Friday, February 27, 2009

Fantastic Voyage - Burgundy Tasting Chez Hagit Koren (Feb. 26, 2009)

Once a year, Hagit Koren hosts a Burgundy tasting with her husband and it just keeps getting better, Hagit expending greater effort in the kitchen each year while ever greater wines emerge from our coffers. This year, for example, all the reds were Grand Crus.

Bordeaux may be more consistent, but Burgundy, like Germany, has the capacity to rend through my heart and touch off poetic spiels like "a chainsaw running through a dictionary" (Elvis Costello). So read on and I hope you enjoy reading the notes as much as I enjoyed tasting the wines in such a friendly setting.

Egly-Ouriet, Verzenay, Grand Cru, Extra-Brut, n.v.

Well, obviously the tasting wasn't 100% Bourgogne, but Champagne is an honorary cousin anyway... This wine has an enticing nose of grapefruit, brioche and chalk, echoed on the palate, which isn't as complex as the nose, and not very long either, but goes a long way on pure tastiness.

Not imported to Israel, price unknown.

Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin, Chardonnay, 1995

This blantantly octogenarian ringer was a surprise. Not that this is a great wine or any proof that Israeli whites can survive this long but... The nose is obviously oxidized but there are animalistic and mineral notes that are quite intriguing. The palate is sweetish, lacks acidity, thus not very lively and fades quickly. But this is overall an interesting wine to taste if you just happen to have a fourteen year old version lying around. Just don't try aging it for this long at home, folks.

The Katzrin usually costs around 80 NIS on release.

Ramonet, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, Ruchottes, 2002

Three years ago, I attended a tasting hosted by Burgundy importer Tomer Gal. As he was pouring this wine, Tomer said gleefully, "now you're going to taste one of the wonders of creation" and this hyperbole actually rang true. Watching us succumb to the Ruchottes' magic, Tomer then added archly, "and you won't believe how much this wine costs, only 270 NIS, it's almost ridiculous. And there are only three bottles left." And as we all mulled over that, super wine afficiando Uri Gilboa roared "I'm buying them all", creating quite a ruckus as everyone explained that he was breaking some unspoken rule. We finally worked it all out (and Ran Shapira and I both left with a bottle) but for years, until I actually got to know him, Uri Gilboa was the man who tried to take my Ruchottes away from me.

Light jesting aside, tonight, the circle finally closed as Uri Gilboa brought his last bottle of the Ruchottes, though I must say that the bottle was so disappointing at first that I considered selling him my bottle. Because whatever wonders this wine is sequestering for the future, it is so oak laden and caramelly right now, that if you don't give it enough air or time, you will not feel very felicitous about it. But even before it sheds its sweet baby fat, it is very promising indeeed, with terrific, pungent notes of flint on the nose and a saline finish. And with time, time, time it flares into a very vibrant life in the glass.

As I said, imported by Tomer Gal and sold at the time for 270 NIS, which was amazing QPR. But life's a bitch and I believe the price is close to 400 NIS by now.

Brocard, Chablis Grand Gru, Le Clos, 1995

An interesting and tasty wine that ultimately gives meager meat for a tasting note. Light notes of cheese on the nose, tropical fruit and, finally, subtle saline notes. Perhaps slightly oxidized but there is enough acidity in there to keep it rocking, for my taste.

Price unknown.

Domaine Francois Lamarche, La Grand Rue, 2001

A lovely nose, highly perfumed, with loads of red fruit and some animalistic overtones. It's impressive and tasty, yet strikes me as not quite typical Bourgogne, as the sweetness of the fruit is somewhat heavy handed. It is still tannic, in Burgundy terms, but very drinkable given suitable airing time (about four hours in this case).

Imported by WineRoute, I'm not quite sure about the price.

Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, Grands Echezeaux, 1997

This feels less open, more challenging, more serious, more interesting than the la Grad Rue. The nose is slightly pungent at first but shows red fruit and exotic spices. 1997 is much maligned but this wine has a solid structure, lively fruit and a lovely espresso note on the finish.

Price unknown.

The final flight of the evening was something Oron Stern and I had been scheming for a few months.

Rene Engel, Clos de Vogeout 1996 and 2002

Even tasted blind, at least a couple of people noted that these wines obviously share the same DNA. I can't really abstract the similarities but the concerned consumer can note that they both have juicy acidity and are impressive and delicious. The 2002 is the type of young Bourgogne that proves how approachable these babies can be. It is so well balanced that the only drawback of its youth is the that the fruit is raw and primary - but it is beautiful fruit! - so that you long for more complexity but do not suffer unduly.

For greater complexity, approach the 1996 and drink slowly, as it offers the same gorgeous fruit tempered by age (and with a murky color that would get it thrown out of Bordeaux butt-first). The nose offers red fruit, pepper and forest floor while the palate expounds on the virutes of fine tannins.

