium-bodied with a medium-long finish. Starts bitter and ends sour-sweet. (Sep 21, 2004)

I was not as impressed this time. The nose leaned more towards a candied aspect with some smokiness. Very fruity-licoricy. Medium bodied, smooth, very ready to drink. I’m not sure it has any potential for improvement. (Oct 19, 2004)

The nose and palate are wonderfully nuanced with spices and hints of meat and later on, chocolate. All the Syrah/Shiraz stuff. It’s not a great wine but the way it develops in the glass makes it a wonderful companion. I don’t think it has enough tannins to last too long but I will hang on to my remaining bottle for a year to satisfy my curiousity. (Dec 22, 2004)

Still a youthful, purple color. On the nose, red and black cherries, currants, roast, chocolate and finally some coffee and olives. Medium-bodied, very soft tannins by now, fair length and acidity. Didn’t gain a lot of complexity in bottle. (Dec 12, 2005)

Elul 2001

Elul is the flagship wine, a Cabernet based blend with a Syrah element as well.

An elegant nose of sweet cherries, nuts, leather and spices. Soft, smooth tannins, medium-bodied, bitter-spicy finish with a medium-length aftertaste. Fresh and vibrant due to the good acidity, the tannins are smooth and the oak is not intrusive. (Mar 11, 2004)

Another sign of bottle variation.

Well, this isn’t a development since the last time I had the Elul 2001 so much as it is almost a different wine. When I had it over a year and a half ago, it was soft and seemed to be at the start of a peak plateau. This time, it seemed a year short of its peak. Dark deep color, ripe black currants on the nose, with some coffee and chocolate, toast, later developing hints of flowers and characoal and finally some sweat and leather. The fruit’s ripeness is thankfully not followed up on the palate as much. This full-bodied, tannic wine shows a very crisp, minerally finish, though the ripeness is evident on the mid-palate. Really good after 2-2.5 hours. (oct 10, 2005)

Elul 2002

Alcoholic and big. Black fruits, alcohol, chocolate and earth on the nose. Spicy and tannic on the palate. A very interesting and vibrant wine; drinking well but unravels after a couple of hours. (May 9, 2006)

Earthy and brooding. Muscular body. Fairly long and backward. Black ripe fruits, almost compote-y, chocolate. Kind of an oddball, it’s not very structured and despite the ripeness, it’s tough and austere. (Oct 23, 2006)

Elul 2002 (from Ben and Doron's selection)

Again proving Ben and Doron 'steal' the best stuff from Ze'ev.

Opaque. Exotic, ripe but not jammy. Not typical Israeli CS as the nose and palate is full of cherries and licorice. Took 3 hours to fully open and show spices, some smoke and meat. Nice structure and length that is marred by high alcohol on the finish. Wait a year or two for my second bottle (but I’d try the regular bottling first). (Jan 29, 2006)

The nose starts out currants, earth and spices and gets better and more complex in time. The palate is alcoholic, oaky and foursquare - in a nice way I suppose but not up to the quality of the nose. Doesn’t quite live up to its promise of a year ago. (Feb 15, 2007)

Elul 2003

I have mixed feelings about this wine. First, the nose: rich and OVER ripe and even after it calms down, its aesthetic value is questionable. The palate has a nice structure and, though it is overoaked, it is at least savoury and spicy with an anise finish. But its texture is rough, almost like chewing stone. Not for the faint of heart and I’m not enamored of its lack of finesse but I do like the spicy anise on the finish. I’d give even odds on its potential to improve over, say, a year. (Mar 23, 2007)

The second bottle was not even as good as the one I had the misgivings about. Very over-ripe, perfumed like a harlot, with the palate relatively balanced compared to the nose, but not very interesting. And it’s rough, almost like chewing gravel, without even the notion of good fruit lurking in the background. We returned to the wine at the end of the evening yet all that time breathing the air in the bottle had left no positive mark on the sorry juice. (Apr 21, 2007)

Elul 2004

Intense, spicy, earthy currant aromas, with a hint of jams. Full bodied and quite long, with a bitter, granite like finsih. I think a lot of its presence is barrel derived FX which overwhelm the fruit right now. Not exactly balanced, it’s high in alcohol even for an Israeli red. The 2003 tasted the same a year older but is a year enough to make a difference? (May 8, 2007)

Munch, 2003

This is Sea Horse's Petit Syrah and perhaps my biggest disappointment.

