Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Four Friends, Five Wines, Yaffo-Tel Aviv (Feb. 25, 2016)


Here is a man, a good friend, who, like me, recognizes the virtues of drinking great wines with great company. Like me, he documents the moment for posterity.

He is a master. A Master of Wine.

Gaston Chiquet, Cuvée de Reserve, Brut Premier Cru

This is basically a late disgorgement version of the Tradition Cuvée, and all the more complex and captivating for that, with baked apples, mushrooms, yeast. The fruit is ripe, yet fresh with a dry finish.

Not sold in Israel. Eldad Levy, who imports Chiquet, has a few bottles for his private consumption.

Dönnhoff, Nahe, Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle, Riesling Großes Gewächs, 2009

This should have been a exceptional wine, but it isn't, just very good, almost as though it phoned in the pre-requisites and left things at that. So you get slate and chalk, and lime, and red and green apples on the nose, but without that extra bit of complexity and depth I'd expect from one of the world's greatest vineyards. The palate doesn't feel as dry as I'd expect from a Großes Gewächs, as the fruit is so full and ripe that it creates an off-dry impression. And, again, there is no wow factor or, failing at that, anything that would make me pause and contemplate.

Giaconda, 350 NIS.

Chateau Haut-Marbuzet, Saint-Estephe Cru Bourgeois, 1999

Mature Bordeaux: this is why we hunt it down. The Haut-Marbuzet doesn't have the the greatest length, but it is quite lovely with earth and leather laden currants. A serious over-performer. And in some way, I like it more than the next wine: it's more complex, with that mellow sense of joy that a claret at its peak can provide.

Chateau Sociando Malet, Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois, 2000

Houses like Sociando Malet is why we kill for Bordeaux. Kill, I tell you! Even though, as I said, the Haut-Marbuzet chimed in better for me, despite the fact that 2000 is the better vintage and that Sociando is usually ranked higher.The initial brett stink is understated, if it is there at all, as it makes way for red fruit, some black, on an earthy background, It will probably be greater than the Haut-Marvuzet in, say, ten years, but right now, despite the length and weight, and despite an early impression of elegance, it is in a backward, foursquare stage.

Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Riesling Auslese, 2012

An intense mix of sweet fruit and bracing acidity, in fine, focused balance, and the Mosel gift of frozen slate and apples.



Monday, March 21, 2016

Taking Care Of Business (Feb. 2016)

Kishor Savant Riesling
The best local wine you've never heard of
La Maison Romane, Marsannay, Les Longeroies, 2012

Pure, languid fruit, with no sign of the brett that shows up in the Maison's Macons, this is truly all you could ever want of a young Burgundy, the kind that shows no brooding youthfulness. It doesn't develop in glass so much as it blooms, the fruit building up enough mass for a sneaky punch that culminates in a salty/sour finish. What's really interesting here, because I didn't get it at the Maison Romane tasting a few months ago, is a touch of chalk. Wonderful, just wonderful. (Feb. 4, 2016)

Bourgogne Crown, 280 NIS.

Tscharke, Barossa Valley, Touriga Nacional, Matching Socks, 2012

Since I wrote a post about this just last month, this note is simply to indicate that the honeymoon is not yet over. (Feb. 4, 2016)

Mersch, 104 NIS.

Kishor, Savant Red, 2012

This is one of the many local wineries that never got into my sights, but it seems to have been overlooked even by more ardent consumers of the local trade. Itay Lahat, one of the brightest minds in the industry, consults there, and he turned me on to their wonderful Riesling, and, to a lesser extent, their reds. Actually, what I had previously tasted were the 2014 and 2013 Savant Red (a "Bordeaux" blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, as well as Petit Verdot). Those were pure of fruit, while this has obvious influences of oak on the nose that bother me, albeit none on the palate, which balances sweet fruit, acidity and smooth tannins and winds up in a spicy, saline finish. The lack of pretensions is very welcome. Yes, I know how snobbish that sounds. (Feb. 6, 2016)

About 100 NIS.

