Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Birthday Wines of 2017

My problem with birthday wines is I do spend a disgustingly large portion of my waking life planning, purchasing, contemplating and anticipating the year's lineup. I confess that at times it seems like a recipe for grief, because the buildup virtually guarantees disappointment. I manage to avoid that by aiming high and backing my aim with wines of proven quality and solid provenance. This year, I varied the approach. The champagne I opened with my family at home on my actual birthday was a spur of the moment choice, hence no buildup. It doesn't hurt that it's very hard to to go wrong with a Special Club, especially with a great vintage like 2008. 

A. Margaine, Special Club, Blanc de Blancs, Brut, Premier Cru, 2008

Margaine is truly the epitome of grower Champagne, a grower's grower, if you will. It's a classic rendition - nutty and mushroomy - yet so full of zest, vibrancy and lithe power that you just can't imagine your bottle had spent its infancy in a room full of tens of thousands of other bottles. 2008 is considered a great vintage, and, like all great vintages, it's probably evolving slowly. So, at nine years of age, the nose is starting to show the character of maturity, if not yet the full complexity thereof, while the palate is not yet beyond the throes of adolescence. (Jul. 19, 2017)

Then there was the more or less monthly outing with my wine buddies, a week after. I brought the Vieux Chateau Certan and, to tell the truth, my expectation was to get a solid Right Bank performance. I wasn't reaching for more. I'd spent almost a decade's worth of birthdays building up to last years fiftieth and to tell the truth, I wasn't looking for fireworks. The Vieux Chateau Certan wound up exceeding my conservative expectations. It wasn't fireworks, exactly, more like a ray of sunshine, and a really, really fun night out. I don't want to sully my image with saccharine Hallmark sentiments, but you really can't beat a table with five friends.

Le Domaine d'Henri, Chablis Premier Cru, Fourchaume, 2014

This shows the same high level as 2012. Gorgeous, with a persistent, yet graceful cut, a Chablis cut from Puligny cloth.

Jean Grivot, Vosne-Romanee, 2012

Still nubile, displaying the power and length of a Premier Cru, but lacking the complexity of one. The core of it is red fruit laced with iron and the exotic spices typical of Vosne, morphing into black as the wine airs. Despite its youthful attack, it's sensual enough so you can't put the bottle down. 

Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol, 1996

Even though 1996 is not a great Right Bank year, this was a really great bottle, obviously not a young wine, yet still showing youthful vigor. It's an earthy, leathery wine, with succulent black fruit, a muscular facade and a mellow, inviting core, its the rusty tannins adding force on the finish without being too dry. 

Chateau Calon-Segur, Saint Estephe 3me Cru, 1998

Round, yet muscular. My first impression is that it is more iron laden than the Vieux Chateau Certan, but that's just on the surface, it really is softer less profound, and, furthermore, afflicted with a  modest dose of brett - it's not an awful stink, but still it lends a rather tepid tone.

* Feldstein brought a couple of his wines, but I covered them in a separate post.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Taking Care Of Business (Jul. 2017)

Niepoort, Duoro, Redoma, Reserva, 2014

The winery site says this is made of "Rabigato, Códega, Viosinho, Arinto and others". I greatly enjoyed the phrase "and others". The vines are 80 years old and the winery says it aims "to express the character of the Douro old vineyards". I don't know what that means, it's really generic marketing speak, but the end result wouldn't be out of place in a Chassagne blind tasting. It's about the level of a decent Chassgane Premier Cru, a little foursquare, yet complex and broad, with minerals and dried grass backed by decently applied oak, a fruit profile that hints at flowers and pears, and lots of flint and Atlantic salt. I don't know what the flavor and aromatic profile of these grapes is supposed to be. There is nothing about the wine that pointedly speaks of Duroo, or even Portugal (the way the wines made by Pato or Castro do), but I liked it enough to buy a bottle to age a couple of years. It's very good now and I sense potential for a more unique character down the road. (Jul. 10, 2017)

Not formally imported, but would be priced around 200+ NIS if it were, most likely.  Anyway, Niepoort is imported by Eyal Mermelstein from Tchernichovsky 6.

