Monday, February 28, 2011

Shakuf (Feb. 21, 2011)

Tel Aviv restaurant Shakuf reminds me of Hector Camacho, dressed up for the ring like a Native American warrior and calling himself the Macho Man, then proceeding to stick and run, all smoke and mirrors, never delivering any real knockout power. The tasting menu is an experience, for sure, but for an undue portion of it, an outlandish, silly one.

PS. I think that if the waiter accepts a glass of wine from a customer - and incidently pours himself a healthy portion - said customer might feel disappointed if there is absolutely no discount on the corkage fee, no?

Artadi, Pago Viejos, 2001

The very complex nose shows cedar, forest floor, balsam, then leather as well as Barolo-like spices and underneath that aloof menthol, Bourgogne-like in its red fruit and minerals. Soft, ultra-fine tannins on the palate, mellow fruit, saline finish. Feminine and friendly without trying too hard to flatter, it keeps an elegant, composure throughout, gaining an added measure of freshness to become a Bordeaux look-alike. You could keep it for a few years, but a great showing like this makes cellaring an unwarranted privilege.

WineRoute, about 300+ NIS, purchased about six years ago, maybe even more. I've been cellaring it for a while now.

Ishmael Arroyo, Val Sotillo, Ribera Del Duero, 2001

That it initially stands up to the Pago Viejos is a stamp of quality - but once the PV shifts into full gear, it is a no-contest. Complex nose of leather and brine, rusty iron, cardamon, all atop black fruit that is starting to reveal signs of red fruit. Fuller than the PV and just as savory. A case of slugger vs. boxer here, perhaps?

Giaconda, about 220 NIS.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

IsProVinum Wines at Toto (Feb. 15, 2011)

I met up with Uri Caftori from boutique importer IsProVinum to taste a few wines from the catalog and, as a very welcome fringe benefit, got a chance to re-visit Tel Aviv restaurant Toto after a hiatus of over a year.

The wines ranged from fresh and simple bistro-style wines to interesting premium wines that compete nicely in quality and value with some of my sweet spot wine regions.

Chateau d'Or et de Gueules, Costieres de Nimes, Les Cimels Blanc, 2008

70% Grenache Blanc, 20% Vermentino, 10% Rousanne. A quaffer that is better on the round and saline palate than on the nose, showing minerals and hints of grass and flowers. I think when people venture into the white wines of the North Rhone, this kind of wine is what they expect to find, before they start falling into the various boobytraps of the genre, which this wine manages to avoid. You know, the bitter almonds of their youth, then the odd and hard to gauge dumb periods - none of that here. Drink young with salads. 75 NIS.

Domaine St. Antonin, Faugeres, Les Jardins, 2008

Equal parts Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. A step up from quaffer is this bistro wine: nothing fancy or complex, light, tart and minerally, trading on personality. I kept returning to it and the fruit became purer, the finish more saline. This is the kind of charming wine that would get passed by in 'normal' tastings. Drink now. 75 NIS.

Clos Marie, Languedoc, Pic-St.-Loup, l'Olivette, 2008

40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% Cinsault, 10% Mourvedre. Just like the 2007, this is easy to like/appreciate with funky, minerally black fruit that comes across as mid-way between Rhone and Ribera Del Duero. Priced like a not inexpensive Saint Joseph, of equal quality if not exactly the same style. This wine is always worth a couple of bottles for me whenever it goes on sale, as it invariably seems to at WineDepot. 145 NIS.

Domaine de l'Horizon, Cote de Rousillon Village, Rouge, 2007

Equal parts Grenache and Carignan. If you're a novice, then you'll miss out on the intellectual pleasures of trying to place this wine. Complex leather/saline/mineral ambience that has CdP feel without CdP weight. Then it's spicy in a Barolo way. Finally, the black fruit could be Saint Estephe, while the smoky minerals could be Pessac. Fine tannins and a fine wine. 245 NIS.

Coume del Mas, Collioure, Quadratur, 2006

50% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 20% Carignan. Spicy black fruit that is surprisingly refreshing despite the high ABV. Hedonistic nose full of meat and toasted bread. Brett again. Like a gentle, unassuming version of Chateauneuf. Personally, I'd go for the l'Horizon but this is quite good, albeit a little expensive. 245 NIS.

