Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An Old Debt Is Finally Repaid (Apr. 23, 2011)

A couple of years ago, my wife's cousin Boaz and his wife Stacy gave us a short, yet thrilling, food tour in downtown Manhatten. Ever since, we'd been planning a reciprocal engagement in Tel Aviv and today, it finally came to pass. Since Boaz and Stacy had just one free evening, I had only one shot at this and I chose Toto: because I believe it is typical of current trends in Israeli haut cuisine and I find it somewhat more dependable than its peers in the same price range. Also, I thought its signature dishes (chestnut gnocchi anyone?) would make a very memorable impression on the uninitiated. Plus, I have to admit I'm always inclined towards restaurants where I'm on friendly terms with the staff, especially the sommelier (hint, hint). It was a good call, in the event, judging by the reaction and the compliments.

Chateau Bouscasse, Madiran, 2005

This is the basic bottling, 50% Tannat and the rest roughly equal parts Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Very black fruit on the nose, but not over-ripe, with a prominent mineral vein and hints of leather. The palate is dense, yet not a blockbuster, with enough acidity to complement the fruit as the long finish glides on sleek, smooth tannins. Better and much more elegant than I expected and a great value. (Apr. 23, 2011)

About 15 euros at Fortnum and Mason.

I chose the Bouscasse because I thought (based on reading up as opposed to experience) that its ripe, yet tannic, structure would pair well with the robust character of most of the dishes at Toto, and would thus be a good catch-all choice. This last consideration was paramount because my wife frowned on my bringing more than one bottle, necessitating a very flexible wine. Also, I thought limiting us to one bottle for four people required a young, tannic wine that would be sipped slowly and last a bit.

However, the Bouscasse turned out to be easier to drink than expected, and more wine was requested in mid-meal. The solution: a couple of glasses each of Israeli reds, in order to highlight the local products. Oy vey, the notion of 2GrandCru turning patriotic!

The Flam, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, 2007 was full of black fruit with hints of brett, muscular with decent elegance, and did not in any way exceed my expectations (not a bad thing, as I'm still fond of the winery). The Chateau Golan, Syrah, 2007, on the other hand, did surprise me, even though the word on the street was that something very welcome was afoot. A fruity, yet mellow nose, one that was slow to show the varietal black pepper, was a break from both the Rhone and Australian paradigms, and I appreciated the fact that the fruit was reined in enough to highlight some elegance. The palate was complex and deep enough for joy, and above all tasty. High class. Both wines cost about 140 NIS.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Aldo Conterno, Barolo, Bussia, 1999 (Apr. 9, 2011)

Celebrating my first participation in the Tel Aviv Marathon (I ran the ten kilometer race, finished in 58 minutes. Bummer - I was aiming for 55):

The nose is somewhat musky and earthy at first, but silky on the palate from the very start. With time, the aromatics show typical Nebbiolo spicy accents and greater complexity, while the palate gains stuffing and grip without losing it's light-handed clarity, freshness and precision. What always baffles me about Barolos is how their freshness belies their relative high ABV. This clocks in at 14%, and let's face it, with any other wine I'd be whining about ripeness of fruit, the weight, how much I prefer less alcohol and greater elegance. Yet here everything is carried with great finesse and fresh acidity, absolutely no heat. Which I find typical, at least with the Barolos that my friends tend to bring to the table. (Apr. 9, 2011)

WineRoute. I bought this so long ago, I don't remember the exact price, but it was probably something like 250-270 NIS seven or eight years ago. I know this is Aldo Conterno's basic Barolo, but it's still great, thank you very much.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Redeeming Brocard - Chablis Grand Cru, Les Clos 2004 (Apr. 14, 2011)

Dude kinda looks like Clint Eastwood

I haven't had much luck with the Brocard Grand Crus, having only tasted off-vintages, over-the-hill bottles, and one 2002 Les Clos that was defunct in ways even a combined attack of TCA, heat damage and bad closure would have had a hard time explaining. Earlier this fall, my other bottle of 2002 Les Clos hinted at what Brocard could actually do, although it still felt like it didn't offer the full power of a Grand Cru.

