Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Loire Tasting At Giaconda: Domaine des Baumard vs. Domaine du Closel (Sep. 24, 2008)



An interesting tasting at Giaconda - one of the best I've attended this year - featuring two exemplary Chenin Blanc producers from the Loire, of a marked contrast in styles, traversing one dry appellation and two sweet ones. The order of the wines was cleverly designed and once again the finger foods that accompanied the wines were a delight.

I have to say I found out I do not really care for the Domaine du Closel style. It is too over the top for me and despite Anat Sela and Rafaella Ronen's earnest promises that I'll have to retract my objections once these wines have matured, I have to say I can only go by my own personal experience and observations. Closel makes Chenins rich in alcohol, and their present stage of development, the alcohol overwhelms the fruit. Will the wines find their balance as the fruit emerges? Maybe, but it seems to me the amount of fruit required to pull that off will still make the wines too big for my tastes. Remember, however, that I'm just one voice there and certainly Closel gets good reviews elsewhere although I understand they're viewed as tough wines to approach in their youth (cf. David Schildknecht: "they have never been easy wines to approach – much less cuddle up to – in their youth.")

Domaine des Baumard is a different story: New Love Time. Their wines are smaller scaled with more homely charms and fit in more with my attraction towards wines I can live with as opposed to wines to put on parade. Full of nuanced minerals and smoke, they are the kind of wines that have a fatal Pavolovian effect on me. I would recommend just about all the Baumard wines in the Giaconda catalog.

Domaine du Closel, Savennieres, La Jalousie, 2006

At 14% alcohol, this wine comes across as an agressive lout trying to prove to his girlfriend's mom that he's a nice fellow. Slow to open, the nose shows peaches and honey with only hints of minerals at first. Then it goes athrough a phase where the minerals take over the fruit and then the two find an equilibrium at which point the minerals come into focus as flint. The palate is also very tight, the acidity checks in but the fruit is somewhat comatose, the overall effect underlining the impression of the alcohol, especially on the finish. I did like it better at home, when it had aired over the course of the evening.

117 NIS.

Domaine des Baumard, Savennieres, Clos du Papillon, 2005

Same vineyard, another world. A very complex nose, showing honey, beeswax, apples and minerals. Did I say minerals? This wine is a mineral tour-de-force, packing a geology class on both nose and palate, mostly flint by the time I was done with my glass. It's amazing how such a flavor packed wine can be so elegant, even austere, but there is an interesting struggle going on between structure and flavors. Despite all that, it is a friendly wine, certainly friendlier than any of the Closels (the relatively low 13% alcohol helps, you know). The best dry wine of the evening for my money and I would wait with it 2-3 more years.

171 NIS. Good value.

Domaine du Closel, Savennieres, Clos du Papillon, 2005

Back to Closel's bodybuilders. The nose is so liquory, it almost smells like a red wine, with quasi-medicinal overtones. The overall effect is very agressive and it's certainly less attractive right now than the Baumard, even less than the cheaper La Jalousie.

207 NIS.

Domaine des Baumard, Savennieres, Clos Saint Yves, 1999

The nose is reminiscent of a dessert wine, somewhat cocktaily, with mineral overtones, albeit less so than the Clos du Papillon 2005. Very crisp on the palate (those minerals again!) though less flavorsome and less intense in comparison to the Clos du Papillon, whether due to vintage or vineyard differences. A long finish with a lingering, soothing aftertaste. 13% alcohol.

Not for sale.

Domaine des Baumard, Savennieres, Trie Speciale, 2003

Another charming nose. Ripe fruits with a fascinating, smoky seasoning that is hard to label. At this point, that specific mixture of smoke, spices and minerals is starting to register to me as a Baumard trademark, at least with the Savannieres. Very crisp and minerally on the palate. The higher residual sugar in comparison to the previous Savannieres (Anat Sela was diligent in giving us the numbers and while I think it is very important to take note of the RS as it impacts the style and is thus an important tidbit for the conscientious consumer, I just didn't keep track) lends the wine a certain roundness rather than sweetness.

