Tuesday, October 9, 2018

September Songs (Sept. 2018)

Mostly Burgundy and top flight Israelis this month. And a white Portuguese - the whites of Portugal need to be on your shopping lists!

Niepoort, Duoro, Dialogo Branco, 2017

We had spent a week in Portugal and drank a Duoro white almost every day. Usually 10 euro stuff, which translates to sub 100 NIS wines in Israel (which is more or less what this should cost). Without exception, they were very balanced and tautly shaped, ripe without excess and all ingrained with a fine mineral character, salty a la Chablis. I'm just going to recommend you try whatever is available until you find your house white. The Diaologo is a good starting point. (Sept. 30, 2018)

Rapet Père et Fils, Pernand-Vergelesses Premier Cru, En Caradeux, 2015

This is a wine I've adored through three vintages, 2011 through 2013. I'm keeping the 2014 because it's such a sharp, focused vintage - a marathon lady - but 2015, well, it looks like the kind of vintage that flatters the reds and turns the whites into hussies. (Sept. 10, 2018)

Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, St. Joseph, 2014

This is my first encounter with the Chave estate St. Joseph, and, off year or not, it's a beautiful wine. One of the things I love most about North Rhone Syrah is the combination of black/blue fruit, flowers, pepper and bacon that evoke an almost feral wildness, even in the most elegant wines. I find all that here, especially the bacon. What I like less is how the acidity and plump fruit don't mesh very well on the palate, obscuring the savoriness that only emerges after three hours, but the density, structure and depth remind so much of a good Cote Rotie that I would wager on cellar time to resolve this issue. (Sept. 14, 2018)

Wine Route, 200 NIS.

Tzora, Shoresh, 2013

In addition to the usual substantial substratum of minerals (and the Shoresh is always a very mineral-laden wine), there's an echo of flowers in deep center field. (Sept. 2, 2018)

Benoit Ente, Aligote, 2015

Not only do I buy this wine almost every year from Bourgogne Crown, it's the wine I look forward to the most. It doesn't have the body or depth of a Premier Cru, but it does have the flair and excitement of one. What you look for in great white Burgundies is a certain kind of nose where the fruit aromas set the stage for something else, usually minerals. The point is, the fruit is never supposed to be too forward. Actually, nothing should be too forward - the charm of the filigree whites is always in their reserve. The magic here is in the interplay of dry grass and minerals. As far as the palate is concerned, it has an electrifying presence, with a lithe body and terrific, juicy acidity that lends great length to the snaky, salty finish. 

Aligote is a racier grape than Chardonnay, which is, presumably, why the wine feels as though it came from a cooler year than 2015. The quality is a testament to Benoit's winemaking skills, as well as the source of the juice: plots planted in 1949, 1953 and 2002 in Puligny proper. It actually impresses as a wine that could develop for at least five more years. I promise myself to hold on to my next bottle, but I know I won't.

(Sept. 4, 2018)

100 NIS.

Domaine Hubert Lamy, Bourgogne Blanc, Les Chataigners, 2015

Like the Ente Aligote, this is an overachiever, a declassified village plot, with solid weight and girth. 2015 is a warm vintage, yet this doesn't come off as ripe or fat, just a little bulky.  The vintage is obviously less rewarding for Chardonnay than for a grape like Aligote, which seems to eat up the sun like a performance enhancing drug. Nonetheless, this is in no way ripe, sweet or tropical. If, like me, you enjoy a savory finish to your white Burgundy, you're going to get it here - it's just not going to be very focused. (Sept. 5, 2016)

Bourgogne Crown, 140 NIS.

Feldstein, Argaman, Appassimento, 2016

Argaman is an Israeli wine grape. It is a crossing of Souzão and Carignan. The intention was to produce a variety of wine grape with good rich color, which had been a problem in Israeli wine. (Wikipedia)

Appassimento: Italian term for drying harvested grapes, traditionally on bamboo racks or straw mats, for a few weeks up to several months to concentrate the sugars and flavors. (Wine Spectator)

Avi Feldstein has long been the proponent of Argaman in Israel, extolling its virtues and potential and producing the first varietal Argaman wines in his days at Barkan. This latest version from his eponymous winery begs the question: if you love the grape so much, why do you think you needed to dry it? Well, he only dried half the grapes that went into this wine and he did it to avoid a longer hang time in the vineyard (meaning, he could have gotten the same concentration in the field, but with some cons he wanted to avoid). The end result is interesting and appealing, achieving a plump, earthy character similar to Israeli Carignan or Marsellan, but with a different texture and set of aromas. (Sept. 8, 2018)

160 NIS.

Feldstein, Rose Carignan, 2017

Feldstein’s roses are another of my annual highlights. They are worthy of anticipation because they show varietal character, intensity and focus without losing the basic character of a good rose: a light body with a smattering of pungency providing structure, winding up in a savory finish. I can’t say they’re the best roses in the world (mainly because I haven't tasted a wide enough range of roses), but they're surely the Platonic ideal of rose. Anyway, the Carignan has an earthy, spicy character with a nose as complex as, say, a good Cote de Nuits village red. Seriously, this is as close to Burgundy as I've ever had in Israel. (Sept. 9, 2017)

The Feldstein, Rose Grenache, 2017 is a lighter wine, and less intense. I prefer the Carignan because it's so winey it exists on a level beyond rose, yet remains a rose. I have less to say about the Grenache rose, alas, but it's always a step more pure and focused than an average good rose, with shadings of flowers and clay. (Sept. 13, 2018)

Rizzi, Barbaresco, Pajoré, 2013

Yaffo Tel Aviv and Eldad Levy imported this bargain house a few years ago at a really low price (that I forgot to write down in Cellar Tracker). This is very pungent, on both palate and nose (but especially on the nose), a blast of red fruit and tar - wild and unruly, yet with a soft, friendly center. A very complete, small scale classic. (Sept. 25, 2018)

Imported by Eyal Mermelstein.