Kishor, Savant, Riesling, 2014

There are few Israeli Rieslings, and even fewer that are off dry and low in alcohol in the classic Mosel/Nahe mold, like the Kishor Savant is. This is the third vintage I've had recently, and in each one I found something to distinguish it from its German peers. This time, there's an intense, alluring fragrance of mint tea. The palate is demure, subtle and delicate, in a classic kabinett frame, that you don't even find in Germany that often lately. (Feb. 8, 2016)

About 90 NIS.

Dr. Loosen, Mosel, Bernkasteler Lay, Riesling Kabinett, 2013

At this point, I was interested in comparisons with the motherland of Riesling. Mosel is arguably the home of the most delicate Rieslings, yet this kabinett, while poised and focused, plays at a higher weight and pitch, with thrilling mineral intensity and green apple acidity, but without the languid mellowness of the Kishor. So, two different creatures, each a beauty - I need both in my life. (Feb. 11, 2016)

Wine Route, about 100 NIS.

Dönnhoff, Nahe, Norheimer Kirschheck, Riesling Spätlese, 2008

This is one of the best values in the world, balancing red apples, peaches and sea water in an ethereal, complex blend that is driven by laser focused acidity. Great depth in a deceptively light frame. (Feb. 13, 2016)

Giaconda, about 160 NIS.

Domaine Buisson-Charles, Meursault, Vieilles Vignes, 2010

This is a wine that should enthrall me. A producer I love (his Aligote should be legally declared a house wine), a great vintage, old vines... But this is not a commendable bottle, in many ways an example what an off bottle is like. Buisson can knock you out with funk and acidity, and I've had very enjoyable bottles of this wine, but this bottle is limpid and foursquare. What saves it is that I do get a sense of the acidity and mineral cut I love, trying to chip their way out of middle aged fat. (Feb. 15, 2016)

Bourgogne Crown, 280 NIS.

Tzora Vineyards, Shoresh, Blanc, 2014

What I always adore about this wine is the tug and pull between almost playful tropical fruits - subtly hinting at red currants - and flinty, chalky restraint. And then, the acidity takes it to a different, sourer corner, with saline sprinkles. Lovely. (Feb. 17, 2016)

Jean Lallement, Verzenay Grand Cru, Cuvée Réserve, n.v.

I forgot I meant to let this age. But I always manage to find an excuse for infringements of my resolve. Some recent bottles of the regular seemed cuvée  to be a little oxidized. I'm not sure how much it's bothering me, but I get that here too, although the Reserve has so much body and fruity/salty acidity that the light oxidation really comes across as a stylistic twist on the funky broth and sauteed mushrooms that Lallement sprinkles over the baked pears. There are are also ample hints of red cherries. (Feb. 18, 2016)

Fat Guy, 299 NIS.

Kishor, Kerem Kishor, Syrah, 2013

This is even better right now than the more expensive Savant Red, just fresh red fruit with that telltale Syrah pepper. A tasty bistro wine. (Feb. 19, 2016)

80 NIS.

Bestheim, Alsace Grand Cru, Schlossberg, Riesling, 2013

I'm not a big Alsace fan and my cellar rarely holds more than a couple of bottles at a time. But I dabble in it every now and then. I usually aim at second tier stars, who provide expressiveness and individuality without the price associated with cult status. Or honest craftsmen that provide typicity at good prices. Ah, Alsatian typicity: I can take it in small quantities, I don't always enjoy the bitter quinine finish of the Rieslings or Pinots, nor the lush, exotic come-on of Gewurztraminer. Not on a regular basis. But this, despite the Grand Cru origins, expresses another Alsatian trait, food friendly spiciness, with such unpretentious ease that it wins me over. (Feb. 20, 2016)

Wine Route, 110 NIS.

