Friday, May 30, 2008

Holon Rocks, 2GrandCru Drinks (May 29, 2008)

While perennial Israeli basketball champions Maccabi Tel Aviv were dropping their title for only the second time in almost forty years to Hapoel Holon, I was dining and drinking at Barcarola. Which is the truest sign of how deep and how wide the wine geek cells have spread in my brain, since I have dreamt and longed for a night such as this for years. But I probably wouldn't have been able to withstand the excitement and it had been two-three weeks since I'd been out with my wine friends (almost a lifetime, the way the wine cancer victims reckon time) so there I was, basking in my gastronomic narcism while 40 minutes away, an earthquake was rumbling.

Barcarola, since the recent change of chefs, is still a very good value restaurant if you care to venture out of Tel Aviv, albeit stronger on fish and seafood than on meat, terrific desserts as well. Service was especially attentive last night.

Larmandier-Bernier, Terre de Vertus, n.v

This grower Champagne is non-vintage only because it was taken off its lees two months earlier than the legal requirements for a vintage declaration. But it's pure 2004 and pure Chardonnay. And despite its youth, its nose and palate are at a place where you can enjoy their current complexity while easily imagining where different nuances will emerge as it matures and softens. Right now what you'll get is doughy/yeasty/minerally aromas over fresh, vibrant fruit and a crisp, balanced palate that gains breadth and length as the wine opens. What you won't get is any sign of oak. Terrific. Brought by Hagit Koren.

Imported by Boutique de Champagnes and sold for 299 NIS. Remember how much Bourgogne whites cost? This is a no-brainer, just buy it.

Emrich-Schonleber, Nahe, Monzinger Halenberg, Riesling Spatlese, 2004

This is one of Ran Shapira's favorite German wines and one of mine as well, though this particular wine has aged rather prematurely for some reason. Don't worry, it drank great - only it drank like a great fifteen year old, which is what we all guessed it to be, with the trademark petrol/kerosene framing the white fruit. In hindsight, i think the palate did show its true age, with the fruit and sweetness still upfront with all the sexiness of young Riesling. It should last some ten years more at least.

Imported by Giaconda, sold for 170 NIS before it sold out. See, it was a no-brainer too and certain people just couldn't keep their mouths shut about it...

Ramonet, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, Vergers, 2003

This was my wine and let's be clear about one thing: in my circle, bringing a white 2003 Burgundy is very, very risky. If it works, fine, if not - accusations, taunts and insults will be heaped and flung from all corners. Luckily, I didn't buy a lot of 2003's and this one turned out to be the best 2003 I've tasted yet. The nose is inlaid with oak but it doesn't overwhelm the fruit and there is certainly enough room for a wonderful gust of flint to whirl around in. The palate suffers more from the oak (though it melts when encountering some food over the taste buds), but doesn't lack acidity, as you might suspect of a 2003. It does lack some fruit, as though Ramonet had picked a bit early but in all, it's an attractive package whose biggest fault right now is its youth in general, not the specific year it was born.

Imported by Tomer Gal and I believe I'd bought it 2-3 years ago for about 270 NIS.

Sierra Cantabria, Rioja, Coleccion Privada, 1998

Ido Meir's contribution was my wine of the night. This ten year "Super-Rioja" (100% Temperanillo, made with no adherence to Rioja DOCA regulations) took all evening to open up. It was throughout a very upfront wine but still managed to carry a lot of elegance. I first thought it was a Super-Tuscan, because of that upfront character, then it morphed into something resembling a warm vintage Bordeaux. Though I admit I'd never have guessed it blind even if I'd kept at it all evening, when unveiled, I could see the Rioja connection via the red fruit and acidity though it has more body than the tradtional Gran Reservas and none of that mature mildewy funk. But it has so much charm and complexity, I have no reservations about falling for this modern spin on Rioja. Plus, there's no real hurry to drink it.

Sierra Cantabria used to be imported by WineRoute, though they've stopped since. It's a shame as the 1999 Coleccion Privada used to be sold for around 200 NIS and at that price, I'd buy more vintages.

Chateau Lascombes, Margaux, 1997

Brought by David Wolberg. Time has singed the fruit around the edges and added some earth without adding any minerals, leather or any such Old World niceties. Still, it's very interesting and suggests a brooding personality. On the palate, it has plenty of acidity and tannins but lacks some fruit in mid-palate.

Price unknown but WineRoute regularly imports Lascombes.

