Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Giacomo Fenocchio Tasting (Jun. 12, 2016)

I drink so much Burgundies that getting into the harsher Piedmonts (especially Barolos) is always a shock. That's why I could never figure out why Nebbiolo is often compared to Pinot Noir. Sure, both homeland regions are famous for putting terroir on a pedestal, but to be honest, while I enjoy the Nebbiolo-based wines of Piedmont and can judge their merits and assuage differences in quality, the harsh tannins and acidity always obscured, for me, the nuances of vineyard variations. No matter how much I have enjoyed the complexity and charm of old school versions.

Eventually, my Piedmont epiphany was bound to arrive. This small house, Giacomo Fenocchio, does indeed craft wines that discourse, however cryptically, on the different apparitions of the family's vineyard holdings. "Buy them now, they're on the cusp of stardom " - some say, not least their local importer. You can choose to ignore the hype, but don't ignore the wines; their quality is just about matched by their fair price, and their tasting price is a joke (it's the second price listed after each wine below).

Roero Arneis, 2015

The Arneis grape is usually considered a bit of a throwaway by most wineries, but this is lovely and moreish, with a sweet floral musk and a light crisp body that packs intensity without weight or fatigue. It comes off as finely structured Malvasia, which is good. I like Malvasia for quaffing and the Arneis provides that with an additional modicum of intellectual pleasure as well.

95/75 NIS.

Langhe, Freisa, 2014

Another throwaway grape, considered a precursor to Nebbiolo, hence most wineries are wary of wasting vineyard space on it, instead of planting, well, more Nebbiolo. Fenocchio opts to keep at it, and good for them, and us. This has a lot of traits common to beloved rustic wines: leather, black pepper, barnyard, while on the other hand the same tar and dust/spices as Nebbiolo. Tannic and lean with some room for improvement, this is, for my tastes, a good choice for a house wine.

95/75 NIS.

And now we reach the holy grail of many lovers of Nebbiolo: Barolo. The basic bottling is quite a good deal, while each of the crus is subtly, yet distinctly, individualistic.

Barolo, 2012

A classical Barolo nose, complex, tarry, herbal, while the palate is typically tannic, yet those tannins are savory enough to make this enjoyable even now. I'd enjoy coming back to it in five-ten years.

195/159 NIS.

Barolo, Castellero, 2012

Reaching the Castellero right after the generic Barolo, the spices on both nose and palate come off as heavier, almost like coffee grains, yet they make for a very expressive effect right now. It helps that the tannins are, again, savory, almost saline. In Burgundy, this would be a village lieux-dit only, as its rusticity makes it an expansion of the basic Barolo, whereas the other crus, starting with the Cannubi, branch off to more aristocratic, involved expressions, making them the equivalents of Premier Crus, even Grand Crus.

320/245 NIS.

Barolo, Cannubi, 2012

A more elegant nose, soft-spoken, flowery. The palate is tannic, yet more approachable than the Castellero. For about 10 minutes. Then it closes seamlessly. But it still shines for enough time to get a sense of its depth and finesse.

349/265 NIS.

Barolo, Bussia, 2012

The most special, expressive nose of the 2012 crus, loaded with  tar and spices. And the ripest fruit, in the context of the regional and house styles - it would be hardcore in most settings. The saline tannins soon assert themselves and the Bussia exits stage left, to (hopefully) emerge in the third act, some ten-fifteen years from now.

320/245 NIS.

Barolo, Villero, 2012

The Villero makes an understated case that there is, after all, a similarity between Bourgogne and Piedmont. While the nose is clenched at first, it opens to show a perfumed, soft, floral character almost Burgundian, while the palate is the most balanced of the four, eerily and poetically fetching.

349/265 NIS.

The 2012 crus were presented in very appropriate flights of pairs, showing that the Bussia and Villero are the elegant crus, the Castellero and Cannubi the heavyweights. The Bussia, 2008 (not for sale, Giacomo brought it with him) gives a good sense of their potential, also of the longevity, as it's just starting to express itself with a flourish of rotting leaves.