Sphera, Chardonnay, 2014

I consider this the  best Israeli Chardonnay. It's pure, with the same sense of quiet tension that I find in Chablis, but with a different aromatic and flavor profile. More rainwater and puddles than seawater. Which is a trait I find in just about all of Sphera's wines. (Feb. 20, 2016)

100 NIS.

Mia Luce, Rosso, 2012

I loved this last year, but I didn't really think it had a lot of cellaring potential, but a year has given it greater meaty/herbal complexity, without loss of fruity freshness. The meaty stink might come from the character of the Carignan, it might be brett, but it works. (Feb. 21, 2016)

140 NIS.

Ellena Giuseppe, Barolo, 2011

I still like it, even though this bottle is more advanced than the last one, more about dust, tar and spices than flowers. But I can't really complain about such a lovely Old School Barolo. (Feb. 23, 2016)

Wine Route, 199 NIS (2 for 300)

Vitkin, Petite Sirah, 2007

This is the most complex of the limited 'library' vintages the winery has re-released recently to its club members. The typical signature - black fruit adorned by graphite and black pepper - has gained further depth, not because any new elements have been introduced, but because the interplay between the existing one is more subtle and interesting. (Feb. 26, 2016)

Lahat, White,2013

The kind of wine where the fruit takes a back seat, and that that you used to find a lot of in France but not in Israel. Low key flavors on a neutral background without any loss of complexity. I like the demure mineral personality and the pastel -like notes of tropical fruit.  (Feb. 27, 2016)

Moric, Blaufränkisch Reserve, 2012

I don't know why it's so hard to find good Blaufränkisch. You can find lovely reds in Austria - supple, peppery Blaufränkisch  and Zweigelt - but so many are modern, extracted or oaky. Or all three. So basically you have to buy the entry level reds, where producers don't try to impress the big bucks out of tourists's wallets. Or fall back to Moric (and hope the bottle won't be corky, like my last one). There's a tart, palate cleansing freshness, lithe tannins, a herbal/peppery freshness on the nose. Moreish on many levels, in its freshness, succulence and vividness.  (Feb. 27, 2016)

Fat Guy, 235 NIS.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Another Burgundy Night (Jan. 25, 2016)

Burgundy
You see in black and white, feel in slow motion
 drown myself in joy until I wake up tomorrow
The second meeting of our new Burgundy tasting group: an excellent white, an excellent red, and a couple of surprises.

Francois Jobard, Meursault Premier Cru, Poruzots, 2002

There's lots of minerals on the nose. Honestly, just lots and lots. A freakin' quarry. All in technicolor detail. And it doesn't stop there. Let's move on to the palate, which shows great focus and driven by salivating acidity.

Burgundy Wine Collection, 350-450 NIS, depending on the vintage and when you bought it.

Jean Paul et Benoit Droin, Chablis Grand Cru, Le Clos, 2007

The nose is expansive and funky, with the marine character of Chablis a bit obscured by oak, even moreso on the palate, where it is evident as mouth feel, rather than flavors. Beyond the oak, the palate is fatter than I'd expected (although the wines were served blind, this was my bottle), despite the ample acidity. As is the case with many Chablis Grand Cru, especially le Clos, I suppose, this is less typical of Chablis than many Premier Cru (I blame the oak, naturally, which seems like an attempt by many producers to differentiate their Grand Crus).

Giaconda, 350 NIS.

William Fevre, Chablis Grand Cru, Bourgos, 2008

I've been wary of Fevre recently, so my impressions are surprisingly positive. The nose is very reductive at first, with a funk reminiscent of boiled cabbages. I'm actually partial to this, but it bothers me for philosophical reasons: I find it obscures more subtle nuances. Anyway, that all blows off, to show a very measured handful of chalk, and, despite what I wrote about the Droin (as well as my recent experiences with Fevre), there is no sense of any overt manipulation to justify the Grand Cru label, no overt evidence of oak, just a very elegant and focused wine.

Wine Route, this is usually a 300 NIS wine.

Domaine de l'Arlot, Nuits-St.-Georges Premier Cru, Clos Des Forets St. Georges, 2005

The nose is a mixture of rough and ripe, dusty and a bit green/stemmy at first, but develops decent complexity. Then, the palate is muscular and taut, still young, with great acidity. But why do I even bother to talk about great acidity with the kind of Bourgognes my friends bring? Just take it for granted the acidity will be at least very good, unless stated otherwise - even for a producer that is somewhat unpopular among my peers.

