Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Lynching (Mar. 8, 2018)

5me Cru Classe Pauilliac Lynch-Bages is the quintessential overachiever chateau, illustrating the basic flaw of the 1855 classification: that it is a snapshot of the pecking order of the Bordeau chateaux at the time that it was codified and not a hierarchy of terroir -  and over the years the properties have grown and merged, and the people running them and the land they own, they, too, have changed. After various cycles of change and improvement, Lynch-Bages has reached the point where, for the last few decades, it has been commanding the respect, and often the prices, lavished on the so called Super Seconds.

For me, this  very generous vertical tasting wasn’t about comparing the character and quality of different vintages, so much as it was about getting a picture of Lynch-Bages the wine and how it develops. Recently, it’s been less and less important to me to judge which vintage is “the best” out of a group of obviously stellar years, say, in this case, 1982/1986/1990/2000. Especially with a tasting like this, where the "entry level" is vintages like 2008 or 1996. 

So what's Lynch-Bages like, then? For me, Pauillac at its sexiest, the fruit fine and generous without being lavish, intermingled with minerals and meatiness to varying degrees. Great clarets have this sense of effortless ease, which ups the bar and makes other wines mundane. Lynch-Bages is in that class, courting with an abundance of silky finesse.

We started with 2009 and 2010, excellent-to-great vintages, which have already collected praises and high scores. Going on a decade post vintage, both are very closed and barely show their potential elegance. Kudos to the writers who were able to make sense of them during barrel and en premieur tastings. 2010 shows gunpowder/minerals/earth and the 2009 is more fruity and modern. But I wonder whether calling it modern is meaningful information to anyone who aims to drink it in a decade or two when it matures, by which time I expect it to be more like the 2000 (which I recall presented a similar facade at age seven to eight).

We tasted the 2008 in a blind flight with two peers from the vintage. Mouton-Rothschild, which is famous for being the only chateaux moved up to 1me Cru Classe, had a complex nose and a sweetish palate confidently backed by fine tannins. On the one hand, it really tries to impress and live up to its reputation, on the other hand, it succeeds. I reckon less than 30% of the people who care about these things (or have the experience to gauge) think Mouton is consistently of 1er Cru level, but in 2008 it certainly was. Lynch-Bages had a very similar palate, which was apt, given that it's sometimes nicknamed the poor man's Mouton, and I sensed notes of earth and gunpowder, which were not as obvious in the Mouton. The other peer was Pontet-Canet, which felt manipulated, and even though it improved, it never grasped a balance between its ripe fruit and tannins. Like Lynch-Bages, it's a 5me Cru Classe held in high regard, but the few bottles I've drunk, including this one, makes me think that high regard is misplaced.

Back to Lynch. The 2000 is a great vintage, oozing minerals, leather and red fruit. Obviously, blatantly great, with sexy substance that is reined in and reserved at the same time. 1996 was a little funkier, less complex, with a hint of cowhide. It will last for a long time, but it feels to be on the start of its plateau, whereas the 2000 is still climbing towards it.

The next flight nails why we age Bordeaux. Both 1982 and 1986 were great vintages at an time when great vintages were harder to come by, and even then you couldn't necessarily bank on the quality being consistent across the board. The 1982 was complex with subtle meatiness born of mellow maturity. 1986 is just about the same but it forces you to work and approach it on its own terms. 

The final flight was the last piece in the evening's theme of Lynch-Bages greatness. 1989 is more languid and funkier while the 1990 is earthier. Both are caught in transit between 2000/1996 and the mid-eighties flight, the fruit receding while the tannins have not integrated yet, and they thus come off as rawer than the either of the other flights.

Before the festivities began, we were served, as is usually the case chez Eldad Levy, with a starter champagne, a fine Blanc de Blancs vintage, as befitted the occasion. 

