Monday, August 22, 2016

50th Birthday Bash, Part 2 With Zacki R. (Jul. 17, 2016)

I have a vision of what a great feast should be like. The setting should resemble a pirate cavern. Or a Paris bistro with Ernest Hemingway getting drunk in the back. The jackpot would be an invitation to dinner at West 35th Street. The food should gladden the soul of hunters, farmers, poets and  blacksmiths alike. The wines should speak of both the past and future, they should be honest and moving and they should reflect somehow on the human spirit without being obvious and pretentious.

The tasting room in the back of Habasta in Tel Aviv's Carmel Market filled the requirements of both the setting and the food. It carries on the tradition set by Yoezer Bar in Yaffo, which had the same ambiance and also the same style and quality of food. A legend in the making, arguably already there.

As for the wines - I'm here to tell you about the wines.

Pierre Gimmonet, Special Club, 2004

Serving Champagne at the start of a dinner is like starting a Rolling Stones gig with "Brown Sugar". Gimmonet is like bringing Bobby Keys on stage for the sax solo. This is very focused and dry and, almost surprisingly, better than the 2002. Very long, deep and generous in doling out a full and detailed serving of brioche and minerals

Bollinger, 007, 2009

A letdown after the Gimmonet, nuttier and wider, without the focus or that same persistent dryness.  

A beautiful moment, the kind I live for.
Prunotto, Barbaresco Riserva, 1967

This is as close to a birth year wine that I was able to manage, but that technicality aside, it fulfilled all I expected of a wine intended to celebrate your half century mark, uncannily offering decades of history in a well preserved bottle. A mature wine, on the cusp of a graceful decline, but still thriving, a testament to grape, terroir and old time craft. It begins with a nail polish aroma that evaporates and morphs into tar and red fruit. Beautifully delicate on the palate with a long savory finish. 

Giacomo Borgogno, Barolo Riserva, 1976

You'll see a lot of 1976's, as the feast was a co-production with Zacki Rosenblum, who celebrated his 40th (co-production? Who am I kidding, ZR brought more wines, worked out the costs and menu with Maoz Alonim, set up the whatsapp group. My main contribution was to text him from Manhattan to  let him know I found a few oldies and let's do it). We've had this specific wine before, I loved it then and I loved it tonight. Once again, it shows as a very Burgundian wine, with rusty red fruit. I can understand why Daniel Lifshitz, in attendance and playing sommelier, did not totally agree with me, but I still insist there's a family resemblance. Anyway, ethereally lovely and the first in a string of very vital forty year old.

Daniel switched us to a couple of whites, since we were served a platter of sashimi and shrimps.

Domaine Hubert Lamy, Bourgogne, 2014

Really just a palate cleanser in a dinner such as this, in many circumstances you could serve it as a village wine ringer, with a persistent core of rock and lime. 

Domaine Christian Moreau, Chablis Grand Cru, Le Clos, 2013

Tropical, a hint of minerals, with fantastically lively acidity. A concentrated core of lime with the Chablis minerality only showing up on the finish. 

C.V.N.E., Grand Reserva, Imperial, 1976

At forty years of age, the fruit still shows the fat sweetness of youth of a young Rioja, but  at almost any age, these old time Riojas have a wonderfully savory finish.   

Aldo Conterno, Barolo, Bussia Soprana, 1976

Until the Tondonia came along to give it an honest fight, this was undeniably the wine of the night, with tar, truffles, cured meats and olives delineating a superbly balanced wine. A GREAT wine! 

R. Lopez de Heredia, Tondonia, Grand Reserva, 1976

Long and savory. Very long. Very savory. How should I put it? Riojas have a savory, pungent, almost green character that is feels as though  a particle accelerator condensed the Tempranillo and embedded it with green tobacco leaves. This is an epitome of that style. With the ephemeral body that swings between savory and sweet. Ahhhhh....

Giacomo Borgogno, Barolo Riserva, 1996

In another setting - say a long evening with it at home - this would knock me out with its tar, spices and rust. But you can see what it had to contend with, and it really comes off very young in comparison with its 1976 brother. 

R. Lopez de Heredia, Tondonia, Reserva Blanc, 1999

Chlorine and peroxide. Interesting and unique, but not for everyone. 

Domaine Prieuré Roch, Ladoix Premier Cru, 2011

I have yet to be impressed with this house. This wine is very fresh, for sure, but doesn't show a whole lot beyond that.

Chateau de Beru, Chablis, Clos de Beru, 2012

This, on the other hand, is fresh and impressive. Daniel says this monople should have been a Grand Cru. I'll have to get back on that until I taste it with a considerably less fatigued palate , but it's surely as intense and long as a Grand Cru - I'm just undecided on issues like complexity and depth.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

50th Birthday Bash, Part 1

I'll say this about the Krug and Trotanoy -
Some kings can go abroad without their crown
and traffic will still stop to let them pass.
Inasmuch as I ever stopped to think about it, turning fifty always seemed like something that happens to other people. My family, neighbors, the old blokes on the bus. But never to me. Never to me. It really only started to dawn on me about two years ago that the Big Fifty was coming up. The imaginary line that defines the generation gap even more than forty does. I mean, at forty you're not that far off from your teens and early manhood. If you kill a man when you're twenty, by forty you'd be out and still young enough to enjoy your freedom, still plenty of years down the road. Fifty is more like, hey, wha' happen'? Can I get a second chance and do this all over again?

