Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Michele Castellani, Amarone della Valplolicella Classico, Monte Cristi, 1999 (Apr. 28, 2008)

When I first tasted this wine a few years ago in an Amarone tasting, Amarone was still within my scope of interest and the Monte Cristi seemed like one of the most elegant of the lot. My problem with Amarone these days is not that it's too sweet (which it is, but you can work around that with the right food match, you know, blue cheese), but rather the same problem I have with any ripe, highly extracted wine. Those wines that are appealing, impressive, perhaps flattering but with very little mystery in them. It's like playing a guitar through a giant amp: you get a big sound but it doesn't guarantee that you'll rock.

Anyway. This is still dark-colored, but browning, with a raisen-y, chocolate-y nose. Full and fruity, with that Amarone sweetness that just brakes just in time and actually gains grip in glass. If you enjoy Amarone, go for it, it's quite good. (Apr. 28, 2008)

Shaked imported Castellani and sold this wine for about 180-200 NIS, some 3-4 years ago. They've stopped carrying the winery, presumably because it didn't garner enough Parker points.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

While The Peacocks Screamed - Bordeaux Night In Haniel (Apr. 23, 2008)

This was a private Bordeaux tasting hosted by Hagit and Noam Koren, at their home in Haniel. A a great evening on their front porch, our wines accompanied by roast beef, lamb chops and a horde of invisible, yet quite audible peacocks.

Zind-Humbrecht, Rangen, Clos St. Urbain, Pinot Gris, 1995

Uncorked spells relief. Since the last bottle of this wine that I had brought was corky, this time I didn't care what shape it was in, whether it was good or bad or old, I just wanted it to be TCA-free. In the event, I think this particular bottle was towards the end of its drinking window. Deviously mature on the palate, in fact, but the nose was so enticing and ever changing, complex and rife with entwined phrases of beeswax and peaches, it was like watching a short movie through the nostrils. The palate took off nicely then coasted to an abrupt landing, betraying all the complexity of the nose. Robert Parker scored it a 95 and maybe, just maybe, it was a 92 some three years ago. Now it would just about score a 90.

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, St. Julien, 1992

The nose was nice enough, fresh and fairly complex, to raise hopes, which were then smashed upon the first sip. Not that it's all that bad, Ducru-Beaucaillou did manage to pull something from a vintage that even I - whose current knowledge of Bordeaux can be engraved on the head of a pin - know was as glamorous as a graying spinstress. A pleasant food wine but simple and midly dilluted. I've heard that in the off years, all you can get out of a Bordeaux is the nose and this is a fine example of that observation.

Chateau Figeac, St. Emilion, 1990

When does a wine die? Hovering slightly beyond the cusp of its downhill glide to the claret boneyard, this was nevertheless the most interesting wine of the evening. The nose seemed at first so fragile we were wary of swirling our glasses, but it gained force and presence, its fruit growing sweeter while still maintaing the grace of its age and maturity. The fruit was just austere enough on the palate to make the wine an intellectual pleasure without becoming a liability.

Chateau Lynch-Moussas, Pauillac, 2000

This is an excellent food wine, drinking great for those who own a bottle two. I didn't commit enough of its impression to memory for a tasting note but it's so typical Pauillac even I recognized the AOC.

Chateau Canon-La-Gaffeliere, St. Emilion, 1998

Hats off for the wine of the night. Parker scored it a 93, which is just about right. Expressive, smoky red fruit, cranberries and such. Effortlessly structured, elegant, smooth and long. I I'm going to leave the craft of fishing out suitable descriptors - which this complex wine truly deserves - to the professionals. If someone shoved a glass of this in your face, all you'd want to do is sell off your kids' toys and used clothes, the wife's jewlery, your mother's house - and figure out how you can drink Bordeaux all the time. And the terrific thing (or sad, depending on how you look at it) is, I think this isn't even a really, really great Bordeaux, just an average great claret, with all the balance and harmony everyone has come to expect.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Witches Brew - Emrich-Schonleber

I suppose the question of trocken Rieslings is a life or death issue. It certainly raises a few points of contention in my wine circle. I still can't quite get my palate or brain around the trocken issue and at best I can sum it up, for now, as follows:

Dry German wines, at their best, when they work, are (arguably, I admit) more intellectual than sweeter wines of the same pradikat. They certainly call for a somewhat brainier approach. And they need more time to show their best. In today's market, it's anyone's call whether a sweeter wine is really more flattering than a dry one. Certainly, for the average wine geek at midway in his or her path through the wine jungle, the formula is still - the drier the better. And from that follows that sweet wines are for the nubiles. Which isn't true but it's certainly hard - after the squirrels at the top of the vineological tree have strived so hard to convince the laymen to give up the flattering sweetness of, say, Californian Chardonnays - to talk those same laymen into accepting the sweetness of German Rieslings because it is simply another kind of sweetness.