Sphera, White Signature, 2017

This flagship is dominated by Semillon, as I recall, and it's glorious this year, coming off almost like a New Zealand Sauvignon with its fresh gooseberries. The spanner in the works is a fine, pronounced strain of chalk and salt. (Sept. 29, 2018)

About 150 NIS and worth every shekel.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Terrible Truth About Riesling

Settle down for a haul. The annual Riesling post is always wordy.

Selbach-Oster, Mosel, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, 'Rotlay', Riesling Auslese, 2006

Although Germany can be just as vineyard oriented as Burgundy, some would argue that the variety of ripeness levels and style across the different pradikats obscures the character of the cru system. I'm not supporting that argument, I'm just stating it. I don't really agree with that argument because I've been able to find common themes in kabinetts, spatleses and auslese from the same vineyard. 

I'm not the one who has to set winery policy and make wines. At Selbach-Oster, Johannes Selbach does and a long time ago he decided to showcase his terroirs by harvesting select plots of his top vineyards in a single trie, in addition to his usual lineup of pradikats. Rotlay from Sonnenuhr was the first product of this experiment and the Himmelreich Anrecht and Schlossberg Schmitt followed a few vintages later. 

I forgot that the only time I drank the three side by side (the 2015 vintage), I concluded the Rotlay needed 3-4 decades to shed its sweetness. I'm not sorry I opened the 2006 so early, because the cork was wet to the point of crumbling, so I doubt this specific bottle was very fit for the long haul. Like the 2015, this is ripe and sweet, hinting at botrytis, initially without any obvious structure to provide focus and direction. But I think the structure - the acidity, basically - is all in there. You just need to spend a couple of hours with a bottle to watch the nuances unfold and gauge how the seeming lack of structure is just mass and depth of fruit. When I did that, I got notes of slate beneath the fruit. 

A great wine in need of great time. (June 8, 2018)

About 40 GBP.

Margalit, Riesling, 2016

With less than ten serious Rieslings in Israel, everyone who makes a Riesling can lay claim to being one of the top ten Israeli Riesling producers. I'm quite satisfied with having four or five good ones, and they don't even have to be great, or be a toe to toe match with the Mosel or Austria, to satisfy me, as long as they express something a little different. I'd say Margalit is a decent addition to the ranks. It's herbal and minty, with a very light touch of kerosene. The palate is quite tasty and dry for its 11% ABV. This is what I find most surprising about it. I wasn't expecting this fine a balance between extract and finesse. Final verdict: well made, but lacks a distinct character. (June 19, 2018)

About 110 NIS.

Jos. Christoffel Jr., Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Urziger Wurtzgarten, Auslese ***, 2002

It's probably the specific bottle and not the wine or vintage, but I miss acidity here. There's a complex canvas of aromas and flavors, dominated by kerosene and dill, and it's fun to drink, but without enough acidity to propel it along, I don't find the vibrancy I expect from a three star. (July 19, 2018)

Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Riesling Kabinett, 2016

There's apricots here as well, although I think that, as is often the case with young Mosels, the predominant character is green apples There is also dust and earth, on top of the more typical slate. What I really like is the shape it forms in the mouth, light and ethereal, almost water-like, its grip tightening and become more tactile and cooler at the same time, with air. (July 26, 2018)

Fat Guy, 130 NIS.

Willi Schaefer, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Graacher Domprobst, Riesling, Auslese #14, 2006

What I consistently get from various encounters of top tier Schaefer wines is that the fruit is so multi-layered and deep that you can find profound nuances and depth at every stage of the wines' evolution. This is almost at the top of the Schaefer hierarchy (save for auction wines) and that boundless depth and complexity made it hard to nail the wine's age. The apricots, underpinned by honey and minerals, seduce effortlessly. It's very likely that this wine will survive me, never mind more recent vintages. (July 19, 2018)

It's worth remembering why we love this stuff. Not for a sense of place so much as for a sense of being. That combination of place, grape, year, winemaker. And all too rarely, a divine spark coursing through one or more of the four. The Domprobst is blessed with that spark, which I experienced on more than one occasion. Hundreds of miles away, the Nahe has a vineyard and winemaker of equally high repute. 

Dönnhoff, Nahe, Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle, Riesling Spätlese, 2008

Always laced, when not packed, with minerals, at ten years of age, this is complex, detailed and subtle, the apricot and apple fruit speckled with spices that verge on the exotic. (Aug. 1, 2018)

Emrich-Schönleber, Nahe, Monzinger Halenberg, Riesling Spätlese, 2012

I've been drinking E-S for over a decade. I remember drinking the 2004 Frühlingsplätzchen Kabinett with Anat Sela when Giaconda's first batch came in. Anat later told me I was Giaconda's first private sector customer. It's a close call, but sometime I prefer Emrich to Donnhoff. The terroirs are different, but usually the Emrich-Schönleber's are clearer and more crystalline (on the other, Donnhoff's at their best have more depth). I'm down to my last bottle in the foreseeable future.