Domaine Duroché, Gevrey-Chambertin, 2015

The smart thing would have been to wait a bit with this, but the basic village wine is usually approachable, and more, early on. Generally speaking, the domaine's wines always show a floral element and it is the case here as well, although it was more prominent with previous vintages I've drunk. In addition, it also hints at forest floor, and there is, as well, a warm, vague suggestion of village's trademark feral, animalistic notes. It's a very lithe, balanced wine - one where you never have to pause and wish for more time to tame oak or tannin - and the finish, while not exceptionally long, is very precise. (Jul. 1, 2017)

Bourgone Crown, 170 NIS.

Domaine Jean-Claude Bachelet et Fils, Puligny-Montrachet, Les Aubues, 2014

I wish I had more Puligny. A while back, I stopped buying white Burgundies (reasons: oak, premox et al) until the new wave of producers came along, with their edgier wines, their vigor almost combustive, certainly contagious. Wines you could enjoy young, yet left you optimistic about their future. Bachelet is a new producer, for me. I tasted an okay Chassagne Premier Cru last year, but this seems more promising, a little tight now, intuiting at elegance, framed by oak but not blocked by it. If you wait a couple of hours, you will be rewarded by a hint of a glint of flint, otherwise, it's mostly apples, pears and dry grass. (Jul. 2, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 270 NIS.

Luis Pato, Vinha Formal, 2009

Last year, this pale sparkling wine (mostly Touriga Nacional and about one third Bical, a white grape) showed an overt mineral aspect, almost that of scorched earth. A year later, it is shows an offhanded exotic side, with a touch of peppermint and apple cider. It still both invited and then defies comparisons with Champagne or even Cava. (Jul. 10, 2017)

About 100 NIS. Imported by Eyal Mermelstein from Tchernichovsky 6.

Le Domaine d'Henri, Chablis Premier Cru, Fourchaume, Alees, 2013

If Chablis brings an oceanic essence, then Fourchaume, a vineyard of elegant wines, is the calm after a stormy night. However, as much as I love the domaine, this cuvee is too calm, not lively enough, its flavors one dimensional. The nose, however, is very congenial. (Jul. 11, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 145 NIS.

Domaine Denis Berthault, Fixin, Les Crais, 2014

This is green, but the greenness here is not that of under ripe fruit, but rather the leafy greenness of a forest. It's not very lush or sexy. Right now it's in the tough, harsh state the colder, rustic appellations can go through. It softens up but still needs time. (Jul. 12, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 145 NIS.

Michel Redde et fils, Pouilly-Fumé, Les Champs des Billons, 2014

For all its reserve - seemingly all bunched up, every erg of potential complexity and jism still in check - this is the epitome of the Pouilly-Fumé style: smoke and minerals, saline, straight-laced fruit. (Jul. 20, 2017)

IProVinum, 220 NIS.

Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre Rouge, Belle Dame, 2014

Wow, this is just as good as a Burgundy village red, and actually, the elegance and focus would even lend credibility to a comparison with a Premier Cru. It certainly unfolds to show enough complexity and depth. The red fruits have the same soothing autumnal fragrance as the progenitor of Pinot Noir, the same singular clarity, the same sensual freshness. (Jul. 22, 2017)

Wine Route, about 300 NIS.

Then again, here's a bone fide premier cru that trounces the Belle Dame. And it's not even a really great premier cru .

Gerard Julien, Nuits St. Georges, Premier Cru, Les Bousselots, 2013

Expressive enough to enjoy young, showing typical Nuits with a sort of rustic elegance - feral with the greenness of wild flora and fresh red fruit - and a rich complexity of aromas and flavors that belies its lithe frame. (Jul. 24, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 285 NIS.

Olivier Guyot, Marsannay, La Montagne, 2012

A good village wine, but at this point not a whole lot of complexity or length, even for the village level, just black, earthy fruit, with a hint of spices. (Jul. 28, 2017)

This particular wine is not imported to Israel. I bought it for 40 euros in Amsterdam.