So I've been ignoring the clock hands for years. On the other hand, I'm this wine guy, you know, and what do wine guys do? Right. Collect and age wines. Obviously, that part of me is very well aware of the never ending passage of time, buying presents for myself to enjoy when I'm sixty four. Perpetually adding bottles to my time vault.

But there never seem to be enough wines in that vault. Certainly, as the big day approached, I found myself in a shopping frenzy, searching for special, mature wines to match the occasion. Luckily, I have friends to share them with, friends to bring their own special wines to the table.

This is the first installment in the week long Bacchanalia that my birthday celebration turned into.

Krug, Grand Cuvee, n.v.

Every house will tell you that they construct their non-vintage cuvees as carefully as their vintage Champagnes. Eventually, you stop to buy into the hype. But in the case of Krug, the hype is real (and so is the price - it does cost as much as a vintage wine from most houses and growers). Full and ripe, very complex and beautifully detailed, any complaints aired 'round the table about the high dosage were adequately addressed by the juice in the bottle and the huge helpings of brioche and minerals that were lush and restrained at the same time - which really is the combination you look for in Champagne.

De Montille, Volnay Premier Cru, Taillepieds, 1998

I have my moral reservations about how this house turned into an empire that sprawls across so many vineyards in both Beanue and Nuits. I also have my reservations about how much this bottle reminds me of a Nebbiolo. I would, in all honesty, never have guessed Burgundy blind. On the other hand, 1998 was still pere Hubert's vintages, and he was notorious for making tough wines in need of time. So I can see where I need to adjust my expectations. With the tight black fruit and minerals that are more about tar than forest floor, this is in sharp contrast with Ettiene's wines, where the fruit is redder and sexier. I've never tasted the elder Montille's wines, so, at the end of the day, this was a great birthday gift, because it really expanded my knowledge of Bourgogne lore.

Lucien le Moine, Clos de la Roche, 1999

I'm not a fan - in fact, I'm usually rabid enough to despise this negociant's pandering to the American palate (and wallet) - but this is a very good wine, even if it starts off resembling Côte Rotie with all that black pepper. Sigh. If a red Bourgogne has to resemble a Syrah, Côte Rotie is the lesser of possible evils, as it's the softest, most Burgundian appellation to begin with. Don't get me wrong, though - I'm a very big North Rhone fan, it's just that I like my Bourgognes to smell and taste like Bourgogne. Call me a classicist. But, this really is an excellent wine and any of the oak that has made (or broke) le Moine's reputation is well gone by now, integrated into the fruit. Just give it time to show its Bourgogne character.

Chateau Tratonoy, Pomerol, 1989

At the price I manage to score this, it is just a little higher priced than the latest vintage of the Katzrin red, we all noted, with ten times the class and pleasure. If there is anything wrong with this twenty seven year old Right Banker, is that it's still young and has not yet started to show its best, I actually think we should have decanted it. What you can get, even now, is the depth and pedigree shrouded by the iron and tannins.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Euro Cup Finals Wines (Jul. 10, 2016)

I'm not going to try to describe the game in detail. I leaned towards France because I was watching and drinking with a bunch of militant Francophiles, but I honestly could have gone both ways. Somehow I managed to see past Ronaldo's posturing and appreciate his talent and dedication, for a change.

As for the wines, this is what you get when you take a few game wine importers and their clientele. And invite Yair Haidu.

The whites were not, looking at the group as a whole, terribly exciting. Domaine Bernard Moreau et Fils, Chassagne-Montrachet, 2012 showed good balance and excellent acidity, but to some degree, the nose masked its pears and flint behind the oak. Domaine Bachelet, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, Les Macherelles, 2011 was better, the oak certainly less obtrusive, similar enough in style to declare itself Chassagne, but not really a leap in quality. Hospices de Beaune, Corton-Charlemagne, 2010 was an underachiever, oily and fat with low acidity. Domaine Fourrier, Bourgogne Blanc, 2010 was a curio, a white from the Cote de Nuits, but a nice curio, fresh, pure and rocky, and my favorite of the Bourgognes.

The best white of the lot was a Sauvingon Blanc.

Michel Redde et Fils, Pouilly-Fume, Majorum, 2012

The Redde family is a great Pouilly-Fume producer and this is their top wine. It needs time to express itself, but even now you get mint and nuts, guayavas and, foremost, minerals.