This is a great wine, with an exquisite, ethereal balance of sweetness and minerals, already showing finesse and complexity. If ever a wine carried bottomless depth on a gossamer frame, this is the one. (Aug. 23, 2018)

Gunderloch, Rheinhessen, Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel, 2007

Ausleses are always delicious. Sweetness can be such a hedonistic pleasure. But if I stop and analyze this, it really is too unctuous, without enough acidity to uplift it. Whether you examine the aromas or the palate, it is just huge gobs of baked, caramelized apples, slightly tempered by hints of petrol and botrytis-fed spices. Fans of Sauternes will love it. I like it, too, but purely as guilty pleasure. (Aug. 10, 2018)

Weingut Max Ferd. Richter, Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Riesling Kabinett feinherb, 2015

The racy side of Mosel: lively, freshly picked granny apples, the juicy fruit propped by a vivid backdrop of acidity, the mineral veneer stretched over the surface like a taut drum skin. Still primary. (Aug. 25, 2018)

A terrific value in the US at 20 USD.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Wines and Meat (Sept. 6, 2018)

Wines for hipsters vs. wines for the affluent
If someone asked me to pick a wine for hipsters, the last place I'd look for one is Bordeaux. I love Bordeaux. I love the infinite variety and richness, the heritage, the dream of a lush life the wines offer, the taste. But, Bordeaux is basically about getting the best wine money can buy. It's been like that since the Dutch drained its swamps and the upper class came rushing in to build their chateaus. Even the garagistes were just a tweak to the system, not a real change in direction.

In short, good to great wines all over the place, dependable and predicable, but, as Hugh Johnson put it, "not much novelty - hence less sommelier excitement".

But there's one small domaine in Saint Julien that's been doing things their way for centuries, a Carl Fredricksen hanging on to his house while skyscrapers tower over him. The Fillastre family has been tending the Domaine du Jaugare and their meager 1.3 hectares of vineyard since 1654. But they've come to the end of the line. Jean-François Fillastre is a childless octogenarian who's been preserving his family's heritage and flying in the face of modernity to the point that the domaine was rejected from the appellation for lack of typicality.

Judging by the prices this sells for at Manhattan wine stores, the hipsters have indeed been taking to Jean-Francois like Russel took to Carl. 

We recently drank the Domaine du Jaugaret, 2012 that Yotam Sharon brought for a belated birthday celebration. I liked it. It didn't make me swoon, but it really is a charming wine and if the establishment is successful in grinding down the domaine, it will be a tragedy. The grapes seem to have been picked slightly earlier than the norm in Bordeaux, so the fruit is very red (not green, just red). That's probably why pundits compare it to Burgundy - I personally find it Loire-like, rather, on the palate. The winemaking is solid, with no bombast or flash. The fruit is clean, with good acidity and no brett. A wine of great, rough charm and the "lack of typicality" claim baffles me. Sure, it's miles apart from the Leovilles, say, but for me, well within reasonable bounds of variety.

Benoit Ente, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, Sous Le Puits "Terre de Blagny", 2012

This is one of my favorite producers in the Cote de Beaune, with a style and approach that highlights balanced, acidity driven wines. The wines cost roughly as much as the better known Puilgny name Etienne Sauzet, but Ente consistently thrills me more. This is lovely, with a nose of decent complexity, if not more, and detailed nuances of flint. It's lithe and savory and develops and grows well in glass.

Michel Redde et fils, Pouilly-Fumé, Les Champs des Billons, 2011

This family establishment, and this wine in particular, are a long time favorite of mine, but I'm not sure aging really serves the Champs des Billons that well. At four years old, it was as great as the very best Chablis Grand Cru. Two years later, it started slowing down. This bottle is still holding steady, but it sure doesn't seem like there's an upcurve in the future. I am going to be more conservative about aging Sauvignon Blancs.

Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac 5me Cru, 2004

I've been fortunate enough to have drunk more than a dozen vintages of Lynch-Bages over the years. And what a classic claret it is, with that elegant richness of form and taste of the best of Bordeaux. This is more of the same and very presentable. If you have multiple vintages, this is the one to open now.

And this is the wine to keep away from for the next ten years:

Chateau Canon, Saint Emilion, Premier Cru Classe, 2015

Too young. Fruity but not raw. 

Alion, Ribera del Duero, 2006

I usually find this boring. At best, it's a well made wine that impresses without straining to do so, but lacks excitement nonetheless. That's just me, of course, but I do try to like any wine I buy, if only to justify the expenditure. Tonight, though, it really meshed in the lineup and there’s a freshness and persistent buzz of iron that lifts it beyond its usual game. Best Alion experience I’ve had.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Hot Days of Summer's End (Aug. 2018)

The Crianza that decided to be a Grand Reserva
R. López de Heredia, Rioja Crianza, Blanco Viña Gravonia, 2007

The problem with mature white Riojas is that the style is the quintessential acquired taste. I have acquired a taste for them over the years, to the point I now regret I didn't buy more of the Gravonia. It's easy to pigeonhole the savory aromas - roasted nuts and minerals bordering on cured meats - as oxidized, and that's certainly what I thought when I first encountered white Riojas. And, surely there is light touch of deliberate and measured oxidation. Yet, the Gravonia's bouquet is so complex, vibrant and convincing that it wipes out any preexisting bias. Same for the palate: there's a richness bordering on sweetness, but even after years in bottle, the acidity is still in vibrant balance with the fruit, so that the form remains focused and culminates in food friendly saltiness. 

There is actually another problem with mature white Riojas: bottle variations I've had a decent amount of white Riojas from Heredia. Some were gems, some were really off and some just did not meet expectations. I've had Reservas playing at Grand Reserva level and vice versa. The best white Heredia I've had was a twenty one year old Grand Reserva Tondonia 1991. This is a very close second. (Aug. 15, 2018)

Fat Guy, 150 NIS.

