Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Larmandier-Bernier Tasting (Dec. 14, 2017)

Eldad Levy's Champagne catalog lists seven growers. They are all very dear to my heart and I'd hate to have to choose between them or even rank them. But if I had to make a case for Larmandier-Bernier as the number one seed, my argument would be that Larmandier makes the purest, most intense wines of the lot. We like our Champagnes to flirt around with maturity and show that lovely brioche/mushroomy/biscuity character, but they all start out as young and fruity with traces of yeast. Which is where, I think, you can make the best cross comparisons, at their youth, before age starts to obscure any differences

Having tasted most of the catalog both in youth and with some age, I can say that the young Larmandiers are full, ripe wines, arguably the ripest of the lot, but that ripeness is backed by solid, almost intense acidity. The dosage is very low, so with the acidity being so generous, they don't taste sweet at all. In fact, they seem lean and lithe, almost electric, the balance of fruit and acidity making for powerful tension. At the same time, they're so well crafted that their intensity is never abrasive and, at the end, they impress for their finesse. I enjoy drinking them young because that tension is so very gripping and fascinating to experience. The reason I have enough patience to lay them down is because drinking ten and twelve year old Cramant Grand Crus has taught me how long lived these wines are.

I'll be mentioning the vineyards and villages worked by Larmandier in my notes. So a little background first. Laramandier is based in the Côte des Blancs, which is Chardonnay country, as the name broadly suggests. The domaine is located in the Premier Cru village of Vertus, but also works vineyards at Cramant, Oger and Avize, all Grand Cru villages. The debate around the Champagne classification system will never end, which is appropriate because it's dumb and classifies villages instead of vineyards. I'm telling you this because the Larmandier Vertus is almost as grand as the Cramant, just so you know when you plan your purchases. 

You can read more about the domaine here or skip to the notes.

Latitude, Premier Cru, n.v.

This is made from young vines south of Cramant and it's primal and citric and in need of time. To wit, fifteen minutes were required to show more aromatic complexity and chalk.

Longitude, Premier Cru, n.v.

Made from all the Laramandier holdings in the Côte des Blancs: Vertus, Oger, Avize, Cramant. This is obviously where the real fun begins. Greater nuances and power, probably as good as an ‘average’ vintage Champagne. 

Terre de Vertus Premier Cru, 2009

This is the kind of wine that is almost too easily labeled as intellectual. Which means it's too rocky and electric to drink casually and really demands you pay attention to it. Now, I wrote earlier that it's of Grand Cru caliber, but it's not quite as broad and complete as the Cramant. For one thing, it's a fair bet that while the Vertus vineyard this hails from is at least a match for an average Cramant vineyard, the family's Cramant holdings are hardly average. For another thing, it's a different style of wine, lean and angular and made with zero dosage, which makes it less approachable. This is probably a good place to quote the Larmandier philosophy on dosage:

At Larmandier-Bernier, no secret recipe: once again, our ambition is to allow the terroir to express itself. After all the care lavished on our wines, starting in the vineyard, we are not going to add anything which might go against them.

While most brut Champagnes are dosed at around 12 grams per litre, we never exceed 4 grams for our cuvées. For the 'Terre de Vertus', it's simple: we add no sugar at all. Generally speaking, there is about 1 gram of residual sugar anyway. We prefer to favour the maturity of the grapes and their natural sugar rather than adding sugar when the bottles are disgorged and running the risk of making the Champagne heavier and losing sight of the terroir.

Rose de Saignee Premier Cru, n.v.

Sourced from the family's only Pinot Noir holdings in Vertus, this is floral, very Pinot ish. Still, despite its obvious sex appeal, it is very discreet. This is the only wine in the lineup that I would enjoy a great deal more with age, because it's really too demure to impress right now.

Les Chemins d’Avize Grand Cru, 2009

This is the newest single village wine in the portfolio, and 2009 was the first vintage. Again, a whole bedrock of minerals, but complemented by flowers, it's a  sedate wine, less angles and knees and elbows sticking out than the Terre de Vertus

Les Chemins d’Avize  Grand Cru, 2010

The year is cooler and I get more flowers, a more intense bouquet, while the body is leaner. Never mind the descriptors, the common thread of the evening is how Larmandier puts so much stuffing without loss of grace, all the while insinuating and hinting at nuances. The specifics are less important.

Vieille Vigne du Levant Grand Cru (formerly known as Cramant), 2007

The house’s crown jewel, this is a very full wine, so full that this time the minerals are buried under baked apples. In a way, it's paradoxical how such a backward and monolithic wine is also the most complete wine.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Taking Care Of Business (Nov. 2017)

Shvo, Chenin Blanc, 2015

What does this remind me of? More Savenieres than Vouvray, I reckon. Not really a wine for a casual drinker, so it's a good thing I take even my casual drinks seriously. On the face of it, the grocery list includes just a few ingredients - cantaloupe and brimstone - but the wine gets a lot of mileage out of them. 

Vitkin, Gewurztraminer, 2016

I'm not sure how this would fare in a comparative tasting (oh god, a comparative Gewurztraminer tasting!) but it really is a lovely wine on its own and by its own merits. The nose is roses and white pepper and that impression is echoed on the palate with its spicy finish.