The reds ranged from interesting to excellent to sublime. Domaine Fourrier, Chambolle-Musigny, Vieilles Vignes, 2009 was one of the interesting, if not very Chambolle IMHO, the muscles and iron speaking of Gevrey, where the domaine is located. Chateau Palmer, Margaux, Alter Ego, 1998 also did not speak much of its origins, obviously Left Bank with its black fruit and iron, but without any Margaux opulence or sexiness. Haidu brought the Henri Bonneau, Chateauneuf du Pape, Reserve des Celestins, 1999 and thought highly of it, but while I have great respect for his taste and judgement, all I got was brett.

Marquis d'Angerville, Volnay Premier Cru, Taillepieds, 2011 was excellent and savory, with a complex nose of black fruit and spices, but very tannic and tight, giving much less than the 2011 Champans, which had really knocked me out in the past. Armand Rosseau, Gevrey-Chambertin, 2013 is floral and harmonically lush and spicy. The tannins are present but soft and well enveloped. Olivier Guyot, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru, 2007 was the final red in the "excellent" category, before we went on to the sublime. I always love Guyot and this shows the house style, lithe and sexy, floral and focused. Where is the Grand Cru? Not in the depth or complexity but in the composure and purity. Lovely.

At the heart of every lover of French wine, at the deepest core, is a lifelong desire to drink wines like the following two. And this desire, it defines and forms us. It doesn't really matter whether Bourgogne or Bordeaux is your drug, you want that moment when the wine combines the nuanced subtlety of age with the potent freshness of youth.

Marquis d'Angerville, Volnay Premier Cru, Clos des Ducs, 1979

Sous bois maturity and a touch of sautéed fruit and coffee grains, with those mature nuances and almost poetic composure that make you swoon.

Domaine Hudelot-Noellot, Richebourg Grand Cru, 2008

This shows a similar mature character, which belies its actual age, but it is more vibrant and focused than the d'Angerville. The nose, with its exotic spices, is ethereal.

The evening ended with, first, a Champagne that I had brought to celebrate French victory, followed by a Port, because, well, the French lost and the Portuguese won.

Fourny et Fils, Vertus Premier Cru, Grande Reserve, 2009

Primal with an extravagant mousse. It does remind me of Larmandier, who is also a Vertus producer, but at this stage, the ripeness of the fruit captures the limelight at the cost of all else..

Taylor's, Quinta de Vargellas, Vintage Port, 1996

Here  I find that typical Port character - band aid and raisins - love it or leave it, the team earned our respect and deserved a vintage Port.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

An Evening With Jean-Claude Berrouet (Jul. 6, 2016)

Present only in spirit
A guy can dream, right? A guy can dream that he will one day drink a bottle of Romanee-Conti or La Tache. Or Petrus.

The closest I got to that legendary third wine was a dinner with Jean-Claude Berrouet, the former winemaker at Chateau Petrus, where we drank the last vintage he oversaw at three of the other properties he worked at alongside Petrus.

The dinner was put together by Eran Pick of Tzora Winery, where Berrouet and his son Jeff consult. The establishment was Tel Aviv's Hotel Montifyory restaurant and the three wines I mentioned were contributed by a pair of guests in his honor.

It's a humbling experience to drink with the man responsible for 40 plus vintages of Chateau Petrus, the star Pomerol property and among the top ten names in Bordeaux by any reckoning - one of the main contenders for the top spot, in fact. I wasn't even born when Jean-Claude worked his first vintage of Petrus, which was not yet the mega-star it is today, just one property in a nondescript hamlet overshadowed by its Left Bank rival communes. The Beatles had not written "She Loves You". Kennedy was alive. Ali was still Cassius Clay.


Most humbling was the fact that, whenever the conversation drifted to the wines at hand, Berrouet never mentioned his contribution, but rather talked about the qualities of the Pomerol terroir.

Vilmart, Cuvée Rubis

This is one of my favorite Champagnes, and always a treat. Elegant red fruit on a detailed, precise backdrop of minerals and exotic spices, with a very long finish of sour sweet cherries and salty walnuts.

Dauvissat, Chablis Premier Cru, Sechet, 2012

Dauvissat is one of the great names in Chablis and this turned out better than many Chablis Grand Crus, showing marine funk with many twists and detail. A touch of oak smooths out some corners but still leaves a well delineated frame.

Chateau Lafleur-Petrus, Pomerol, 2006

This is still young and monolithic with fresh black fruit, decorated with leather and spices. Naturally, it's still tannic but the tannins are almost flavored with salt. This, as well as the other two, is a great wine to serve to people who have only experienced New World Merlot and who think the grape is very immediate and fruity. 

Chateau Hosanna, Pomerol, 2006

The nose is more extroverted and complex than the Lafleur but not by a large measure. The palate is very drying and seems to need much more time. 

Chateau Trotanoy, Pomerol, 2006

The best nose of the three Pomerols. The palate will need even more time than the Hosanna. The nose has the shimmering exoticism of a great growth. 

Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007

This is admittedly a letdown after the three Pomerols, because even a restrained California such as this is still riper than a classic claret, thus all its faults were magnified, making it seem like Bordeaux on coke. There's good form and it hits the sensors and taste buds right, but underneath you feel someone is partying too hard.