The bottle of 2004 I'm sipping, however, is the real deal.

The aromatics are excellent and nuanced, with pungent citrus peel, rain water and various marine elements (not just the usual sea-shells but wet beach sand as well), but the best move the Les Clos makes is on the palate. This isn't bigger than other Chablis I've drunk, just more precise in its presentation of Chablis - you can almost chew the fossilized Kimmeridgian limestone in its stoney, iodine-inflected finish. A light bitterness in no way imposes on the powerful, detailed texture, and the wine comes off as very balanced and tasty. Grand indeed, you betcha!

This set me back about 50 USD five years ago.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Let's Get It On - An Evening At HaBasta (Apr. 10, 2011)

God, I'm in love.

It's a good thing I'm not a professional restaurant reviewer, so I can get away with simply basking in post-coital bliss about my latest infatuation, HaBasta, located in Tel-Aviv's Shuk HaCarmel. Let someone break down the yummy dishes and the ambience into flowery, detailed prose. This ain't my gig.

The tasting notes are.

Vincent Girardin, Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru, 2004

A terrific nose, gamey as Gevrey should be, with forest floor, flowers, gorgeous red fruit and notes of mocha. The palate is round and a little short but the tannins leave a pleasant savory tang. All in all, this wine deserves what is becoming a cliched compliment about the 2004 reds: "a good effort for the vintage".

Imported by WineRoute, I believe the price was about 400 NIS. Thanks to Zacki and Itay for this one.

Remezieres, Hermitage, Cuvee Emile, 2000

A peppery, impressive Syrah, that is crafted with precision while remaining true to its origins. Which for me means a certain burliness, and I certainly find that here. Because even though the Emile has a sweet, ripe facade that is tempered by fine tannins, way beneath all that is a dense, brooding core. A bottle drunk last year was more complex and interesting, but this is still a robust specimen and, due to the nature of the vintage I suppose, it's not a case a infantcide, as one might have predicted.

Bought at MacArthur for about 60 USD a couple of years ago.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Checking Out A 'New' Place (Mar. 29, 2011)

I missed out on the heyday of Ha-Zela Ha-Sheminit (The Eighth Rib, we Israelis are a funny people). In fact, I can't even recall when exactly its heyday was, except that it was over a decade ago, but I had been looking forward to trying out the degustation menu in its reincarnated version in Tel Aviv. Chef/owner Shlomi Katzin's original vision focused on meat; the latter-day Zela is a small boutique-sized thing and offers other indulgences, such as a lovely dish of shrimps and cadaif (small, dry Arabian noodles). Having said that, the culinary highlights were the meat dishes, especially my very first taste of kobe beef.

The vineological highlights were as follows:

Servin, Chablis Grand Cru, Les Clos, 2000

The nose is coarse and oaky at first, although it does show lime and stone, making me ponder whether I'd discovered an alchemical formula for limestone.With air, I get more nuances and a sense of complexity, as well as hints of minerals and sea shells. Although the acidity is evident, although not amazing, the palate is unbalanced and heavy until air soothes it, then it turns bitter again. Oh, not great at the end of the day - just not lively enough - but interesting.

Giaconda, 320 NIS.

Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Leognan, 1998

Deep and minerally, tannic yet soothing. Earthy, restrained, with notes of tobacco leaves. Lacks length and structure but has a core of claret-ness, Yet I don't get any sense of Pessac-ness. Patience and air lend it length and focus. And Pessac-ness. So, a mediocre start, but very good at the finish line.

Chateau Rauzan-Segla, Margaux 2me Cru, 1996

The nose is closed at first, so I focus on what it tastes like. Long, outgoing. Tannic, yet not harsh at all, complex, with a lively finish that creates an impressive first impression. Fresh and lively with '96 purity of fruit. With air: an appealing, complex, lively nose, with a touch of barnyard, alongside more prominent notes of roasted coffee.

