Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Ends

I'd have this any time
Larmandier-Bernier, Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs, Longitude,  Extra Brut n.v. (2012 based)

This is a wine designed to compile a picture of the Côte des Blancs from the family's holdings in Vertus, Oger, Avize and Cramant, with the finesse and elegance of a vintage Champagne. It has developed, by now, compelling nuances of chalk, pears and a hint of baking powder. The actual descriptors are less important than the way the nuances create both depth and breadth. The savory finish, rocky and saline, doesn't hurt, either. 

Even if you truly love Champagne Pinot - and I do - this is the kind of Blanc de Blancs that would firmly entrench you in the Chardonnay camp.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Volnay, an Argaman Vertical and More! (Dec. 13, 2018)


Our monthly get-togethers rarely have a theme. I can't even say we make overt efforts to impress each other. When and if we get lucky, it's really a stroke of fate. This time, fate struck twice, with two highly enjoyable highlights.

The first highlight was actually thought out. It'd been a while since I'd drunk a (relatively) mature Bourgogne and I'd been eyeing my wine of choice for a while and moved it to the "to drink shelf" in my fridge. 2006 is hardly an impressive vintage, but like I said, we're usually not out to impress each other...

Domaine de Montille, Volnay Premier Cru, Les Chapmans, 2006

Montille is an empire and I'm not totally happy with how they've expanded the family's original Cote de Beaune holdings across the entire Bourgogne region, to the point where they even have a stake at the highly regarded Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Malconsorts. I can appreciate, even admire, the enterprise, but t has zero romantic appeal for me. Having said that, the winemaking is often thrilling and there have been few Montille reds from their Cote de Beaune holdings that I didn't love. This is no exception. In fact, I may have finally found a 2006 with the Burgundian sex appeal I love so much. The perfume is very intense, a shot of pure red fruit and forest floor, delicate and feminine on the palate, very detailed and nuanced.



The second highlight was an impromptu Argaman vertical tasting. While there may have been other Argaman verticals, I doubt anyone else had the chance to taste anything with the historical import of the four wines we drank. 

Argaman: a crossing of Souzão and Carignan, it was created in Israel and tailored for intense color, it was viewed for decades as "jug wine" quality, until Avi Feldstein in his Barkan heydays crafted the first single varietal Argaman. In those days, he fermented the Argaman grapes with the pomace of leftover grape skins and seeds from his Merlot wines, ripasso style. Always quick (perhaps even eager) to adapt, when he again picked up the Argaman mantle in his namesake winery, Feldstein started using another Valpolicella technique, appassimento, wherein he dries half his Argaman grapes before fermentation. Either way, Avi was looking for ways to extract the most character and flavors out of Argaman while avoiding a long hang time in the field.



So what's Argaman like, then? Think black cherries spiced with white and black pepper. Regardless of age and technique, the wines we drank had wonderfully fresh acidity. The Segal, Rechasim, Dolev, 2006 and the younger 2008 were almost breathtakingly youthful, yet sauteed with the complexity of encroaching maturity. I really don't have it in me to be adamantly patriotic, but with gems like these, I should be. I slightly preferred the 2008, as it struck me as more expressive and powerful. As for the latterday Feldstein versions, it's too early yet to tell how much they're an improvement on the achievements of the 'forefathers', but I think both the 2015, which I don't recall drinking in the past, and the barrel sample of the 2018 may both be slightly more personable and peppery.

Other than that, drank solid wines of some distinction and one spectacularly disappointing wine. Let's get that out of the way, shall we?

Chapoutier, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Barbe Rac, 1998

This blue chip confection is a single vineyard bottling of 100%, 90 year old Grenache wines. And what powerful, monolithic juice those vines produced. Twenty years later, it remains sweet and slightly fizzy, as though it was still fermenting. 

Domaine de Villeneuve, Cotes du Rhône, La Griffe, 2016

This is a bio-dynamic Chateauneuf estate I'd never heard of. And, while it's not really my cup of tea, this humble, single vineyard CdR, priced at about 30 pounds, just kills the much higher priced (and regarded) Barbe Rac. The sexy nose is full of pepper notes and seems to herald the Syrah in the blend, while the liquerish, kirsch palate is all Grenache.

