Tuesday, June 11, 2019

May Days (May 2019)

This month rocked. Looking back, the wines we drank covered almost all my loves and almost each deserved a solo post.

Terre Nere, Etna, Il Quadro delle Rose Feudo di Mezzo, 2015

It's been seven years and odd days since I attended my first Terre Nere tasting. Wow. I should buy more. I always love the reds whenever I drink them. In fact, just about the only Italian wine I drink outside of Barolo and Barbaresco is this house in Sicily's Etna DOC. Which is appropriate since both Nebbiolo and Nerello Mascalese show tarry, earthy aromas and pack a dense, complex lattice of tannins and acidity into a deceptively lithe frame. In this case, this is especially true since the Feudo di Mezzo vineyard, which the winery classifies informally as a Premier Cru, is located relatively low with mild inclines, making for a friendlier wine than the other crus, lighter and superficially more elegant. (May 11, 2019)

Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre, Les Romains, 2016

Sauvignon Blanc as a geology seminar, this is foremost a wine geared towards intensity of expression, rather than complexity, extreme in its display of shells and chalk, with a touch of leafiness adding marginal additional nuances. I think this is an excellent Sancerre, but please excuse me if I prefer the house's Pinot Noirs. (May 3, 2019)

Wine Route, 280 NIS.

Pierre Gonon, Saint Joseph, 2014

This confirms Gonon's reputation as the king of Saint Joseph. A very complete, complex nose of olive tapenade, bacon and pepper heralds a mellow, yet persistent palate: silky tannins, balanced, lingering acidity and lovely, elegant fruit. Close to Cote Rotie in texture, depth, finesse and quality.  Also, in the way so many flavors are densely packed unto a deceptively light frame. (May 4, 2019)

50 GBP.

Domaine Joseph Drouhin, Nuits-St.-Georges, 2011

A long time ago, a 2003 Nuits convinced me that Drouhin was one negociant that deserved my money. Everything has to work perfectly to make wine work at the village level and although 2003 was from from a perfect vintage, the ripeness of the 2003 vintage actually provided more heft and depth than you'd expect from a village wine. Since many 2003's were flabby and/or over the top, I award all credit to team Drouhin. 2011, on the other hand, is one of those vintages where you feel that every aspect is somehow lacking: the wines are a little too light, the finish a little too short, the tannins a shade or two less than fine, the aromatics missing a bit of complexity and definition. The 2011 NSG illustrates all of the above, especially since 2011 was a vintage of suspect durability. Thus, although the aromatics are pleasant, forest floor and iron tinged with balsamic vinegar, the tannins and finish are stern and drying. On the plus side, the fruit is still clear and fine. Drink up and enjoy. (May 19, 2019)

Quinta da Pellada (Alvaro Castro), Dão, Jaen, 2011

Jaen (or Mencia as the grape is known in Spain, especially Bierzo where it is most famous), is another of those grapes often compared to Pinot Noir. And I can get that. It shares a similar silky texture and lightness of being. And this specific specimen also shows a distinctly floral character on the nose, almost as though the Chambolle rose petals had been hung out to dry among the bushes of the Iberian peninsula. The tannins are integrated and everything is in perfect balance, yet the Jaen still seems youthfully fresh and impresses as a wine that could easily develop for another seven-ten years. An excellent, lovely wine, one of the best Portuguese reds I've had - at the end of the day, one that doesn't need comparisons to Pinot to shine. (May 21, 2019)

Chateau Branaire-Ducru, Saint Julien 4me Cru, 2008

A tasty claret, well made, quite ready, a typical expression of Saint Julien finesse. Brainaire-Ducru is not a great house and 2008 is a classic Left Bank year with all the classic Left Bank drawbacks, so the cedar-tinged aromas, although very friendly and charming, are austere without a lot flair, while the tannins outlast the drying fruit on the finish. But it also has all the classic Left Bank charms, which used to be about drinkability years ago.(May 24, 2019)

Wine Route, a very good purchase at 250 NIS, prices we won't see again, even for a relatively modest chateau.

Domaine Pavelot (Jean-Marc et Hugues) Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru, La Dominode, 2011

Had I known Bourgogne Crown and Pavelot would eventually part ways, I'd have bought more. Even though it seemed, at the time, that I had bought quite a handful across the range, I did not buy enough of the house's crown jewels, the La Dominode. If you know your Burgundy, then you know 2011 is a vintage valued more for charm and approachability than for intrinsic qualities of complexity, heft and depth - and indeed, at a tasting a few years ago, the 2010 impressed as a dense, muscular wine with many years of cellaring potential, while the 2011 seemed more meandering and less focused. 