The Fencchios also make a Riserva, always sourced from Bussia. The Riserva, 2010, which sells for 550/399 NIS is currently inscrutable, with a lot of iron and rust on the nose, but that's basically all you can get, right now. So, for a prescient sense of the future, we were presented with the  Riserva, 2001, whose gracious and complex nose combines the elements of all the wines we've tasted, and whose muscular veneer is starting to show the charms of a maturing Old World don.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Portugese Wines For The Summer

Even though I'm a fan of Eyal Mermelstein's Portugese imports, foremost Luis Pato and Alvaro Castro, I've shied away from the whites and roses. Until an impromptu late evening date with Efrat led to a couple of tastes that we both enjoyed, and from there to a few purchases, which then led to even more buys. You get the idea.

The impression I got from these wines can be summed up by a single word:  "exotic". These wines are made of grapes rarely cultivated elsewhere and the wines only vaguely  resemble the so-called classic wines. So while their crisp, mineral profile may superficially resemble counterparts from Burgundy or the Loire (or Champagne, in the case of the sparkling wines), there are quite a few idiosyncratic twists in the plot.

Lastly, they are all damn good values, ranging from 60 to 140 NIS.

Alvaro Castro, Dão, Rose, 2015

A blend of Alfocheiro and Baga. A very pale, dry rose, the quintessential expression of rose as a neutral, dry wine that surreptitiously packs floral and mineral flavors. Or, it would be quintessential if there were more understated roses like this around. (Jun. 14, 2016)

Quinta do Portal, Vinho Verde, Trevo Branco, 2014

This is the kind of little wine that usually gets placed on the under card of more important wines at a tasting or gets served as an appertif in the real world where people  drink wines with their dinners. But really, if this type of wine is just a stepping stone for other wines, it is an important stepping stone in the world of wine. It's light, pale, semi dry, crisp, vaguely frizzante and bundles green apples with tempered saltiness. It's great value and you won't find it a mere afterthought. (Jun. 19, 2016)

About 60 NIS.

Luis Pato, Vinhas Velhas, 2013

A blend of Bical (50%) from chalky-clay soil, Cerceal (25%) and Sercialinho (25%) from sandy soil. See what I mean by grapes we've never heard of? This is... different. Just think of Chablis or Muscadet transplanted over exotic fruits you've never tasted. It has a lean body, yet the fruit has an off dry feel, in contrast with elegant dryness of the nose, which shows a touch of marine air, salt and shells. The 2015, which Eyal let me taste alongside, is sweeter on the nose and drier on the palate, coming off as a mirror image of the 2013. Either one is a lithe wine and great for the Mediterranean summer, and both prove there's magic in everything Pato touches. (Jun. 24, 2016)

Alvaro Castro, Encruzado, Reserva, 2014

If I understand correctly, Castro has two white Reservas. One is a blend of the local Encruzado, Cercialand and Bical grapes, while this one is a pure varietal Encruzado. It's less forward than the Vinhas Velhas and really needs more time (at least a year, preferably two). It doesn't have the lightness of the Pato at first, although the fruit also has an exotic profile and really holds a lot in reserve. There's a fatty side to it that is the grape, I think, as this doesn't see barrels.  There is a flinty/sulphureous character on the nose (a cross between Chassagne and Meursault) and a bitter peel after taste, that I take to come from what little tannins a white grape might have, which is tempered here by pleasant saltiness with air. Worth a couple of buys. (Jun. 24, 2016)

Luis Pato, Vinha Formal, 2009

The Vinha Formal vineyard is planted with Touriga Nacional, Bical and Cerceal grapes. Pato does a first harvest of them all for this sparkling rose, of which Touriga is the dominant grape (70%) and a later harvest produces a red, as well as an almost varietal Bical white. All are labelled Vinha Formal, and are a CellarTracker horror. Anyway, this is a really precocious bubbly, and while it won't match Champagne for the depth and the unique brioche/chalk/mushroom character, it does offer a few compensating factors. First of all, it's cheap for a sparkling wine. Not Cava cheap, but a very attractive price at around 100 NIS.