Pierre Péters, Blanc de Blanc, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Grand Cru, Esprit de 2009

It was a good call matching such an elegant Bordeaux with a Blanc de Blancs, as I find the clarity and finesse an apt counterpoint. The acidity is excellent, the body full and light at the same time (always a paradoxical trademark of great Champagnes), the aromatic profile pairing mushrooms and orange blossoms.     

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Taking Care Of Business (Feb. 2018)

Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre, 2016 

While there is no way you would not be able to tell that this is a French wine, a Loire white, finally a Sancerre, this arguably serves even better as a blueprint for Sauvignon Blanc. It's leafy and saline and laced with minerals - the things that make it Sancerre - but it encompasses so many aspects of the grape you feel that a few twists of the dial would transform it  into any of the various identities of the grape. Up the minerals and add a touch smoke - Pouilly Fume. Zoom in on the fruit and crush the leaves - New Zealand. (Feb. 2, 2018)

Wine Route, about 150 NIS.

Domaine Pierre Duroché, Gevrey-Chambertin, Le Clos, 2015 

Pierre Duroché, bless his soul, bottles a generic Bourgogne, a basic Gevrey and three Gevrey village lieux-dits. So you have plenty of variety to play around with before venturing into the Premier and Grand Crus of this rising star. I learned tasting through his lineup a couple of years ago that the Le Clos shines young, so I turned to it when I needed my monthly Burgundy fix. Pierre's precision is the reason the Bourgogne fanatics have made the domaine a cult, and, indeed, this is very pure and precise, with notes of flowers, forest floor and minerals. (Feb. 3, 2018)

Bourgogne Crown, 185 NIS.

Agur, Karka, 2014

Eran Pick is a very Catholic Bordeaux lover. His consultant at Tzora is Jean-Claude Berrouet of Chateau Petrus fame. But he somehow wound up planting Oseleta, an almost extinct grape from Veneto, which is kind of like Hendrix picking up a banjo at a jam. Go figure. At least he remained true to form and sold the grapes off to Shuki Yashuv from Agur before ripping up the vines. There's a passing resemblance to the tale of the turtle and the scorpion at play here. Never mind. This comes off as a very rustic wine that nods and leers at Italy. I wouldn't say Veneto, necessarily. Actually, definitely not. The tannins are a little too full of iron and rust for that. With those sour cherries on the finish, you could easily go west to Piedmonte. My neighborhood bistro has a small stock and it's a very good choice. (Feb. 8, 2018)

Château de Beru, Chablis, Terroirs de Beru, 2015

This is typical of the house style, always juggling ripe and racy and walking away from that act with the Chablis character not just intact, but also quite aptly represented.  (Feb. 9, 2018)

Bourgogne Crown, 155 NIS.

Lewinsohn, Garage de Papa, Blanc, 2015

Lewinsohn reminds me of Beru. Seriously. Always among the top five-ten local whites, this is the best local spin on all the things that make white Burgundy a gourmand pleasure. A very decently complex display of flint, citrus fruit, sea shells, dry grass. (Feb. 10, 2018)

Bar-Maor Winery, Tammuz, Rendzina, 2014

The romantic in me loves the notion of terroir and anyone who's read enough of this blog knows I expect more of wine than to be just a beverage. But there's the analytical side of me - I did wind up in hi tech instead of art school, after all - and that side of me has a problem with the message the back label is trying to get across: "With no irrigation, the vineyards reveal a true and unique expression of the place and year of harvest". In the first place, why would irrigation interfere with the "true and unique expression..." - god, I can't even bear writing it out in full again, it's really just too pretentious - and in the second place, how can you possibly tell? Nobody's been making high quality wine in Israel long enough to be that sure about anything. Besides, how the hell do you go about proving that lack of irrigation expresses the terroir better than any other agricultural ploy. And, does any terroir in Israel have enough of a track record for anyone to know what it's supposed to express? 