The Dominode 2011 has come into focus in the intervening years. The finish is now firm, fresh black cherries buttressed by rusty tannins, the fleshy texture and aromas and flavors of iron, rotting leaves and animal hide making for an impressive character that is a cross between Pommard and Gevrey, with the true weight of the excellent Premier Cru that Dominode is. I love it. (May 26, 2019)

About 290 NIS.

Gunderloch, Rheinhesse, Riesling Drei Sterne Auslese ***, 2007

As soon as I read the label, I knew the 13% ABV meant I wasn't going to get a classic Auslese. The nose is rich and laden with candied botrytis spices - if ever could a bouquet could be called unctuous, this is the one. The palate feels like a dessert wine with all the sugar leeched out of it. At first I thought it was awful, but as it found its footing, I found it oddly intriguing. I suppose a 52 year old Auslese would taste this way, but for a 12 year old it's a little too weird.  (May 25, 2019)


Château Haut-Bergey, Pessdac-Leognan, 2008

This is a very dependable château. I've never tasted a bad wine or read any bad tasting note for any of their wines, but in the eight years or so since I first tasted its wines, this is the first bottle that went beyond the house's modern style to show any classic Pessac traits: food friendly acidity, savory tannins (still not fully integrated at this point), a form that has shed the impact of the barrel regime to show firm, yet mellow fruit with a touch of iron, earth and cedar. Much nicer than I expected. I guess it's a wine that needs 10-15 years. (May 31, 2019)

Wine Route, about 150 NIS in futures.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Mostly Cult Wines At L28 (May 6, 2019)

Martin Mullen, Mosel, Krover Steffensberg, Riesling Spatlese** Trocken, 2017

Not only have I never heard of Martin Mullen, I've never even heard of the village of Krov. I understand he's somewhat of a cult favorite, although his fame is still small and young enough to keep prices sane. It also helps that I'm not the only one who's never heard of the Krov vineyards. This is dry enough to deserve the trocken label, but not enough to lose the Mosel balance and edgy, tasty raciness, and it shows flowers, apples and generous minerals.

00 Wines, VGR, Oregon, Williamette Valley, Pinot Noir, 2015

Another cult producer, an expensive one this time, specializing in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, quelle surprise. The VGR (Very Good Red, I shit you not) shows ripeness and sweetness that you can't get in Burgundy without loss of form and focus. I mention that because the wonder here is how well form and focus are preserved. A clean, clear wine, the aromatics are quite complex, showing exotic spices.

Leo Alzinger, Wachau, Loibenberg, Smaragd, 2012

And now, for the first time in about eight years, I'm out of Austrian wines. I wish the (hopefully temporary) swan song was more auspicious, because despite complex, mineral-tinged aromatics and a tasty sweet-spicy finish, the form and mid-palate lack the convincing depth and easy finesse of the other Alzinger wines I've had.

Shvo, Chenin Blanc, 2011

Gaby Sadan's red and Sauvignon Blancs are consistently excellent, the 'Greshon' cuvee even inspirational, but I rarely enjoy his Chenin when I drink a young bottle and this is so middle aged and flat that I wouldn't risk aging it, either.

Adelsheim, Williamette Valley, Pinot Noir, 2013

The 2015 I drank last  month was tasty and very good, but this is a decrepit bottle that I hope is not indicative of, well, anything.

J. L. Chave, Saint Joseph, 2012

A sexy wine, not profound, though, the plump fruit obscuring the savoriness I look for in North Rhone Syrah. The nose, though, black and blue fruit with splashes of black pepper and coffee grains, is lovely and, its worth repeating myself, sexy.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Maps and Legends (March, 2019)

The more, the merrier
I restocked on the some of the wines from the debut Feldstein release , so I had enough bottles to drink my merry way through a sort of retrospective. I'll TL;DR the highlights for you. The Semillon-Sauvignon is iconic, the Grenache is idiosyncratic, the Cabernet is the heir of a beloved icon

Feldstein, Grenache, 2014

Grenache will probably never garner enough of a fan base to become the most popular grape among aficionados, no matter how much of it is grown and bottled. Important as it is, I doubt many, if at all, will ever vote for it as the best red grape. No surprise there, it really isn't. But it can suit some terroirs very well and, like I said, it's an important grape: in the South Rhone, Languedoc-Roussillon, Spain. Similarly, it might not strike everyone as the best red wine Feldstein makes, but it's an interesting one and I can understand why he made it. It's not the friendliest wine, it won't make you smack your lips, but it's a brain twister of a wine, and rewards the efforts needed to puzzle out its aromas and flavors. Despite the 14.8% ABV, it comes off as a lighter wine than that, with floral and herbal aromas and a lithe tannic structure. The challenge, for me, is placing the spicy note that shows up in the aromas and flavors. It's sort of garrigue-like, but there are hints of chocolate and cinnamon as well. (Mar. 1, 2019)

