Thursday, May 30, 2013

Herbert Samuel (May 18, 2013)

My latest flame
A casual dinner (inasmuch as any meal at Herbert Samuel can be called casual) with Ran, Rani and Benny in attendance. A chance to open some bottles that only a few years ago would have been reserved for birthdays and other grand occasions.

Francois Jobard, Meursault Premier Cru, Geneverieres, 2005

Nutty and oily on the nose, with a well measured dose of minerals. Good balance on palate, ripe fruit with a spicy finish.  A very typical Meursault, in my eyes, highlighting the best the community has to offer. This is the second healthy bottle I've had the pleasure of opening - a personal record among my Jobard holdings!

Burgundy Wine Collection, about 400 NIS.

Bouchard, Meursault Premier Cru, Geneverieres, 2004

A really dynamite nose! Funky, stinky and flinty. Excellent balance on the palate. Like the Jobard, there's a distinctly nutty note. And I can't believe we had two such good showings of Meursaults in one night, we really hit the jackpot this time.

WineRoute, about 400 NIS.

Emidio Pepe, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 2001

A lovely nose, with pungent minerals and red fruit. A classic mouth cleanser, with a long tannic finish. Powerful without overpowering. A really wonderful wine and a great personal discovery.

Giaconda, 520 NIS.

Aldo Conterno, Barolo Cicala, 2001

Closed and mysterious, yet very refreshing. Full and spicy, friendly with laid back power. Flowers and spices, red fruits. "If this is a Barolo", I thought tasting it blind, "and knowing Benny Rosen it probably is, then it's a very classic rendition".

WineRoute, about 400 NIS.

Friday, May 24, 2013

This Could Be The Last Time (May, 14, 2013)

Almost from the very start of my love affair with the world of wine, dessert wines, especially those made with the more or less incidental help of botrytis, attracted me both intellectually and sensually. Intellectually because they occupy a different niche in the social life of wine drinkers, in the same way the dessert is a course apart from the main meal; because of the wide array of wine making techniques involved; and because of the (theoretically) long aging curve.

The sensual appeal is obvious. They taste damn good! Or should anyway. The wine world is rather full of cloying dessert wines. Or alcoholic dessert wines. Or both.

Seven, eight years ago, I thought Sauternes rocked. The first encounters with the funky, slightly pungent,  mustard-like aromas were a revelation, while the effect on the taste buds evoked visions of Victorian lords sipping their after dinner drinks with butter biscuits, or whatever they snacked on while smoking their Cubans and maintaining the Empire.

I started having doubts when I tasted the 2003's. The acidity was on the low side, but I bought a few anyway, as the vintage was so highly praised that I figured I was inexperienced and should make some conservative purchases. While waiting for my bottles to mature, I did enjoy the 2001 Sauternes and made very enjoyable forays into (in chronological order): sweet Sherries, Ausleses and eisweins, Tokays and the Loire. The eisweins and Tokays were especially memorable, and, due to their racy acidity, epiphanies and standard raisers.

When I finally started delving into my stash of 2003 Sauternes, I noticed the low acidity no longer bothered me as much as before. The high alcohol was the new deal breaker. I really prefer a lighter drink on my tired palate after a meal. People tell me that a wine can be balanced at 14% ABV. I'd like to know what balances the alcohol. A greater extraction of fruit? Someone needs to put some serious thought into why that would be a, ahem, palatable solution to the problem.

Anyway, the bottom line is my dessert wine after this year's Shavuot dinner is likely to be the last Sauternes I will buy, although there's always a chance I'll take a dip into less heralded vintages in the hope they will produce daintier products.

Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes Premier Cru, 2003

Suduiraut is on the short list of d'Yquem runner-ups, and despite all my reservations above, this bottle proves why. The nose is a an immensely proportioned dollop of toffee double dipped in molasses and nougat, glowing in the botrytis funk I described in the start of my diatribe, and is actually a good example of wild excess finding its own inner logic. Life doesn't offer a lot of comparable olfactory experiences at anywhere near affordable prices. The palate, as expected, isn't very demure. The muscular slabs of fruit and sugar manage to obscure the alcoholic heat until almost the end of each sip, and trade off finesse and nuance for intensity. I can understand why 2003 was lauded so, it's just not for me. But I already said that. Enjoy, if you have any. (May 14, 2013)

WineRoute, this probably cost about 180 NIS for a half bottle in 2005 or so.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fat Guy Strikes Again

Tondonia in winter
I'd been waiting for some time to taste Eldad Levy's's new Spanish portfolio.