Both drunk Nov. 4, 2017. I had the Shvo a month later and if anything, it only improved, the nose and plate more intense and focused.

Lewinsohn, Garage de Papa, Rouge, 2015

The Garage de Papa started out as a Bordeaux blend or maybe a varietal Merlot, I forget, but over the years, Ido shifted to other grapes: Carignan, Syrah, Petite Sirah, you know, what writers term Mediterranean grapes. It's a good thing we don't call them Third World grapes or Afro grapes. This year, on the wake of last year's limited edition Petit Sirah - which was fully or mostly fermented with its stems -  the Rouge is 80% Petit Sirah, only partially de-stemmed, the rest Marsellan. The result is the lithest, most floral version yet, the farthest you can get from the cumbersome, oaky reds that ruled the marketplace only a few years ago.(Nov. 6, 2017)

The white is of the same caliber. Although I usually prefer the red, the Garage de Papa, Blanc, 2016 , also just released, is the first time I've personally loved the white just as much. It's always a varietal Chardonnay, always one of the best we have, but this year it expresses the character of the grape just as well as its Burgundian peers. Now, I'm not saying we should aspire to copy Burgundy - although you'd be a damn fool to not admire the quality of the wines produced in the Cote - but I am saying that the core, the idea, of Chardonnay is something pretty terrific that the Burgundians really nail: the apples and pears, the flint, the dry grass, the savory dryness. There's a reason everyone aims for that ideal, and if you get good enough grapes and handle them just right, you've got a shot at it. And, along the way, you can express local character, because Chardonnay is very generous at giving up that sort of expressiveness. With the 2016, Ido got there.

160 NIS.

Vitkin, Riesling, 2014

It's interesting to compare this to the Garage de Papa Blanc, which we shared with friends at the same brunch. If you scored them, they'd both be pretty much at the same place, both technically and, for the lack of a more apt term, artistically. I preferred the Garage, Efrat and friends preferred the Riesling - but I think it's simply because RIESLING ALWAYS WINS. I have some thoughts to share about Israeli Rieslings - of course I do - but first, a few words about the wine. It's got apples and spices, which is to be expected - that's the basic expression of Riesling after all - but also quince, I think. Good acidity, too. That's the tasting note. Now for my spiel.

The thing about Israeli Rieslings is there aren't many of them, but the wineries making the good ones get the grape, they express the grape and they surprise many outsiders as to how well they manage to express it. What even the good ones lack is that extra step that the Garage takes - maybe because Chardonnay is easier to grown in Israel or more giving in general - in letting the grape express the scenery as well. Don't get me wrong, the local Rieslings are not anonymous. They offer something local. Vitkin does, Kishor does, Sphera does. Just not enough yet for me to say they're as special as the best of our other whites. Vitkin takes the grape in a tight, structured direction and does it very well, indeed, and it has the best track record so far. Even today, if you taste the Riesling alongside the Gewurztraminer and the Grenache Blanc, you'll recognize the winemaker's style and touch and how unforced they are.  (Nov. 11, 2017)

Tzora, Shoresh, 2012

Eran Pick has never succumbed to peer pressure enough to blindly follow the "Mediterranean" fad. Despite the Syrah in the blends, the Tzora reds have always used a healthy proportion of Bordeaux grapes without cloning the Bordeaux flavors. The Tzora teams have been working the same vineyards for over a couple of decades and I guess they know what works best there. And what works produces, in the case of the Shoresh red, a warm wine with balanced flavors that favors currants and complex layers of minerals. (Nov. 10, 2017)

The first non-Israeli to make the monthly post is a Bourgogne we had in Rome, of all places.

Domaine Matrot, Bourgogne Blanc, 2014

It may be the vintage, it may be the house, it’s likely a combination of both, but this is one of this ‘generic’ Bourgognes that can trounce quite a few villages. I don’t always like that I make these comparisons but they can be useful. This is as complex and as delineated as a village wine, albeit lighter. Aromatically, at least, it’s so mineral laden you might think it hails from Pugliny. And, it’s one of those young, cold weather Chardonnays so pungent and racy in youth that it’s simply electric. (Nov. 16, 2017)

Feldstein, Dabuki, 2015

Amazingly, the local press managed to write and argue the life out of the new wave of indigenous grapes, mostly abetted by the Recanati promo machine. All in the course of about a year. I don't want to talk about it. I don't know if our local grapes can be superstars. I don't care if they make the drinkers think of Abraham and Jesus and King David. I'd settle for a local Aligote. Which I think this is, actually, with its lithe frame and notes of gunpowder and bread. (Nov. 18, 2017)

Feldstein, Rousanne, 2014

This is an entirely different beast. And beast it is. There's breadth of fruit in there, but the show is about minerals, wax and a savoriness that recalls mushrooms and harmonizes with the fruit. The texture is raspy and grainy without being aggressive. Avi makes me enjoy and muse about a grape I used to not give a fuck about. (Nov. 19, 2017)

Cantina Terlan, Suditrol, Alto Adige, Pinot Bianco, 2016 

I didn't really have a lot of expectations, but I wanted to try an Alto Adige Pinot Blanc since it seems to be their pride and joy. The price point was nice. It's not very complex and it could use more interesting mineralish aromas, but its friendly, floral, almost tropical, character is very winning, especially when its roundness is tempered by a spicy finish. (Nov. 21, 2017)

13 euro.

