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.

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