Mullineux, Swartland, Syrah, 2013

This is the entry level wine from a family estate specializing in single-vineyard Syrahs. Most liked it more than I did. While the dusty/peppery nose did not lack charm, I found the flavors a little flat and mute. 

Pahlmeyer, Napa Valley, Merlot, 1997

This is a very distinguished name in Napa and this wine gets the Parker scores you'd expect. And is priced accordingly. Me, I found it foursquare and workmanlike, like a Medoc from a cold, dreary vintage, without a lot of flash or sexiness.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Garage de Papa Retrospective (Dec. 7, 2018)


Time waits for no one. It’s almost a shock to realize Garage de Pape has gone through eleven vintages already - and that I’ve known Ido Lewinsohn through about seven of them.

When Ido invited me (along with a couple dozen chefs, sommeliers and other wine writers and bloggers) to a retrospective tasting, I figured I'd just file any notes away as corollary data points. I didn't think I could find something new to say about Garage de Papa after all these years. The plan was just go to the event, have a fun time with people I like. It would be an educational event, not a blogger/pseudo-journalist gig.

But the thing is, if you do learn something new, you should be able to write something new.

Basically, I learned a few things about Ido’s philosophy that I probably knew to begin with, but a retrospective tends to re-conceptualize things you already knew.

I think the basic thing I learned is that while Ido has grown, learned and developed, his basic approach is the same today as it was when he started out. In addition, I picked up a few interesting technical details I had not been aware of.

Ido's goal is to craft tasty, complex, food friendly wines that Ido himself would enjoy drinking. Most wineries advocate similar rules of engagement, but Ido laid out to us a very practical, no-nonsense approach that, by his own admission, hasn’t changed much in the eleven vintages he has worked. He's on the lookout for combinations of terroir and varieties that encourage early phenolic ripening, as that is way of dealing with the hot Israeli summers. He utilizes as many used barrels as he can manage. All that in order to avoid over-tannic reds and overripe whites and maker lithe, peppery reds and flinty whites.

The major change is the gradual move to larger barrels. Besides the obvious reduction in exposure to oak aromas and flavors, it allows the winery to improve the quality of the staves at a lesser expense than had they upgraded the smaller barrels. The eventual aim is retain the current ratio of 10-20% new barrels.

The Whites

2016

The nose is remarkably flinty. This wine is consistently the flintiest of any Israeli Chardonnay I taste. The fruit is ripe, laid out on a very structured frame with good acidity - which is what Ido looks for in Chardonnay and he gets it by blocking malolactic fermentation. The blend is sourced from vineyards in Galilee, which Ido finds to be strong on a mineral character and lemons flavors. 

2007

The first Garage de Papa Chardonnay ever was sourced from Karmei Yosef, which isn't an area Ido particularly likes for Chardonnay, but that's what he able to get for his freshman vintage. Of course, his tenure at Recanati and the current one at Barkan* have opened up better sources since. I'm guessing it must have been a good wine, although I never tasted it (I probably started following the winery with the 2010 vintage or so). It's alive, no doubt about it, but past its best, the way I see it, an old man facing dementia in years to come. Both the nose and color are very mature, the nose a potpurri of cheese and chocolate, while retaining hints of flint. It's surprisingly lively on the palate, where there’s breadth and complexity, but the focus of the young 2016 is so utterly convincing and gorgeous it swats the 2007 away without a second thought.

2018 barrel

This is an educational exercise, but one I admit I am not able to get a lot out of. Though I suppose I could node my head sagely and tell you how excellent the acidity is.

The Reds

Initially made of Bordeaux varieties, Ido quickly moved to the  so called Mediterranean grapes (Petite Sirah, Syrah, Carignan, Marsellan).

2013

Sweetish fruit and black pepper on the nose. Full, long, laced with acidity, sensual with supporting structure.

2011

Excellent maturity, greater aromatic complexity than the 2013, sweeter on the finish but with a mitigating spiciness that adds complexity. I slightly prefer the 2013, especially after the 2011 recedes in glass.

