Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Tramps Like Us, Baby We Were Born To Rhone (Jan. 12, 2018)

Syrah  - my fourth favorite grape
Syrah is my fourth favorite grape. Well, actually it's almost tied with Chardonnay for third place; Chardonnay broke ahead because of Champagne. Riesling and Pinot Noir won the two top seeds.

This was one night where we not only had a theme - but, hey!, everyone stuck to it. We didn't bother with too much variety, though. Except for the Israeli representative, we held firm to our love for the North Rhone.

Carmel, Kayumi, Syrah, 2006

The Kayumi hails back from the days when everyone thought Syrah would be the next great thing in Israel. Which isn’t quite how it turned out. Syrah never sold as well as Cabernet, and, recently, other varieties have successfully courted the hipster crowd. Anyway, this is a nicely mature Israeli red, not breathtaking, but with enough winey nuances to keep you interested.

Pierre Gonon, Saint Joseph, 2014

Gonon, as the textbooks and just about every Rhone lover will tell you, is the star of Saint Joseph. The best twenty dollar wine I've ever drunk was the Gonon second red wine, a Syrah VDP. This bottle captures the deep, beautiful mystery of the North Rhone: the olive tapenade, the meat, the lithe fruit whose power never overwhelms. The complexity is good enough in its own right, but that evocative mystery is the Gonon's strong suit.

Yves Cuilleron, Saint Joseph, Les Serines, 1999

1999 was a great vintage in the North Rhône but some things just weren’t meant to last this long. I remember how suave and juicy this was at its youth, now all that's left is an oaky cask for a tombstone.

Bonnefound, Cote Rotie, les Rochains, 2013

An indifferent Côte Rotie, a little overripe, a little too oaky. Maybe we caught it at a bad phase, because the internet claims "the wine is aged in 25% new, 400 liter barrels for up to 20 months before bottling" (les Rochains is also right next to famed la Landonne, as if to add insult to injury). The internet also claims "this can be difficult to find as the production is limited to an average of 300 cases per vintage". Thanks for trying so hard, Ido, you really shouldn't have.

Levet, Côte Rotie, La Chavaroche, 2011

The real Côte Rotie deal at last. As good as the Gonon was, this shows why the Côte Rotie is such a highly regarded gem of an AOC. What we have here is bacon and pepper carried to a very balanced free floating extreme. Still, there’s oak in the drying finish and I’d call it five years from its window.

Delas, Hermitage, Domaine des Tourettes, 2010

Pepper and oak, young. I stopped here, possibly grand on another night, but I must say it’s not the best Hermitage I’ve ever had.

Gaston Chiquet, Valee de la Marne, Millésime Or, Premier Cru, Brut, 2007

Ripe and sweet, more so than previous vintages I've had, but for all that, very sexy with palate etching chalk and a whiff of mushrooms. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Taking Care of Business (Dec. 2017)

Luis Pato, Bairrada, Vinha Formal, 2012

Every country has its signature grape(s) - Touriga Nacional in Portugal's case - and some also have a list of indigenous grapes that no one outside the country seems to have heard of. Just about every grape grown in Portugal seems to be a mystery outside of the country, especially their whites. The Vinha Formal is made of such grapes, comprised as it is of 85% Bical and 15% Cerceal. It's hard to get my head around the aromatic and flavor profile of this wine. It smells lightly oxidized and nutty, but it could be the character of the fruit and not a fault and anyway it doesn't taste oxidized. There's also something earthy and herbal going on here. When I drank the 2013, I called it garrigue. Ah, yes, 2013 was the last vintage imported and a year later we have the 2012. Go figure. (Dec. 2, 2017)

Luis Pato, Bairrada, Vinha Formal, 2010

This is the sparkling rose that Pato makes from the Formal vineyard and it's dominated by Touriga Nacional. I can't find a good reference point for this. It's a wonder, but it's really a "love it or hate it" wonder thing. It smells light a light Iberian red, earthy, slightly meaty, pungent. It's very savory and funky and it's totally unlike Champagne. In fact, it's so funky that if you pour it next to a Champagne, then Champagne is likely to run off to cry to its mommy. (Dec. 13, 2017)

