Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Burgundy Tasting At WineRoute Tel Aviv (Jun. 26, 2007)

This was a stand up tasting that sprawled all over the ground floor and the basement of the WineRoute Tel Aviv store and as these are not conductive to in-depth tasting notes, I'll be brief.

Olivier Leflaive, Chablis, Premier Cru "Vaillons", 2004 looked like a good bargain on paper. The list price is 150 NIS but it was cheaper when WineRoute sold it as a sort of "future" while their grand shipment made its way to Israel. I looked forward to finally tasting it and wasn't disappointed and I'd make an educated guess I wasn't the only one. Classic Chablis: crisp, and minerally.

Domaine Vincent Girardin, Chassagne Montrachet, Premier Cru Le Morgeot, 2004 was another very good white from this very good white vintage. A good dose of oak did not obscure the flint on the nose though it was more blatant on the palate. The Maison Louis Jadot, Chassagne Montrachet, 2000 might have seen better days, although I can't vouch for that. WineRoute lists them both for 239 NIS, which might be reasonable if you're willing to pay the same price for a village wine as for a Premier Cru only because someone aged it to death for you.

As for the reds, they showed that 2004 was a mixed bag for Burgundy reds. Domaine Serafin was represented by two wines, Gevery Chambertin Vieilles Vignes, 2004 and Morey St. Denis, Premier Cru, 2004, almost as though WineRoute felt compelled to show off their new acquisition (a US fave as I understand from my dilligent research). Both started fairly well in the glass, then stalled. I had the 2000 Vieilles Vignes about a year ago and it was quite nice, although obviously modern, so maybe they need more time but with wines priced at over 330 NIS, I look for a better and clearer first impression. The Domaine Dujac, Morey St. Denis, 2004 and Domaine Robert Arnoux, Vosne Romanee, 2004 both were village wines with fantastic noses, especially the Arnoux, but lacked stuffing and grip on the palate. I might gamble on the Arnoux as it's hard to imagine that a wine with such a great nose won't turn out well in time.

Other vintages were also represented. The Domaine JL Trapet, Gevery Chambertin, 1993 (349 NIS) was nicely mature although there was something quirky about it, almost as if it surprised itself for surviving 14 years. The Domaine Joseph Roty, Gevery Chambertin, Cuvee Champs Cheny Rouge, 2003 (279 NIS) was ripe and bloated beyond the boundaries of good taste and Pinot-hood. Domaine Vincent Girardin, Bonnes Mares, Grand Cru, 2001 was a decently priced Grand Cru at 499 NIS but somehow it failed to excite me.

A wine that did excite me was the Domaine A. F. Gros, Pommard Premier Cru, Pommard, Les Pezzeroles, 2002 (289 NIS) which was ripe on the nose and tannic on the palate yet promised elegance. A wonderful nose.

Finally, the star of the night, despite my reservations about 2004 reds, was the Domaine Jacques Frederic Mugnier, Nuits St. George, Premier Cru, Clos De La Marechale, 2004 (299 NIS). A classic name in Chambolle from what I've read, Mugnier reclaimed the family monopole at Clos De La Marechale in time for the 2004 harvest. It started off very fruity then calmed down to put on its jewlery and evening gown. A highly enjoyable wine that made my day. That says it all, doesn't it?

Two White Wines From Mersch - And A Zind-Humbrecht

The first two wines are imported to Israel by Mersch, whose portofolio otherwise leans towards big, Australian reds. I like to think I was their first all-white order.

O’Leary Walker, Watervale, Riesling, 2005

Listed at 78 NIS. It would have been easy to approach this wine with a preconception of a very precisely made wine but the jury's still out on that issue. On one hand, enough 'fuzzy lines' were left to encourage personality while on the other, it's just a bit too tame for me. You can read the vintage specs here, by the way.