2009

There's a little brett here that shows as rubber and not poop. A nice wine but I think I prefer the reds at 4-5 years. 

Vendange Entière

Ido has always fermented part of the red cuvée whole cluster (that is, without de-stemming). In 2014, Daniel Lifshitz and Eldad Levy talked him into selling them a barrel of the whole cluster batch. Simply because they loved it - and it was an apt reaction. In 2016, Ido set aside two barrels for the cuvée. Both have the making by of iconic wines. The 2014 was aged in a new barrel because he had planned to blend it in the Garage de Papa Rouge and comes off as superficially more impressive. The 2016, I think, is the better wine, with a pre-planned barrel regime. The bottle I opened two months ago was alluring, almost feminine despite a firm backbone, but it has gone into a shell since and tastes very embryonic now.

* While I realize my admittedly narrow audience is probably aware of the details, I should at least briefly go over Ido's CV. After the requisite oenological education and stages abroad, Ido returned to Israel for a decade's tenure at Recanati winery. After eventually advancing to the co-head winemaker position, he moved to Barkan a couple of years ago to assume head winemaker duties. In parallel, he's been the winemaker at the family winery, which was actually located at his father's garage before the operation was moved to a proper boutique winery facility.

Monday, December 10, 2018

How sad would be November if we had no knowledge of the spring


Fourny et Fils, Vertus Premier Cru, Rose Vinotheque, Extra Brut, n.v. (2012 based)

This is made of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, a portion of the Pinot coming from still juice for color and flavor. It captures both the autumnal essence of Pinot Noir as well as the bracing chalkiness of Vertus. Ripe without flab or sweetness, complex and elegant but at the same time youthful and powerful, all freshness with not a hint of brioche or mushrooms. I like it as is. I’m sure it will age but it’s really a point for me. (Nov. 9, 2018)

Feldstein, Dabuki, 2017

Albarinho sauteed with mushrooms. (Nov. 5, 2018)

Feldstein, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, 2014

Discrete aromas of rainwater, gunpowder and roasted almonds, even more demure aromas and flavors of melons and peaches and a gentle sensation of sauteed herbs in the background. A wine of complexity and nigh regal finesse. (Nov. 13, 2018)

Feldstein, Shalem, 2016

Avi's legacy white grape blend is predominantly Viognier (35%), with Rousanne, Sauvignon Blanc and Dabuki making up the balance. This isn't a wine aiming at an expression of terroir or grape, but rather a wine where Avi maps his vision of what an Israeli wine should taste like, by piecing together components drawn from across the country. The result is as a refined and flinty as any other white he makes. (Nov. 17, 2018)

Pierre Gaillard, Côte-Rôtie, 2010

The 45 GBP I paid for this is almost a silly price. Sometimes a fine wine, like a fine dish, only needs 2-3 components handled with a deft hand. Here, nature offered violets and smoked bacon to complement the lithe fruit. The succulent depth and captivating finesse  showcase the feminine side of Côte-Rôtie. (Nov. 10, 2018)

Moccagatta, Barbaresco, Bric Balin, 2011

Moccagatta is a likable modernist. a moderate modernist judging by my limited experience, but I fear I opened this too soon, at a phase where the Nebbiolo's telltale aromas (roses, tar) are still overshadowed by a whiff of oak. The oak adds vanilla on the palate, too, softening, to some extent, the typical savoriness of the Nebbiolo. This showing saddens me, because I loved the 2008, and I'll have to live with the results of my haste. (Nov. 15, 2018)

40 euros in Rome, not a bad price.