Kishor, Savant Red, 2014, as usual, is a reserved wine, with soft, persistent tannins, and a savoury, succulent tang. The GSM, 2015 is more interesting, even better than the 2014 version, with a meaty nose and sweet, but not overtly ripe, fruit. Both, as usual, display the winery's friendly, unpretentious house style. I would not claim this is one of the country's top wineries, but if I were to compile a list of elegant, food friendly reds for summer, these two would be right up there in the top ten, and both hover around the 100 NIS price point. (Jul. 30, 2017)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Wiili Schaefer 2015 Tasting (Aug. 1, 2017)

I'm working on the annual Summer Of Riesling post. Something I wrote there could well serve as an introduction here.

Even if all the Mosel produced was kabinetts, it would still be one of the greatest wine regions of the world. Here is some corroborative evidence.

Exhibit A are ten wines from the great 2015 vintage, grown and crafted by a domain and winemaking team which are universally recognized as one of the greatest on the short stretch of the river that is the home to Germany's most renowned vineyards.

Mosel, Graacher, Trocken, 2015

This shows how much you can make of the simplest things, in this case, the apples and minerals that the quintessence of Mosel. And it's actually not quite that simple, as its balance of sweetness and saltiness is very sophisticated. 

Mosel, Graacher, Feinherb, 2014 and 2015

Even taking into account the preconceptions of the vintages I came with, it's hard to deny 2015's greater class.The 2014 is naturally more advanced, with even a slight touch of petrol. The 2015 is fruitier, cooler, racier, more precise and, ultimately, better tasting. Both are sweeter than the trocken, without loss of racy edge. 

Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Kabinett, 2015
Mosel, Graacher Himmelreich, Kabinett, 2015

You could call the feinherb and the trocken the village wines. If you're looking for more parallels to Burgundy, that would make the kabinetts village lieux-dits, perhaps, the spatleses Premier Crus and the ausleses Grand Crus. I don't like that parallel very much, because the different pradikats should serve as guidelines for sugar levels and ripeness, and not necessarily quality. In other words, a matter of style. However, the comparison is handy in a way, because ausleses taste grander, due to the bigger body. Having said all that, the kabinetts are a step up in quality, compared to the feinherbs, and that is more obvious with the Himmelreich, which is more open than the Domprobst. It is a touch more tropical and fuller, with a ripeness that is almost hedonistic, although it is, of course, well balanced by the acidity. Minerals come out in time, mostly on the nose. The Domprobst is racier, very mineral laden. It's more interesting than the Himmelreichbecause the sweetness is better balanced by the minerals right from the start. 

Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Spatlese, 2015
Mosel, Graacher Himmelreich, Spatlese, 2015

Both very closed and mute, although the Domprobst's minerality makes it more expressive now.  Having said that, the difference between the two are less pronounced than on the kabinett level. But even here the Domprobst wins.

Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Auslese, no. 16, 2015

Another reason the Burgundy parallel is useful is that as you go up the pradikat hierarchy, the wines need more time to come around. This, for example, is a glacier years from thawing. Yet even now, it manages to walk a precipitous tightrope between great, ripe concentration and thrilling, mineral-laden focus.  

Moving on to a trio tasted from half bottles.

Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Auslese, no. 14, 2015
Mosel, Graacher Himmelreich, Auslese, no. 4, 2015
Mosel, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Auslese, no. 17, 2015

Schaefer produces two-three different auslese batches from the Domprobst vineyard alone. Number 14 is the richer, more concentrated and backward version. It's also more expensive. You'll notice I'm not going into very specific details and listings of aromas and flavors. The specifics are not that important. If you drink any of these three now, or wait a few years and drink them, you're going to experience a canopy of aromas and flavors - age will just add nuances - and really, all you need to know is you will get remarkable concentration along with great complexity. The Domprobst is likely going to be serene and mineral laden, whereas the Himmelreich has the same tropical exoticism I found in the kabinett, with a hint of pungent minerals and spices. It's lighter than the Domprobst, and then so is the Sonnenuhr, which I think is the raciest and most elegant of all three and sports a touch of lemons. Despite the differences, all are cloaked with fruit and honey. Due to terroir and craft, all are almost equally balanced and fine tuned.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

