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.


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.