Valbuena, Ribera del Duero, 1999

The nose is about coffee and spicy black fruit, on the monolithic side at first, but an impressive one nonetheless that opens up and complexifies nicely, showing a touch of new leather. Round, long, with big, ripe tannins which yet maintain an elegant decorum. The 14% ABV doesn't burn, but I think it shows up as hint of sweetness. This would appeal to both neophytes and geeks; having said that - or because of it - to me, it's not more than a step ahead, if at all, of the less expensive Alion.

Chateau Kirwan, Margaux 3me Cru, 2003

Blatantly Bordeaux. Subtle, complex, mineral-laden aromas with a touch of barnyard. The palate is round, not over the top, and I love the savory tannins on the finish. Good, even if not especially challenging.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Misc Notes (Mar. 2011)

Domaine du Colombier, Crozes-Hermitage, Rouge, 2006

I bought enough of these to make it my house red, and I really believed, up to this point, that I'd seen through all its guises. However, despite the familiarity, I find myself surprised at its evolution. While I adored its aromas of raw meat and flowers over the last year plus, they have started to take a back seat and this is now showing, on both nose and palate, a redder fruit profile, alongside iron, saline minerals and roasted herbs. The palate still has the fleshy, fruity fat of young Syrah, which I think it will never outgrow, but, at this point in its life, it shows more vivacity in its acidic backbone than previously and somewhat greater sophistication in its saline finish. (Mar. 9, 2011)

Giaconda, 126 NIS.

Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley, 2002

Presumably because of Lebanon's French heritage, my assumption was that Serge and Gaston Hochar's model was Bordeaux, but now I'm not quite so sure about that. The nose has a tarry extraction that I would associate with warm-vintage Bordeaux, but even more so with south France (Chateauneuf, Languedoc) and the blend (Cabernet/Cinsault/Carignian) would certainly cover both territories. The palate has soft, sweet tannins that recall how Temperanillo or Grenache can taste on the occasion when careful craftsmanship brings out a Burgundian felicity. But it's not very complex or long - and there's a hole in the middle to boot . The overall impression is disappointing, although a part of me suspects (read: would like to believe) that it's the bottle, not the wine. (Mar. 10, 2011)

About 18 GBP at the Heathrow duty-free.

A. Et P. De Villaine, Cote Chalonnaise Rouge, La Fortune, 2009

My first 2009 Bourgogne, although I'm not sure how representative Villaine's low-tier red is of the vintage further up north in the Cote. Let's just say I was more interested in dipping my toes into the latest Villaine releases than gleaming any understanding of the reputedly great 2009 vintage. Whatever, this has very nubile purple-red fruit - dominated by beet and underpinned, abetted and complexified by sanguine, earthy notes - and has great, promising vitality and surprising depth, length and bite. Easily the best La Fortune that Tomer Gal has imported yet. So maybe I did learn something about the 2009 vintage after all: it's going to dig its claws deep into my bank account. (Mar. 12, 2011)

About 110 NIS.

Marcel Lapierre, Morgon, 2009

The Bourgogne Genie was out of the bottle, and yes, I still maintain that Beaujolais Crus belongs to the Burgundy camp. This, too, sings the virtues of 2009, as it smells like a Cote de Nuits - that is, a million bucks - sweet, dark-red fruit with a pungent, mineral core and leather and exotic spices around the fringes. The palate is not a Bourgogne look-alike, though. It's fatter, the tannic structure and flavors are different. In short, it just doesn't have a lot of Pinosity - but it does have a lot of Gamay-ness. And in the hand of someone like Lapierre, especially in a vintage like 2009, Gamay fits quite comfortably in the Grape Top Twenty. And like a good Bourgogne, it doesn't dry or pucker and it leaves you feeling replenished. (Mar. 14, 2011)

Tomer Gal again, 130 NIS.

I like - no, make that love - the Lapierre and the La Fortune and I'd buy cases of them if I could. They're both fresh and tasty while offering enough depth and complexity for intellectual pleasures as well. Haiku wines. Chuck Berry wines. Right now, I think the La Fortune actually wins by a round, which surprises me somewhat.