I wish people wouldn't force their new age philosophy down my throat (unless we share the same new age philosophy, and then it's fine) because it can really ruin a good thing. I like this wine and it really is quite expressive, in its gruff, macho way. I'm just not willing to be so easily convinced it's driven by terroir. It's got this old school, old world, dusty thing going. It almost crosses over to rancio territory and that is something that would bother me, except...it works here. Even the drying tannins work. And if you put it in a blind tasting with local and foreign peers - I'd say Duoro and Languedoc would be good parallels - it would get noticed and remarked upon. And not because it's flashy wine, quite the opposite. But it's probably less complex than Rami reckons it to be. (Feb. 12, 2018)

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

Denis Race is yet another Chablis producer that Wine Route is indulging us with recently. It's not very intense, complex,or original - just a textbook landlocked Chablis, apples peels and chalk rather than seashells. The market has come very far if Chablis has started to evoke ennui. (Feb. 18, 2018)

2 for 300 NIS.

Martín Códax, Rías Baixas, Albariño, Marieta, 2016 

Even though today its portfolio is not really the Bacchanalian Wonderland it used to be, Wine Route still comes up with curveball offerings to the hipster crowd. They may turn out to be tax writeoffs for the huge cash inflow generated by their Blue Nun holdings, or marketing ploys to bolster the chain's credibility after the same mega-brand marred it - but they can be quite pleasurable. For instance, this graceful, saline white which should successfully court  the wily sommelier looking for a BTG offering for light lunches. (Feb. 19, 2018)

70 NIS or so.

The more classically labelled Albariño Rías Baixas of the same year, similarly priced, is the one to go for. It's steelier, purer and you can feel the pedigree. Both are everyday wines, but this will put more sparkle into your everyday.

And check out the Martín Códax site if you care for a tour through Google Translate gone bad. For example, this. No one and nothing will ever quite trump "RAISING: It hasn't".

Argyros, Santorini, Assyrtiko Estate, 2016 

Greece has also become trendy, although just about all I know about it as wine country is that the names are as hard to pronounce as they are to spell. Actually, Argyros and Assyrtiko, the local indigenous grape, are not that hard to spell. This is a leap beyond  the Albarino, a really lovely, special wine, firm and delicate at once, all mineral nuances with a bit of wax thrown in. The acidity is simply delectable, playing against the fruit to produce a finely focused sour and salty finish. (Feb. 20, 2018)

Wine Route, again, about 120 NIS.

Twenty shekels more will buy you the Argyros, Santorini, Assyrtiko, 2016, which is made of old vines and plays almost like a Grand Cru version. I love it and it's very delicious, yet you can just sense all that potential all clenched inside it. It's a back up the truck kind of wine. Get a case and drink a bottle a year. 

Margalit, Paradigm, 2015

Thirty years after it was one of the heralds of the re-discovery of the Bordeaux grapes in Israel, Margalit has gotten around to making a, ahem, Mediterranean wine. If that's really what you want to call the classic formula of Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre. I have taken this wine to my heart. Margalit hasn't gone for a blockbuster. GSM doesn't have to be that. What Margalit got out of it is very elegant black fruit with trimmings of black and white pepper, clarity and character, a lithe frame with fine focus. (Feb. 23, 2018)

140 NIS.

Les Jamelles, Vin de Pays d'Oc, GSM Sélection Spéciale, 2016

This GSM is from  Languedoc Roussillon, so it fairly close to the appellations that pioneered the blend, for what it's worth. Other than that, it's of interest solely for its fruity drinkability. (Feb. 24, 2018)

Wine Route, about 75 NIS.

Larmandier-Bernier, Champagne, Rosé de Saignée, Premier Cru, n.v.

This is the kind of champagne rosé that really captures that autumnal character of Pinot Noir, strawberries flanked by rotting leaves. This comes from the premier cru village of Vertus and, like, its Burgundian counterparts, it gains both weight and definition from airing, as well as an intoxicating floral facet. Lovely and needs more bottle age. (Feb. 26, 2018)