Finally, Barcarola's sommelier offered us the following:

Tzora, Gewurztraminer Or, 2006

I've tasted it before and I think it's a good example of what a good winemaker can achieve with Gewurztraminer as a dessert wine in Israel: pure, comely fruit that is thick and hedonistic on the palate, with the Gewurtz spicniess just slightly working the outer perimeter of the fruit. I understand this is already sold out, probably even before Robert Parker scored it 92. I also understand that the wholesale price for restaurants is about 70 NIS for the half bottle which would make about twice that in the stores which would be rather excessive. Though to be charitable, Tzora have always been fairly priced at the winery door so maybe it was sold there for about 100 NIS.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chateau Musar, Lebanon, 1998 (May 17, 2008)

This, off course, is Lebanon's most famous winery and there's quite a bit about it on the web if one cares to Google for it. I had the 1997 three years ago and it was very ripe and somewhat jammy and arguably more interesting than any red wine from south of the border. My wife bought me the 1998 two years ago and as they say Musar is susceptible to periods of dumbness. I've been cellaring it ever since. Just in case. In the event, the 1998 seems to be very much at its peak right now. And it's more austere, more Old World, than the 1997 I suppose.

Browning and fading at the rims. A bit of acetone on the nose and palate at first but just needs some time to clear off and show wild strawberries, herbs and earth. A wine that needs time in glass not just to open but to fill up. A mixture of Bordeaux and Rhone on the nose, though the acidity and the medium body makes it a bit Spanish or Bourgogne in character. Juicy acidity on the one hand - balancing the ripe sweetness of the fruit - and very soft, integrated tannins on the other. Tasty and crisp but not very complex. A recommended experience.

Friday, May 16, 2008

More Germans

Terry Theise once wrote that drinking German wines will make you a better person, a better lover, a better guitar player, will make you vote for the right candidates. Words to that effect. And though I don't play guitar and Israel doesn't offer many politicians worth getting up in the morning to vote for in the first place, I like to think that a year and half of exploring these Teutonic wonders has had a positive effect. I certainly smile more.

The following two wines are imported by Giaconda.

Jos. Christoffel Jr., Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese **, 1992

I've drunk a lot of Christoffels along the way and they're always very good, some downright excellent. And, of course, when a German Riesling is this mature, every drinking experience offers its own rewards. The common characteristic of the three times or so I've had this wine is the way the fruit leans against a backdrop of cool slate, both on the nose and on the palate. The fruit is more prominent on the nose than the last time I had it, just 3-4 months ago, showing peaches and both red and baked apples, sprinkled with edgy little strokes of dill. Aromatically, it just goes to show mature Rieslings don't have to be peppered with petrol in order to shine. On the plate it exhibits a succulent acidity and a crystalline structure. Could use more complexity, which I don't think it will pick up as it seems to have reached its peak, but an excellent wine nonetheless. 207 NIS. (May 8, 2008)

Muller-Catoir, Pflaz, Mussbacher Eselshaut, Rislaner, Spatlese, 2001

Like Scheurebe, Rislaner is a Riesling cross-breed and if, according to Terry Theise, Scheurebe is the slutty sister, perhaps Rislaner is the quiet one whose beauty is tucked away behind a librarian's bi-focals. Here I find aromas of ripe pears, baked apples and a saline minerality, a sort of wet beach sand musk, that transforms into iron notes, before the nose is taken over by fresh flowers after an hour. The palate is ripe, yet softer than a Riesling of the same pradikat might be, the acidity playing somewhat lower notes and the fruit downright bass, which at first makes the sweetness more pronounced as it is forced towards the upper scale, until the minerals spring to life on the long finish. Having said all that, this wine was arguably more complex and elegant in the past but this bottle is so full of life, I'll just lay down my last bottle for a few years.

The 2001 is back in stock by popular demand and the 2005 should also still be in stock and costs 207 NIS. I tasted it last year and it was more muscular and meatier but then again, the 2001 was so different last year that I wouldn't make any comparisons without tasting them side by side. Both are worth a shot. (May 13, 2008)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ooh La La, Bottle Variation

Considering my friends and I buy wines at more or less the same places, the only surprising thing is this didn't happen earlier, but yesterday (May 10, 2008), Hagit Koren and I both brought the same wine, Chateau L'Arrivet Haut Brion, 1998, to our Saturday night tasting. The tasting being blind, we didn't know this until Hagit unveiled her bottle, a couple of bottles after mine, having kept a straight face for about thirty minutes. I'm not going to play poker with this woman, that's for sure.

No one else spotted it was the same wine blind. And actually, despite a similar aromatic profile, the two bottles were quite different. There were similarities on the nose, both being Old World noses, but my bottle was more minerally while Hagit's was more - 'stinky' is the best way to put it. On the palate, my bottle was more brooding and tannic (though I thought it was already drinkable, but that's a matter of taste) while Hagit's was fruitier with livlier acidity.