Louie Jadot, Bourgogne, Domaine Gagey, La Chapitre, 2015

La Chapitre is one of three vineyard in the Cote d'Or whose name may be legally mentioned on the label, despite being a lowly Bourgogne AOC. Apparently, the entire Chenove commune, where it resides, was left out of the Burgundy ranking because its vineyards were untended at the time the Burgundy appellations were given legal stature. However, La Chapitre had enough historical significance for the legal exemption and there are at least two single vineyard bottlings from the La Chapitre that take advantage of the law. The Bizot bottling from the vineyard would help make a case that it could have been a Premier Cru, Jadot's version is not quite as convincing as that, but damn if it isn't a fine wine and you might peg it as a village Marsannay in a blind tasting, what with its black cherries and autumnal, leafy aromas and flavors adorning a firm structure. It has much more depth and grip than a mere regional wine. Except for a slight astringency on the finish, it's the first Jadot I've had in ages that I like as much as the stuff coming in from the Young Turks small growers. (Nov. 17, 2018)

Wine Route, 170 NIS.

Bestheim, Marckrain Grand Cru, Gewurztraminer, 2015

I'm a guy who doesn't drink more than two or three Gewurztraminers a year, so my experience isn't very wide, but I have been drinking the stuff for 12 years and I have spent some time analyzing what I like and dislike about the grape. I think there's a sweet spot in Gewurztraminers where their elusive magic lies. The dry versions are the most aromatic, because they tend to show the full palate of the grape: litchi, rose petals, white pepper, ginger. But they dry versions can be aggressively spicy. The sweeter ones temper the spiciness but seem to highlight the exotic fruit and flowers. The middle ground between the two extremes is what I'm always looking for, but even the ones that hit that fulcrum point aren't necessarily great, they're just the half-tame, half-wildlings that I can appreciate and enjoy drinking. The Bestheim Mackrain , for example, isn't a great wine in the overall scheme of things, but it does balance sweet and spicy flavors, it's not aggressive or over the top and it's decently complex . It's well priced and can age 3-5 years. (Nov. 18, 2018)

TL;DR There's no need to drink more than two or three Gewurztraminers a year and the Bestheim Mackrain is a well priced candidate for being one of them.

Wine Route, 130 NIS.

Barbeito, Madeira, Malvasia Single Cask, 2005

A truly fine Madeira, whose filigree is evidenced by the subtle complexity of its aromas - a nuts, caramel and dried fruits - and the way pungent flavors and an angular frame are contained within a light, creamy envelope. The acidity is remarkable for a wine matured in warm and humid cellars.(Nov. 22, 2018)

About 40 euros for a 500 cc bottle (in Lisbon).

Tzora, Judean Hills, 2016

Surprisingly, this is less approachable than the 2016 Shoresh red, which is the greatest Shoresh Eran Pick has come up with so far (and which would be a flagship wine at any local  property that didn't have a Misty Hills to sell). Like just about every Tozra red, the fruit is amply red for my tastes, with an overlay that suggest to me pines and dusty earth. But you need to give it a very long airing. Or age it - and one day, I will. (Nov. 24, 2018)

Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre, 2017

One thing people don't often notice or comment on Sauvignon Blanc is its versatility. Depending on where and how it's grown, it can be leafy, tropical or mineral-ish. The Vacheron version manages to touch on all bases. Vacheron is a great house and  I wish the single vineyards were a little cheaper or at least easier to find, but even so, it's one of the stars in the Wine Route portfolio. (Nov. 24, 2018)

Guimaro, Ribeira Sacra, Finca Meixeman, 2015

Finally got what I was looking for in Guimaro: fresh, supple floral fruit that goes a long way to explain why Mencia isn't just another grape heralded as a would-be Pinot Noir. (Nov. 27, 2018)

Eldad Levy, about 190 NIS - your mileage may vary.

Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello, Barolo, Villero, 2009

When old timers talk about the delicacy of Nebbiolo, this is what they mean, I guess. Of course, they refer to mature Nebbiolo, not a ten year old youngster, but then 2009 is not considered a vintage for long cellaring. I get subtle, nuanced aromas of dried cherries, exotic spices and tea leaves, as well as hints of forest floor, and savory, chewy tannins that are balanced by an almost feline softness of fruit. Here is a Barolo with a Barbaresco, nigh Burgundian character. (Nov. 30, 2018)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

File Under Portugal (Autumn, 2018)


I had set myself some wine geek goals on a recent family trip to Portugal. I wanted to expand my horizons. Granted I’ve drank some of the big names in table wines (Luís Pato in Barraida, Álvares Castro in Dao, Niepoort in Douro), but to a large extent, I know more Portuguese wine grapes than wine producers. 