All This And Avi Feldstein Two

Avi Feldstein's has recently held a weekend long launch party for his boutique winery's sophomore release. Avi makes too many wines to easily grasp in a single sitting, especially at a launch party, where the senses are bombarded by too many friends, too much noise and cheer. Even under these constraints on my facilities, it's obvious to me that Avi covers a lot of ground without loss of clarity of purpose and expression. The myriad wines are of a piece, yet each is a separate individual, each one plays out a role, marks out a coordinate in Avi's personal wine map.

I can't promise you that my reading of that map is the correct one. And despite friendship and, frankly, admiration, I can't even commit that I'll visit every beach and river on that map. What I can promise is that you're going to have loads of fun visiting any of the places he's marked out. I know I will.

First, the whites. Avi seems to have three themes here. Rhone whites in various configurations. White Bordeaux grapes in various configurations. And Dabuki, an ancient indigenous variety.

Dabuki, 2015

The 2014 was one of the standouts last year and so is the 2015 this year. This the funkiest and most unique of the whites, and not just because the grape is such an underdog oddball. Here's my take on what happened here. Avi recognized potential in the grape. Maybe Dabuki doesb't have Hall of Fame level potential, but it might just be as good as, say, Aligote. Because of his fine skills, Feldstein coaxed that quality that others would have missed. So I don't know if the funky complexity of minerals is a Dabuki trademark, but it's surely the stamp of a Feldstein Dabuki.

Shalem, 2015

Similarly crafted to show a mineral veneer, albeit one encasing a less bitter, more friendly wine. Avi strikes me as someone who just can't settle on a single modus operandi, so if the other white wines attempt to depict his rendition of a grape or classic blend, here it strikes me that he starts out with an idea of a style and feel and assembles a wine around around that notion. Often, such blends can turn into trophy wines marketed as "the best of what we can do at winery XXX", but for Avi, making a blend is just a different way of doing things and so the Shalem is not necessarily (and probably not) a flagship white. I don't think he'll ever actually have one per se. Anyway, if you're concerned about such details, this year it's a blend of Vioginer, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (which has taken over the role played by Rousanne in the 2014 blend).

Rousanne, 2014

I was eager to come back to this, because the bottle Avi opened recently was so charming that it forced me to reconsider my reservations about the grape and the wine. However, the launch was not a good place for a re-examination, although I will say it performed well under the circumstances, presenting itself as commanding, full and spicy - ripe and healthily sweet, yet structured. The grapes come from the Judean Hills and the Gallilee. Picked at different ripeness levels, the outcome is what Feldstein wittily calls a blend of Rousanne and Rousanne.

Sauvignon Blanc, 2015

Tasting this was an utter torture for me. This is exactly the kind of wine that's totally killed at parties. It's too young and feels like you'd need an hour with it, thus even a regular tasting would probably not do it justice. I'm going to say the fruit is gooseberry, even though I've never tasted any gooseberry, because that's what they always say about New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, which is what this reminds me of, at least on a superficial level. The thing about young wines like this is you have to grasp at vague clues to get an idea where they're going. The gooseberry is so dominant it's hard to get beyond it, although I do get herbs, mostly mint. I'm guessing the fruit will eventually be complemented by an interplay of herbs and minerals.

Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, 2015

For me, the most complete white of the lot. Not necessarily more complex or better than the Sauvignon Blanc, but more complete. The 2014 was a classic from day one, and, if I factor out the background noise and crappy air conditioning that impacted my concentration, I think the 2015 is a worthy follow up.