The darkest wine I’ve ever seen. The nose is ripe black fruits (cherries, plums), meat, herbs, baked earth. The palate is tannic and very young, yet balanced, full-bodied, very fruity in a brooding way with enough acidity to balance all that ripe fruit. This is a big wine, with an earthy finish. (Feb 28, 2006)

Very flat and bleh the first day, so I poured the first glass back and tried again the next day. I liked it much more the first time, almost a year ago, but now, well, the nose shows some promise , showing some nice black fruits, spices and chocolate through a haze of oak, but the palate is not especially interesting or enticing and is tannic and harsh without enough fruit to back it up. But two days after THAT, the nose shows smokey-meaty notes to complement the chocolate and the palate is actually somewhat fresher and it really comes alive. Not great by any means but a very nice wine in a sort of grungy-rustic style. (Dec 24, 2006)

I must admit I don't fully understand Ze'ev's wines. I usually give the Israeli reds in my fridge their first test run at three to four years post harvest. I think that though they might gain tasty nuances of bottle maturity after that, they will usually be as drinkable at that age as they will ever be. At that age, the flagship Elul has been bitter, alcoholic and harsh; the image I have is of chewing rocks. The Syrah based wines have been clearly better but despite their charm, display a lack of finesse. I suspect that to some extent, all his wines derive a certain harsh, dense texture from barrel treatments and not from dense, tannic fruit. And the bottle variations I've experienced have been very worrying, forcing me to prefer to open my bottles earlier rather than later.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

What I Look For In A Tasting Note

I'm aware that no one's perfect and that the same wine won't affect me the same as it did the writer of any given tasting note. And I've surely not tasted every wine whose review I've read so I may yet be impressed by writers with crappy palates. But assuming the veracity of a given review, by a writer whose palate I'm calibrated with and whose judgement I've learned to trust, the following is a prioritorized list of what I look for:

  • The wine's potential.
  • The wine's structure.
  • Sensory descriptors (optional).
  • Score (optional).
Scores are helpful, I admit, but I can live without them now, if the writer is facile enough. But you know, many reviews are not designed to stand on their own without the scores. Even a brilliant writer like Stephen Tanzer will not always give you enough written information about the quality of the wine and you need to read the score.

A grocery list of aromas and flavors is purely optional unless they highlight how well a wine adheres to its archtype: currants and cigar box in Bordeaux, nuts in Meursault, etc. Clive Coates manages very well without them.

A feel for the wine's structure and style is paramount. At least tell me if the wine is in a modern style or not. The British writers (as opposed to Robert Parker) do this quite well.

What I value the most is what a writer who knows the wine or region or producer better than I do tells me about the wine's potential and how long it will live. By now, I'm fairly adept at figuring out how good a given wine is now (assuming it's past its early infancy, anyway) but I want to know more about what it will be like as an adult, especially when to open it.

Style-wise, I like some poetry and creativeness if it doesn't obscure the above points. My reasoning is great wines (even great little wines) should have an emotional effect of the taster. I don't enjoy reading notes by jaded tasters who can't be moved emotionally.

PS. Size doesn't (always) matter.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Karthäuserhof Tasting (May 3, 2007)

The proceeds from this tasting, organized by Eldad levi, were donated to Fat Meir's Kitchen, a free food kitchen for school children. You can read about it here (hebrew). You can also read about the tasting somewhere on the Fat Guy forum (hebrew), when Eldad Levi posts his own article. All the Karthäuserhof wines at the tasting were Riesling and all trocken except for the eiswein. None of the Karthäuserhof wines are available in Israel and the bottles were donated by the Coster family from their private collection. The facilities, stemware etc as well as a bottle of Dr. Loosen were courtesy of WineRoute and in addition, Giaconda donated two bottles.

I didn't know much about this Ruwer winery before the tasting except that Gault-Millau rates their sweet wines higher than their dry wines. To judge by their eiswein, I'd tend to agree, despite the small sample we tasted.

The tasting started with a couple of local 'jokers'. The Vitkin, Riesling, 2005 performed better when I tasted it last month. It might be a matter of it needing more time to open, as was the case last time. The Carmel, Johannisburg Riesling, 2006 is a nice wine, nothing more, leaning towards the tropical side of the scale, but showed better than the Vitkin.

The Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg, Kabinett, 2004 was better. Interesting spices on the nose, with residual gas that at first obscured the green apples and minerals that only showed up once it had fizzed away. Nice but not very exciting. The Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg, Kabinett, 2005 was very similar, just better. The nose was more focused and the palate more balanced. This is a very good value wine (for the price in Germany anyway). The Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg, QBA, 2005 was a step back in quality, but it was only a QBA anyway, so no expectations were shattered.