189 NIS. Personally, I prefer the Clos du Papillon 2005 but at this price point, and taking into account the uniqueness of the grape and what it has to offer compared to similarly priced Chardonnays, I think I will re-visit this wine.

Domaine du Closel, Savennieres, Les Caillardieres, 2003

Another Closel wine that seems to have eluded and confounded me. This has charm but, despite the two extra years post-vintage, it just seems like a less attractive and lesser endowed wine that Closel's Clos du Papillon 2005. Another alcoholic wine weighing in at around 14%.

NIS 157.

Domaine du Closel, Savennieres, Clos du Papillon, Cuvee Speciale, 2003

The nose is somewhat funky and smoky, with notes of mildew. The first Closel wine of the evening I enjoyed sniffing. The greater RS combined with the lower alcohol (13.5%) makes for a friendlier wine, a more balanced wine on my palate, with the spicy flavors at last standing up to the alcohol. If the other Closel wines show a similar balance once they're past puberty, I will have to reconsider my initial impression. But for now, this is the best Closel wine of the evening. Decent price, too, at 135 NIS.

Domaine des Baumard, Coteaux du Layon, Clos de Ste Catherine, 2006

Finally, a chance to close our schoolbooks and just sit back and enjoy. This wine is just plain delicious. The botrytis is obvious on the nose but there are also cooler notes of white chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Despite the hedonistic first impression, it has an aromatic complexity that is intellectually appealing. And again, those smoky mineral notes. An excellent package weighing in at 12.5%.

220 NIS for a regular bottle, which is the same price, more or less, as a half bottle of Sauterne. However, a half-bottle format might have been more useful.

Domaine des Baumard, Coteaux du Layon, Carte d'Or, 2005

Obviously a lesser wine than the Ste Catherine but very attractive nonetheless. A ripe nose, more straightforward than the Ste Catherine but also showing the botrytis seasoning. There was some controversy, as I recall, about the fruit profile on the palate. What I got were tropical fruits, predominately pineapple, with an oily texture and a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Good value at 135 NIS.

Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume, 2006

Back to Elegantsville. The same botrytis funk, same smoky spices. I can't really place this and the Ste Catherine too far apart quality-wise, although the Quarts de Chaume is more reticient on the nose. Palate-wise, this is is deep and complex, with a finely wrought structure.

337 NIS.

Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume, 2003

Some vintage variation! This is an oxidized style that is marked contrast with the 2006 version and which overshadows the botrytis on the nose. The oxidation effect is in full force on the nose while the palate is surprisingly fresh. An interesting wine, though I usually don't go for the style outside of Jerez (a superficial reference point but it's the closest I can find).

Not for sale.

Domaine des Baumard, Vin de Pays, Le Vert De l'Or, 2002

A "bonus" wine after I'd mentally closed my notebook, thus a short note. Stylistically closer to the 2003 Quarts de Chaume than to any of the other dessert wines, with slight oxidation and nuttiness on the nose and fresh acidity on the palate.

Not for sale.

Friday, September 26, 2008

William Fevre, Chablis Premier Cru, Montee de Tonnerre, 2002 (Sep. 22, 2008)

December 2006. Chanuka. Airbus is having trouble with one of my then-employers' products. David Anumudu, the UK rep, claims sickness. I am flown into Toulouse to put out the fire. I arrive at my hotel at 6 PM. By 7 PM, I have already purchased this wine at the local Nicolas branch. As the following note shows, I regret not having bought more. Especially as I'd bought it for about 25 euros.

Considering I'd bought this wine about two years after release, I have no idea how it had been stored at the store especially as I had bought the last bottle on the shelf. But I hit the jackpot this time because whatever conditions this particular bottle had seen, I had apparently opened it at its peak. When you get down to the nitty gritty, a wine should be judges by how delicious it is and by that reckoning, this is the best drinking experience I have had with Chablis so far. I have drunk Chablis of greater inherent quality but never at their peak. And actually, this wine's inherent quality is nothing to shake your spiderwebs at.

