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.