Recent vintages go for about 400 NIS at Burgundy Wine Collection.

Domaine Hubert Lignier, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru, La Perriere, 2007

Hubert Lignier, on the other hand, is very popular in my circle - and if Wine Route was still importing, I'd buy lots, even though the Premier Crus are not cheap. There's graphite here, and brett, and peat, which isn't something I find in many Bourgognes, While the peaty front is interesting, I'm exasperated because I find myself reaching for the lovely, exotic perfume lounging beyond it, which is Burgundy to a T - or rather to a B. The palate, however, is pure pleasure, with sweet yet lithe structured fruit, lovely and languid, with a long finish.

Prince unknown.

Bouchard, Beaune Premier Cru, Greves. Vigne de l'Enfant Jesus, 2003

There's sour cherries and minerals, which I like - ripe tannins and extracted fruit, which I don't. The tobacco I'm partial to, even though I don't think it really represents Bourgogne, The style isn't at great odds with my tastes - because I'd enjoy it in other settings - so much as askance with my expectations of Bourgogne.

Prince unknown.

Etienne De Montille, Beaune Premier Cru, Perrieres, 2009

Again, this is peaty and bretty, but, it's better integrated with the forest floor and spices in the background. Also, balanced, tangy, spicy tannins. Very good and still needs time.

Recent vintages go for 290 NIS at Burgundy Wine Collection.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Constitutional Right To Drink Cote Rotie (Jan. 7, 2016)

What began its life as a Northern Rhone tasting took on a different bent as the result of a visit by expatriate winemaker Maayan Koschitzky, who brought with him three different vintages of high altitude Napa Syrahs from Lagier Meredith, a winery owned by UC Davis alumni professor Carole Meredith, a pioneer of DNA typing. She was the one who identified that Zinfandel is the same grape is the Italian Primitivo - which is probably one of the first things you ever read about Zinfandel - and she's in the Vitners Hall Of Fame.

In the end, though, the Mt. Vedder Syrahs had to contend with a Rostaing Cote Rotie at its prime. It' wasn't really a fair fight. La Landonne is arguably one of the top ten Syrah vineyards in the world and seventeen years is old enough for a top flight Syrah to dazzle you with nuances, but not so old that the fruit has started to decay.


The first order of business was, of course, Champagne. Luckily, we did not even consider matching this up with a New World version.

Louis Roederer, Champagne Brut Vintage, 2007

I mostly drink grower champagnes, and the first thing I noticed with this 'big house' champagne  was how tame it seems. It's elegant and restrained, with brioche and minerals - lots of minerals - and very precise weight, but the growers's stuff have a wild streak and a conniving punch, Anyway, very good, make no mistake about that, just much more Roger Moore than Sean Connery.

430 NIS.

Lagier Meredith, Napa Valley, Mount Veeder, Syrah

2011

A cool vintage, that Maayan called almost under-ripe. I guess that needs to be taken in the context of Napa, the place and the style? This wine comes off as ripe as most Bordeaux vintages, more often than not, are like this these days, but even if its sweetness is very proportionate, it's nowhere as lean as the North Rhones I adore. But enough comparisons. In its own right, the black pepper on the nose is lovely and the tannins have a wildness that grabs and holds my attention.

2012

This is a rounder wine, the nose arguably better, certainly more complex, but I prefer the 2011 for its insinuation of wildness.

2013

The most balanced wine. Sure, it's ripe, just as ripe as the 2012, if not more. But the balance is such that it feels more focused. The complexity is greater and the typical pepper is more effective. But for my consumption and tastes, I still vote for the 2011.

All retail for about 50 USD.

Yves Cuilleron, Ripa Sinestra, 2007

This is a Syrah grown outside of the North Rhone AOCs, from a vineyard on the slopes of the Coteau de Seyssuel north of Vienne, on the west (or left) bank. I love Cuilleron for the feral funk this shows - you could argue, and we did, whether it's brett or the grape or winemaking, but one thing I'm sure of, this isn't dirty funk. I also love the plump fruit of the Cuilleron reds. And the black pepper. In short, a terrific wine, and while I prefer the style, it's not obviously and clearly better than Lagier Meredith. But the next wine is.