Now, I'm fast becoming a Pato fan, and the reason for that is the way the wines project both a sense of the grapes and terroir and how special they are - as well as the restless, creative personality of the man who made them (or orchestrated the group that made them; the winery produces an amazing number of bottlings each year, and I can't imagine a single man handling the workload).

That's exactly what you get here: a wine that Pato did not design to try and match Champagne weight for weight, assuming he could (of course you can drink Champagne in summer, but that's really because you can, and should, drink Champagne every day that you can. But Champagne is not specifically intended to be a summer drink), but designed, rather, to exude the joy of Levant spring and the twinkling eye of Luis. And there's something else besides the sheer drinkability, something that will keep me buying more of this: a streak of scorched earth and savory tobacco leaves that offhandedly conveys the essence of Touriga and echoes the character of Pato's reds, without, obviously, any of their weight. (Jun. 25, 2016) 

The final two wines in this survey are the siblings of the sparkling Vinha Formal. One is a still wine from the same vineyard, the other is a non-vintage bubbly made from yet another local grape. Compared to the uniqueness of the sparkling Vinha Formal, they are both a letdown, but they are nonetheless useful wines to order when dining at Eyal's establishment.

Luis Pato, Bairrada, Vinha Formal, 2013

This is the Vinha Formal white, comprised of 85% Bical, with 15% Cerceal, and, like the Vinhas Velhas, it is a very mineral laden wine, but not the flint/crustacean minerals of the Velhas, more of a herbal/dusty character, not unlike garrigue. In that sense, it reminds me of Rhone whites, but with an acidic zest that bursts with focused precision on the saline finish. I suspect it's the kind of wine you either love or hate and surely takes you off the beaten track. (Jun. 27, 2016)

Luis Pato, Maria Gomes, n.v.

A sparkling wine made of the indigenous Maria Gomes grape (also known as Fernão Pires, grown extensively throughout Portugal and elsewhere only in South Africa), this is a spicy, very dry and chalky/salty wine. Obviously a DYA quaffer, but an interesting one. (Jul. 2, 2015)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Taking Care Of Business (Jun. 2016)

This month: the story of a horse and a tasting note of an oxidized wine.
Bonus: I detail my Gewurztraminer purchasing strategy.
La Maison Romane, Macon, Aux Vives, 2013.

I'm not sure what vintage(s) make this up. The Bourgogne Crown catalog says 2013, the  bottle says non-vintage. I'm going with 2013. Anyway, the style is the same as the previous vintages, a lot of brett on the nose, very pure fruit. Go figure. As always with the Maison's wines, a lot of jism and attitude. (Jun. 4, 2016)

Bourgogne Crown, 110 NIS. 

Château de Villeneuve, Saumur-Champigny, Le Grand Clos, 2009

Pungently earthy, with a light, unobtrusive layer of sauvage (as opposed to brett). While the complexity takes time to show, there is good balance and persistence and an enjoyable finish and I simply love the way it develops. Very lithe and refreshing and well worth the effort and storage space to age further. (Jun. 6, 2016)

20 euros in a wine shop in the Loire, three years ago. What great value!

Vitkin, Grenache Blanc, 2014

This is Vitkin's best white, in my opinion, and one of the most unique whites produced in Israel. It packs a lot of compact yellow fruit in a reserved frame with aromas of dried grass and subtle minerals and flowers. The biggest compliment I can give it is, if you had bought a bottle on a trip abroad, you'd open it with friends and go, "hey, look what I found" - I'm not comparing it to foreign wines per se, I'm talking about the thrill of discovering a great little wine. Just loads of fun and very moreish, and I wonder what will come of it in a couple of years. (Jun. 8, 2016)

125 NIS.

La Maison Romane, Marsannay, Les Longeroies, 2013

It's amazing how much the style of the wine is preserved across 2012 and 2013. Both are joyful in their youth, open and vibrant, with tart fruit and fresh acidity, while the aromas speak of flowers and the typical Cote de Nuits spices. And like the 2012, the earthy aromas and the soft tannins become more pungent with time, without impinging on the overall harmony. This sparks two observations. Firstly, the bretty character of the Maison's Macons so far seems to be limited to those wines only, so it doesn't reflect Oronce de Beler's general approach. Secondly, I'm almost surprised the Marsannays are so fetching at this age. I just never though his style would be so flattering to infants, but it is. I need to buy a pair at least of future vintages. (Jun. 10, 2016)

Bourgogne Crown, 280 NIS.