So I wanted to try some Baga based reds made by someone other than Luís Pato. I wanted to try more whites - which I consider the real secret weapon of Portugal. And I wanted to taste some Vinho Verde.

Vinho Verde, green wine, is an AOC named for its style or flavors rather than its color (which is why there’s a red wine in the appellation, which I have yet to try). They offer a rather immediate pleasure: racy, green apples without a lot of complexity. They are rather ubiquitous in Portugal. Every supermarket carries the same 5-10 names, up and down the coast from Lisbon to Oporto, and you can get a good, if rather interchangeable, bottle in the price range of 1 to 5 euros a bottle.

The book on Vinho Verde says the best whites are Alvarinho from the Moncao e Melgaco sub-appellation - and that Soalheiro is the leading name. You can find the basic, plain  Alvarinho bottling in both supermarkets and boutique shops. The 2017 presents very pure and clean apple fruit, finely laced with minerals. Having drunk a decent beginner's selection of Vinho Verde and Spanish Albarino, from good value wines to good quality wines, I can testify this stands at the very top. And this just the basic bottling.

Beyond the basic Alvarinho, Soalheiro test the limits of the genre with Alvarinho-based blends, oak aging, sparkling wines, different alcohol levls and vineyards. The Soalheiro section of the Vinho Verde shelf in the wine shop I visited in Porto was a treasure trove. I opted for the Mineral, 2017, which is sourced from vineyards planted above 200 meters and aims to showcase the granite terroir common to Moncao e Melgaco. What I find here is greater clarity and form than in any other Vinho Verde, a longer finish and, yes, a more intense expression of minerals.



On to 'proper' whites. As good as the green wines can be, as pure and deep as they can be at their best, they  just don't have the breadth and flair of the whites. The whites are Portugal's secret weapon and the best are glorious even in the ostentatiously red regions. It took me a while to understand I prefer them to the reds. The wines I've tasted, now and over the years, make it impossible for me to choose between Dão, Duoro and Bairrada, but I do admit my biggest regret from our Portugal getaway is not buying Bairrada whites.

Moreira, Olazabal e Borges, Dão, M.O.B., 2014

This is a blend of Bircal and Encruzado (currently my favorite grape name). Someone once told that you shouldn't use the word "minerals" in a tasting note if you can't name the minerals and I'm often guilty of that. Especially with Portuguese whites, where the best free association I can come up with is oysters marinated in exotic herbs. This could face down a decent Bourgogne Premier Cru, with its focused composite of acidity and extract. Given its local retail price of 17 euros, I'm considering a relocation.

The Dão is represented in Israel by Alvaro Castro, who has two labels imported to Israel by two different importers, Quinta de Pellada and Quinta de Saes. The Quinta de Saes, Dão, Encruzado, 2016 is a mono-varietal. Encruzado is arguably the crown jewel among the Dão white grapes. It shows elegant minerality, without the explosive, exotic, punch of the M.O.B, offering more overt fruitiness and understated finesse instead. Understandably, its youth is a factor here and deserves a re-visit in a couple of years. 

My experience with Duoro whites has been very successful. The mid-tier whites I drank in Portugal were all very tensile and saline, a perfect expression of sour-sweet fruit and rock. The Niepoort premium wines carried in Israel by Eyal Mermelstein are broad and deep and will carry the same mineral stamp in a more Burgundian mold once they mature. A somewhat more reasonably priced portfolio from the Duoro is CARM (Casa Agrícola Roboredo Madeira). I've drank a good share of the low and mid-tier whites. I find them exotic and tropical, rather than mineralish, and offer a refreshing and fruity, rather than a tense and bracing, character. The house's premium white wine is the Maria de Lourdes, Vinho Branco, 2016. The blend is 40% Gouveio, 30% Viosinho and 20% Rabigato and it's an intense, bracing, flinty wine. It, too, is made in the same dry, savory mold that made the Cote de Beaune famous, albeit, in a cruder, smaller scale, and still mired in disjointed puberty. 