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

A field blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Alfro-Cheiro and others, the profile is typical of the wines Eyal carries. The nose is pungently spicy and floral and that clash of spices and flowers defines the wine. The palate is long and fresh, with felicious softness, and although it is not especially complex, this is my favorite Castro red so far. (Dec. 9, 2017)

Eyal Mermelstein (Tchernichovsky)

Salomon, Kremstal, Undhof, Kogl, Erste Lage, 2014

A wine I used to drink more of, this is a very useful bistro wine. We had with dinner at Milgo and Milbar, whose dishes are very complex and rich and it went well with everything from anchovy focaccia to crab-meat and shirimp paste. It has the same icy veneer of slate that I love in the Mosel, but the dill and spices and the dry finish is all Austria. (Dec. 8, 2017)

Fat Guy, about 130 NIS.

A. Margaine, Le Brut, Villers-Marmery Premier Cru, n.v.

Villers-Marmery is an anomaly in the Motagne de Reims district of Champagne, being an island of Chardonnay on a sea of Pinot Noir. Le Brut, formerly known as Traditionelle, is about 90% Chardonnay. It's comprised of a large portion of reserve wines, the most recent vintage taking up a just little over half the blend, which is a rare proportion for a small grower. The basic character is of ripe fruit, the ripeness providing a full body rather than sweetness, but that body is framed by a sharp cut and a chalky texture and counterpointed by a saline finish. So it makes for an appealing mix of that fruity forwardness and that mineral-laden backbone, a touch of plump fat and  chalk/mushrooms notes. (Dec. 12, 2017)

Fat Guy, 229 NIS. 

Girolamo Russo, Etna, a Rina, 2014

This is only the second producer I've tried so far from trendy Etna in Sicily. The wine is comprised of 98% Nerello Mascalese and 2% Nerello Cappuccio, sourced from the San Lorenzo, Feudo, and Calderara Sottana vineyards and is the winery's entry level red. The nose is very pretty and intriguing; there are earthy, floral and tarry elements, but they're not easily broken down to discrete components. I just enjoy the interplay and the complexity. The palate is dominated by cherries and bitter tannins and needs air. The other Etna producer I know is the arguably more famous Terre Nere and I think this is the better entry level red. Let me be a little more forward: this is wonderful and I can only imagine what the single vineyards are like. (Dec. 15, 2017)

28 euros.

Sphera, White Signature, 2016

This year, the flagship wine is 75% Semillon and 25% Chardonnay. I'm glad Semillon was chosen to be the featured grape this year because I generally love how it performs in Israel. I have fond memories of the Semillon Doron Rav Hon produced in his tenure in Ella Valley. Having said that, while this wine was blooming and mineral-laden when I drank it two months ago, it is starting to shut down now, so it shows more honey and only hints at minerals. (Dec. 17, 2017)

140 NIS.

Domaine Denis Berthaut, Fixin, Les Clos, 2013 

I know Amelie Berthaut is highly regarded, and by people whose opinions I highly regard, yet for some reason, while I liked the basic Bourgogne and Fixin, this is the first time I've fancied either of the village lieux-dits imported locally. This is soft and sensual, fresh red fruit decorated by clay, earth and a pungent, vegetal herbaceous which fits in without being too prominent and completes a fairly complex aromatic tapestry, with a sauvage personality that nods at neighboring Gevrey. And the palate. We talk about how acidity provides structure, but we sometimes forget it also lends tasty sour/tart flavors, as is the case here. (Dec. 21, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 189 NIS.