Joseph Drouhin, Gevrey-Chambertin, 2012

I don't have too many data points on Drouhin, but the best of the wines I've drunk ranked as the best wines of their class from the negociant houses. A wine store near our offices accepts lunch vouchers as payment and I'd had my eye on this for a few months. The thing was, I didn't trust the store's climate control. When I asked the seller to bring a bottle from the back of the shelf (less exposure to light), he said the batch came in "just this week". Yeah, right. But this bottle is in decent shape, a sous bois, umami shape. It's an old school Gevrey, a wine that coughs and scratches, rather than seducing: drying tannins and aromas of black fruit, blood and iron, and not one to age further. Yet it does have its roguish charm and those tannins eventually soften up and put out. I like. (Aug. 2, 2018)

Vitkin, Israeli Journey, Special Edition, 2016 

What's special about this edition is that it's based on Marsellan (and then Carignan, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdo), which has been hit and miss with me so far. It's different from the regular Journey in that it is more floral and riper, whereas the regular shows iron and graphite. It reminds me of their 2014 Grenache, and although it is less convincing than that beautiful wine at this point, I think there's mid term promise here. (Aug. 3, 2018)

About 90 NIS.

Vitkin, Grenache Noir, 2015

I didn't think this is up to the par of the 2014 when I first drank it a few months ago, and I still don't think so now, but it's improving. The nose is more complex and the palate has gained a lithe shape that I really like. I do find it hard to find a tangible reason why it's a lesser wine - mostly the length and I probably miss the floral element that I loved about the 2014 - but it is a wine that I want to follow in future vintages. The reason for that is the way Assaf Paz was able to get pure, fruity, spicy flavors out of Grenache while keeping the alcohol, sugar and extract down to very reasonable levels. Take that, Chateauneuf! (Aug. 16, 2018)

Arnaud Baillot, Montagny Premier Cru, Vieilles Vignes, 2016

This is the new Burgundy negociant that Wine Route has started importing and I know nothing about the enterprise. It was a whim buy and I forgot that Premier Cru is overvalued at Montagny, with about 50 Premier Cru vineyards. This is a decent wine, nothing especially exciting here, it could serve as an introduction to Bourgogne but that's it. (Aug. 4, 2018)

About 200 NIS.

Margalit, Paradigm, 2016

2015 was the vintage where Margalit released their first red made of non-Bordeaux grapes since the one-off 1999 Carignan. I liked it a lot and I like the latest release almost as much, with some reservations, as it it's on the oaky side, on the cusp of the area where I tend to lose interest. My gut feeling is that another year of experience with the Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre grapes and the better harvest conditions in 2016 promise a wine I'd like even more down the road, when the oak integrates better. It's very well made, balancing deep dark fruit with a good flair of acidity, and despite the 14.5% ABV, it's lither than its Southern Rhone peers - even if right now the finish becomes coarser as the wine airs. (Aug. 11, 2018)

135 NIS.

Chateau Clerc-Milon, Pauillac 5me Cru, 2008

A fifth growth that sometimes deserves its rank and sometimes overachieves. This is the former, although it is enjoyable. The nose is typical Pauillac - blackcurrants, iron, earth and cedar. And a little rustic, with a touch of brett. The palate is still disjointed, the tannins and acidity in disharmony, and that makes it tough to enjoy the bottle. (Aug. 18, 2018)

Wine Route, 299 NIS.

Netofa, Latour White, 2016

Netofa is a new one for me, a small winery in the lower Galilee. I checked out the winery's site and I'm a little bothered by the formulaic nods at contemporary PR trends, i.e., references to "Mediterranean varieties" and "compatibility with the terroir" - but the wines are so attractive and tasty, with so little artifice, that they should be judged by their own meritsThe Latour White is a pure Chenin Blanc, aged 10 months in barrel, and it's a well made, worthy wine, with demure notes of pears and earth and a dry, bitter finish. How the Israeli wine world has changed. Fifteen years ago, if anyone made a Chenin, they certainly didn't position it as one of their flagship wines. And, fifteen years ago, a flagship wine was certainly never as understated as this. (Aug. 20, 2018)

Tel Netofa, Tel Kasser Red, 2016

This is an appealing Grenache-Syrah blend, one of two or three that Netofa positions in its top tier. To be quite honest, it's the kind of wine that's easier for me to enjoy than to write tasting notes for. It's very understated and it just doesn't have a very trendy story - just an aromatic signature that recalls Portuguese reds and a gently lithe structure that will pair well with many foods. (Aug. 22, 2018)

Charles Van Canneyt, Bourgogne, 2013

I thought this was close to village level when I drank it three years ago, and certainly the fact that it's still thriving three years later lends credence. As do the weight, texture and complexity - neither of which are world shattering, but of village level nonetheless. Black fruit, fresh forest leaves, rusty tannins. (Aug. 26, 2018)

Wine Route, about 170 NIS.

Harashim, Blue Moon, 2017

Harashim is a bio-dynamic, vegan-friendly winery in the Galilee I'd actually never heard about until we more or less drove by. This Chardonnay is fermented with wild yeasts, like all their wines, and it weighs in at 11.6% ABV. Until I tasted it, I was worried it'd be either too sweet or too lean. Well, it is lithe and on the lean side, but it's a welcome change of pace and I love its matchstick aromas and a salty, citrus finish. On the minus side, it's a little awkward and rough. This is a wine that will force pundits to drink some Muscadet-Sevre-Maine, instead of Chablis, when they try to find a foreign reference point. (Aug. 27, 2018)

80 NIS (I think).

Denis Race, Chablis Premier Cru, Montmains Vieilles Vignes, 2015

I suppose I may have found it too formulaic the first time around, but the Chablis formula is a pretty good one in the first place - and six additional months have made the experience a more intense one. (Aug. 29, 2018)