A fruity, crisp Riesling. Dry, austere, with a quinine finish. Slightly complexified by herbal and minerally notes. Opens nicely though lacks depth, ultimately, but very good for what it is: in Germany, this would be a QBA from a good producer; a very good nose on the lower rungs of the major leagues and a balanced, albeit simple and short, palate. Decent plus value. (Jun. 16, 2007)

Thorn-Clarke, Sandpiper, Pinot Gris, 2006

Listed at about 70 NIS, the nose is quite good, with tropical fruits, herbs and sweet spices. The palate is a bit bitter and hot and though it has decent acidity, it's a bit too fat for my tastes. But eventually I switched from a Riesling glass to a Bordeaux and it showed much better. According to the spec at the Thorn-Clarke site, it's made with French yeasts so I kept looking for Alsace. I couldn't find it but whether it's due to the use of lab yeasts or other winemaking considerations, this comes off as a high octane wine rather than elegant and flavorsome.

I don't want to give the wrong impression. I'm critical of these wines because I look for different things than what they have to offer but they're well made and interesting and are an important addition to the local scene. I would say the same thing for all of the Mersch wines that I've tasted, though they're not cheap.

Zind-Humbrecht, Tokay Pinot Gris, Herrenweg de Turckheim, 2004

Meanwhile, hailing from the Old World, comes a Pinot Gris I've enjoyed for several vintages (even the 2003, though its faults were obvious). WineRoute sold it for about 130 NIS last year and it's the Alsace equivalent of a village wine, I suppose. True to my past experiences, it's ripe, tropical and spicy, with broad hints of sea breeze. 'Finesse' would not be the first word to spring to mind but this big wine carries it's 15% ABV rather well (on the palate that is, my stomach and knees might argue the point) and the palate really balances all that fruit and alcohol with savoury mineral notes. It unravels somewhat after an hour, the alcohol coming to the fore, but it's a very good drink even then and its constrained power would be good for 90 points if I were still scoring. (Jun. 21, 2007)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Misc. Notes (June 2007)

Lilian Ladouys, St. Estephe, 2000

I bought this four years ago from WineRoute. It was one of my first Bordeaux and, at approx. 120 NIS, it seemed like a good buy at the time. Today, I'm not sure I'd bother. For the same money, I'd prefer to buy a white wine. Damn, I remember phoning the store about a second bottle after the tasting, I was that impressed.

Mildly jammy fruit on the nose, with tobacco, earth and sweet spices. Medium-bodied, hollow at first, not very long. The body fills out in time, but it doesn’t grow much longer. Nice nose, though, and it is a nice wine- with decent balance at the end of the day - but just nice. This bottle should be drunk soon - I'm hedging my bet because of its wet cork. (Jun. 7, 2007)

Tedeschi, Capitel San Rocco, 2004

Tedeschi's ripasso, imported by Anavim. Should sell from 75-90 NIS.

Ripe fruit, leather, chocolate, minerals on the nose. Medium-bodied and fruity, near sweet with soft tannins that start to assert themselves after an hour and a half, countering the fruit nicely and the first sign that this wine might outgrow the sweet baby fat. The palate is more modern and New World than I remembered the 1997, almost resembling an Australian Shiraz. I guess the winery did change the style of this wine after all. Thumbs up for the nose, though. (Jun. 12, 2007)

Brotte, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 2003

Imported by Shimon Lasry, bought by a friend for 120 NIS. Out of nine white CdP's I've drunk so far, five were unenjoyable. Including this one.

Pea soup, herbs and minerals, with just a hint of fruit on both nose and palate. Probably a good example of dumb middle age of its style but for me, another white CdP shut down and beyond enjoyment. I finished up my glass like a good lad for educational purposes. (Jun. 14, 2007)

Margalit, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2002

Probably cost me about 140 NIS some three years ago.