Roberto Voerzio, Barbera d'Alba, Vigneti Ceretto, 2004

It took me a few minutes to figure out how to read this wine, until I realized that it was behaving like a mini-Barolo, rather than a Barbera - spicy and big, briny with nutty overtones. The trigger was my private, mental sign for Barolo: a dusty, pungent whiff that reminds me of old carpets. This doesn't have Barbera's high-toned acidity or Nebbiolo's tannic bite, instead it's like a soft hybrid of both. Although - wait for the news flash at eleven, folks - the acidity finally kicks in after a couple of hours, lending the fruit added purity and freshness. Not great, and not something I'd like to sink my teeth into too often, but a fine introduction into a producer priced beyond my comfort zone. (Mar. 19, 2011)

Bought at WineRoute on discount for 150 NIS.

Deux Montilles, Saint Romain, 2007

I always like this wine but this is somewhat of an improvement on 2006, coming off as very elegant for the village and the price. Spicy pears, oranges, dry grass and flint on the nose, a fleshy core of fruit and a saline finish - Alix really knows how to bring out the innate Bourgogne-ness out of every grape of Chardonnay she touches. It is a bit too fat for what I look for in white Burgundy, but that's a petty complaint considering the price and origin. (Mar. 20, 2011)

Tomer Gal, 160 NIS.

Domaine des Baumard, Savennieres, Trie Speciale, 2003

On the nose I find quince, red apples and sculptor's clay, which I recall was present in the 2005 Carte d'Ore. Dry and a little aggressive at first - a somewhat elegant version of the rough-hewn Savennerieres style a la Closel and Joly. Plenty of acidity for what I've read was a hot vintage; which may not reach the stratosphere but which matches the ripe fruit aptly - until it starts to wither down and allows the ripe fruit to display a powerful presence that create an illusion of sweetness. An energetic, spicy finish, persistent but not totally overwhelming, even though it is on the savage (sauvage?) side for me. I like it, just not as much as I thought I would. (Mar. 24, 2011)

Giaconda, about 180 NIS.

Joseph Drouhin, Savigny-Les-Beaune, 2007

Strawberries/raspberries on the nose, with a note of green tobacco leaves that hints at Bourgogne earthiness and spices. Tart cherries on the palate, although almost from the start it picks up mediating notes of sweeter, riper fruit - enough to soothe, without letting it out of the pigeon-hole of the lesser Burgundy villages. Still, the green notes on nose and palate are bothersome and they are almost agonizingly slow to dissipate, enough to make me ponder whether even aging will help it much further along. It's a hard wine to call. (Mar 26, 2011)

160 NIS at the Scottish Company, but I bought it at half price with a coupon. The discount price made it good value, I'm not so sure about the QPR of the full price.

Auld Lang Syne time:

Dr. Loosen, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Wehlener Sonnenhur, Riesling Auslese, 2005

Of course it will be great someday, but right now the nascent mineral cut is submerged in loads of baby fat. But this baby laughs all the time and has a gorgeous nose that hints at minerals and herbs, while the palate presents nascent purity of fruit. (Mar. 31, 2011)

WineRoute, about 200 NIS.

Reaping the rewards of educating a neophyte friend, I was invited to share the following two wines:

Chateau Malescot St. Exupery, Margaux 3me Cru, 1999

The nose is fruity in a mellow, curranty manner, with pungent mineral notes. Soft tannins that are a little under-ripe, medium-bodied, balanced up to a point, no great holes, no great length either. It's a little coarse but that's part of its charm, actually. Quite nice. (Mar. 31, 2011)

Inniskillin, Niagara Peninsula, Chardonnay Icewine, 2007

Prominent notes of apple sauce, brown sugar. Doesn't quite touch the vivid, acidity-propelled energy of Icewines made from Riesling and its brethren, but still, it's on the quality level of a decent Sauternes, which means it's yummy, and with a much lower ABV to boot. (Mar. 31, 2011)