Wine Route, 2 for 300 NIS

Domaine Triennes, Côtes de Provence, Les Aureliens, 2014

This is a co-venture located south of Aix-en-Provence and co-owned by Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac and Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. This is a Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon blend. I wish it was as interesting as the owners' resumes, but it's basically a solid wine that's duller than many local so-called 'Mediterranean' wines, some of which I've written about above. (Aug. 31, 2018)

Wine Route, 2 for 150 NIS.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Madeira, the wine, was born of location and circumstance. The Madeira archipelago is located right where the Atlantic streams break westward, making it a useful port of call for America bound ships. Wine was the drink of choice, for sailors and traders, so vineyards were planted. To survive the long trip, the wines were fortified. The heat in the ships' storage transformed the flavors of the wine, it was discovered, and the style was finalized. I suppose the effect of heat and fortification would have been discovered elsewhere, but Madeira is where it became renowned. 

Few Madeiras have been imported to Israel. Last year, Eyal Mermelstein started importing one of the historical houses, Barbeiro. This is a review of three non-vintage wines, fairly priced for the quality and interest value.

Island Rich Sweet 5 Year Old

This is made of the Tinta Negra grape and is matured in a stable temperature. It smells and tastes like liquid pecan pie, with an enticing touch of salt that ensures I come back for another whiff and another sip. A  pretty digestif. Not very complex, but very pretty.

Verdelho 10 Years Old Reserve

Despite being vinified and labeled as a drier wine, it's still not a table wine, but rather a digestif/appretif like the Island Rich. It's more pungent, the aromas and flavors more focused and fresher. There's a fruity acidity in mid palate that resolved in a salty finish. Think salted cashews. Turned into liquid pie.

I want to make a comparison with Sherry before I go on to the next wine. Sherry is my first love in fortified wines. All the different style - sweet or dry, oxidized or raised under the flor yeast - have a trademark iodine-like tang that is unique and almost impossible to emulate. Great vintage Ports have the advantage of massive fruit and tannins (not to mention the decades of slow simmering maturity in the cellar required to get them at their best), but, to me, few things can compare with the marriage of roasted, caramelized nuts and cured, briny meat and iodine.

And yet...  Madeira... While I miss sherry's rust and brine, and the complexity they add, these Barbeitos have a similar rancio tang and there's an undercurrent of succulent, mandarin orange flavors that make the sour sweet finish addictive.

Definitely a wine I need to explore in greater breadth and depth.

Malvazia 10 Years Old Reserve

This is the best of the trio, the most pungent and intense, the most complete and characterful. It's not easy to write comparative tasting notes for these wines. They're too much of a piece and the descriptors are too similar. So, unless I resort to scores, I'll have to be creative about putting across how I feel about the Malvazia. Let's just say that of if the first two were an excellent amuse bouche and starter, this is the chef's masterpiece, a wine I drank over the course of a week without losing the initial post-coital bliss.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Israel: Sauvignon Blanc Nation?

I feel like I went out on a limb here.

I had this notion that Sauvignon Blanc is Israel's best white grape. And there's a good chance I'm right, but when I got down to tasting through the available options, I found out the playing field was narrower than I'd thought. Still, there are three or four that shine out as world class wines that any wine lover would be cherish on their own merits. The wines from the lower rungs are good (or better) for the most part, and I enjoyed them, but I can't consistently find a good, differentiating selling point for them abroad, besides kashrut or a general interest in the Promised Land.

Tzora, Shoresh, Blanc, 2015

This is one of the few times I've managed to hold on to the white Shoresh this long. The Shoresh is always a juggling act of tropical fruit and minerals. At first, the tropical fruits are more prominent than I'd picked up in past tastings, yet they are well balanced by tasty, salty flavors. The minerals then become intense and focused, as the wine grows broad and complex in texture, aromas and flavors. I'd call it well placed on a plateau of maturity. A beauty. (May 24, 2018)

I rebooted my laptop without noticing a few notes hadn't been saved, Sphera among them, but my memory of the Sphera, Sauvignon Blanc, 2015 is quite firmIt's no surprise that I'm a fan of Sphera. Just look how many notes I've written about this local white wine specialist. Maybe the disappearance of my note is a blessing in disguise as I would just be repeating my usual praises anyway. It's a lovely wine year in and year out and world class. I would like to point out that even though summer 2015 made the growers and winemakers miserable, the best of the Sauvignon Blancs are doing very well.

For example:

Feldstein, Sauvignon Blanc, 2015

I wish I had tasted this alongside the Shoresh and Sphera; it would have been a most insightful comparison, each showing a distinctive character and a different facet of Sauvignon Blanc. Less than a year ago, the Feldstein's fruit was ripe and very dominant. It's receded already, the highlight now on minerals, while the aromas and flavors are detailed and complex. It shares the Sphera's Loire-like saline classicism, with a nervier finish, and the Shoresh's vividness. Lithe and regal, it's nuanced and lightly nutty (without being oxiditive) in a way the other two are not. Classy. (May 28, 2018)

About 120 NIS.

Time out for a short history lesson.

Dalton, Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve, 2015 and 2016

The first major Sauvignon Blanc in Israel was the Golan Heights Winery 1982. That was before my time. I did manage to catch the de facto harbinger of Israel Sauvignon, the Dalton Reserve, 2001. Then, as now, it matures in tanks, which was a statement at the time, as the non-reserve Fume was aged in barrels and was cheaper. I'm not sure I've bought any since 2004 and I was curious to see how it stands up against its peers. Well... the 2015 hasn't aged as well as its other 2015 peers. I'm not even sure it was meant to. That's a valuable data point, because the 2016, while clear and pure, is the kind of wine that wins you over if you drink a glass, but once past the initial glass, you'd be looking for more complexity or character and you won't find it. And, judging by how the 2015 turned out, I doubt aging it will get you anywhere.