Aromatically discrete, at first, though from the start showing sea breeze and shells over fruit that vaguely registers as apples. A gorgeous palate, very saline, savoury and tasty, with an aftertaste that is the very embodiment of the sea. A perfect harmony between fruit and acidity, a crisp attack mellowed by a soft mid-palate and if this wine had ever seen oak, there is absolutely no trace of it. As the nose opens up, the ever-unfolding aromatics accent the palate and lend it greater complexity and punch.

Thanks, David, you're the best!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Battling Over A Leg Of Roasted Lamb (Sep. 20, 2008)

Three of us had brought wines we had deemed suitable for a lamb roast and no one quite wanted to be 'demoted' to the cheese plate. This is but one of the myriad quandaries of the wine geek! Good thing I kept my day job!

Rene Rostaing, Cote Rotie, Cuvee Classique, 2000

This has a nose that cried out to be matched for the lamb, with aromas of roasted meat and herbs over a gentle background of black cherries. The palate is very Old World, elegant with great acidity yet the fruit is somehow a bit too shy. An interesting wine and very appealing to me personally, though I must admit it was overshadowed by the next Cote Rotie.

Rostaing used to be imported by WineRoute but no more. Cost about 300 NIS about four years ago when the exchange rate was 1 USD = 4.5 NIS.

Guigal, Cote Rotie, Chateau d'Ampuis, 2001

This is a much more extroverted wine than the Rostaing that tries to be a posh wine for the upper class, albeit without top-notch elegance. It displays a spiciness that seems borne of expensive oak and quality fruit - the fruit lending, among other things, a gentle acidity that grows in glass. But in the end, though it was objectively a better wine than the Rostaing, it doesn't have its charm.

Imported by WineRoute, price unknown (though I could check).

Roger Sabon, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Prestige, 2001

The cheese platter wine.

Not ready! Although it sports attention-grabbing, herbal-tinged aromatics, the palate is disjointed: there is plenty of tannins yet that are matched by the fruit extract but its admittedly fine acidity only comes in the finish, stranding the middle and rending it drying and unfriendly.

Sabon has been imported by WineRoute since the 2004 vintage.

The preliminaries were arguably more interesting.

Domaine des Baumard, Loire, Savennieres, Clos du Papillon, 2005

An elegant, albeit reserved nose was a promising start: white fruits and chalk, with a late arrival hint of flint, painted a Burgondian tapestry. The palate? Well I've been testing the waters with Giaconda's Loire whites and this, like the Domaine du Closel, Savennieres, La Jalousie, 2006 is so tight, the fruit so shy, my experience so limited, I can only say it seems to me like a good prospect for cellaring because of its length and structure. But it's a frustrating drink right now.

Giaconda import, 171 NIS.

The highlight of the evening was foie gras paired with a Tokaji.

Oremus, Tokaji Aszu, 5 Puttonyos, 1999

A pure delight, an orange marmalade laces with smoky spices, which I think is well in the midst of a robust maturity. The Hungarian label is still Greek to me, but the instructions are simple: pour, sip, swallow, repeat.

Price unknown.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Taster's Folly - Domaine Bourillon d'Orleans, Vouvray, La Bourdonnerie, Demi-Sec, 2003

This wine deserves its own post because it demonstrates one of the fallibilities of tasting wines.

What's the worst thing that can happen to you when you taste a wine? A badly flawed wine? Wrong, a badly flawed wine is at least easily discernible. The worst thing is a midly flawed wine, which, if you're unfamiliar with the wine or its maker, you dismiss it as just a mediocre wine.