My take on it is a wine needs to be judged on its own terms, those terms being, of course, balance. And all it takes is time and patience to adjust to German Riesling's juggling act of balancing acidity with sweet fruit. But then you come back to trocken German wines and that theory breaks down because the balancing act is different there. Which is what confused me when my friends and I tasted the Monzinger Halenberg, Riesling Spatlese Trocken, 2006 a while back. Because the way the components worked within that specimen, it was hard to tell whether we simply don't like the wine now or whether we never ever will. I suppose I can trust importer Anat Sela's admonition to "wait, wait, wait" but it would be easier for me if I could rely on my own senses, however lacking they might be right now.

But I was intrigued and convinced enough to buy a bottle for laying down and anyway, for good or for worse, the 2006 suffered in comparison with the current "hit", the 2004 off-dry Halenberg Spatlese. At least on an emotional level. Whatever, the sheer quality showed through and Schonleber is one excellent winemaker, as was recently proven to me with quite final conclusion.

Which leads me to the following pair of 2004's, drunk at home in front of the DVD, with family members young and old begging for a sip.

Emrich-Schonleber, Monzinger Halenberg, Riesling Spatlese, 2004

White peaches and pungent herbs, with traces of green apples and the beginning of the petrol thang. Very elegant on the palate, with the acidity balancing the sweetness of the fruit. Rich on the attack and culminating in a complex, minerally texture and a lingering aftertaste. I almost wish I hadn't tasted its Auslese brother, as it has raised the bar... I'm only half-kidding, this is a brilliant Spatlese and as you'd expect, it's better for current drinking than the Auslese and everyone at home went gaga over it. (Apr. 12, 2008)

Emrich-Schonleber, Monzinger Fruhlingsplatzchen, Riesling Kabinett, 2004

Ripe peaches, chalks and flowers on the nose. The palate is not the equal though - crisp, balanced, full bodied for a Kabinett, drawn with broader strokes compared to the Halenberg Spatlese . Shorter too, with a hint of grapefruit pips on the finish. But a lovely wine in its class. (Apr. 15, 2008)

Imported, natually (you've been paying careful attention, right?) by Giaconda for about 170 and 120 NIS, respectively.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Second BYO Night At Giaconda (Apr. 10, 2008)

Better than the first night if only because Anat Sela and Rafaella Ronen opened four young and beautiful, sigh-wrenching German Rieslings (preserving their policy for the BYO nights, the wines are not actually from their portfolio, though the producers themselves may be). Youngsters they were, perhaps, but at this level, even young Rieslings will make you purr.

Egon Muller, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Scharzhof, Spatlese, 2004

This set the pattern: pour, sniff, long sigh of content. When this one hit, the combination of white fruits and minerals made me realize this is what I want all the time - or at least whenever I can get it. The beauty of these four wines is how they each showed a different facet of German Riesling at its elegant best. This was perhaps the lightest and most graceful of the four, albeit with a bitter, lightly raspy finish.

J. J. Prum, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Graachen Himmelreich, Auslese, 2004

Though just as well balanced, this a more extroverted wine that is more about power than finesse. In comparitive terms anyway, as, drunk on its own, I'm sure most drinkers would only see its grace and elegance. Riper than the Muller, as you'd expect of the higher pradikat, leaning towards apples on both nose and palate with the same mineral trimmings and hints of petrol. Young, with less frills and complexity than the Muller.

Koehler-Ruprecht, Pfaltz, Saumagen Auslese "R", 2002

This needed a few swirls before opening up aromatically. Less minerally than its predecessors (actually, less minerally than I'd expected from Koehler-Ruprecht in general) with a barrelful of red apples and hint of botrytis and talc. Very concentrated on the palate and quite delicious - not that the others weren't, it's just that with the "R", it was more or less the first thing that came to mind while drinking it.

Emrich-Schonleber, Nahe, Monzinger Halenberg, Auslese, 2004

A very fruity wine, though you have to realize what that means with these kind of wines: purity and freshness of fruit, not an in-your-face extravaganza. Aromatically, it's the least complex of the four right now but it makes up for that in sheer size. It just smells and tastes 'big' (again, in comparative terms, for a Riesling), while still maintaining its composure.

My offering, Brocard, Chablis Grand Cru, Les Clos, 2002, was, quite frankly, a bomb. The nose might have simply immature - with minerals, iodine and ttraces of lime - but the palate was harsh and flat with nothing to commend it, not young, just akward, bad, off, whatever. A very disappointing bottle. Not imported to Israel, it sells for about 50 USD in the States.