In the wake of Dalton's success, a few other wineries started to pay attention to Sauvignon. I recall Tabor and Recanati circa 2004/5 put out some good ones. I hadn't tried any for over a decade, but have discovered that the Recanati, 2017, for all its modest ambitions and price tag (50-60 NIS) is a fine drop, nodding at New Zealand with its restrained palette of guayavas and chalk. I'm not saying it's a world beater, but it's a wonderful surprise for a supermarket wine.

At roughly the same price niche is a much better wine, the Alona, Sauvignon Blanc, 2017. This is the most vibrant, nervy and fresh of the mid tier Suavignons (i.e., under 100 NIS shelf price) I've tasted. This is a grapefruity/herbal Sauvignon, crisp and saline, very tasty and moreish. So refreshing I can see myself packing a bottle to the gym. At the same time, it's a wine that is intellectually appealing, despite - or because of - its almost transparent clarity. This is the winery's debut SB and I look forward to future releases. (July 2, 2018).

Even better, arguably, is a contribution from a winery I never tasted before (admittedly for political reasons), Gush Etziyon Winery, Sauvignon Blanc, 2016. Very green, cool and herbal, even minty, its trademark is a pungent nose (grapefruits and a hint of guayavas) and a salty finish. (July 23, 2018) 

Then there's Shvo. I consider Shvo's to be one of the charter members of the Israeli Class Of Sauvignon Blanc. The Shvo, 2017 is at a very tender age, just hinting at minerals, the ripe, fleshy fruit has some aging potential. If you can find it, Gaby Sadan makes a very small batch from a select plot in his vineyard, the Gershon, and that is really top of the class, dense with flint aromas and flavors, a trickster in any blind tasting - but it's hard to find and I haven't had a bottle in a couple of years. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Fenocchio Don't Tell Lies (Aug. 7, 2018)

"Excuse me, sir, so you have a minute
to talk about Barolo, our Lord and Savior?"
Nebbiolo is an oddball of a grape. With its inclination towards high alcohol and acidity and gripping tannins - lots of everything, in fact, except for the fruit, which at its best is lithe and supple rather than lean - it could easily have been a niche wine, like, say, Mourvedre or Baja. Instead, because of the renown of the big Piedmont DOCGs, Barolo and Barbaresco, it has become a household name.

If your household is comprised of substance abusers.

There are good reasons why Piedmont became so famous. In the dark ages of winemaking when growers couldn't consistently get ripe grapes every year, Barolo was probably the biggest boy around (Barbaresco? The biggest girl around?). The Italian market was shallow until the last couple of decades of the 20th century. If you wanted an Italian wine, you either got one of the two B's or went Tuscan (with less consistent results). Then modern-minded winemakers made the American writers prick their ears and suddenly everyone wanted Piedmont in their cellars and wine lists. It didn't hurt that the pastoral lifestyle photographs adorning wine magazine articles added allure.

I'm not quite as sarcastic about Piedmont as I may sound. I do love Nebbiolo and its genetic peers (Freisa). Barbera is a different matter, thank you. Surprisingly, I can actually enjoy Dolcetto. It took me a few years to love Nebbiolo, rather than simple appreciating it, which I always have. What I still haven't fully come to terms with is exactly how much Nebbiolo reflects terroir. To my mind and palate, the tannins and acidity have a tendency to obscure nuances.

Yiftach Lustig, who has been a winemaker at house Fennochio for quite a few years, hosted a tasting of (mostly) 2013 reds from the Giacomo Fencchio house in Barolo. Yiftach is crazy, good crazy, about the concept of terroir in Barolo and he did a great job highlighting the differences between the crus. I came away with a greater understanding of the working marriage of terrior and Nebbiolo. Deja vu: I thought the same thing about the tasting Yiftach gave in 2016

The 2013's are wonderful. I recommend getting one of each. If you need to pare your shopping list, then go for the Villero and the Bussia. Or the Villero and the Cannubi. Maybe the terroir thing does work in Piedmont if I have to struggle with the choices. Contact Eldad Levy for price quotes.

Arneis, 2016

This is a very drinkable white, made from a grape grown nowhere else, with a solid bedrock of minerals and a welcome bitterness. It's an interesting wine but I don't have a good explanation why I never buy any. Mostly because I suspect my family would prefer a different style of quaffers for home use.

Barolo, 2013

This is declassified Bussia (from a lesser section, I'm not sure Barolo has village vineyards per se). Even regular Barolo usually has such complex aromatics and length of palate that my first impression of any given Barolo that it's an overachiever. Until you taste it alongside the crus. My verdict here is that it has a very good price point and will sate any Nebbiolo cravings in the near term while your crus age in the fridge. But it doesn't have the same balance that the crus have.

Cannubi, 2012

The regular Barolo had dusty/tarry aromas with a touch of tea. This is more of the same, more expressive, more complex, and very enticing, with an additional overlay of floral, exotic notes. 

Cannubi, 2013

Similar aromatics but a touch more mute. The palate has much better, fresher structure, deep and packed. 

Castellero, 2013

Compared to the Cannubi, 2013, this has more forest floor, a leaner body (not austere, perhaps I should say lither). I don’t usually buy into stylistic comparisons with Bourgogne, but it’s appropriate here. Marginally shorter than the Cannubi.

Villero, 2013

The aromas are very dusty at the start but clear up to show, as did the Castellero, a Bourgogne like character. Very linear and focused on the palate, but, at the same time, there is a peacock effect as it opens up on the finish.