A good example of a modern, extroverted style and an excellent result for what is generally deemed a problematic vintage. Ripe black fruits, complemented by spicy oak and game meat. Good concentration and length. Decent complexity. A well crafted wine in its style; much better than the Merlot of the same year - better balance and a more defined sense of origin. (Jun. 14, 2007)

Rene et Vincent Dauvissat, Chablis Premier Cru, Le Foret, 2000

I expected more of this wine, considering the scores it had received in some circles, as well as my love for Chablis. The nose was very fine, lots of minerals and hints of nut oil that I'd picked up in other Dauvissat wines. But the palate, though heartwarmingly crisp, was very restrained, which in itself is a good starting point for a great wine, but that's where it ended, restrained and closed, leaving me looking for more fruit and never finding it. (Jun. 23, 2007)

Castello Di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico Riserva, 1998

This is the third time I've had this wine and I've always adored it. I guessed Brunello 1997 blind, so at least I got Italy right and if you're prejudiced against Chianti, this should tell you that this wine is more powerful and complex than you might think. I don't remember who imports it to Israel and what its price is but its not cheap and that's a shame. The initial impression is a blast of fruit and leather and it's muscular and plush at the same time. From my experience, it's been at its peak for a couple of years and won't improve further but there's no rush to drink it; the bottle we had could have lasted until 2010. (Jun. 23, 2007)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Koehler-Ruprecht, Kalstadter Steinacker, Riesling Kabinett, 2004

When I last tasted this wine this winter, its seemed like a traditional, off-dry kabinett. Possibly because it followed Koehler-Ruprecht's trocken Saumagen, with lower residual sugar. On its own, accompanied by the most eventful penultimate round in Spanish league history, it turned out to be a fiery imp, every bit as wild as the wines from Koehler's more illustrious vineyard.

Yeasts and minerals dominate the nose. The palate is drier than I remembered, yet elegant with a touch of honey ensuring the wine doesn't get bogged down in excessive austerity. I like Terry Thiese’s take on this wine, “a malty brioche-and-saffron oldschool Champagne". My take on it is that the yeasts sort of cleave a path wide open for the imagination, suggesting rolling hills of wheat fields in autumn. A terrific wine, fruity in way that only a wine that doesn’t need to push its fruit forward can be, with brainy complexity on both palate and nose and juicy acidity. Let it lie. (Jun. 9, 2007)

List price at Giaconda: 130 NIS (about 30 USD)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Faustino, Gran Reserva I, 1996

The Spanish League Ends With A Bang - I Watch With A Bottle Of Rioja In My Hand

Jancis Robinson writes of Tempranillo in her classic, How To Taste: "Even though I've never actually smelled a fresh tobacco leaf, this does the trick for me with its suggestions of both greeness and earthiness and something very definitely savory."

The above quote nails Rioja. Throw in strawberries, hints of barnyard, coffee and forest floor as well as a long, saline finish- and the Faustino I is a textbook sample of classic Rioja. While lacking the power and complexity of The Big Three (Muga Prado Enea, Castillo Ygay and La Rioja Alta 890), it is nonetheless smooth, mellow and refined, with fine acidity it is easy to take for granted, and proves a wine doesn't have to be great to be great. And the fact that you can pick it up in most supermarkets in Madrid and Barcelona is an excellent reason to emigrate.

At halftime, Barcelona leads 3-0 while Madrid trails by a goal. Will Beck's comeback end in a whimper? Twelve minutes to the end, Madrid regains the lead in the championship run and a minute later leads 3-1 while Barsa's valiant efforts are in vain as even their 4-1 victory cannot budge Real off the top. Ten years ago, my heart would have been broken. Today, I am actually in awe of what Real Madrid has done.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Local Wine Importers Part 3: The Middle Tier And The Rest

This is a series of three posts/articles about local importers.

This is all about perception, not a discussion about business plans. I'm no more an MBA than I am an MW so what I'm going to talk about is how I perceive the various local importers, where the're positioned and where they're headed.

This installment covers medium and small sized importers that have been around for a few years.

Zamir

There have always been importers who would only work with certain distributors and stores and thus some importers simply don't register on my radar. Zamir is such an importer offering some of the best traditonal Tuscans in Israel as well William Fevre from Chablis - at twice the price abroad but at least you could get it. I have no idea where his wines are sold outside of Tel Aviv's Vino Cigar. The only times I've ever purchased their wines was at Ish Anavim or over the phone after a friend told me of some special discount.

