Saturday, December 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Goodbye 2007

Well, everyone's doing it.

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

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

So what did I do this year?

New Producers Discovered

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

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

The Wines I Most Enjoyed

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

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

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

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

  • Keller, Rheinhessen, Monsheimer Silberberg Rieslaner Auslese, 2005

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

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

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

  • La Conseillante, Pomerol, 2003

  • Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac, 2003

  • Lynch Bages, Pauillac, 2003

  • Raveneau, Chablis 1er Cru, Butteaux, 2004

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

  • Heymann-Lowenstein, Erste Lage Uhlen Laubach, 2005

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

  • Karthäuserhof, Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg, Eiswein #36, 1995

  • Chateau Smith Haut Lafite, Pessac Leognan, 1998

  • Clos du Marquis, Saint Julien, 2000

  • Castello Di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico Riserva, 1998

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

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

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

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

  • Francois Jobard, Bourgogne Blanc, 2004

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

  • Kanonkop, Pinotage, 2000

  • Clusel Roch, Cote Rotie, 1999

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

  • Frescobaldi, Lamoine, 1997

  • Vieux Telegraphe, La Crau, 2004

  • Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, 2004

  • Domaine Roger Sabon, Prestige, 2004

  • Domaine du Pegau, Cuvee Reservee, 2004

  • Domaine de Colombier, Hermitage, 1996

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

  • Domaine De La Vougeraie, Clos Vougeot, 2004

  • Domaine De la Vougeraie, Bonnes Mares, 2004

  • Banfi, Poggio all'Oro, 1999

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

  • Ceretto, Barolo Bricco-Rocche, Brunate, 1996

  • Chateau De La Tour, Clos Vougeot, 1998

  • Chapoutier, Cote Rotie, La Mordoree, 2000

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

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

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

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

  • Domaine Brusset, Gigondas, Hauts de Montmirail, 2001

  • Gunderloch, Rheinessen, Rothenberg Nackenheim, Spatlese, 2005

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

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

  • Faustino, Rioja Reserva de Autor, 1994

My Best Contributions

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

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

  • La Rioja Alta, 890 Gran Reserva, 1989

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

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

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

  • Penfold's, St. Henri Shiraz, 1996

  • Chateau Margaux, Pavillion Blanc, 2002

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Saturday Night Tasting (Dec. 22, 2007)

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

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

Trimbach, Reserve Personelle, Pinot Gris, 2000

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

Domaine La Roquette, Chateauneuf Du Pape, 2001

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

Camerano, Barolo, Cannubi San Lorenzo, 1998

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

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

Antinori, Guado Al Tasso, Bolgheri, 1997

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

Marchesi de Frescobaldi, Lamaoine, 1997

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

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

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

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

As for the wines...

William Fevre, Chablis Grand Cru, Bourgos, 2005

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

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

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

Faustino, Rioja Reserva de Autor, 1994

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

Muga, Rioja Reserva, 2001

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

And I almost forgot...

Chateau Climens, Sauternes, 2004

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

Sunday, December 9, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful Loser

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Misc. Notes (Nov. 2007)

Langwerth Von Simmern, Erbacher Marcobrunn, Riesling Kabinett, 2003

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

Imported by Giaconda, about 100 NIS.

Also from Giaconda:

Josef Leitz, Rudesheimer Magdalenenkreuz, Riesling Spatlese, 2006

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

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

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

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

Giacosa Fratelli, Barbera d'Alba, 2004

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

Paternoster, Don Anselmo, Aglianico del Vulture, 1997

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

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

Another unfortunate encounter:

Leroy, Bourgogne Rouge, 1999

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