Selbach-Oster, Saar, Riesling Kabinett, 2015 

This might not have the pedigree of the Selbach crus, but time in bottle can coax complexity and focused intensity even out of a simple German Riesling, and I'm not sure this was a very simple German Riesling to begin with. (Nov. 23, 2017)

Fat Guy, 99 NIS.

Drappier, Champagne, Carte d'Or Brut, n.v.

Drappier has the relatively unique distinction among the Champagne houses of being located in the Cote de Bar region. The Carte d'Or is the basic cuvee and it's predominantly Pinot Noir based (80-90% in most disgorgements). The brut dosage makes for a fat, round impression, while the reserve wines from the back vintages in the blend already provide biscuity aromas. All in all, a fruity, full, straightforward Champagne. (Nov. 25, 2017)

Wine Route, 229 NIS. An okay price for a decent n.v.

Barbeito, Madeira, Verdelho 10 Years Old, n.v.

More or less my first Madeira ever, its relative lightness and nutty pungency reminds me of an Amontillado, except for two things.One, the lack of the flor induced iodine bite and, two, few sherries show the kind of edgy acidity displayed here. (Nov. 26, 2017)

Luis Pato, Beiras, Vinhas Velhas, 2013

This is comprised of Baga vines half a century old. Pato uses Baga for every conceivable style, from sparkling wines to big, meaty, muscular reds. The Vinhas Velhas, on the other hand, is a lithe red, almost a rusty Gamay. This is a little better than the 2011, a little cleaner and bit more floral, the black fruit culminating in a dusty finish, whereas Baga's trademark tannins usually stain the teeth.(Nov. 30, 2017)

Both wines sold at Tchernichovsky.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Lineup (Popina, Nov. 2, 2017)

This will forever be known as The Lineup
(not pictured: Vilmart Cœur de Cuvee,2006 and Bonneau du Martray 1993)
Vilmart & Cie, Cœur de Cuvee,2006

The (quite expensive) flagship of one of the best grower houses in Champagne. This is a magnificent distillation of everything that makes Champagne great: the brioche, the mushrooms, the minerals, the fruit so lively and fresh despite its ripeness and fullness that it feels the grapes had just come off the vines. If you need a frame of reference, think vintage Krug, not just because the quality level is the same, but because both have a multidimensional presence that feels as though you're watching 3-D for the first time. 

Bonneau du Martray, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, 1993

When I started exploring Burgundy, most of my forays were basically books and the internet. The word on Corton-Charlemagne was Bonneau du Martray. And, no matter many books and articles I read, no matter what changes had transformed the Cote, Bonneau du Martray was still considered the epitome of Corton. The Big Name, The Name and, some would have you think, The Only Name. Out of five different bottles I've had over the years, only one lived up to the hype, a magnificent bottle drunk at ten years of age. And now this. While I'd still open my white Burgundies  at around ten years post vintage, depending on the appellation and vintage, I can't argue that this bottle passed the test of time and provides a unique experience by showing a mellow version of the classic formula of minerals and nuts.

And on to Bordeaux. Saint Julien is supposed to be the elegant AOC, Pauillac the tougher one. Yet the two Leovilles below showed a rough facade while the Pauillacs oozed sex and sensuality. It doesn't hurt that one of them is a strong contender for the best wine in the world.

Chateau Leoville-Barton, Saint Julien, 2me cru, 1998
Chateau Leoville-Les-Cases, Saint Julien, 2me cru, 1975

As every Bordeaux nut knows, the latter day properties Leoville-Les-Cases, Leoville-Barton and Leoville-Poyferre used to be a single house until the eighteenth century. Still, it surprises me to see how alike these two came off, despite the different years and winemakers, not to mention the difference in winemaking approaches that are the result of new technologies and philosophies that started to assert themselves in the nineties. But to actually get that, you first have to get past how fuckin' closed they both are, even the Les-Cases, bottled all of four decades ago! Both are really elegant and complex when they finally open, the black fruit laced with cedar, but despite that elegance, both are proud field marshalls, gruff and muscular and ready to rumble.

Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac 5me Cru,1982

I don't much like brett these days, and neither do my buddies. yet we all swooned for this wine. I guess sometimes brett works, but it took me a while to figure out why. The reason is, here it doesn't come off as poo or dirty socks, but rather tastes and smells like prosciutto! Besides, the frame is very elegant and friendly and the lovely currants and lead pencil ensure you won't be able to put it down.

Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac Premier Cru, 2002

No surprise that this is the winner. Crafted from the same cloth as the Lynch-Bages, it manages to top that incredibly sexy wine by dint of an almost ephemeral elegance.

If a wine like the Lynch-Bages is why we age Bordeaux for decades, Lafite is the best reason I know to work your ass to become a wolf, conquer the world and make lots of money.