The 1996 is one of the best buys of my life, costing 130 USD this summer while the dollar was down to 3.20 NIS, which made it about 60-70% of the local price.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Saturday Night Tasting (Feb. 14, 2009)

Riesling Lesson #1: Domaine Schoffit, Clos St. Theobald, Rangen de Thann, Riesling, Vendages Tardives, 1998

The nose shows off the best of Alsace: tropical fruit dominated (but not domineered) by white pepper and minerals. The palate might just be another example of why I usually prefer Germany, with the acidity so subdued it's hard to recognise the wine's Riesling-ness. It might be the vintage or just the wine's age but the nose made me want to like it more than I did in practice.

Price unknown.

Riesling Lesson #2: O'Leary Walker, Australia, Polish Hill River Riesling, 2008

Be it age or the vast difference in winemaking philosophy between Old and New World (trite cliche though that may be) but not one sage soul 'round the table recognized this as a Riesling. The first consensual guess was Sauvignon Blanc and it is rather a reasonable guess what with the wine's taut, crisp structure. There are also a lot of lemons and minerals on the nose and an almost aggressive acidity on the palate. Australian critics loved this wine and claim it will age so I will return to it in four-five years. Right now, it is not very appealing.

I returned to this wine two nights later. It held together very well by virtue of its high acidity with lip-smackingly saline, bone dry finish. However, it still showed little Riesling traits. In fact, it now seemed more like a Chardonnay, but the good kind, with no oak.

Imported by Mersch, sold for about 130 NIS or so.

Chateau Beaucastel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 1998

A wine that needs little introduction, it played an almost cruel game of hide and seek. Upon first opening, it seemed remarkably ready to drink, thus it was served as the first red wine. But by the time we got to it, the various varieties in the blend were struggling against each other, I guess, as that is the best explanation I have for the dramatic changes we were to experience. First it was too overtly fruity for our delicate Old World tastes, but after about 15 minutes in glass, it showed its true breed: a fantastic nose well delineated by notes of smoke, leather and herbs - and an impressive structure on the palate already softening up enough to let the taste buds enjoy its full complement of flavors.

Imported regularly by WineRoute, sold five-six years ago for about 210 NIS. Those were the good ol' days...

Chateau Calon-Segur, St. Estephe, 2002

A classic Bordeuax nose that wrenches a smile without half trying, with a smoky-earthy personality over fruit that is right at the borderline of black and red. The palate pulls of a nice trick of offering enough fruit to balance its bushelful of tannins while remaining only medium bodied. Still a youngster, it is already drinkable with the right steak.

Also imported regularly by WineRoute, this was sold four years ago for about 250 NIS.

Castellare, Sodi St. Niccolo, 1997

This super-Tuscan was one of the first wine I ever bought and as a pure Sangiovese hailing from just one of the Chianti DOCG's (I forget which), it is labelled an IGT solely for promotional purposes, I think. The nose is excellent, somewhat modern at the very outset, but its plethora of aromas is a product of terroir and bottle age by now, not any barrel-regime. If only the palate was as good, but it's an ungainly combination of sweet fruit and tannins with little of the nose's complexity. Oh well, it sure was nice to dream about drinking it these past six years.

Another WineRoute import, it cost about 250 NIS at the time and I do believe WR have stopped carrying it.

Aldo Conterno, Barolo Cicala, 2000

The neat sleight of hand here is how much finesse this wine displays despite its high acidity and firm tannins. Can we all spell "iron first in a velvet glove"? It might strike some as too tannic right now, but we had aired it for about three hours before approaching it and I have no qualms about drinking it now with that reservation. For once, the palate is better than the nose, though the elegant chocolate and coffee aromas are impressive in their own right.

This was truly a night for red WineRoute imports. This final item from their catalog used to cost in the upper 300 NIS range, as far as I recall.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Koehler-Ruprecht, Pflaz, Kalstadter Steinacker, Riesling Kabinett, 2004 (Feb. 7, 2009)

A couple of months ago, I brought a bottle of the Steinacker Kabinnet to a friend who had shown interest in my girlfriend of two years, the lovely Ms. German Riesling. I had been building up expectations for over a year, telling her all about the German wines I've drunk, in great detail I might add. Thus, Chaim the Proselytist was very much dismayed at her reaction a day after she had finally tasted this wine, that being a pout and the words "rat poison".

I could try to analyze her reaction but the bottom line is I screwed up. By now, I simply cannot understand how anyone could not love German Riesling and I love Koehler-Ruprecht so much, I am blind to the fact that he's really a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. I could have started my friend's education with something more palatable, though not necessarily less complex or interesting. Maybe something a bit sweeter, a bit fuller. I don't know.

Anyway, I felt I owed it to her to re-visit this wine and see what the fuss was all about. Or maybe I owed it to myself.

Aromatically, I find the nose is rather shy at first, but with some air it soon shows red apples, lime, freshly baked bread, bran and a minerality halfway between slate and chalk. The palate is off-dry and echoes the aromatics, but less fruity than I had remembered, somewhat austere, with a ripe acidity that vanishes towards the end to leave a quinine finish. Neophytes, I think, might find this finish aggressive, which was certainly my wife's reaction. I, however, continue to love this charming little wine and the way its aromas tease as they change and evolve in the course of an evening.