My first encounter with the La Bourdonnerie 2003 is just such an experience, in hindsight. Here is my original tasting note:

The nose is somewhat discrete at first but opens up to reveal apricots, flowers, maybe a hint of apples and then earthly sweet spices. Keeps its distance, though. The palate echoes these aromas though it is not up to par, not really. It's heavier, fatter than the nose suggests and though it is reasonably concentrated, it appears to be low in acididy and thus suggests a higher ABV than its listed 12.5%.There's a bitter sensation of very fleshy, over-ripe apricots on the finish that I can't really come to terms with and overall seems rather disjointed. (Sep. 16, 2008)

I respect the taste of Giaconda's Anat Sela and Rafaella Ronen and while I don't always like all the wines in their catalog (their few German 2003's come to mind), I can usually understand the reasoning behind their selections. This wine was so underwhelming, though, that I was baffled. I would like to say that I immediately intuited that the bottle was off but alas, I am not quite that seasoned a taster. But today (Sep. 18), Anat opened another bottle with me and the results were educational.

The nose is similar to the previous bottle's - well, maybe creamier, thus the telltale differences are on the palate. The acidity is there, albeit beyond the initial flush of youth. Although the wine is still frustratingly opaque, there is a holistic sense of harmony and balance and definite purity on the finish. It is not a wow wine, not a wine to to cellar for an important birthday, but rather an interesting wine to age and see what story it has to tell of its birthplace in about five years. One of those wines that can put a little smile on a wine geek's face between those periodic meteor showers of the big wines.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Another Saturday Night, Another Restaurant, Another Corky Bottle (Sep. 14, 2008)

It was Toto this week, an excellent Italian restaurant in Tel Aviv and in my opinion an improvement over last week's Raphael, despite the lack of choice steak cuts on that particular night and a pistachio shell in one of the desserts.

Lanson, Champagne, Noble Cuvee de Lanson, 1998

A very fine vintage Champagne showing aromas and flavors of yeast and citrus skin. Very focused, elegant and long. Without knowing when it was disgorged, I must say it gave an impression of youth and I feel it could still age well and gain complexity although its current freshness is absolutely charming. Price unknown, it scored a unanimous silly grin around the table.

Georges Vernay, Condrieu, Terrasses de l’Empire, 2006

At first, all I could get was flowers and traces of alcohol on the nose and palate. It did open up to reveal greater aromatic nuances and more fruit and minerals but the palate remained one-dimensional. This did not show as well as the 2004 and after a few disappointments with Condrieu over the past two years, I'm just about to write off Viognier-land. Imported by Wine Route, I don't really recall the price but I do remember it was higher than the 50 euros I paid for the 2004 in France so I'll pass.

Jean Collet, Chablis Grand Cru, Valmur, 2002

TCA. Again. Another bad bottle of Chablis Grand Cru 2002. Again. So far, 40% of my Chablis Grand Crus have been off (two out of five but it's still 40%). This one cost 60 USD in San Francisco three years ago. Damn.

Chateau Beaucastel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 1989

Every bottle tells a story. Although I would have expected greater aromatic complexity (more game, more barnyard, more herbs), this Beaucastel showed a lot of muscular breed. Only the Old World could have produced such extract of flavor while weighing in at only 12.5%-13% alcohol. Despite being a very virile adult, it's more youthful, monolithic and tannic than I remembered from a tasting four years ago. I can't argue it's a terrific drop right now but I'd have cellared this specific bottle a few years more.

Chateau Calon-Segur, Saint Estephe, 2000

Though very young, this wine already rendered an interesting tale as it slowly opened and hinted at its future maturity. Elegant and balanced with an intriguing mineral finish. Fighting my usual lustful impatience, I waited until I was rewarded with signs of tobacco-infused complexity. Excellent.

Monday, September 8, 2008

David Wollenberg's Birthday Party at Raphael (Sep. 6, 2008)

A fun night, a big table full of wines, enough wines to sate the soul, yet not quite enough to overload the palate. A perfect balance. One thing I want to mention before I move on to the tastings notes: I have usually found Rapahel's first courses to be much better executed and much tastier than the main dishes and tonight was no exception.

Larmandier-Bernier, Brut Tradition, N.V.