Burgundy Wine Collection

Tomer Gal's Burgundy Wine Collection seems to be doing as fine as always. But I suppose things are always very bright at the top. The wines are expensive to begin with but are priced fairly comparative with prices abroad. As usual, the very top of the catalog virtually sells itself.

Private Wine Collection

Muchrovsky's Private Wine Collection is probably doing fine as well, but I don't have a lot of contact with them. Their catalog always struck me as being on the modern, flashy side (except for Trimbach) yet I've mostly liked the wines I've tried. I keep meaning to give them more of my business yet never get around to it.

Anavim

Anavim specialize in Italian wines that are dead center between modern and traditional, with a few small excursions to Spain, Austria, Rhone and Australia. Like BWC and PWC, they don't seem set to expand and conquer the world but I think the other two will find it easier to thrive in a world where maintaining the status quo is simply an invitation for the bigger fish to gnaw at your territory. It's just easier to sustain yourself in a niche that caters to the very upper class instead of the middle and upper-middle class.

Winewise

Shimon Lasry's WineWise is really an oddball. Rustic little wines from areas ignored by the other importers. Not a lot of truly excellent wines but rather interesting wines (I'm referring to the stock he's been selling for the past two years and yes, it's time for a new catalog). And when he does bring something from a major area like Burgundy or Rhone, it is inevitably from an unknown co-op. He came up with a good hand a few years ago when he imported a 1989 village Gevrey-Chambertin from Gaec Cluny - a co-op of course - that knocked everybody out and he imports a terrific Picpoul de Pinet (Hugues de Beauvignac) that every restaurant in Israel that calls itself a bistro should be selling by the glass.

That's it. If I missed any importers, it's their fault. I get around and I have a fairly wide social network so if I missed anyone, someone just isn't doing their marketing homework.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Local Wine Importers Part 2: The Big Boys

This is a series of three posts/articles about local importers.

This is all about perception, not a discussion about business plans. I'm no more an MBA than I am an MW so what I'm going to talk about is how I perceive the various local importers, where the're positioned and where they're headed.

WineRoute

Is WineRoute/Shaked a monopoly by now? Not quite, but from where I'm sitting it looks as though their prices, both for wines and tasting events, are less attractive than they used to be. Some of this is within their power to change for the better. I used to be wowed by the value of their tastings on a regular basis and this happens less and less. I suppose the cost of the tastings used to budgeted as marketing so they could price them very generously but this is less often the case these days. And as I write this, it's been a few months since they've offered anything intersting on discount.

They're still the go-to guy for Bordeaux and the Rhone and now Piedmonte as well. I'm not sure about the new Burgundy offerings, however. Certainly Tomer Gal has the bigger names in his catalog but I assume WineRoute can offer a good fight for value-for-money with some village and Premier Crus (though at least one wine - the Serafin Gevrey-Chambertin 2004 seems very expensive compared to US prices). I'm looking forward to their tasting later this month to find out for myself.

Regarding other regions: their Tuscany offerings are mostly modern wines and I usually shop elsewhere. And I would like them to import more German and Alsace wines instead of paying lip service to how much they want to push white wines.

France-Israel

France-Israel, as I hinted at a recent post, has turned into somewhat of a joke. Even ignoring the issue of whether they're still carrying any French wines, their prices can be ludicriously high unless you buy their wines via their weekly discount offering by email. And even this offering presents certain difficulties as the electronic newsletter has been known to carry partial quotes of reviews, reviews for the vintages other than those on sale, sometimes editing out problematic drinking windows (though I admit this happens on rarer occasions these days). The occasional very good deal is almost impossible to buy, seemingly sold out within minutes of the email's arrival. On the other hand, some wines, like the Hugel Vendange Tardive, 1990, used to be offered at discount every couple of months (even though everyone I knew who bought this wine complained that it was past its peak).

Hakerem

Hakerem tried to play WineRoute's game by starting their own store chain. The opening of their flagship store in Givatayim was a comedy of errors that turned off many potential customers due to a chaotic (lack of) organization where hundreds of invitees were crammed into too few square meters of store for a tasting that should have been one of the best values tastings ever opened in Israel. The store never took off and closed within a year if I'm not mistaken. Which was no surprise. New stores need to court customers yet no news of any tasting events ever reached me; and despite being enrolled in their customer club, the only contact I ever had with any marketing programs were two SMS's announcing a 15% discount, good for the same day. I wound up buying only four wines from the store during its whole existence, three of them on the opening day.