Bussia, 2013

The most savory and succulent, with less tar and dust. Also, the most obtuse, except for the Riserva, which is almost a study in monolithic opaqueness. 

Bussia, Riserva, 2011

The grapes went through 90 days of maceration.  Still primary, this is the kind of flagship wine where, as you go up the food chain, the wine becomes bigger and not necessarily finer. Time will tell, I suppose.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Flashing Bars Of July

Domaine Robert Arnoux, Bourgogne Fin, 2014

This is a curio I'm glad I bought, A long time ago, Wine Route carried Arnoux for about a year. Now, they've brought it back and, for good measure, are seeling this rare Pinot cultivar, Pinot Fin. Despite the lowly designation, it actually comes from decent vineyards: three parcels from Chambolle, Vosne and Nuits proper (a blend of multiple village plots is enough to downgrade the wine to generic Bourgogne) as well as another plot from Premeaux, just outside of Nuits, that was planted in 1959. 

The nose is simply quintessential Bourgogne, an autumnal forest decaying in bliss around an essence of coq au vin and strawberries. And the palate! So fresh and vibrant, carrying an echo of the complexity of aromas, but killing it, just killing, with an undercurrent of tannic black fruit, which is just the ballast any good Burgundy needs to thrive.. I have had my share of greater wines, but I'd guess it's been months since I had such a delicious one. And there's actually enough nuances and weight to lend it a credible nomination for Premier Cru class. (July 8, 2018)

Jean-Marc Brocard, Chablis Premier Cru, Vau de Vey, 2016

I love lithe wines tinged with minerals. I love the scents of the sea that Chablis evoke, the briny breeze laced with salt and sea weeds. What I love the most about the Vau de Vey is that it doesn't stop there. In 2013 it did, but not in 2016. It has flowers and mint and hints of sweetness that remind me of a dry Riesling. A fullness with steely backbone. (July 1, 2018)

Hagafen. About 160 NIS.

Shvo, Chenin Blanc, 2016

Always one of the most challenging of the icon Israeli wines, it shows much variation between vintages and needs time. It's hard to describe a young Chenin. It's all about quince and flint, a lick and a promise, all about the tension between tensile surface and full, ripe fruit beneath. Sniff the nose, take in the lingering bitter/salty finish, and you'll get what I mean about its potential. (July 4, 2018)

Quinta de Saes  (Alvaro Castro), Dão, Reserva, 2013 

This is one of the great value reds that Eyal Mermelstein carries in the Tchernichovsky 6 restaurant/wine bar/store. I drank it during the World Cup Brazil-Belgium quarter-finals, after I just about ran out of wine producing countries to support. Eyal is a great lover of Bourgognes and quite aptly this is one of the most Burgundian reds in the portfolio, the framework soft and lithe, with floral and tobacco flourishes. (July 6, 2018)

Alona, Rose, Harmony, Grenache Noir, Rose, 2017

Very mute at first, we didn't finish the bottle the first evening and it surprisingly kept and developed, evolving into a dry, mineral laced, moresih rose. A welcome addition to my shopping list. (July 7, 2018)

Larmandier-Bernier, Premier Cru, Longtitude, n.v.

This wine is designed to highlight the character of the Grand and Premier Cru villages of the Cotes de Blancs, and so it does, indeed. The chalky texture and saline flavors; the ripe fruit transformed, but not overwhelmed, by the mushroom accents of the autolysis; the linearity of form, the reserve wines providing complexity without loss of freshness. I have just conveyed my take on the Larmandier house style as well. (July 10, 2018)

Williams and Humbert, Amontillado 30 years, Jalifa

It has occurred to me that this probably doesn't sell well enough in Israel to justify bringing in a lot of new shipments so there's a decent chance that the juice in this bottle is much older than the thirty years the label promises. There's real force behind the pungent kick of the aromas and flavors that doesn't ease up even after a full week. What it never gains is any sense that there is anything behind or beyond that kick, as impressive as it is in its own right. I look for just a hint of sweetness to offset that linear salted nuts and iodine character. Sweetness would have both complemented and highlighted that character and without it, the wine feels incomplete.

J.L. Chave Sélection, St. Joseph, Offerus, 2014

Granted, this is sourced from bought grapes, but this is still Chave, so what's in the bottle is the product of top flight wine-making from one of the most venerable names in the Rhone, a name that, based on what's the in the bottle, has rightfully earned its reputation. The Offerus showcases everything that's lovely about young Rhone Syrah; succulent, juicy fruit, velvety, accessible and sexy, tinted by aromas and flavors that speak of bacon and olives. For depth and complexity, though, seek out the domain wines. (July 22, 2018)

Niepoort, Porto Colheita, 2000

The name is misleading. It's labelled as a vintage, but the style is that of a tawny. it's not a bad trade-off, because it's a very excellent tawny, mellow and nutty with a pungent, tarry kick. And knowing the year makes it easier to keep track of when to open it. And the price point, 160 NIS, is also attractive. (July 27, 2018)

Imported by Eyal Mermelstein.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Rani at 50 (July 19, 2018)

Age is not important unless you're a bottle of wine
The half century mark deserves a celebration with with great friends and great wines. We got all that. And I finally got to drink a birth year wine.

Bollinger, R. D., Extra Brut, 2002

The R.D. (Recently Disgorged) is the marquee version of the Bollinger marquee label, the Grande Annee. I thought it was a Blanc de Blancs, as the character was very much dominated by chalk, but Chardonnay makes up for only a third of the blend (quite appropriate, Bollinger being an Ay house). My take on it is that this is more about complexity than power and, indeed, there's more depth and elegance than a single glass could have conveyed. There's a reason I prefer to drink my Champagnes alone at home.