Climbing back up the pradikat ladder, the Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg, Spatlese, 2005 proved to be more elegant and longer. More subtle, too. It lacks some concentration and the finish felt flat and tart. Surprisingly, because it's such a controversial vintage, the Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg, Spatlese, 2003 was better, with the first notes of petrol of the evening, complemented by nuanced mineral notes. The big difference is the palate, which was the first to show complexity and interest.

The first wine to really join the major leagues was the Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg, Auslese, 2001, which was similar to the Spatlese 2003, only much more interesting overall. Petrol on the nose again, only more refined, with a more interesting mix of spices and herbs than the previous wines, somewhat mentholy. Minerals on both nose and palate. It's like someone took the Spatlese 2003 and decided the best way to make it better was not to add a lot but to take what was already there, fine tune the balance and stir it up.

For all the praises heaped upon 2005, the Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg, Auslese, 2005 disappointed. Maybe it was just too young to show any complexity but it also felt tarter, lacking in fruit. Relatively speaking, that is. It's probably as good as that year's Spatlese but you'd expect more from an Auslese, hence the disappointment. Maybe the Karthäuserhof house style needs more bottle time to show its best, I honestly have no idea.

Next, two bottles donated to the event by Giaconda, Heymann-Lowenstein's Schieferterrassen and Erste Lage Kirchberg, both 2004. Since I just wrote about the Heymann-Lowenstein tasting this week, I won't post notes for these two wines again, but will note that the Schieferterrassen had been better on Monday and that the difference in style between Karthäuserhof and Heymann-Lowenstein's was a bit too jarring and, without enough food to cleanse the palate, it wasn't easy to fully appreciate them.

Finally, the wine of the night, Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg, Eiswein #36, 1995. The #36 denotes the batch number, apparently Karthäuserhof have quite a few bottlings. The nose was interesting, candied fruit or creme brulee - anything of that category of 'sweet' will do as a descriptor - totally enveloped by kerosene. But then you drink it and shazam! Sweet as you'd expect from an icewine on the attack then incredible acidity and infinite length. Your mouth has just had sex with the hot older girl from summer camp you've been thinking about ever since 7th grade.

Epilogue: the Dr. Loosen, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Auslese 1993 served right afterwards (and donated by WineRoute) couldn't have followed the eiswein even at its peak and I'm not sure it wasn't past it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

How I Jinxed Man U

I thought I knew how jinxes work. I thought you could give the other team the evil eye with superficial gestures. Thus I decided to jinx Milan by opening an Italian wine on the evening of the Championship League half-finals.

But jinxes have their own logic and those gestures I mentioned? They can't be feigned. Opening an Italian wine can only jinx an Italian team if I'm rooting for it. So, the jinx bounced back at me and Manchester was creamed 3-0 and we have a replay of the 2005 finals later this month.

San Felice, Vigorello, 1999

Quite a nose: intense yet nuanced aromas of black and red fruits, mint, pine trees, saddle leather and vanilla in the background. Full bodied, yet balanced and relatively elegant. A complex finish that is bitter, minerally, spicy and mouldy all at once. Ready to drink but has a few years left.

The Vigorello is a Super Tuscan, half Cabernet and half Sangiovese, imported to Israel by Zamir. I don't know what the current price is.

PS. I think Milan will win, though they must be thinking, "oh, no, not again".

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Heymann-Lowenstein Tasting And Meeting With Reinhard Lowenstein (April 30, 2007)

I had the honor of meeting winemaker Reinhard Lowenstein at a tasting at Giaconda and tasting some of his wines. You can read some background and save me the trouble of transcribing it by going here. Pay close attention to the pictures of the vinyards and the steep slopes they cling to.

I tried to write down what Reinhard Lowenstein was saying as he was lecturing but I have to be honest, it was hard to keep up. I'll try to give the gist but as the tasting progressed and wines got better, I grew lazier for some unfathomable reason.

Lowenstein is visibly proud of his achievments. From where I was sitting, he seemed more animated when showing pictures of his amazing vineyards and more reticient talking about the wines, as though his love is first for the vineyards and only then for the wines he makes from them.

"Taste is something that can be constructed today", he began, and while he opposes industrial, sweet, ripe, easily approachable wines, he himself makes dry, ripe wines that taste good that are actually approachable young (to my palate anyway). He rejects the German system of labelling by sugar levels because it doesn't in itself guarantee that the wines will taste good and he doesn't believe that a wine that tastes sour young will improve with age. So he harvests when the fruit has the right color and taste - and not when it reaches any prescribed sugar level - and only labels the sweet wines as Auslese. The rest of his wines, all dry, carry no mention of predikats on the label.