Domaine Louis Dupont, Pays d'Auge, Cidre Givre 2007

Amazing. This is the cider version of eiswein, with the same refreshing, piercing acidity. 150 NIS.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Hear A Symphony - Didier Dagueneau Tasting (Feb. 7, 2011)

If you're the type of wine geek who is willing to pay white Burgundy Premier Cru prices, you'll find the Dagueneau family domaine offers wines of similar, arguably better quality at the same prices - and my guess is you'd be less severely punished for mis-gauging the drinking window.

If you're encumbered by prejudice and don't take kindly to paying such prices for a Sauvignon Blanc, then pass on through and don't look back.

But you'll miss out on an interesting twist on the fossil-saline paradigm that you might have thought only Chablis Grand Cru can consistently come up with.

Anat Sella and Rafaella Ronen of importer Giaconda opened all the wines three hours prior to our arrival, then decanted each wine for five-ten minutes. They had warned us that the 2005's had the least to offer of the three vintages we tasted, but I found them to be in a wonderful place right now, where they're already drinking well, while hinting at future development.

Blanc Fume de Pouilly, 2005

The nose is powerful, yet a bit one-dimensional, showing grapefruit aromas that verge on lemon, with marine/mineral notes and a hint of smoke. The palate shows greater complexity, with an acid-tinged mineral cut and laden with fossil-like, marine flavors. This is the "entry-level" wine: call it a villages, it could have been the closing wine of any other Sauvignon Blanc tasting. 270 NIS.

Pouilly Fume, Pur Sang, 2005

Both palate and nose are more complex and nuanced than in the previous wine: we're truly in single-vineyard territory now. The aromatics lean further towards the mineral world, with less fruit. Simply a gorgeous nose, Grand Cru class in Chablis terms, arguably a Grand Cru even in Cote d'Or terms. Meanwhile, the palate presents a very complete and balanced whole. 333 NIS and sold out.

Pouilly Fume, Buisson Renard, 2005

There is a stylistic difference here - not a sharp break, though, more of a fork in the road. The quality, however, is on par with the Pur Sang. It's still a very mineral-laden wine, but less marine in nature, with a note of cat's pee. The palate is on the dormant side, with impressive acidity. 360 NIS.

Pouilly Fume, Silex, 2005

The Dagueneau Grand Cru. The nose is even livelier than the previous singles, fruitier and with a herbal tinge the other 05's don't have. The palate is very refined, comprised of subtler strokes. If the Pur Sang and the Renard were John Coltrane, this is Charlie Parker. 495 NIS.

2007 is the only vintage we tasted that I personally wouldn't open right now even if I had a case-ful. The 2005's, as I've written, are showing a wonderful facade of sea-shells and fossils, whereas the 2008's have a healthy, youthful vigor. The 2007's, on the other hand, have a tropical streak that doesn't carry the same virile energy as the other vintages. The quality is there, in other words, just not the X-factor that make the others so captivating.

Blanc Fume de Poilly, 2007

At this stage, this wine has a decisively New World streak on palate and nose, which it can't totally shake off, even though it does start to resemble its 2005 brother in time. Both nose and palate show litchi, gooseberry and a hint of pineapple. The palate is still dis-jointed: the acidity a little vulgar, the fruit slightly sweet-ish. 234 NIS.

Pouilly Fume, Buisson Renard, 2007

This is more like it. The litchi and pineapple are gone and the gooseberry is intriguingly enshrouded by minerals and smoke. There is very pretty fruit and lovely acidity at its core, but right now it's less interesting than the 2005. 315 NIS.

Pouilly Fume, Silex, 2007

If this wine is Dagueneau's yard-stick, then 2007 is indeed another good vintage for the winery, as it is almost as excellent and harmonic as the 2005, albeit less impressive right now. Having said that, it's just taut enough that it's hard to out a finger on what makes the Silex 2007 better and more elegant than the Renard - it just is. 450 NIS.

The 2008's are as exciting and as captivating as the 2005's and terribly delicious. Didier's children did a wonderful job picking up their late father's mantle.

Blanc Fume de Poilly, 2008

The nose is taut yet still reveals the same family mineral signature, despite a certain lack of fruit. I still pick up some gooseberry, though. The palate is fruity, all the same, complemented by minerals. It gets a little tedious writing about all those minerals, yet what can you do? 234 NIS.