Tzora, Or, 2014

A dessert wine made of Gewurztraminer grapes frozen in the winery. I'm just enough of an indifferent fan of the grape to buy a few bottles a year and I always buy two of these, so I guess it's one of my favorite renditions. The way I see it, dry Gewurtz is interesting but not always an easily palatable proposition, one bottle a year of of  a dry one suffices. The off dry versions from Alsace are probably my favorite, but they're hard to shop for because you don't always know the level of sweetness unless you're very familiar with the producer. With anything sweeter than that, the acidity is suspect, but using frozen grapes preserves the acidity. Natural ice wine made of Gewurztraminer is rare, so you're left with countries where artificial ice wine is allowed. To wind down the long story, this is the reason why the bulk of my Gewurztraminer turn out to be the Or, which usually comes off as liquid litchi toffee, with the viscosity balanced by the acidity. (Jun. 11, 2016)

Coudert, Fleurie, Clos de la Roilette, Griffe du Marquis, 2014

Well, finally! I've tried a couple of vintages of this famous estate and they never lived up to my expectations. But this bottle does. The story is the original owner was so pissed off in the 1920's when the vagaries of the AOC laws forced him to sell his wines Fleurie instead of Moulin-a-Vent, that he labeled his wines Clos de Roilette, after his racehorse, and sold all his wines outside of France. Decades later, new ownership, and the name "Fleurie" is back on the label. This bottling is meant to be drunk with some age (like the aptly named Cuvee Tardive, where  the term tardive refers to late drinking, not late harvest), but I was impatient. There nose is pungently earthy and spicy, lightly meaty, and you get a sense of oak as a frame, not the picture in the foreground. The palate is charmingly rustic, with very good length, and best of all, very lively acidity. The downside, it's rather brooding and really does need a few years in the fridge. (Jun. 16, 2016)

37 USD.

Château d'Epiré, Savennières, 2009

Even though I love the Loire and Chenin Blanc, I've shied away from Savennières, mainly because the producers imported to Israel (Joly, Clusel, Baumard) are the kind that make better copy than food pairing, interesting to observe but often mixing ripeness, high alcohol and intense minerality for an almost psychedelic effect that I find too tiresome to pursue on a regular basis. So I probably haven't had a Savennières in five years. Château d'Epiré is one of American importer Kermit Lynch's pet finds, and for the US market, he selects a special, unfiltered cuvee. This, however, is the regular bottling distributed in Europe, annd it's oxidized, too, God fuck it! So much for the artisanal hype, I'll keep on looking for a Savennières to love. (Jun. 18, 2016)

About 25 GBP.

Chablis saved the evening. Chablis, when it's on, when it's really great, takes you over like a pipeline.

Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils, Chablis Grand Cru, Le Clos, Clos des Hospices, 2007

I always have such high expectations and hopes for Le Clos, that I invariable wind up being disappointed. But this, although initially reticent, is exquisitely refined, with a complex and elegant veil of saline shells, citrus and pungent lime. Great length and moreish acidity. (Jun. 18, 2016)

Burgundy Wine Collection, 360 NIS.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Do Oenophiles Dream Of Eclectic Wines? (Jun. 9, 2016)

This was one of those evenings where the food, the camaraderie and ambiance were all great, but the wine lineup was too eclectic to actually be as great. On the plus side, it was all very educational and we drank a few things we wouldn't have, if this was the kind of evening where people were just trying to impress each other. For example, the Astrolabe Chenin Blanc: we were going to skip it because the people-to-bottle quotient looked to be a medical disaster, but it was too interesting to pass by. I mean, I might not have actually bought it myself, but if someone brings something like that to the table, I definitely want to taste it.

