Thursday, January 22, 2009

Donnhoff 2007 Tasting at Giaconda (Jan. 21, 2009)

Nahe's leading winemaker is the one of the shining stars in Giaconda's portfolio, as he is in Terry Theise's. He would likewise be one of the prominent, mouth-watering names in the catalog of any importer/distributer canny enough to get an allocation. I could think of many, many superlatives for his wines but as last night's tasting showed me, they are foremost a tasty treat. You drink them and smile and think, man I really got lucky tonight. And besides being delicious, they are structured and deep and reflect their places of birth.

I will not write about Donnhoff's vineyards or about his techniques and whatnot. Although Anat Sella and Rafaella Ronen discussed these quite knowledgably at the tasting, you can read up on that elsewhere. But before plunging into the tasting notes, I would like to get across a feel for the form of the tasting as it reflects Donnhoff's interests and strength.

The tasting was comprised of four parts. First we tasted a few entry level QBA's: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling. While these were relatively generic, they were very well made and, again, tasty. None of them made any pretensions but if the quality of a winery's entry-level wines is any indication of dedication to craft, then these three wines made an excellent calling card for Donnhoff.

From there on, it was all single-vineyards in various styles: dry Grosses Gewachs, sweet Spatleses and even sweeter Ausleses (Donnhoff's Ausleses are always dessert wines). These flights highlighted two facets of Donnhoff's skills that any fan of German Rieslings needs to carefully write down and never forget. Firstly, he is equally adept, deft and skillful in either and both dry and sweet styles. Any personal preferences on my part would be a matter of personal taste and the economics and logistics of wine collecting. I would buy any and all of the wines in the tasting if I could, although they're not exactly cheap (yet he's still less expensive than, say, some of his Alsatian peers in the Giaconda catalog). Secondly, Donnhoff is in fact dedicated to terroir. Wines from different vineyards are distinctly different from each other while rooted in the house style. And different wines from the same vineyard show similar genetic traits. Which is just how I like things.

The Entry Level Round

Pinot Gris, QBA, Trocken

I don't usually like Pinot Gris but this is a charming little wine that didn't show the agressiveness of its Alsatian peers. I thought the nose resembles Champagne, with citrus fruit, a touch of minerals and tropical notes. The palate shows marked mineral notes and excellent acidity (a trademark of all the wines in the tasting). Balanced and tasty, this is not a wine that will rock your world but a handsome package at 108 NIS.

Pinot Blanc, QBA, Trocken

The nose is much less forward and more fruity than the Pinot Gris, which it somewhat resembles. The palate is more taut at first with the acidity a bit marked even for my tastes, but it develops nicely in the glass, becoming more saline and minerally yet more tropical at the same time. Very tasty when it reaches full bloom. My favorite of the entry-level round. 103.5 NIS.

Riesling, QBA, Trocken

This one takes longer to open and even when it peaks, it is somehow more one-dimensional than the previous wines. Definitely tastes drier despite the higher residual sugar. It shows bucketfuls of apples and for a while it stalls in that phase but later develops mineral nuances. 86.5 NIS.

From here on, all the wines were Rieslings.

The Grosses Gewaches Flight

Niederhauser Hermannshohle

An amazing nose, the sweetest of the Grosses Gewachs flight, obviously young and fruit yet even now has many shades and nuances, with sweet spices, grapefruits and a stony minerality. It is hard getting at the palate at first but time does very nice things to it, as it develops great length and a saline finish with intermittent, bitter notes. 260 NIS and sold out.

Norheimer Dellchen

The nose is tight at first but shows resemblences to the Hermannshohle, albeit with less nuances, and shows grapefruits and tropical fruits as it opens. This is the fullest bodied and, at present, the most impressive of the flight. 260 NIS.

Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg

God - or Donnhoff - tossed a round of flint into the nose and it has a field day there, as it elegantly caresses the fruit. The palate is just as elegant - so elegant, in fact, that it creates an impression of airniess that almost makes the wine seem simple. But it's not, and, at the end of the day, I found it the tastiest of the flight. 260 NIS.

Spatlese Flight 1

Norheimer Kirscheck

A lot of honeyed apples on the nose at first, but it developes a charming overlay of flint and chalk as well as sweet grapefuit. This is where my notes writing skills started breaking down because all I could think of was how delicious this flight was. So screw it, that's my note: delicious. 178 NIS.