Pouilly Fume, Pur Sang, 2008

A terrific, complex nose, full-throttle chalky minerals, without ever becoming a bombshell. More gooseberry. The Pur Sang is my personal favorite of the lot, through the different vintages, and the best priced, all things considered. 297 NIS.

Pouilly Fume, Silex, 2008

Gooseberry, some tropical fruit, with the minerals initially in the background and gaining presence with time. Multi-faceted elegance. 450 NIS and sold out.

Sancerre, Les Monts Dammes, 2008

Dagueneau's sole Sancerre holding presents a different aromatic signature, one that retains the same seal of excellence. Chalkier than the Pouilly Fumes. The palate is rounder and arguably shorter. 405 NIS and sold out.

Jurancon, Les Jardins de Babylone, 2007

This is a dessert wine made of Jurancon's specialty Petit Manseng. A "wow" nose, with a bizarre spicing of which I can only make out cinnamon, that starts out rocking and becomes even wilder with air. Jerry Lee Lewis. Although Anat said there was botrytis in it, I could not find any telltale funk and it resembles an icewine, as it has a similar, fresh acidity, that totally balances its gobs of sweetness. A complex finish tops off a very memorable experience. 531 NIS for a 500 cc bottle. Someone please be kind to me on my birthday.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jean-Paul Thevenet, Morgon, Vieilles Vignes, 2009 (Feb. 5, 2011)

This is the last of the batch of Beaujolais Crus that I bought in Paris a few months ago, and, on paper anyway, it promised to be the best of the lot - being the sole representative of the reputedly stellar 2009 vintage I was able to score in the City Of Lights.

In the event, it turned out to be an excellent wine, with all the complexity of a Cote d'Or Premier Cru, if not quite the stuffings of one. Not that I'm sure the style of these wines requires the same type and density of stuffing - Beaujolais are indeed similar to red Bourgognes yet have a different type of texture and thus don't need the cogwheels to be lined up the same way. Whatever, this is as good as the Lapierre, Morgon, 2009 and thus the best Beaujolais I've had so far.

The nose has fragrant red fruit, beets, sanguine, tobacco leaves, a melange of eastern spices and lightly pungent hints of coffee and freshly turned earth: I don't do grocery lists of aromas, but this wine simply kept its story going in installments all evening long. The palate has tightly focused purity of fruit that etches a long, saline finish with great precision. This feels like a lithe, classic old school wine that deserves time in the cellar that I'm unwilling to give it due to the producer's practice of administering only light doses of sulphur. Had regular imports been available, I'd have bought a six pack and gambled on a couple of bottles strategically tucked away in the coldest corners of my fridge.

About 25 euros.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Misc Notes (Jan. 2011)

Domaine Courbis, Saint-Joseph, 2005

So by now I've tasted just about all the Saint-Josephs available in Israel: Graillot, Chave, Chapoutier, and now this. Anyway, I don't have a great depth of experience with Saint-Josephs, but this wine doesn't seem too typical of the appellation to me. The nose is interesting: black and red cherries with black pepper, stony minerality and a hint of garrigue, which I find odd in a Northern Rhone. It really takes a long time to open up enough on the palate to show typicity, but even then, the vague sense of familiarity that typicity affords is ephemeral. The palate is way too masculine and four-square for my tastes (or for my expectations of a good Northern Rhone wine), with dusty tannins masking the acidity that certainly is lurking underneath. I couldn't help but think how much it reminds me of the Vacqueyras and Gigondas that Giaconda have been importing; maybe it's a stylistic decision on their part. Whatever, Graillot this ain't. (Jan. 6, 2011)

Giaconda, about 150 NIS.

Domaine de la Mordoree, Lirac, La Reine Des Bois, 2005

Graphite, garrigue, black fruit, black pepper. Although there is something modern about it, a grainy, slightly bitter finish combines with sweet tannins to make for a surprising, intellectually challenging effect, even if not the most delicious one. One of the more likable Southern Rhones I've had recently. (Jan. 8, 2011)

WineRoute, about 130 NIS on discount.