Feldstein, Gilgamesh, 2014

This Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Argaman and Viognier blend is probably Avi's friendliest wine, but that doesn't mean it's not a very interesting wine to dissect and examine. Its primary selling point - and this is the only aid you need to fix Gilgamesh's fingerprint in your memory - is that juicy acidity that anchors the black fruit and gives form to what could have otherwise been a too lush a texture. (Dec. 23, 2017)

Hudelot-Noellet, Chambolle-Musigny, 2014

Chambolle is the easiest Burgundy town to write about. You don't have to verbalize or explain sauvage, as in Gevrey; you don't have to extol the charm of the exotic spices as in Vosne; you needn't discuss the rusticity of Nuits; or compare the so-called femininity of Volnay with the iron-like muscularity of Pommard. All you have to do, with Chambolle, is mention flowers. But, although the flowers are a very useful tip in blind tastings, they only get you through the first sentence or so of the tasting note. Because the Burgundy villages are never defined by just a single characteristic and you always have to grasp for more nuances. Thus, the Hudelot-Noellet does get you with flowers before you start to notice forest floor and spices - but throughout, it is about those flowers and how they make a young Chambolle so fresh, fluid and irresistible. (Dec. 30, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 270 NIS.

Gaston Chiquet, Brut Blanc de Blancs D’Aÿ, n.v. 

This is usually a vintage Champagne sold as non-vintage for legal reasons. This bottle was disgorged in July 2015 so this is probably 2012, or at the very least 2012-based. This is a pure Chardonnay from the Pinot stronghold that is the Grand Cru village of Aÿ. It's not very complex or weighty, but it makes up for that with its purity and pinpoint focus. It's not a brioche and mushroom style of Champagne, rather the aromas and flavors are all about wet stones, baked apples, citrus fruit and flowers. (Dec. 31, 2017)

Fat Guy, about 250 NIS.

Weingut Wittmann, Rheinhessen, Westhofener Morstein, Riesling Auslese, 2009

Unctuous and hedonistic, almost to the point that the sugar overwhelms the acidity. I don't think it will shed its baby fat in the next decade so you might as well open it now and enjoy it as liquid toffee. And great liquid toffee it is. (Dec. 31, 2017)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Selbach-Oster 2015 (Dec. 28, 2017)

En Bloc
Tasting through the 2015 as depicted by house Selbach-Oster can be a great many things, but most of all, it is great fun. Mosel Riesling is beautiful, moving, delicate. But it's also fun, joyful, vibrant, arguably the most delicious wine in the world. The quality among the top ten/twenty/forty/whatever producers is so high that I could probably load up on cases from any given producer in that rank. I could make a case, though, that the price point at Selbach is the best in the Mosel.

Weissburgunder, 2016

White fruit, minerals, a very nice midweek or brunch drink, if you want some variety in your Riesling diet.

Saar, Kabinnet, 2015/16

The 2016 is apples and chalk with such intense acidity it comes off as dry and rough. The 2015 has much better balance, which allows the wine to show more fullness, depth and nuances.

Zeltlinger Schlossberg, Spatlese Trocken, 2015

An outright dry wine, and even though I’m not a fan of the style in the Mosel, the nose is complex and interesting. However, while the palate is almost as focused as it is lean, in the end it’s too austere for me and not as successful as the 2012 was.

Graacher Domprobst, Spatlese Feinherb, Alte Reben, 2015

A moving nose, deep, almost brooding, very complex. The palate is as complex, earthy, a little bitter, with the pungent bite of green apple and lime.

Zeltlinger Sonnenuhr, Spatlese Feinherb, Ur Alte Reben, 2015

Lighter than brother Domprobst, it doesn’t show the same bass notes of brooding melancholy. It's more restrained and the finish is cleaner, salty rather than bitter.

Zeltlinger Schlossberg, Kabinnet, 2015

This has been a fave year in and year out and tonight it’s the first wine to really make me grin. Finely balanced and wonderfully evocative, a classic Mosel with its apples, peaches and slate.