These whites were bookended by two Israeli whites. Clos De Gat, Semillon, 2005 was ripe and spicy on the nose with surprising acidity on the palate. A good food wine, it would make an excellent house wine if priced right for restaurants, but as it sells for about 90 NIS, if I'm not mistaken, that's not going to happen. Tzora, Shoresh Blanc, 2007 is an interesting Gewurztraminer, flowery and laden with lichi. Surprising austere on the palate, I thought it was a cool climate Gewurtz and I'm not sure what happened to the varietal spiciness. Young vines? Winemaking?

On to the reds.

Etienne de Montille, Volnay Premier Cru, Mitans, 2004

A ripe nose but a complex and perfumed one, with trademark Bourgogne spiciness. The color is on the paler end of the Bourgogne spectrum, which makes it almost a dark rose. It has an angularity on the palate which might prove interesting if it gains any body after a few years of cellaring, but right now it is too harsh to be very palatable. But it's much more drinkable than Montille's 2004 Champans, which I tasted last summer. So let's hope it's on an upward curve. Imported by Tomer Gal, sold through Hinawi, not sure about the price.

Domaine de la Vougeraie, Gevrey-Chambertin, Evocelles, 2004

Only a village wine, wow... Another nose for us Bourgogne freaks, glorious in its typicity and complexity. Better balanced, right now anyway, than the Mitans in the palate, but its youth is obvious. Another wine that has improved since the last time I tasted it. Imported by Tomer Gal, the 2005 sells for 240 NIS.

Chapoutier, Hermitage, La Sizeranne, 1999

Another bomb, we suspected bad storage at the importer. Once upon a time we used to keep track of bad bottles of the 1996, which was imported by Karmei Zvi at the time, and over half were off. A shame. Imported by the Scottish Company and five years ago, you could find it at anywhere between 200 and 400 NIS.

Antinori, Tignanello, 1999

A gorgeous, extroverted, spicy nose, which is a very ripe at first but settles down. Very complex on the palate, although I thought it lacked acidity, on the attack anyway, but the acidity creeps back on the savoury, leathery finish. Listed by HaKerem at 350-plus NIS.

Tommasi, Amarone, 2001

Aromas of coffee, ripe black cherries and leather. Very, very ripe on the palate, with sandpaper tannins that that nicely complement the ripe fruit and high alcohol. Imported by WineRoute and sold for about 220 NIS.

Bertani, Amarone, 1999

Not that I'm a big fan of Amarone these days, but if I had to buy one of the two, I'd go for the Bertani (though we all agreed it's in a drink now phase): it's more elegant and surprisingly enough, given that elegance, more Amarone in its mix of bitterness and sweetness. Tthe bottle I do own is the Tommasi, though, which is an excellent wine on its own terms, mind you. Not imported to Israel.

Viking, Odin's Honor, Reserve Shiraz, 2001

And then way over to Australia... A big wine, very concentrated and outgoing, with enough complexity and balance too offset these traits and make sure they don't turn into too much of a good thing. I really haven't tasted enough Australian wines so I'm limited in my critique, but I'd say it has the size of the big, chocolate-ish Shirazes imported by Mersch and the savouriness of, say, d'Arenberg, with a mix of black fruits and eucalyptus that is ripe yet balanced. Not imported to Israel and that's a big shame.

The evening ended with two Spanish wines, rounding out an evening of fourteen live wines and two dead ones. Aalto, Ribera del Duero, Reserva, 2000 was young on both nose and palate - surprising considering 2000 is supposed to be a good vintage but not great - the tannins are still bitter, the nose still displays quite a few traces of barrel-derived spiciness. Finally, the Mas Martinet, Priorat, 2001 was a very good wine with ample ripe fruit but proved too much for my palate. As it is (semi?) regularly imported to Israel and I'm sure more than one of my friends has bought a few, I hope I'll run into it again when my palate is fresher.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Saturday Night Tasting (Apr. 5, 2008)

William Fevre, Chablis Premier Cru, Montmains, 2005

Minerals and yellow fruit on the nose, very dry and taut on the palate, and somewhat bitter. The structure, aroma and flavor profile are not only not very Chablis-like, none of us even guessed it was a Chardonnay. I liked it the same way I enjoy some kabinetts with some maturity on them, only right now it's at an unformed place which, considering the vineyard, vintage, producer as well as the reviews it has garnered, it should grow out of.

Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, Vergers, 2004

A lovely nose of pears and flint, just a classic Bourgogne nose. Despite the still-obvious oak, very elegant with a wry, dry, saline finish. And, despite the oak, I found it drinkable already but I'd say it will improve in a couple of years. Again, it's hard to ignore the potential of the cru and vintage.

I had the remains of both whites the next day after they had been stored in the fridge, with less than a quarter left in each bottle (the Chablis wasn't even re-corked). Both were still alive and quite fresh, all things considered. The Montmains was showing much more Chardonnay and Chablis traits. The Vergers had lost a lot of oak and was showing somewhat sweeter fruit. Not that I'm certain that the"spend the night in the fridge" test has any validity, but it was a good showing for both wines.