Hakerem also tried a branch at the Ramat Aviv Mall that was obviously targeted at rich, incidental shoppers, with a small, not particularly exciting, inventory priced 20% higher than the Givatayim store. The last time I looked in, a few months ago, it was no longer affiliated with Hakerem. So now their chain consists of two stores: Beit Hayiin Ve Hatabak in Rishon LeTzion and the new flagship store in Petach Tikva. By the time the latter had opened I was so turned off I didn't bother to attend the opening gala.

Their catalog is interesting enough, I'll give them that, though I have enough alternatives elsewhere and don't have time to actively seek out their wines. They're solid and interesting enough in Tuscany but in other regions they seem to subscribe to the usual policy of carrying just one big producer with a deep range. And every now and then they would come out with unusual offerings for Israel, for example Domaine Brana from Iroulgey and Williams and Humbert from Jerez (I suspect, though, that they were never able to sell them in large quantities). Their prices are not bad either. Except for the time Hakerem tried to give WineRoute a fight in Bordeaux by hooking up with a different set of negociants and wound up selling the Lafitte 2002 - which WineRoute had been importing for years - at a much higer price than WineRoute.

Tiv Taam

I know Tiv Taam has its own import arm and thus is automatically a big player by virtue of having such a successful chain. But I really have no idea what they're carrying (besides Eastern European wines) so I guess they just never crossed my social network.

The Scottish Company

The last of the big players is the Scottish Company. Otherwise known as Chapoutier and Friends. And that's about "all she wrote".

I had hopes that any battles between importers would be translated into lower prices for us consumers but I predict everyone will continue to fuck things up while WineRoute will just get stronger as always. Though it seems that Hinawi is positioning themselves to challenge them as a chain but whether they can do so without an import arm of their own remains to be seen. What is obvious to me is that of the big importers, only WineRoute has a (mostly) positive, immediatly identifiable image.

Next Part - The Middle Tier And The Rest

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Local Wine Importers Part 1: The New Wave

This is a series of three posts/articles about local importers.

This is all about perception, not a discussion about business plans. I'm no more an MBA than I am an MW so what I'm going to talk about is how I perceive the various local importers, where the're positioned and where they're headed.

Recently, there has been a wave of small, boutique importers, carving out niches in wine regions they have a special affinity for. The problem is, as is obvious from this post, is there are so damned few of those importers.

Giaconda

It's obvious I love the wines imported by Giaconda (mostly German wines right now, some New Zealand wines) and they're one of my main sources these days. They have a fantastic catalog with some good deals to be found on the Kabinett level though some wines are expensive to begin with and, in general, are not cheaper in Israel. Now that the tarrifs on low alcohol wines seem to have been rationalized, I would guess that other importers, WineRoute comes to mind, might want to get in on the action. But they'd have to bring in wines of similar quality to make a similar dent on my wallet.

Mersch

The Australian wines imported by Mersch are not really my cup of tea but I'm such a lovable democrat, I'll willingly defend any importer who tries something new. Seriously, more power to them; remember, Australia isn't just a country, it's a continent, and it galls me that until now only the big corporate labels have been imported for the most part.

The Doosh

The Doosh has been importing Piedmonte wines for a couple of years now, so it's not actually a new import business but as he was perhaps the harbringer of the new wave, he deserves a mention here. How much competition can he offer WineRoute's new Piedmonte catalog, though? The producers he carries are less "sexy", arguably of lower quality, quite often can very good value for money, but they need to be tasted before purchase because it's not easy to find international reviews for these wines (unlike WineRoute's imports). And he does bring some wines I don't see WineRoute ever bothering with (Ghemme, Gringolino d'Asti).