Hambledon, Classic Cuvée, n.v.

This is an English bubbly that has been spotlighted at the hip London wine bar, Noble Rot. For my money, it comes off on the level of a decent Champagne house n.v., but not at the interest level of the grower stuff - it's just not very expressive and a little too sweet.

Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin, 1996

Yeah, this is definitely not a wine we'd usually be drinking. 1996 was a vintage where the GHW style was starting to become riper and more alcoholic, but to be quite honest, I'm not a big enough of a follower to be sure. Anyway, when people talk about how well the GHW wines age, they should not use this bottle as an example, despite the Katzrin being the flagship wine yadda yadda yadda. The nose has some interest, with old wood and balsamic vinegar, but it's a sort of a generic mature nose, nothing especially distinctive, and the wood is too prominent on the palate. So maybe it was great in its day, but that was the day of the iPhone 4 at the latest.

Domaine Matrot. Meursault, 2013

Matrot should definitely do better than this bottle - which probably needed more time, either in the cellar or before or after pouring. Decanting might have been a good idea. This is mute on the nose, one-dimensional on the palate. All you get is lime. I'm a fan of the domaine and I always recommend it, so please wait on any 2013's and don't repeat our mistake.

Chateau Haut-Marbuzet, Saint-Estephe Cru Bourgeois, 2000

We've been drinking bottles of the 1999 over the last few years and finally moved on to 2000, which is notorious for the Robert Parker score of 79. Now, it is rather small scaled for the vintage, but that 79 is just silly, Parkercentric. and displays pathetic ignorance of what made old school Bordeaux such a delight. This is a very classic claret: balanced, compact and detailed, with black currants, earth and cedar in the background, a touch of brett even further in the background.

Astrolabe, Marlborough, Chenin Blanc, 2013

Here we have the Astrolabe style ( lightly tropical, pure, and expressive in a clean way) applied to Chenin, and despite the salinity and mineral overtones, there's nothing here that recalls the Loire versions, and I'm thankful for that. I don't like rip-offs.

Feldstein, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, 2014

Avi Feldstein offered us a preview of one of the wines in his new boutique. This is another example of the kind of wine I can't refuse to taste, even at the risk of liver damage. For two or three reasons. Sauvignon Blanc is a grape that does so well in Israel that I think it might be the best white variety, while Semillon seems to perform well when local wineries try to make something of it. The combination is, of course, the classic white Bordeaux blend, and I adored the precedent set by Ya'acov Oryah, who made excellent wines out of the blend at Midbar and Psagot. So that's the first reason - interest in the wine. The second reason is the man who made it. Avi is a dear friend. If I have to choose between two wines of equal quality, I'll choose the one made, imported or sold by the nicer person. All the more so if it's a friend. Trust me to be objective, okay? In this case, the friend happens to be one of the half dozen or so winemakers who heralded the first wave of quality Israeli wines in the late nineties, and this wine, along with some he's made over the last decade, show he's still in the major leagues. I like wines that can convey tense silence and that is what we have here. It's nubile and raw, but very balanced and refreshing and very true to what the blend is supposed to show, without being a conformist.

Finally, a couple of carets that illustrate trends in the latter day wine world.

Chateau Canon-la-Gaffeliere, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 2001

I remember my first Canon-la-Gaffeliere. It was a 1998 and one of the wines that made me fall for Bordeaux. This, despite classic cedar notes, is on the extracted side for my tastes, even though it's not actually over the top, just that with its ripess, the effect is too modern, like someone almost getting classic claret right. This is damn hard to nail, because with air it gets so close to settling down to the mold without actually getting there. This being my last bottle, I'll have to revisit the 2000 in five-ten years, but for now, this reinforces the notion that Bordeaux is just so influenced by trends and critics -  I mean, no one wants to get a 79, hahaha,

Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, 2012

This starts out riper and sweeter than the CLG, but the given the bigger size of the wine, the ripeness works, and eventually it settles down - and you know what, it is quite a lovely claret despite my misgivings about its modern bent, just as good as any mid-tier, latterday Bordeaux chateau trying to balance modernism and tradition.