Giaconda, 117 NIS.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Misc. Notes (Jan. 2009)

Carpineto, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, 2001

Here's a wine I haven't drunk in years and that I rather wish I liked more these days. Ah, nostalgia isn't what it used to be. Good red cherry notes on the nose are marred by what I can only call barrel seasoning (meaning an overbearing spiciness, with somewhat carmelized overtones) but luckily, this doesn't follow through to the palate, which is relatively pure, albeit simple, with ripe acidity and a saline finish.

Imported by Geffen/Flam, I picked this up at Vino Cigar for 149 NIS.

Vitkin, Carignan, 2006

My problem with 'conventional' red varieties in Israel is the high alcohol level and hyper-ripeness creates a sweet sensation that I feel is inappropiate for those varieties. But the sweetness of this wine seeem appropiate, which might have to do with the structure of the grape or just good wine-making. The sweetness shows in the nose as a chocolate overlay over black fruit that with occasional blue nuances, earthy notes and hints of leather. That same sweetness is held in check on the palate by sharp tannins and good acidity and the whole package retains its shape until the finish, whereas with an Israeli Cab, I usually feel it unravelling towards the end. So, once again, this unique offering from this small winery lives up to its reputation. Bought for about 60 NIS to go with a winter cholent, it was a very appropiate match for my taste. As for aging, I have read some optimistic predictions, but going by today's experience, it feels so right just now that I don't know what bottle age might give it that it doesn't already have. It's certainly fairly complex now and the balance works. Oh well, at 60 NIS, it's worth experimenting with...

Bourillon d'Orleans, Vouvray Moeulleux, Art Monia, 2003

The nose is a lovely mix of pears, cut grass, an evocative flint mineral essance and perhaps a hint of quince. The palate is still a bit simple, and like Bourillon d'Orleans' 2003 Bourdonnerie, it is somewhat disjointed, the acidity dormant, and there is a bitter note on the finish that is at odds with, instead of complementing, the sweetness of the fruit. Though I liked it more the last time I tasted it, it has a lovely mineral cut and is an enjoyable experience.

Giaconda, 126 NIS.

Donnhoff, Nahe, Norheimer Kirscheck, Riesling Spatlese, 2004

Lovely. The nose is so complete and nuanced it's hard to believe this is just a youngster in Riesling terms, with peaches and grapefruit framed and caressed by a pungent, saline minerality reminscent of the sea breeze aromas you might find in Chablis, only more delicate. The palate is obviously adolescent and on the fat, creamy side, although the juicy, mouth-watering acidity already balances the sweetness so seamlessly that it creates an impression of a higher ABV than it's 8%. Terribly, terribly delicious.

Sold out, but the 2007 vintage costs 178 NIS at Giaconda.

d'Arenberg, Laughing Magpie, Shiraz-Viognier, 2002

Although I haven't been buying d'Arenberg in a while, I have enjoyed drinking up the various wines and vintages and my fridge (well, the mid-tier wines and upwards, I haven't been able to digest the Custodian or the Footbolt for years). Except for the 2002 Magpie, which I found last year to be sweet and coarse. But it's really settled down and improved since. There's still a lot of ripeness on both nose and palate, especially on the nose which has a tinge of candied over-ripness, but aromatically, it is tempered by an black pepper as well as underpinning of earth, violets and coffee beans. Meanwhile, on the palate, there are enough tannins and enough acidity to lend it plenty of savouriness and some relative elegance. Having said all that, I have no idea where Robert Parker finds any resemblance to Cote Rotie, except, of course, for the grapes in the blend.

Imported by WineRoute, usually priced at around 150 NIS.

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Elrom Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2001

This wine brings to the table Israel's finest raw fruit, and, as fine tannins etched out to millimeter precision will attest, Israel's finest winemaking. But here's the thing. When I think of the fatal attraction I have for Germany, Burgundy, the Rhone and the Loire, Bordeaux, Barolo - it has to do with sating an intellectual hunger, the need to always fit another piece into my personal diary of wines and wine regions, of winemakers striving to express their heritage as well as individual lots and make wines that are not just about tasting good while clouding one's faculties. That's what I want, something that will be mine as well as theirs and yours. I want to enjoy the wines I drink but I also want them to teach me something new, I actually want them to help me get somewhere in my private Oddessey, I want them to do the same thing for me in my 40's that Dylan, Richards, Welles and Reed did to me in my 20's and that D. Boon, Davis and Parker did for me in my 30's. So as good as this wine is, and it is, it just doesn't quite move me that way and so I am not inclined to write about its youthful currant and cranberry fruit or its jejune bitterness. In the end, all it tells me is that Victor Schonenfeld heads a really fine team of wine scientists and that in the course of creating one of Israel's finest wines, all they manage to do is repeat someone's else best trick.

Sold at the time for about 130 NIS but of course GHW saw how successful it was and like any Israeli entrepreneur, upped the price.