Semillon, 2015

I tasted this a couple of weeks after the launch, from a bottle that had been opened for a few hours. Perhaps the setting and the air gave it an edge in comparison to the other whites, but what I find here is classic rendering of a grape that, despite its long, esteemed history, has remained rather obscure, seemingly denied the cult fame that arguably less worthy grapes have garnered - Viognier was on the verge of extinction forty years ago and is now much more of a household word. From my (limited) experience, Semillon seems deceptively limpid at first, yet has a firm backbone and depth, and Avi's version creates that same impression, a perfect marriage of languid, ripe fruit and and a spicy, almost umami finish. As far as aromatics, melons with spicy nuances that I can't place, yet I also get spicy pears and hints of Champagne. This might be Avi's most age-worthy wine.

So what are these three wines all about?

I think i know what Avi is saying here: 
Semillon does this alone and Sauvignon does this alone.
Together they do that.
And I think it's worth my time and yours to give you all three options.
The only problem with that is you wind up having to buy three wines and the average budget doesn't translate to enough bottles to provide reasonable aging possibilities to play with. I'm fairly sure that, as they mature, they'll all show mineral aspects to one degree or another. But few will us will ever know for sure, as I doubt many buyers walked off with enough bottles of each to track their aging on a regular basis. 

Avi now makes three roses, that being a statement in its own right. They are my personal favorites. Not necessarily the best wines he makes, but the truest embodiment of what Avi is all about. I mean, three roses, each with a unique character and flavor profile - how many wineries in the world have ever tried to pull that off? Just make sure not to over-cool them.

Rose Grenache, 2015

Light and fragrant, with a finish whose light bitterness is just enough to cleanse the palate between bites. If Grenache at full throttle is candied and alcoholic, then making a rose out of it is a good way to limit the wine to scraps of red fruit and herbs off the fringes of the beast. Lovely. 

Rose Carignan, 2015

This is more interesting and complex, meatier. without much loss of lightness - and a touch of rotting leaves and apricots. 

Rose Syrah, 2015

Lats year, the rose that really won my heart was the Syrah (which Avi never released commercially), due to the fact that it showcased what I love about Syrah in a rose body and format. In other words, suggestions of flowers and the perennial black pepper. These are less pronounced this year, and so my heart has found a new master. For me, a rose lives and dies on personality - which is true of any wine, but with roses, it often strikes me there's little going on besides personality - and this year the Carignan is Mr. Charisma. 

Ishtar, 2014

This is mostly Cabernet Franc, with some Merlot. Very powerful, its chewy ripeness reined in and in check, seriously nubile and monolithic, you get a hint of herbs and and a distinct sense of pedigree. I have great hope that as it matures and uncoils, its innate power will find an elegant mode of expression.

Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014

Avi returns to his old hunting ground, in a sort of hommage to the Unfiltered Cabernet that made his reputation in the 90's. This is the refined distillation of all he's learned in the intervening years, wherein he rethinks his depiction of the Galillee Cab in less muscular terms, without loss of the fullness of presence that were the UC's trademark.

Gilgamesh, 2014

A blend of six grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Argaman and Viognier. If the Ishtar is the serious contender in the red group, this is the friendliest. I think that's because Feldstein can mix and match here to suit his vision, same as his did in the Shalem. Personally, I prefer the Ishtar's surly vision, but this is a very charming wine.

Grenache, 2014

This was launched last year, but even now it comes off as way too young, very pure and fresh, red fruit over a bed of raw geranium. Teeming with potential and grace, this is a wine Avi is justifiably proud of.

Seifa, 2014

Port expresses a very specific cultural heritage, which is why it bothers anyone with an iota of respect to see the name on the front label of any wine made outside of the Duoro. Naturally, Avi avoided that. He even came up with a cool alternative designation, Seifa, an Aramic term which loosely translates to epilogue or appendix - an apt term for a digestif. He does refer to Port in the wine notes, because it's hard to ignore that this is a wine made in the vintage Port idiom. I don't have enough experience with the style to make significant comments on such a youthful specimen, especially one tasted in a warm, noisy room. I did gleam enough to recommend it, though, all the while wondering when Avi's breadth will finally tax even his very restless spirit.