Today he describes himself as an intuitive, constantly learning winemaker. He made technical wines when he was younger, didn't like the results and tried to revert to ancient winemaking techniques, albeit in a dry idiom. For him, wine making is constant risk taking as complexity comes from contrast and tension. Qualities which are the rewards of risk taking in any art form, in my opinion, so he certainly fulfills my definition of an artist, or at least he knows how to speak like one.

If all this sounds slightly like New Age navel-gazing, it also sounded like that at times to some of the audience. Now I don't mean to sound wary but God only know how many winemakers talk of winemaking in terms of an art form and wind up making crappy wines. But any skeptism on my part vanished by the fourth wine or so.

The wines. They were pure and very beautiful at their best. I know art when I see it; after that you can argue about the relative quality and score it if you like.

The 2005's outscored the 2004's on points by being purer and more focused (you know, in the case of the two wines where we could actually compare). The Uhlen vineyards were a step above the Kirchberg and Rottgen, though to be super-critical, there are only small differences in personality between the Erst Lages at this stage; that is, they're distinctly different from each other but not quite that different.

Schieferterrassen, 2004

An intense and minerally nose, harmonic if not very complex, with ripe yet fresh fruits (a trait shared by all the wines tasted), leaning towards citruses. A hint of petrol. Fairly long, crisp and fruity. For relatively current drinking, I think.

Erste Lage Kirchberg, 2004

The nose starts out cooler, more restrained and closed, than the Schieferterrassen. When it opened after a few minutes I wrote "wonderful" but I had no idea things were going to get so much better later in the evening. Whatever, the nose is (relatively) more extroverted than any other wine but it's hard to tell whether it's the vineyard or the year. Minerally and floral, herbal and vaguely oily. The fruit leans towards cirtus and peaches and not green apples (which Lowenstein thinks is a sign of under-ripe Riesling). Fuller, fresher and longer than the Schieferterrassen, though the palate still has a way to go to live up to the complexity of the nose.

Schieferterrassen, 2005

I usually prefer minerally wines, but though the 2005 was fruiter and more floral than the 2004, I prefered it. It just plain tasted better. Longer and spicier on the palate.

Erste Lage Kirchberg, 2005

The nose is very similar to the 2004 but sharper and floral. As you'd expect from a younger wine, it's also slower to open. It's a subtler wine, with herbs and spices drawn in finer strokes, and notes of apple pie and iron are a nice counter-point. Closed on the palate, with a sharper acidity pushing the fruit into the apple zone. The difference between the two vintages is less striking here, though for a younger wine, the 2005 shows more nuances.

Erste Lage Rottgen, 2005

I think this was the most minerally wine of the evening, though it too had its floral and spicy side. The minerals here are more saline, though. Ripe yet fresh fruits, veering off into citruses again. It's a bit more elegant and complex then the Kirchberg, with a silent sort of power. If I were scoring, though, the difference between the two would be worth a point at the most.

Erste Lage Uhlen Blaufusser Lay, 2005

So I was thinking "nice wines"... This was a step up. Very closed so it makes its impression simply by having more presence. I'm going to have to use the adjective "elegant" again but actually, this is where "elegant" starts to merge with "aristocratic". Very crispy, with white fruit amply absorbing all that minerality so it's not as obvious as in the previous wines. The fruit balanced the ample acidity so well the overall effect was soothing. Floral again, another recycled adjective but these wines are family after all.

Erste Lage Uhlen Laubach, 2005

I would be hard-pressed to choose between the Laubach and the Blaufusser Lay. It's more of a "different strokes for different folks" kind of thing, so I'd place my money on both, just to be on the safe side. Besides, I liked both. Whereas the other wines had a white flower florality, the Uhlen Laubach is more of a rose. I thought I spied traces of rose water on the palate as well. A very spicy, slightly meaty finish.

Erste Lage Uhlen Roth-Lay, 2005

This was the tightest of the bunch. I can't say a lot about it now. It's probably as good as the other Uhlens, but it's too closed for me, giving a more alcoholic impression (though they're all listed with the same alc %).

Schieferterrassen Auslese, 2005

Worn out, I wasn't able to pin point a lot of aromas and flavors. It's got a sherbert-y kind of nose, like other sweet wines Giaconda imports. Not very complex but quite tasty.

Erste Lage Uhlen Roth-Lay R Auslese, 2005

Still worn out, but this one just had much more going on so it was easier to grok. It felt immediately deeper than the Schieferterrassen Auslese and the complexity came a bit later, as it revealed spices and mint. A balanced palate, with obvious botrytis and excellent length.