The bottom line is we need more small, passionate, specialist importers. There are so many niches waiting to be filled. And as long as it's not an obvious rip-off, I'm willing to pay a premium for buying from a small outfit. I just hope the fact that there have only been three such new enterprises over the past two-three years is not a sign that the market has played itself out.

Next Part - The Big Boys

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Special One Time Offer!

Since France-Israel no longer imports any significant French wine, as far as I can tell, I think they're long due for a change of name.

I am soliciting suggestions for a new name. The prize for the best and funniest name: a one time chance to post a blog on 2GrandCru.

Submit your suggestions via comments.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Etienne de Montille at Hinawi (Jun 3, 2007)

This Sunday I spent the evening at a wine tasting/cocktail party event held in honor of Etienne de Montille, of Domaine de Montille and Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet. It was perhaps not the best of settings for formal, detailed notes, so I will just say that the whites won big time and that this blogger feels vindicated.

I don't know quite how to express my feelings about the reds. They are elegant enough yet lacked concentration of fruit to offset the tannins and felt a bit sweet at times yet somewhat underripe at the same time. I suspect I might be doing them something of an injustice because this venerable estate, while surely not to everyone's taste, has a track record of wines that take time to mature and don't show well young (although from what I've read the style has changed in recent years). However, at the prices these wines are selling for I'm reluctant to experiment. I would like to think it's just the vintage: If I were to base a vintage estimation based on a comparison between the simple Bourgogne of 2004 and the one from 2002, which I dearly loved, my money's on 2002. Having said that, my favorite of the reds was the Pommard; at half the price, I'd go for it.

The whites are a different tale. I don't think the Clos de Chateau is a giant step beyond generic Bourgogne, since I've been spoiled by Jobard's Bourgogne of the same year, but the two Puligny-Montrachet Premier Crus are everything I love about great white wines. Great structure, fiery minerality (especially the Caillerets), cool elegance and enough fruit to consume the oak that is still obvious.

The Wines

de Montille, Bourgogne, 2004
de Montille, Beaune, Sizies, 2004
de Montille, Volnay, Champans, 2004
de Montille, Pommard, Pezerolles, 2004
de Montille, Corton, Grand Cru, 2004
de Montille, Puligny-Montrachet, Caillerets, 2004
Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet, Bourgogne Clos de Chateau, 2004
Chateau de Pulligny-Montrachet, Chalmeaux, 2004

(all Premier Crus except for the two generic Bourgognes).

Saturday, June 2, 2007

One World, Two Wines

Yesterday, early afternoon, I'm having lunch with the old lady and the kids. I tell Efrat, "want me to open a bottle? It's a sweet bubbly, only 4.5% alcohol. You'll love it and it's only a half bottle, you won't even feel the effects of the alcohol." So I open the La Spinetta, Moscato d'Asti, Bricco Quaglia, 2005 I bought just this week. And she loves it, I love it, the kids love it and it's gone within five minutes. There's really nothing to this wine, just fruit, a little alcohol and bubbles, but it's so fresh, so delicious, so yummy - it's like a little puppy that someone dumped on your lawn and you fall in love with it and can't let it go.

The next day, however, as though I needed another reason to prefer whites:

Masi, Tupungato, Passo Doble, 2002

This is from Masi's Argentinian project. I know it’s supposed to be a Ripasso rip-off but I found many resemblances to Port and even Oloroso, especially the nose. Although I think it’s actually even more limited as a food match than any of the three. Black fruit, spicy oak, chocolate and leather on the nose. Full-bodied, with chocolate and Amarone-like sweetness. Elegant, for the style, with average complexity. Fine for what it is, but I’ll not be buying more. Sells in Israel for anything between 95 and 110 NIS. Since France-Israel imports it, it's probably much cheaper outside Israel.

Really, Really Off Topic

If you've got kids the right age, take them to see the new Pirates Of The Caribbean flick. And when Keith Richards does his walk-on bit as Captain Jack Sparrow's dad, make sure you tell them - because they probably didn't read the interviews and the press releases - that he's the guy Johnny Depp has been aping throughout the series. Then buy them Beggars' Banquet, Let It Bleed and Exile On Main Street. They'll thank you yet.