R. Lopzez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Rioja Reserva,  2001

Word had it that this is a long distance runner and might need more time, and, for my tastes, while it's in a very good place already, it's still in a grumpy phase where it seems to talk about the cave and barrels it was raised in more than about the land where the grapes came from. For me, it's quite alright, as the barrels and caves are part of the heritage, but I look forward to further developments. Anyway, an intense nose, with sweet (as opposed to ripe) fruit that starts red and morphs into black, embroidered by hints of balsam and spices. The palate is sweet on the attack with a saline, savory, yet grainy finish. Oscillating between soft and grainy, it develops into a rich fullness, one that doesn't broach the line into senseless extravaganza, staying balanced and classy. (May 9, 2013)

Needs more time, not to soften and open up so much as to settle down. How much time? Anywhere between two and fifteen years.

Questions. Doubts. The Gran Reserva Blanco '91 was really great, but does this Reserva hint that its big brother, the Gran Reserva red, could be as great as Ygay or La Rioja Alta 890? I'm not quite sure yet.

235 NIS.

Ossian, Castilla y Leon, 2010

I was surprised to find this Verdejo weights in at 14.5% ABV, because it would usually signal a style not exactly up Eldad's alley. But the alcohol is rather well held in check, giving the body weight, roundness and creaminess, rather than burning on the finish. Stylistically, it's not unlike the Austrian Gruner Veltliners Eldad carries, with a mix of herbs and minerals on the nose belying the ripeness of the palate. It seems to require at least some cellaring, although I hesitate to mention that, because the winery's PR machine is broadcasting hints that are too obvious (and I can't promise my thinking wasn't affected): old, pre-Phyxollera wines, Burgundian techniques. Only time will tell whether the marriage of technique and variety was too forced, but it's certainly a very interesting wine and worth a try. (May 10, 2013)

199 NIS.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Catching Up With Friends (May 7, 2013)

My wife and I had a fun evening catching up with Tzora's Eran Pick and his wife at Bertie, where a well known local mystery was the backdrop of the conversation.

Weingut Wittman, Rheinhessen, Westhofener Aulerde, Großes Gewächs, Riesling , 2007

Since my experience with German Rieslings is basically limited to the Giaconda portfolio, I hesitate to generalize, but Rheinhessen seems to me to be the most mineral-laden of the major regions in Germany, and this Geology 101 exhibit would present solid (pun intended) proof of my conjecture. Other than that bedrock of minerals, it's very balanced and tasty and decently complex - not enough to truly captivate or throw into a swoon (probably because it's missing a sense of tension that it conveyed when it was younger), but an interesting companion to the food and conversation.

My wine. Giaconda, 260 NIS.

Domaine de l'Aurage, Cotes de Castillon, 2009

This is a side project owned by the Mitjavile family, owner of  the well known and respected St. Emilion property Tetre Roteboeuf. The Merlot is very obvious here in this quite primary wine. Besides being a well-made wine (that is not over-ripe or over-extracted) and quite tasty, it sparks a fit of jealousy on my part: while I love the big names in Bordeaux, we all know how expensive they are. Yet in Israel we hardly ever get any relatively inexpensive wines from the lesser appellations from Bordeaux, and if we do, they are invariably Medocs or Bordeaux Superiors that are force fed to WineRoute by their negociants. This, on the other hand, is truly a good value if you can get it before the Chinese hear about it.

About 35 Euros. Eran's wine.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Taking Care Of Business (Apr. 2013)

Act 1: Drinking in Israel

Clos du Marquis, St. Julien, 2000

It's amazing to consider that when I bought this bottle, Adam wasn't even born. So I've been cellaring the Clos du Marquis for almost 10 years. I had it a month or so ago and that bottle seemed smooth and innocent and felt like it could keep for years, but without a lot of room for improvement. This, on the other hand, seems like it could improve over the next few years. Whatever, this is a classic claret, cedar-y and earthy, yet somehow without quite the finesse I'd expect from a St. Julien. It starts out harsh, before a sliver of sleekness starts to dominate. It never really winds up too modern, God forbid, and there's decent complexity and depth in there - although I do wish it was more savory. The last third, three hours or so after uncorking, is the best - yet this is one time I enjoyed the destination more than the voyage. (Apr. 5, 2013)

I only ever bought two vintages of the Clos du Marquis from WineRoute. The 1999 was the first Bordeaux I ever bought and it cost 160 NIS. This 2000 probably cost about 200 NIS. By now, recent vintages go for 350 plus NIS, as far as I recall.