Tardieu-Laurent, Cote-Rotie, 2001

I was planning to open something else, but this bottle virtually yelled "open me!" from the fridge, so I did. Call me the Dr. Doolitle of the wine fridge, but it's a good thing I was paying attention because the cork was so damp - and there was such a worrying brown tint to the liquid - that I'm not sure how much longer I could have afforded to wait with this bottle. There is initially a distressing whiff of acetone that recedes to allow aromas of red fruit, roasted herbs, cured meat and black pepper to come through. The palate is propelled by acidity, as was the case two years ago, but it's much better integrated today, fostering a pretty swirl of sweet fruit on the back end that combines with soft, sleek tannins to make for a Bourgogne-like silkness. Faulted, perhaps, by the still somewhat high acidity, but lovely for me anyway for displaying a femininity I had not previously chanced upon in the Rhone (I know, they say it's present in Cote-Rotie, I just personally haven't had the good fortune of drinking one at just the right phase of its evolution). (Jan. 15, 2011)

WineRoute, 350 NIS.

Albert Mann, Furstenstum Grand Cru, Gewurztraminer, Vieilles Vignes, 2007

This is some Gewurtz and, before I mention where it goes beyond the varietal checklist, I want to say that it has enough acidity to lend focus to the usual intensity of extract that the grape always offers. Having said that, the checklist: rose petals, litchi, spices. Then a mellow, yet complex, overlay of minerals that I find as regal as anything coming from my favorite Germany vineyards. The palate has a complex, saline aftertaste of great pedigree. Fine, fine, fine. (Jan. 16, 2011)

Giaconda, about 200 NIS.

A. Et P. De Villaine, Cote Chalonnaise Blanc, Les Clous, 2006

My patience is finally starting to pay off. This wine has always had gorgeous, and very typical, aromatics of dried grass, flint, pears and apples - but the palate, after an initial bottle that displayed its quite obvious potential, has been been brooding and moody for the last couple of years. Now, while there is still a vague impression that it's not fully baked yet, it's fun again, with a firm grip and a complex, savory, saline finish. So my thinking is, I'll open my last bottle this summer or the next, just to get an impression how long to cellar the newer vintages awaiting in the wings.(Jan. 21, 2011).

Tomer Gal, about 120 NIS.

Chateau Fontenil, Fronsac, 2003

Mineral and herb tinged aromas of black fruits, with a hint of chocolate and roasted meat. There is an initial sense of high extract on the nose that is thankfully not quite as blatant on the palate, which has sneaky acidity that lurks beneath the plump fruit and winds up with a savory, lightly tannic bite. Quite Bordeaux, despite the sweet tannins, the lush figure, the vaguely international style. Pretty good, even if not more, but gets the job done. (Jan. 22, 2011)

WineRoute, 160 NIS. Good value. I bought two bottles and suspect I'd buy more in a more classically-molded vintage.

Albert Mann, Grand Cru Furstenstrum, Pinot Gris, 2005

A nose like no other, quince, red apples and minerals that suggest bathing salt, plus what is now evolving into hints of spices. The palate is flavorful and reasonably complex and restrains the 14% ABV rather well, I think. (Jan. 26, 2011)

Giaconda, about 200 NIS.

Meishar, #41, 2006

This is a Shiraz based blend (60%, the rest equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) from a small local winery that I have fond memories of - partly for the down-home quality of their wines and partly because they never seemed to encourage the usual hype that boutique wineries seem to thrive on. This has ripe, slightly candied, nose of wild berries with a hint of herbs that is not very complex or interesting but well done. The 14% ABV shows as bitterness on the finish, but it is balanced by saline notes that seem to come out of left field. So the palate, although already starting to tire, is better than the nose and overall, this is a nice wine for casual drinking that avoids overt signs of jamminess but doesn't set off any firecrackers either. Which is just fine for its price. (Jan. 29, 2011).

60 NIS at WineDepot.

I thought I'd give Meishar another shot and went for the Reserve 31, Merlot, 2008, which is priced a little higher at 75 NIS. It's nicer, fresher, although not enough so considering its youth. It has typical Merlot aromas and the same saline notes on the finish as the #41. It's more refined and lively but I doubt it will keep more than a year or so. But I think the herbal-tinged reticence is what wins over the winery's fans and who cares if a 75 NIS wine from the desert is made to drink young. (Jan. 30, 2011)