Luis Pato, Bairrada, Vina Formal, Parcel Candido, Cercial, 2015

This is the most special Portugese white I know. It's also one of the most mineral laden wines I know, the minerals so exotic they could well be moon rock. If this was Hollywood, the Cercial might not win an Oscar, but it would steal any scene it was in. This and the M.O.B are the highlights of the whites in this roundup.

Baga, Baga, we accept you

I'm planning a Portuguese wine tasting in the near future with friends and hopefully there will be more reds to write about. For now, a single red wine will have to do. 

Luis Pato has spent a lifetime marketing himself as Mr. Baga. And he's earned it. I like his quirky lower level wines a lot: his Rebel, Baga Natural, the sparkling wines based on Baga - wines seemingly designed to show how versatile Baga is and how suitable it is to creative and imaginative winemakers. What I still haven't come to grips with is the Big Baga wines, the single vineyard wines (Pan, Barrosa) that look to require a decade or two to show well. Pato's direct inheritor is his daughter, Filipa, who runs her own operation. She was on my list and I picked up an interesting wine in Porto, Filipa Pato, Bairrada, Post Quercus, 2016, which is Baga aged in amphorae. There's an almost Burgundian/Beaujolais feel to it, due to its silky tannins, earthy aromas, and tart cranberry fruit. But Baga is a much darker grape than Gamay, let alone Pinot Noir, and it has a very distinctive shade and flavor of iron that I don't find in any other grape, and none of that is lost here. In short, Filipa shows yet another facet of Baga as she crafts a complex, sensual wine out of it.

Well, I managed to go through another post about Portugal without writing about Ports. Instead, I offer a glimpse of the other other Portuguese dessert wine. 

Blandy's, Malmsey, Harvest, 2006

This is labelled as Harvest because Vintage Madeira is required to be aged for 20 years in cask. It has an appealing mixture of savory and sweet aromas and flavors, with just enough complexity to broadcast pedigree. Whatever it does lack in complexity it makes up for with an interplay of nutty richness and fruity softness, as it reaches for excess and pulls back. After a few days, the finish grows longer and saltier, while the iodine rancio character evokes a salty caramel/dark chocolate concoction.



Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Octoberfest


Zarate, Rías Baixas, Albariño, Balado, 2016

Sourced from 60+year old vines, this is not even the flagship wine. But it's good enough to fool me. The top dog, the El Palomar, is sourced from 150 year old vines. It probably needs more time that I gave it to show its best, which is why the bottle I had in May was less spectacular than this beauty, which explodes with minerals and acidity. This is what Sauvignon Blanc would taste like if it drove a pink Cadillac. (Oct. 22, 2018)

Fat Guy, 120 NIS.

Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin, Blanc de Blancs, 2007

I'm a fan of the GHW sparkling wines - and of little else in the portfolio. So this is the first Katzrin, of any kind, that I've bought in almost fifteen years. Running through the technical details, this is 100% Chardonnay from the northern Golan Heights, it is brut nature (so virtually no dosage) and recently disgorged (I assume 1-2 years ago). Its Champagne peers would be a mid tier vintages - not the blue chip cuvees or the Special Clubs. There's a backbone of fine acidity with excellent focus, but the substance atop of that backbone is too clunky for blue chip filigree. However, given that backbone of acidity, I feel comfortable letting it cellar for at least 1-2 years and see what happens. At any rate, easily one of the best 10 local whites released this year. (Oct. 5, 2018)

About 250 NIS.

Flam, Syrah, Reserve, 2016

An excellent nose, peppery and sexy, very much Syrah, almost Rhône: riper than Saint Joseph, less complex that Cote Rotie. Needs a couple of hours of air before its sweet and bitter flavors to come into balance. (Oct. 1, 2018)

About 140 NIS.

Harashim, Black Bird, 2016

Another Syrah (from the Galilee, just like the Flam), from a small, bio-dynamic boutique this time. The Syrah character is less obvious, on the sweet side, rather than the savory, peppery side. Just okay.