Giaconda, 280 NIS.

Rene Rostaing, Cote Rotie, La Landonne, 1998

A classic North Rhone Syrah poised at the point where age lends it a certain Burgundian mellowness. Which is my favorite expression of the grape. There is an inexhaustible store of ethereal nuances on the nose (smoke, black pepper), and the tannic bite teases and leaves a a saline impression on the palate when it's done with it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Vitkin Petite Sirah Vertical (Jan. 22, 2016)


My affair with the Vitkin Winery is easy to sum up. I came in the door because of the Carignan, I stayed the night because of the Petite Sirah. On the way, I got to knew winemaker Assaf Paz. Which was a good thing, as my buying strategy for Israel wines is to buy wines made by people I like and appreciate. It always pays off. Although it could be because I'm just too ornery to like bad winemakers.

I digress. The reason I love the Vitkin Petite Sirah is that it recalls North Rhone Syrah, without being a copycat. Before I go on to the tasting notes, this is as good a time as any to mention that Petite Sirah is not related to Syrah. It's real name is Durif and it's mostly grown in California and Australia. And Israel - Wikipedia makes a point of that. So it is probably a good a grape as any to turn into a local icon. Anyway, it's sold as Petite Sirah, Petite Syrah and various spellings and permutations.

The notes, then. There are three things to bear in mind while tasting through these seven vintages. One, Petite Sirah handles the heat of the local climate very well (Assaf told me he has to make relatively minor adjustments to the acidity). Secondly, the even vintages over the last ten years have tended to be warm, while the odd years are cooler (even with the heat of the local climate, such differences can be more telling than you'd think, especially with a grape like Petite Sirah that is suited enough to the climate as to be able to reflect such differences). Finally, Vitkin sources the grapes from several relatively old vineyards - in fact, the last two vintages have included grapes from forty year old vines.

2010

As I wrote above, this was a warm vintage. Nonetheless, it shows traits that would be common to all the vintages we tasted: graphite, flowers, black and white pepper, a hint of meat, sweet black and blue fruit underlined by rusty tannins and good acidity. The kind of Petite Sirah where it's clear why it was long considered a relative of Syrah. In fact, most of the vintages comes off as a "Girl Next Door" to Cornas.

2009 

This was the first vintage to use grapes from a vineyard planted in 1974, which is very old in Israeli terms. I like the style of both, but prefer the 09 for the greater elegance and more focused acidity.

2008

Assaf says 2008 was a hybrid, a warm vintage that managed to preserve the elegance of the cooler vintages. This has potential, but it's very backward, which can be, in the right context, a sign of a great wine - in that sense this has the potential for being one of the best of the lot. The aromatic character is what I look for in North Rhone Syrahs (again, the benchmark for the discussion of this wine), but it is the least expressive wine of the tasting, even through several sniffs and tastes. Only after about 90 minutes, when the glass was almost empty, did it start to show savory flavors and nascent expressiveness.

2007

The leanest of the lot, and one of my favorites, for the tertiary aromas, the lovely acidity and very savory tannins. This is just the kind of mellow maturity that thrills me in minor Old World classics.

2006

A ripe wine that I suspect will not evolve much longer on the palate, although here, too, the tertiary aromas are very appealing. If you want a sample of a mature Petit Sirah, you could choose either 2006 or 2007 depending on the mouth-feel and ripeness level you are looking for.

2005

This was the wine that won me over when Assaf poured it for me last year, and it is arguably the peak of the Vitkin Petit Sirah style. It is akin to the 2007, as it has the same meaty tertiary aromas, with perhaps a touch of Old World mildew and balsamic vinegar/vegetable stew a la Rioja to make things even more interesting. Yet the structure also nods at 2008.

2004

Mature, yet thriving, but the balance of sweet and savory is not as taut as in the 2005 and 2006.