Jos. Christoffel Jr., Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Urziger Wurtzgarten, Auslese ***, 2002

It's probably the specific bottle and not the wine or vintage, but I miss acidity here. There's a complex canvas of aromas and flavors, dominated by kerosene and dill, and it's fun to drink, but without enough acidity to propel it along, I don't find the vibrancy I expect from a three star.

Domaine Jean Grivot, Vosne-Romanee Premier Cru, Aux Brulees, 2002

This a handsome wine, at its peak, combining autumnal forest floor and iron/blood, starting out as a very linear wine before it fills out. I don't get a lot of Vosnee character out of it, though (I guessed Morey or Gevrey), and enjoyable as it is, it only just scratches the complexity level of a Premier Cru.

Chateau Lafleur, Pomerol, 1999

After a Vosnee that played like a Morey, we have a Pomerol that most of us pegged as a Left Bank. I thought Pauillac, in fact. I got iron and smoke and blackcurrants out of it, and the combined for a Pauillac-like impression. A tad too smooth, with terrific acidity, it's a small scale version of the opulent hedonism that people think of when they think of Pomerol.

Chateau Latour, Pauillac Premier Cru, 1966

The greatness of Latour is in full evidence here, the greatness of the wine less so - a wine that got a perfect score from Clive Coates, yes? It's nuanced and mature, yet still robust. The nose, especially, is magical and captivating, the combination of fruit, iron and coffee grain aromas making for an effect that is beyond mere descriptors. The palate is still in such great balance that you have the final evidence, should you ever need it, of the validity of the 1855 classification, at least at the top end. What detracts from the greatness of the wine is lack of true first growth depth and power. It's not over the hill, but I feel like its profundity is either in its past or in another bottle.

Willi Schaefer, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Graacher Domprobst, Riesling, Auslese #14, 2006

What I consistently get from various encounters of top tier Schaefer wines is that the fruit is so multi-layered and deep that you can find profound nuances and depth at every stage of the wines' evolution. This is almost at the top of the Schaefer hierarchy (save for auction wines) and that boundless depth and complexity make it hard to nail the year. The apricots, underpinned by honey and minerals, seduce effortlessly. It's very likely that this wine will survive me, never mind more recent vintages.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Birthday LII, No A/C (July 5, 2018)

I’ll be totally honest with you. The wines sucked. Not because they were flawed or corked or old or cheap. On paper it was a very good lineup. It’s just that almost every single one failed to excite. Except for two wines. Two wines that brought the combination of complexity and vibrancy that make those elusive moments, when our senses just take us elsewhere, worth the never-ending chase.

Unsurprisingly, one was a Champagne, Gaston Chiquet, Dizy, Special Club, 2009. You know, writing about wine, in a blog, for free, is not a very obvious choice for a hobby. Sometimes I think this obsession is rather silly. And then I drink a Champagne and feel my life is really blessed, and since I have this need to express myself, why not write about the pearls of the world? For me, a great champagne is as much a balance of textures as flavors, in this case the fat and salinity of the nutty, mushroomy flavors against the slightly grainy, chalky finish, which is only possible because the fruit itself has such great, healthy depth. 2009 is considered an excellent, near-great vintage, although not as great as its classic predecessor. I guess this could easily coast to its 20th birthday and we caught it midway: vibrant, yet financed.

Alphonse Mellot, Sancerre, En Grands Champs, 2015

Mellot is a revered name in Sancerre. I don't buy nearly enough Sancerres (or Pouilly-Fumes) - not a lot is imported here and I always have different priorities when purchasing abroad - and until I tasted Vacheron, it had never crossed my mind to buy a red Sancerre. And now this, a single vineyard, old vines Pinot Noir, every bit as good a Premier Cru from Bourgogne, top class, deep, complex. I think the nearest Burgundian parallel is Gevrey, although this is lusher and would break the bank in any Burgundian blind tasting, as a joker.

Domaine d’Ardhuy, Gevrey-Chambertin, 2006

A bona fide Gevrey, this is more austere than the Sancerre, although the aromatics are decent, if not very exciting. I blame the vintage, not that I would expect an unknown producer to come up with a village wine that lasts 12 years. Although, to be honest, 2006 is such a charmless bricks and mortar vintage that I wouldn’t be surprised if the wines turn out too plain to die, a bunch of aged spinsters. 

Alona, Elegant Reserve, Kedem, Carignan-Shiraz, 1016

This really didn't give much during the evening, but it was actually one of the better wine, with a Saint-Estephe-ish character (stones and iron) despite the idiosyncratic blend. The leftovers the next day were really singing, with meatiness that could be the Carignan just as much as it could be brett, and fits seamlessly inside the black fruit. A good job.

Catherine et Pierre Breton, Bourgueil, Les Perrières, 1996

A wine for the ages, because that’s how long it will take it to open. I heard good things about the vintage, and a 1995 we drank six years ago to the day was wonderful, but this is disappointing.

Giacomo Borgogno, Barolo Riserva, 1996

Robust and kicking in a grinding, foursquare way. Not flawed or obviously bad, but a previous bottle was better.

Chateau Saint-Pierre, Saint Julien 4me Cru, 1996

At this point, we were waiting for the Bordeaux cavalry to storm in and save the day. On paper, this should have offered great pleasure, but it was a mildly fun wine (black fruit, cedar, a touch of mildew), but hardly as captivating as the Sancerre, which won the red wine bracket. 

Chateau Roc de Combes, Cotes de Bourg, 2009

This is not the Bordeaux we were looking for.