Domaine Geantet-Pansiot, Chambolle-Musigny, Vieilles Vignes, 2012

The floral character of the village is here, but I admit that, were I to taste it blind, I might confuse this for a Gevrey. Well, this is probably appropriate given that this is a Gevrey domaine. The complexity and depth are on par for an upper tier village wine, while the black fruit is a tad rustic. Very good, with a tasty, saline finish. (Oct. 2, 2018)

60 euros.

Lahat, White, 2013

Mute at first, we put the bottle aside and by the time we returned to it two hours later, this Rhône white blend opened up to show funky minerality and persistent presence a la Burgundy. Lovely! (Oct. 4, 2018)

Chateau de Hureau, Saumur-Champigny, Lisagathe, 2010

With a cedar streak and subtle minerals, this is clean and easily one of the best Loire reds I’ve had. Good form and potential, potential it is already living up to. (Oct. 4, 2018)

Bar-Maor Winery, Chardonnay, 2017

This isn't bad, showing a tropical side of Chardonnay that is almost Sauvignon in character. It's a bit sweet and limpid, perhaps rather short and simple, but its clean and pure flavors are very refreshing. However, I think Chardonnay needs more tensile strength to show best. (Oct. 7, 2018)

About 100 NIS.

For the same price, and a similar approach (elevage in stainless steel), Sphera, Chardonnay, 2017 is a wine with greater focus and verve. I don't know if it's due to better terroir or a more confident hand in the winery, but Doron Rav-Hon has again crafted an elegant marriage of apples, chalk and salt, with the tensile strength I missed in the Bar-Maor. 

Muga, Rioja Blanco, 2017

What my recent experience with Iberian whites as taught me is that they can be some of the most mineral laden of wines, in a sense more so than Burgundy. Maybe it's because the specific character of the minerals they evoke can be more sulfurous and saltier. This is a good example of that, especially since it retained a lot of freshness after a mere three months in barrel, so that it shows limey, citrusy flavors complemented by  salt. (Oct. 15, 2018)

Selbach-Oster, Mosel, Zeltinger Sonnenuh, Riesling Spätlese, Ur Alte Reben, 2012

Drier than an average spätlese without being outright dry, this is a well measured and balanced cocktail of green apples, pears, pink grapefruit and slate aromas and flavors. (Oct. 19, 2018)

Fat Guy, 169 NIS.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Chateau Golan


I haven't drunk, or even tasted, Chateau Golan in ages. Maybe the odd bottle of the Syrah in restaurants. I last drank the Eliad and Sauvignon Blanc fourteen, fifteen years ago. I don't remember ever drinking the Merlot or Cabernet and I know for sure I never drank the Rhone blends in the Geshem line.

In fact, since the last time I drank a bottle of Chateau Golan, a tidal wave has hit Israel. 

A tidal wave of "Mediterranean Wines". 

For a winery calling itself a Chateau, Chateau Golan has been very matter of fact about the Geshem line. Everyone who has visited the winery has told me that these are the wines dearest to winemaker Uri Hetz, yet you never hear or read any spiel about the suitability of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre to Israeli terroir or cuisine, no high brow, second hand PR about identity and heritage and "Mediterranean Wines". No self-congratulatory Facebook posts, either.

I should really have been paying more attention to a winery that has done virtually nothing to make me zone out. I missed out on the Rose and Sauvignon Blanc, which are seriously lovely.

Geshem, Rose, 2017

This is mostly Grenache. It's probably the best Grenache based rose I've tasted, the nose streaked with clay and chalk for an evocative effect. I know it's excellent because I sniff it so much you'd think it was a Bourgogne. And it's not only tasty, it has a persistent enough presence to make the palate impact both long and memorable. Justifies the 100+ NIS price tag.