No traces of the Pinot Noir element I noted when I first tasted this elegant non-vintage (see here for the previous tasting note as well as the grape/vineyard breakdown). Instead it smells and tastes like one version of the Chardonnay story, distilled citrus fruits with most of the sugar sucked dry. Which lends it a welcome, somewhat austere focus. Tasty and elegant if not as complex, naturally, as the producer's vintage Champagnes.

Imported and sold by Boutique de Champagnes for 249 NIS.

J.J. Prum, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Wehlener Sonnenhur, Riesling Auslese, 1994

It's amazing how a sniff can paint a smile over so many people's faces. The nose here is in that glorious petrol stage but the true mark of this wine's breed is all the nuances beyond, beneath and around that petrol: ice cold slate, some dill and said petrol over peaches and guayavas. The palate shows more nuances at first when the bottle was a bit warm, but once re-cooled, it showed more structure. But forget such considerations, this is simply a lovely, delicious wine that will last for years.

Imported and sold by Giaconda for about 300 NIS.

We then moved on to three young Bordeaux. All had elegant noses leaning towards red fruits, with enough black fruits to attest to extraction without being overbearing. The Kirwan and Gruaud-Larose are imported by WineRoute but Bordeaux prices being subject to so many fluctuations, I'm not going to bother to look them up.

Chateau Kirwan, Margaux Third Growth, 2003

The palate started out nicely then shut down into a very dumb and backwards phase, so much so that I really can't say enything very wise about it.

Chateau Brane-Cantenac, Margaux Second Growth, 2001

A step up in quality, which I'm tempted to say is due to 2001's greater accessibility ensuring the wine is out of any early childhood kinks. Medium-full bodied, still tannic but balanced and tasty.

Chateau Gruaud-Larose, St. Julien Second Growth, 2003

The best Bordeaux of the evening. It feels slightly lighter in body compared to the Brane-Cantenac (rather surprisingly so, given the vintage) but much more nuanced even this early on.

Tua Rita, Giusto di Notri, 2001

This Super-Tuscan Bordeaux blend is famous for scoring slightly higher in this vintage than the same winery's first wine, the Redigaffi, which costs three times as much. The aromatics start out very minerally and leathery, but in time the fruit - mostly blueberries - dominates the nose. I think the Tuscan terroir maybe shows in notes of cloves on the nose but overall, I preferred it when it was just struggling to get out of bed, so to speak, rather then when it had aired. It deserves most of Parker's score of 97 and is, to my surpise (given that same score) rather elegant and not a blockbuster. I have a bottle and I think I will wait five more years with it.

Imported by WIneRoute and sold for close to 300 NIS at the time.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Domaine Weinbach tasting At Giaconda (Sep. 3, 2008)

This was a terrific, educational tasting, highlighting the winery's elegant style across different grapes, terroirs and vintages and that's before even touching on the subject of the food pairings. Simply put, the Giaconda's tastings offer the best food in any commercial wine tastings in Israel (special events at restaurants don't really count and while Eldad Levy brings large trays of sushi to his Champagne tastings, they're served towards the last third of the evening and are gone within ten minutes). This time, Anat Sela and Rafaella Ronen surpassed themselves, especially Anat's stuffed calamari, which is likely to someday be her ticket to the Great Vineyard In The Sky.

The one somber, sober note is that despite the high level of quality offered by the wines, the majority of the prices are more than a bit excessive.  I've been critical of some of Giaconda's prices in the past so I want to make it clear that this has nothing to do with whatever their share of the pie is and I'm glad they took the financial risk and imported these wines so we at least have the option of buying them. It's a safe bet that the base price asked even at the winery door reflects the high expense of bio-dynamic vinegrowing. Though some of the wines are comparable to some Burgundy whites I am in the habit of buying, I can't ignore the price point of German wines of similar quality. This is an issue of personal taste and judgment call, and in some cases, I found it hard to dismiss the wines as too expensive. I have marked these wines with an asterik (*).