Imported by WineRoute, sold for 220 NIS before discount.

Besides this exploration of bottle variation and serendipity, we also had a young vintage Champagne - Pierre Gimmonet, Fleuron, 2002, which burst out with orange blossom at full bloom, then settled down to display a more minerally and yeasty character. Quite crisp on the palate, and while I'm a Champagne novice and no expert on the finer points of mousse, the bubbles were very beautiful to watch and helped enforce a crytalline structure. And, bubbles or not, one of the tastier Chardonnays I've drunk.

Imported by Boutique de Champagnes and sold for 295 NIS before discount.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Margalit, Special Reserve, 2003 (May 1, 2008)

I've just re-read my note for the 2001 Special Reserve and, man, seems like my palate has gone to "where no man has gone before" over the past five years. Now, if I do a hatchet job on this one as well, I'll really come off pretentious, won't I? What will 2GrandCru do?

Actually, it's a better wine than the 2001. But I still think it doesn't live up to the hype. The nose is typical Israeli Cabernet, ripe currants and spices, a hint of leather, and foreshadows the grainy, oaky texture of the mouth. It's balanced and fairly fresh and there is a very nice structure in there, but it fails in the ultimate test: it just doesn't taste all that good. Just too bitter and oaky and while there initially seems to be decent acidity to balance the fruit, it seems to fade back and avoids tackling the oak.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Misc. Notes (Apr. 2008)

A. Et P. De Villaine, Cote Chalonnaise, La Digoine, 2006

Pinot Noir from Bouzeron (which therefore must be labelled Cote Chalonnaise as the village is an AOC for Aligote only). Earthy red fruit dominated by cranberries, with embryonic Bourgogne aromatics. Relatively dark-colored for Burgundy, subtle, integrated acidity, medium bodied, no great complexity, depth or length but very suave and supple and, with its saline finish, expresses itself quite well within its unpretentious form. (Apr. 13, 2008)

Clos De Gat, Har'el, Merlot, 2004

Drank in not quite the most optimal of glasses but enough to affirm yet again the quality and charm of this winery's wines. The nose is typical Israeli Merlot, I think, soft, fragnant red fruit with burnt herbs, but the palate is tougher and more tannic and less typical of the variety (but then again, it is rather typical of Israeli Merlots). At its peak and I quite like it for what it is. I don't remember how much it costs, but the same series' Syrah used to cost about 80 NIS and I really hope the Merlot cost the same. (Apr. 18, 2008)

Francesco Rinaldi, Barbaresco, 1999

Tough and rustic. An off-wall blend of aromas: red cherries, iron fillings and sweet paprika, with the fruit growing purer with time. Very chewy and tannic, with all the complexity of a right cross (meaning it utilizes a few spare elements quite well) , not elegant by by most people's standards yet with the sort of rusty bite on the finish I really love that marries very well with heavy pastas. Won't get better, I'd bet, just softer and somewhat more subtle in about 2-5 years and it really appeals to me. (Apr. 20, 2008)

Imported by the Doosh, I bought my bottle two years ago for about 160-180 NIS, I think.

Koehler-Ruprecht, Pfalz, Kalstadter Steinacker, Scheurebe Spatlese, Trocken, 2003

Flowers, dried peaches and guayava on the nose. Relatively good structure on the palate for the somewhat meager amount of acidity which is the reason for the bitterness and heat on the finish. I miss the kinky aromas of coffee I remember from my first tasting way back in September, 2006. Though there are hints of them. (Apr. 23, 2008)

Imported by Giaconda in one of their initial shipments, sold for 99 NIS or so.

Muller-Catoir, Pfaltz, Haardter Burgergarten, “Im Gehren”, Riesling Spatlese, Trocken, 2003

Tropical fruits on the nose, underpinned by dill, a hint of petrol and above all an elegant gust of flint. The palate is very spicy and the heat of the vintage shows only as a bit of alcohol on the finish. The fruit itself is crystal pure, sharp and focused and while the the acidity is on the low side, it is certainly there. However, there's no sense of it lifting the fruit forward. (Apr, 26, 2008)

Imported by Giaconda as well, sold for about 200 NIS.

Jean-Louis Chave, Hermitage Blanc,Selection, "Blanche" 2001

This wine was very weird last year and if anything, it's even weirder now. There are apricots on the nose but they are buried beneath aromas of blood, sea breeze and most of all, nut oil. Sort of a Dali version of Chablis. I know my description of the nose sounds like I have my reservations, and I do, but I find the palate is very tasty, with a complex array of flavors; though it too is kinky, somewhat alcoholic and low in acidity, and I'm not sure it will appeal to everyone. (Apr. 24, 2008)

Imported by Shaked last year for about 170 NIS.