Oberhauser Brucke

Where the Kirscheck was a flint/chalky wine, this is much steelier and nuanced with an overlay of frozen slate. It is also more complex. Again, my notes would just read "delicious" and there wouldn't even be enough lines for one to read between, so I'll just have to come out and say that this is the better wine. And more expensive at that. 225 NIS.

Spatlese Flight 2

Schlossbockelheimer Felsenturmchen

An amazing, different nose, very minerally but you'd have to actually smell it to get at the unique personality it presents. The palate is even better, with a sensual Frnech kiss of fruit and acidity that goes on forever. Right now, better than the Hermannshohle and as such, quite a bargain at 198 NIS. More or less sold out.

Niederhauser Hermannshohle

Almost without a doubt, this Spatlese flight was heads above the previous. For the time being anyway. Hermannshohle does have a reputation to live up to, and it does that very nicely. It starts out on the simple side, closed and humble, but it fleshes out with gusto, displaying fresh red apples and minerals and showing the same heady mixture of fruit and acidity, but in a more refined and structured style. 268 NIS and sold out.

Auslese Flight

Niederhauser Hermannshohle Goldcap

Eat your heart out, Sauternes! What can I say, these dessert wines were a fest and as it turned out, I can't say much because I just sat back and enjoyed them. The Hermannshohle's nose is very intense, almost dense, near liquorish, with loads of red apples. The palate is just as packed and is amazingly enjoyable. 223 NIS for the half-bottle.

Oberhauser Brucke Goldcap

Having just extolled the Hermannshohle's drinkability, I have to confess that I did sum up the flight in my notes by saying how closed these wines are, and I can explain away this incongruity by telling you that you can just sense the hidden potential that has not yet reared its head. This is a somewhat more subtle wine, with apricots, flint and orשnges. Just as yummy as the Hermannshohle. 196 NIS for the half-bottle.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ismael Arroyo Val Sotillo


Except for a white 'appetizer', this was Giaconda's first all-red tasting and as such, it was another high quality evening spotlighting a quality, classic producer from Ribera del Duero, guaranteed to pull on the heartstrings of Old World wine lovers.

I had approached the tasting with no little anxiety. Recovering from a cold, the days leading up to the tasting found me devoid of appetite and my senses of smell and taste in tatters. Cigarettes had been reeking of wet cardboard for days; while a glass of Gaja, Barbaresco, 1986 - offered by a friend at a restaurant just the night before - tasted and smelled of acetone. But after identifying the first wine of the tasting, my mood picked up as I realized that with a little patience and concentration, I'd be able to make something of the wines.

As usual, I have not taken the trouble to summarize and/or plagiarize other sources to give you any background information on Bodegas Ishmael Arroyo. But you should make an effort to Google it, because Arroyo is one gorgeous winery.

Rebholtz, Pfalz, Chardonnay "R", 2005

A very appealing and memorable nose: yellow fruits, with a touch of apples, laden with mushrooms. A full, round body with ripe acidity and noticeable residual sugar suggesting its origin. Village level and, at about 180 NIS, under-priced for a village. Sold out, alas.

The rest of the tasting was served in flights of twos and I will serve up my notes accordingly.

Val Sotillo, Crianza, 2004 (108 NIS)
Montecastro, 2005 (150 NIS)

I tasted them together a few months ago, preferring the Montecastro at the time. This time, I would give the Val Sotillo the nod, with its subtle mineral overlay and a hint of mildew on the finish. The Montecastro is fruiter, more forward, with plenty of acidity.

Val Sotillo, Reserva, 2001 (225 NIS)
Val Sotillo, Reserva, 1999 (270 NIS)

Not only was there a distinct rise in quality, but also in typicity: these wines are more obviously Spanish, more obviously Ribera. These wines are obviously cut from the same cloth: black fruit shying far from the verge of blockbuster-ness, a bit of mildew, a bit of leather. Except that the 1999 has a greater aromatic depth and complexity, is much more communicative and enjoyable. The 2001 is still taut and reserved and I would be hard put to predict who will turn out to be the better wine. So I won't.