Sauvignon Blanc, 2017

I have to go really far back for a memory. Fifteen years ago, a local wine store organized a tasting of Israeli Sauvignon Blancs. Fifteen years ago is like Israeli Sauvignon Blanc: Year One, when everyone released their inaugural SB. The Chateau Golan probably cost about 100 NIS and was the most expensive wine in the tasting lineup by far, over twice the cost of the runner up. It was the only one aged in barrel and the elevage showed as yeastiness rather than overt oak. It costs about 140 NIS these days and the competition has caught up, price wise. As for quality, well, in one sense this is the most 'serious' Israeli white I've ever drunk, taking almost an hour to open up and then coalesce. Very mineral-laden, a cross between Sancerre and Puligny, this is a wine that yearns for a cellar where that bubbling spring of minerals, oak and fruit will have time to settle down.

Geshem, Red, 2015

I get that the name Geshem was a sort of hommage to the classic GSM blend (it only works in Hebrew, sort of), but I'd have gone full pun retard and called it Chateauneuf Golan - even though the 2015 reminds me more of Gigondas and carries its 15% ABV with greater ease than many CdPs carry a 14%. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Master and Milgo


This lineup from a birthday dinner covered the full emotional range known to wine geeks: disappointment through heartfelt enjoyment to the sublime and immortal and back to disappointment, with a detour through a weird back-road or two. 

We started out with a disappointment.

Drappier, Grand Sendree, 2008

If this is the best Drappier could come up with for their premium cuvee in a great vintage like 2008, then someone needs to take a long, hard look at the house's decision making process. Despite a fine nose with decent complexity, the total package is underwhelming because the palate is sweet and under-dimensional (there was nothing we could perceive that would suggest a bottle-specific fault).

Domaine André et Mireille Tissot, Arbois, Les Bruyères, 2015

All the Tissot Chardonnays that I've tasted were weird in a good way and this is no exception, a Chardonnay that marries the intensity of Corton-Charlemagne with the peaty accents of Islay Whiskey, while letting enough fruit to shine through to make the package very palatable.

Bonneau du Martray, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, 2004

And, speaking of Corton-Charlemagne...Shining after a few minutes of air, this shows the Corton-Charlemagne signature of high octane minerals married to fruit that is exotic and reserved at the same time. My batting average with Bonneau goes up to .300+ at long last with this great, reserved filigree

Anthill Farms, Sonoma Coast, Peters Vineyard, Syrah, 2015

There are things I look for in a Syrah: pepper, flowers, bacon. I don't suppose I really need them all in one wine. What I get here is bacon and a touch of exoticism. It's a ripe wine, not excessively so, and underneath the ripeness is a tannic backbone. Merits an extended session and another look in a few years. I'm adding Anthill to my wish list.

Pierre Gaillard, Cote Rotie, 2013

No useful notes here. It feels typical, yet mute and uninspiring at the same time. I really hope it's just a question of youth and that in better surroundings, and that with longer and more rapt attention, I'd have been able to perceive its potential.

Domaine Rapet, Corton Grand Cru, 2012

A winsome nose, spices, mint, autumnal forest floor shit. Sadly, the palate is coarse with its drying finish, and lives up to Corton's reputation for being an underpeforming Grand Cru. 

Dujac, Echezeaux Grand Cru, 2011

There are producers and vineyards you can always bank on. Dujac, I think, is on that list, and Echezeaux, while not in the short list of the great Grand Crus, is certainly consistent. I think this is a very top tier Echezeaux, even in a vintage not destined for the history books. It has great depth, finesse, poise and the aromas of rotting leaves are so evocative that I can imagine the Cisterians had no recruitment problems.

Egon Müller, Mosel, Scharzhofberger, Spätlese Riesling, 2011

Icy slate blazed by sulfur tinged minerals. The balance is so exquisitely focused that the sweetness flows like liquid crystal across the palate until it culminates in a salty finish. A great wine with effortless composure that will probably outlive me.

Domaine l'Aiguelière, Coteaux du Languedoc, Montpeyroux, Côte Rousse, 1995

This cuppa full of brett is going to sway a lot of hipster hearts. Not mine, though.

Kracher, Burgenland, Welschriesling, TBA, Nummer 3, 2009

This makes me question Kracher's reputation, but then again, I also tend to question Sauternes' reputation. In both cases, a spicy, hedonistic nose is followed by a palate constructed favoring low acidity. I think more wines are ruined by low acidity than any other single fault.

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.