Koehler-Ruprech, Pfalz, Kallstadter Saumagen, Riesling Auslese Trocken, 2005

Tasting the 2004 version seven years ago was where I feel in love with German Riesling. Can anything live up to such an epiphany? Not in this case. Maybe it's a bad bottle, but the oxidative notes here, while interesting in their own right, maim and kill whatever complexity and depth this wine should possess. The color is also on the dark side for a relatively young Auslese. On the palate, I find surprisingly lively fruit with clean acidity, but  not a lot of interest, at least not given my level of expectations from the vineyard, predikat and vintage. (Apr. 6, 2013)

Giaconda, about 150 NIS.

R. Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Gran Reserva Rosado, 2000

Rosé as sherry? This bodega is probably the only one in Rioja (or anywhere for that matter) to label a rosé Gran Reserva and release it after ten-plus years. Weird shit for sure.
This is a very oxidized style of wine, even though I don't know how much this single bottle is representative of what this wine should offer. The first impression is of carmelized cashews, but then there's a pungent strain of sulphur growing stronger, that reminds me of the 1991 Gran Reserva Blanco I had on my last birthday. The palate is bone dry, with strawberry flavors you have to almost reach out for. This isn't what most people have in mind when they think of a rosé, and I actually think it smells and tastes more like an orange wine. Whatever, it's certainly worth the 20 pounds or so that I paid for it, even if only as an experience, and I might buy it again (or whatever vintage is on sale), the next time I'm in London. (Apr. 7, 2013)

Purchased at Fortnum and Mason for about 20 GBP.

Club des Sommeliers (Chateau de Hureau), Saumur-Champigny, Grand Reserve, 2010

Club des Sommeliers is apparently a negociant that packages wines from all over France for local supermarket consumption. And if you pay attention to the small letters on the label, you can find some amazing bargains, as I found out when I picked this up for 10 Euros at a Parisian suburb, because the label almost obscures the fact that this is a basic bottling by famous Saumur-Champigny producer Chateau du Hureau; which, coincidently, was the first Loire producer I ever tasted. And this is a charming wine, quite reminiscent of that initial Loire encounter, showing fresh red currants, that feel as though they had just been plucked off the tree, aptly framed by notes of lead pencil and a tobacco leaves. Not especially deep or complex, and arguably a little dilute before it builds up a lithe body in glass, but it's really tasty and deftly structured, once it fills out. (Apr. 8, 2013)

10 Euros. A bargain, didn't I say that already? This would be my house wine if I were living in France.

Tardieu-Laurent, Crozes-Hermitage, Les Lauzières, 2010

This is another supermarket bottling I bought on the strength of the producer, in this case Tardieu-Laurent, who's never disappointed me in the past. This is loosely structured and on the short side, but it properly displays typically languid and peppery Crozes fruit. Considering the price, this is remarkable QPR (at least in Israeli terms), even if it's not nearly as distinctive as the Saumur-Champigny above or one of the Graillot Crozes. (Apr. 9, 2013)

12 Euros.

Bodegas Faustino, Rioja Gran Reserva, 1999

On the one hand, this seems more mature then previous bottles, on the other hand, it's also oakier. But as is usually the case with Rioja, it's a nice oak, embellishing earthy red fruit, and the tannic finish leaves a very savory aftertaste. I still think it needs more cellar time. (Apr. 11, 2013)

Domaine Sylvain Gaudron, Vouvray, Moelleux, 2011

A tasty wine, without a lot of frills or complexity. The nose is somewhat reminiscent of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with smoky tropical fruit that's a cross of melons and pineapples. The palate is rounder and sweeter than a Kiwi might be, though, so typicity is assured. The saline finish assures my attention, as does a note of sculptor clay, even if there's nothing very memorable about the structure, and even if the whole package is borderline over-seductive. (Apr. 13, 2013)

About 12 Euros in a tourist trap in the Loire. It's amazing what great QPR you can find if there's no middle man or shipping costs to be paid.

Drinking Grivot is its own reward
Jean Grivot, Vosne-Romanee, 2005

The fruit is on the subtle side, although still fresh - abetted by forest floor, as well as sweat and meat - with unexpected austerity for a 2005 (not closed so much as pouting and impetuous), until tannin and fruit fan out softly to produce a velvety mouth-feel with a delicately spicy finish. This is just about all I expect from a Grivot villages wine: an overachiever that is typical of both the terroir and the house style. (Apr. 14, 2013)

Burgundy Wine Collection, 250 NIS.