Val Sotillo, Gran Reserva 1995 (360 NIS)
Val Sotillo, Gran Reserva, 1994 (not for sale)

The Gran Reservas introduce greater weight and presence without compromising any elegance. The 1994 is just your every day good wine (well, for people who drink 300+ NIS wines regularly) and justifies its Gran Reserva label, but the 1995 charts out a bit of Wonderland, being slightly peppery on one hand while rich enough on the other to feel almost sweet. Yet this sweetness is a matter of fruit, not sugar, and the whole package is so deftly balanced, it registers on the palate holistically as "delicious". Consumer Warning: these wines came directly from the winery and friends tell me that bottles of the 1994 stored outside of the winery's underground caverns did not last this far. No worries about the 1995, from all accounts.

Val Sotillo, Gran Reserva, 1990 (not for sale)
Val Sotillo, Gran Reserva, 1989 (not for sale)

It is quite tempting, since I bought a bottle of the 1995, to believe it will evolve even further to match the 1989, which was really the wine of the night (and according to the winemaker, his best wine ever). It has more "old wine" aromas, a few more twists on the finish, not to mention plenty of acidic zest left. The 1990 is a lesser wine, maybe not even on par with the 1994, but boasts an enticing "sweaty horse hide" aromatic signature, before it succumbs to old age.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

How Many Tastings Open With A Leoville-Les-Cases 1989?

I've been beating my brains out trying to figure out the best way to introduce this tasting. In the end, I've decided to cut short the theatrics and keep it simple.

It was close to the end of the year, not yet New Year's Eve, but close enough. The order of the day was to bring out the best, most expensive wines we'd all been hoarding and we all obeyed the call. Luckily, we wound up with six great red wines, the pick of all the greatness France has to offer, and a terrific desert wine. No bad bottles, no TCA, no duds, no premature grey hairs.

Thanks for the friendship, people. And special thanks to Ran Shapira for midwiving the evening.

Leoville-Les-Cases, Saint Julien 2me Cru, 1989

Embodies elegance from the nose to the last, lingering caress of the aftertaste. The nose is fresh and fruity, albeit fruit that has been gently sauteed by nineteen years in bottle. I found an appealing hint of mushrooms as well. The palate is very balanced but the most direct compliment I could pay this wine leapt to my lips almost uncontrollably: "this is a very delicious wine!" I told my friends and this would not be the last delicious wine of the evening. All the wines, ranging from excellent to great, were gorgeously yummy.

Latour, Pauillac 1er Cru, 1986

Forward and sexy where the Les-Cases was regal and contained, the Latour flatters with an exciting nose full of red druit, tobacco leaves, coffee and exotic spices. As succulent and fresh as the palate is after twenty-two years, it fails to live to all the aromatic beauty and complexity. But then again the nose had set the bar at stratospheric heights.

Mouton, Pauillac 1er Cru, 1989

The Les-Cases' regal aromatic tapestry is matched here. Matched before the Mouton spins off to greater complexities. But the Mouton's best trick is played out on the palate which is absolutely perfect, being balanced and complex enough to win 95 points by my taste but then offers such mysterious charisma to take it as close to 100 points as any wine I've ever tasted.

Lynch-Bages, Pauillac 5me Cru, 2000

What is this youngster doing here? Discoursing on evolution. Very youthfully fruity and New World-ish at first, it overwhelms with black fruit. But its synthesis of succulent acidity and brooding tannins properly points to its origin and in time it embellishes the fruit with refined notes of tobacco. Will be an excellent wine one day but that is no surprise, considering the property and the vintage.

Chapoutier, Hermitage, Le Pavillon, 1996

The palate is sweeter, broader and less structured than any of the clarets, yet once again here is a wine that quickly achieved an intimacy with my taste buds. The nose needs no introduction and simply moves in with its red fruit enveloped by leather and mild notes of barnyard. For all that forwardness, the aromatics are not significantly less nuanced than the Bordeaux. Both the Pavillon and the l'Ermite, about to make its entrance, are so elegant they almost belie the usual perception of Syrah as a full-bodied wine by deftly cloaking their size.

Chapoutier, Hermitage, l'Ermite, 1998

Goodness! Tight, yet even now this is a fascinating wine. The similaraties to the Pavillon are obvious, yet this wine just has more to offer. Greater complexity, more structure, greater length and power that never detract from the wine's elegance. Greater finesse in the sneaky way it flutters a veil of mineral notes. This will really be a great wine someday and like many of the evening's wine, left me feeling ennobled to be sharing it with my friends.

Fritz Haag, Braunberger Juffer Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese #10, 2006

A sherbert of ripe yellow fruit dripping with sweet spices and morning dew. As sexy as the nose is, the palate wows even more with its succulent acidity. A fine ending to the evening and to the year.