Zeltlinger Schlossberg, Spatlese, 2015

A very classic Mosel, a very classic Spatlese, a sweet gossamer snowflake of apples, apricots and a touch of Atlantic salt. Addictive. 

Zeltlinger Sonnenuhr, Spatlese *, 2015

Eldad thinks Johannes doesn't use the German star system to denote a higher level of quality, necessarily, but this seems to me purer and finer than the Schlossberg. But then again, I'm always biased towards Sonnenuhr and this wasn't a blind tasting, so...

Zeltlinger Schlossberg, Auslese *, 2015

Very young and very dense. If the Spatlese was a snowflake, then this is a snowball that will take decades to unwind - or rather melt, if I want to maintain my simile.

The final three wines are what Johannes Selbach calls the "en bloc" series and are made from a single pass through specific parcels in their respective vineyards. The idea is to highlight the terroir and not necessarily the pradikat, despite the label. I assume the grapes were picked at a date that ensured the combined must weight of an Auslese. I'm less sure about the presence of botrytis; only the Rotlay exhibited any signs of that.

Zeltlinger Himmelreich, Auslese, Anrecht, 2015

Crystalline, regal and cool, a perfect balance of the sweet and the saline.

Zeltlinger Schlossberg, Auslese, Schmitt, 2015

This seems the most complete and complex of the three, deftly combining sweetness and laser-like focus.

Zeltlinger Sonnenuhr , Auslese, Rotlay, 2015

Tropical and and a bit unfocused, it seems like one of those Auslese that need 3-4 decades for the acidity to overcome the baby fat and sugar. 

A good way to sum up the tasting would be to recommend an optimal purchase strategy. A couple of Saar Kabinetts for immediate pleasure. A six pack of the Schlossberg Kabinetts to follow over two to eight years (who am I kidding, they'd all be drunk up within a year). One or two Sonnenuhr Ur Alter Reben. None of the other Spatlese or Ausleses are imported except for the "en block" wines, and here I'd pass up on the Rotlays and buy a bottle of the Anrecht and as many Schmitts as you can afford. The Schmitt is a treasure and a real keeper.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Domaine Fourrey, Chablis Premier Cru, Mont de Milieu, 2015 (Nov. 28, 2017)

As much as I love Chablis, it's getting harder to write about the merely good wines. The great ones are great, of course, and any bad wine can be fun to pan. Other than that, there's only so much even a compulsive-obsessive like me can write about the aromas and tastes that make up the marine theme that is Chablis: oysters, shells, sea air, sea weed, kelp. Kelp! That's a good one, I haven't used that word before. 

Is that why there's a backlash against Chablis recently? Have we writers run out of interesting things to say about it or has it really become an annoying prevalence on the restaurant scene, a brand whose recent popularity with the masses has become a turnoff for the cognoscenti? Is it so wrong that it's become a bestseller because civilians find it so to pronounce? -  never mind that its style and reserve makes it an easy food pairing. We've been spoiled with something on the order of two dozen Chablis producers being imported to Israel in the last few years. Me, I can still remember when all you could find in Israel was two-three negociants and Jean Durup. I don't know whether I'm jaded, but I have been buying less Chablis in general, and what I have been buying I rarely cellar these days, basically I just drinking it up.

The names, though, the names get me. Doesn't Chablis really have the most romantic and exotic vineyard names? My favorites are "L’Homme Mort", which I think even the most rudimentary of French speakers understand to be "the Dead Man"; and "Montée de Tonnerre", which Google Translate has just told me is "Ascent of Thunder" and blew my mind.

Mont de Milieu is romantic for its geographical, not linguistic, pertinence as it signifies the border between Burgundy and Champagne. If Chablis really needs an advocates then how about this wine, whose mineral and saline flavors highlight the best of what both regions make of Chardonnay?

Oh, and by the way, the Fourrey Mont de Milieu isn't all about the sea and the beach - truly, Chablis is never only about that - it has a good measure of pungent apple skins. I'd go with up to five years of cellaring.