Leitz, Rheingau, Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck, Riesling Spätlese, 2004

I wound up buying quite a lot of this perennial favorite. It's in perfect balance now, showing the most harmony and poise yet. If I were God and had to invent apples from scratch, I'd base them on a pretty Riesling such as this: the lithe, yet languid fruit perfectly framed by cool, nuanced touches of minerals and spices. (Apr. 15, 2013)

Giaconda, 150 NIS.

Act 2: Drinking in Bedford, MA

Domaine Tissot, Jura, Arbois, Poulsard Vieilles Vignes, 2010

Poulsard is a wine I've wanted to taste for a couple of years, if only to mark it down as an experience - and an interesting one it is. This smells like a funky, dusty Bourgogne, only even more pungent, and the palate is so tart at first it would make even a lover of lean Burgundies flinch. It remains tart, even as air rounds out its figure, and at the end it is no minor battle to get through it, an interesting novelty though it is. (Apr. 18, 2013)

20 USD.

Jean-Paul Thevenet, Morgon, Vieilles Vignes, 2010

Holy cow, I'm so glad I buy Thevenet whenever I can. This has a mineral and undergrowth laden nose that can go toe to toe with the best that the Cote de Beaune can offer at twice the price. The palate is equally gratifying and detailed, with silky, soft tannins and a lightly pungent finish. Truly one of the most spectacular, albeit young, Beaujolais Crus I've ever tasted. (Apr. 19, 2013)

Gordon Wines, 34 USD.

Chateau de Hureau, Saumur-Champigny, Tuffe, 2009

You can understand why I was eager for another shot at Hureau, since I loved the basic supermarket bottling. Thus, I bought this at Gordon Wines at Waltham, but the bottle was corked. So, as soon as the siege on the Chechnian terrorists was over, I went back to Waltham replace it. And my efforts were repaid in full. This has the same fresh red fruit as the supermarket bottling, the same trappings of tobacco leaves and lead pencil, only the "elegance" and "finesse" knobs have been turned up quite a few notches, and the overall effect is both purer and more focused, while at the same time more intense and pungent. Lovely. (Apr. 20, 2013)

Gordon Wines, 18 USD. Great QPR!

Champalou, Vouvray Sec, 2011

I bought this to get my senses around another Vouvray producer (this makes five), and it's a tasty, minor treat. Based on my limited experience, I'd say it's quite typical, with melons and a hint of Atlantic salt and sculptor clay on the nose. Savory and refreshing, with a saline finish - and a mineral essence that grows more intense with air, powerful, yet graceful as well. (Apr. 21, 2013)

Gordon Wines again, 20 USD.

Domaine Faury, Saint Joseph, 2009

A quite simple, yet gratifying and typical drop. Black pepper  and black currant on the nose, languid Syrah fruit, juicy acidity, soft tannins and a saline finish. Lazily structured without a lot of serious intent. (Apr. 22, 2013)

27 USD.

The man behind the Wylie-Fenaughty
Edmunds St. John, Wylie-Fenaughty, Syrah, 2010

Here's another producer I've been wanting to taste for a long time. The lively, succulent fruit makes a good first impression on the palate, belying the initially closed nose, which just shows traces of stone at first, before blooming into a complex, very pretty picture. As it opens, it displays a ripe, although not overly so, lithe frame, with notes of black pepper and bacon, not unlike a Cote Rotie, and that mineral overlay I spoke of. There's a good balance here-  juicy acidity abetted by savory, slightly sweet tannins - with good potential. Really fun, tasty stuff, that really lived up to my expectations. (Apr. 23, 2012)

Final wine from Gordon Wines on this trip, 33 USD.

Epilogue: Back In Israel

Jean Paul et Benoit Droin, Chablis Premier Cru, Montée de Tonnerre, 2007

Oxidized enough to somewhat obscure the  Chablis signature at first - the tell-tale sea shell aromas are there, they just need coaxing, while the palate is not as fresh and vibrant as I'd expected, although it does pick up intensity and definitions with air, as the fruity acidity comes to the fore. I'm not sure where it's going. I like it well enough now (the oxidation might work against Chablis typicity and would be more appropriate in a Cote de Beaune white with a decade more under its belt, but still it lends complexity and interest), but I suspect this bottle doesn't have a long life expectancy. (Apr. 27, 2013)

Giaconda, 170 NIS.

A. et P. de Villaine, Cote Chalonnaise Blanc, Les Clous, 2008

I thought I'd drunk up the last bottle, so this is a nice surprise, especially as it's in a very good place: flint and dry grass framing fruit that's caught in a limbo between apples, pears and oranges. Nothing overly complex on the palate, just pleasant harmony, saline inflected tastiness and a sense of place. (Apr. 28, 2013)

Burgundy Wine Collection, about 120 NIS.