Gaja, Barolo, Gromis, 1998

This is the first Barolo I'd ever bought, about four years ago. Red fruit aromas with choppy strokes of spices. A rusty backbone of acidity lends it a somewhat rustic character. I mean, I like a little rust in my wines and I enjoyed this one a lot but here the rust worked against the wine's elegance. Thus, ample fruit and length, complexity borne of bottle age but not a whole lot of it, yet lacking some finesse.

Vignobles Jean Royer, Chateauneuf-Du-Pape, Cuvee Prestige, 2001

A strange wine that I found hard to fathom. A very haughty, ornery wine that started out flat on the palate and overbearingly ripe on the nose, then filled up and settled down. After 2-3 hours. Before that, it's the kind of wine that'd make an Old World geek pinch his nose, which is what we all did in turn. But really, it put on an amazing comeback, showing blackberries and black cherries and spices and a killer tannic backbone. Not exactly to my liking but very impressive and opened, what, four years too early?

Chateau Rabaud-Promis, Sauternes, 2001

Toffee, mildly tropical fruit and brown sugar in various quantities and permutations on the nose and palate, but a sponge-cake like texture is complemented by enough acidity to turn a possible fleshpot into a hedonistic thrill. Quite irresistible. I see the pros have given it a very long drinking window but it's such an utter joy right now, I doubt it would get much better, so why wait?

Friday, April 4, 2008

BYO Night at Giaconda (Apr. 3, 2008)

Giaconda are hosting a series of BYO nights for their customers, offering a series of light side dishes and a couple of wines from their private collection. I attended the first evening, which was an interesting grab-bag of wines. The food was really tasty, too. I didn't write down any notes thus the following is my impressions of the wines that impressed me enough to commit a few mental notes to memory.

Schafer-Frohlich, Erste Gewachs Bockenauer Felseneck, Riesling Trocken Gold Capsule, 2004

A surprise because I'd only tasted the producer's lower end wines which were no earth movers. This Grand Cru, however, did create a few tremors. Which is not to imply that this is a block-buster or anything like that, quite the opposite, this is an elegant, almost reticient wine, snake-like in the path it etched on my palate and only showed its full colors and intensity on the long finish. The same combination of elegance and reticience is is evidenced on the nose as well, where peaches, minerals and flowers are dabbed on in pastel watercolors. It reminded me of Heymann-Lowenstein, albeit somewhat cooler in character and arguably more elegant. And no, it's not in the Giaconda portfolio (yet?).

Francois Jobard, Blagny Premier Cru, La Piece Sous le Bois, 2002

This is a bottle I'd bought in the US for about 60 USD a couple of years ago out of curiousity, as Jobard is a master of white Meursault and Blagny Premier Cru is a red wine AOC. I'd been looking for a tasting note ever since, if only so I could find a drinking window, and only recently learned that Burghound said to drink from 2007 so I thought it was time to try it.

It is very Pinot-ish on the nose, all strawberries, live and youthful and hasn't developed a lot of mature Bourgogne traits but it's lying on the cusp of all that bottle age can give these wines and you can sense the potential aromatics. Doesn't hurt that its 'teenaged' aromas are quite charming right now anyway. Medium-bodied, no overt signs of oak, very elegant with a lightly spicy finish. Truly a couple of years into its drinking window, much readier than any of Jobard's 2002 whites, should last, oh, five years at least. Since it's not imported, I won't have a chance to test its aging potential.

D'Arenberg, Dead Arm Shiraz, 2004

It's been a while since I've had a Dead Arm and in the interim, I really haven't had a lot of Australian reds and what I have tasted were too forward or too big or too sweet for my tastes. Not really my style though I do worry about not seeing Australia in the proper perspective. I mean, the Mersch imports I've tasted were in the archtypical Parker mode while the other importers stick either to value wines or one,two producers with a wide range so I get the feeling we're only seeing specific corners of that continent down under. In short, if you're a serious wine geek, it's much easier to explore Bordeaux, Burgundy or Germany via imports than Australia.

My first impression was that this is obviously a modern wine in a New World style but I thought it was a super-Tuscan. The fruit didn't seem particularly Shiraz (or even Syrah for that matter) and it had that "accomplished performer" appeal of the super-Tuscans. You know, a forward nose with enough complexity and nuances to grab attention, acidity tempered by savory tannins, as well as the kind of presence that almost boasts: "no bottle variation in my house!". As it sat in glass, the fruit coalesced into a Shiraz black-fruit-with-chocolate character while the structure loosened its muscles enough to show the elegance beneath its initial black hole of tannins and fruit. I didn't make a note of the alcohol % but if it's the usual Aussie 15% then it's not in the slightest bit visible on the palate.