Muscat Reserve, 2006

Initially impressive due to its quasi-Sauternes aromatics of tropical fruits and burned sugar, it misleads you into expecting a semi-dry or sweet wine. But after a few sweet notes on the attack, it dries up, so to speak, on a grapefruit finish that I find somewhat one-dimensional. Though it is probably the best Muscat any of us had ever tasted, is its tag price of 198 NIS justified?

Riesling, Grand Cru Schlossberg, Cuvée Ste Catherine, 2006

Armoatically shut at first, it opens to reveal red apples, flowers and chalk. Though emryonic, the bone-dry palate shows good length and focused power, though it does not (yet?) fulfill the promise of the nose. 369 NIS.

Riesling, Grand Cru Schlossberg, Cuvée Ste Catherine "L'Inédit", 2004 (*)

A small increase in price gives us a somewhat more mature wine that offers more intensity and breed. An aromatic delight, with ever-developing notes of dill and wet rock as well as a hint of petrol dominating the fruit aromas. This wine is made of old vines and I would guess either the age of the vines or a difference in vintage conditions is responsible for a greater sense of ripeness, as well as sweetness. Even though this wine, too, is very closed, the exquisite balance between sweetness and acidity is obvious and there is currently a certain wildness to it that makes me curious (as opposed to concerned, see?) about its future development. 378 NIS.

Gewurtztraminer, Cuvée Laurence, 2005

Not everyone likes to drink a Gewurtz, but I would guess most wine lovers enjoy its unique nose of lychee and spices, of which this is a quintessential example. Sadly, it also displays the same characteristics that sometimes turn off the non-converts, that is a certain agressiveness borne of high alcohol (or at least the impression of such) and low acidity that always makes feel like I'm sucking on a stick of dry mustard. At 297 NIS, this and the Muscat Reserve are people's evidence number one for the exaggerated prices of Weinbach, as far as I'm concerned.

Gewurtztraminer, Altenbourg, Cuvée Laurence, 2005

My reservations about the previous wine are carried foreward to the Cuvée Laurence, though it's a much more reserved and elegant wine, more focused as well. Though at 351 NIS, it's just a stepping stone on the way  to the next wine, which is really great.

Gewurtztraminer, Grand Cru Fürstentum, Cuvée Laurence, 2004 (*)

This is the best gewurtztraminer I've ever had, really.  A smoky, flinty nose showing more white fruits than the lychee I would more typically expect to find. Though there's no way the palate is living up to the nose, the standard set by the nose is so high, the palate still winds up giving a terrific account of itself. It's got that spicy, grapefruit peel and pips sensation that was present in the lower level Gewurztraminers but, in a more elegant, precise and harmonic setting, there is little about that is overbearing.

And it costs 387 NIS which raises a dillema for me. It's on par quality-wise and price-wise with a very good Mersualt Permier Cru and I'm very much enamored of it. And while I'm deliberately fuzzy about such comparisons, the price point seems congruent with my internal (and, on these pages, largely silent) score. So why I am shying away from buying it? Is it some sort of bias or is it that I find a Gewurtz a less useful wine thnt a white Bourgogne? I'll have to think about it some more.

Riesling, Schlossberg Alsace Grand Cru, Vandanges Tardives, 2004

If the aromatics of the l'Inédit are all about wet rock, this is a frozen cliff of slate that someone smeared apple pie on. The palate is an elegant, balanced melange of sweetness and acidity, and because the pungence of the nose carries such authority, you expect the palate to widen up on the finish. So it's rather disoncerting when it constricts at the end, killing any complexity it might deign to reveal at this rather closed stage of its life. Price unknown. 

Pinot Gris, Altenbourg, Vandanges Tardives, 2004

Another wowee-zowee nose of smoky flint, very complex and nuanced. It, too, could use more generosity on the finish as it seems to spend most of its ammunition on the initial attack and finishes with a spicy, bitter, attenuated note. Despite this, very close to the best specimen of Pinot Gris I've ever tasted. Price unknown.