Feldstein, Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, 2015

This would be a great joker in a blind tasting. I don't drink a lot of white Bordeaux, which every Sauvignon-Semillon blend in the world echoes, but this reminds me of the few that I have. It has a flinty, nutty veneer, the fruit profile marrying the lean edge of the Sauvignon with the fatter, oilier texture of Semillon. The flavors, like the aromas, are a decently complex, subtle mix, peaches with a light layer of salt coating their skin. Like the French white classics, the fruit here flirts but never puts out. (Mar. 4, 2019)

Feldstein, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014

The Cabernet Sauvignon Unfiltered that Avi crafted at Segal was an iconic wine from the late 90's until Avi left Segal in 2008. The old vintages held up and the ones I tasted had aged well, but I never bought enough. This is a resurrection of sorts, another unfiltered Cabernet (Avi also added "unfined" on the label) from his beloved Dishon vineyards in the Upper Galilee. It even has a similar aromatic profile, a rich tapestry of blackcurrants, herbs and a hint of iron, a touch of chocolate buried in dust. The palate has a lush texture, underpinned by excellent acidity, a lither frame than the more muscular Segal of old, reflecting the aromas, highlighting the spicy kick of a young Cabernet without smothering the impact. It's halfway to the age I intend to open my next bottle, if I could manage to bide my time. (Mar. 7, 2019)

Feldstein, Gilgamesh, 2014

Proprietary blends rarely come much more proprietary than this improbable, almost imponderable, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Argaman and Viognier blend. I think I know what to make of this - all kinds of grapes from all over the country, forming an overview or primer on Israeli reds. I get the dusty herbs of the Cabernet, the black cherries of the Argaman, the warm fruit of the Carignan - blackcurrants cooked into a spicy sauce - I get how they intertwine and play against each other. I get lost when I try to understand why Avi named the wine Gilgamesh. What historical or cultural context is he referring to? Gilgamesh was not even from here, here being C'naan. He was a Sumerian folk hero. But he was a precursor to many of the myths, legends and Biblical stories that inform the Western culture that was born in the Mediterranean basin, so maybe this is Avi's way of calling this a Mediterranean wine, without using this term, which he likes even less than I do? If so, it's a very fine Mediterranean wine, his friendliest red wine from day one, without the visceral punch of the Grenache. (Mar. 9, 2019)

Feldstein, Shalem, 2014

A Viognier dominated blend, aided and abetted by Rousanne, Sauvignon Blanc and Dabouki, it is infused with more flinty nuances than I'd ever expected from a wine than with Viognier in its payload. I've tasted every vintage of the Shalem, so far, but this is the first time I've drank it in maturity. Like the Semillon-Sauvignon, the form is classic French, latter-day technology serving the fine, clean craft that allows the fruit to shine through. It doesn't have the depth and balance of the Semillon-Sauvignon and there is a hint of bitter pips on the finish I could have done without  - I blame the Viognier, of course. (Mar. 12, 2019)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

California Sun (Apr. 2019)

A travelogue of family vacation in Silicon Valley captures what my drinking would look like if we had ever relocated. It's a fair example of the eclecticism offered by the local wineries, the boutique shops and even the supermarkets.

But let me start with a visit and tasting at local legend Ridge, one of the stars of the famous Judgement of Paris in the seventies.

The first thing that struck me when we drove up the winding road to the original winery location right next to Montebello vineyard  was how high and cool the vineyard is and how off the beaten track thelocation must have been in the early 60's when Ridge set up shop and reclaimed the Montebello vineyard. They've since expanded to Lytton Springs in Sonoma, but you can read all about that in their own site.

The flight I tasted featured some flavorsome red wines, their richness supported by elegant tannins - even the East Bench, Zinfandel, 2017, the biggest surprise of the tasting, for me, is a suave, elegant wine. The Lytton Estate Syrah, 2014, was exactly what I expected from a Sonoma Syrah, peppery and muscular. The Perrone, Merlot, 2014 is also dense and muscular, like a young Right Bank, the tannins lither and slightly sweeter than a Pomerol, say. The Torre, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 and the signature, Bordeaux blend Montebello, 2015 offer bountiful, elegant riches, with a piney, herbal edge. Stylish, elegant, deep wines, both of them, the Montebello especially. The Montebello, at 250 USD, is aimed at the filthy rich lawyers, accountants and entrepreneurs of the Valley, but the Zinfandel and Syrah are fairly priced at around 40-50 USD and even the Merlot and Cabernet are not too pricey, considering their quality, for the 80-90 USD price point.

Now on to the rest.

J. H. Strub, Rheinhessen, Niersteiner Bruckchen, Herzstuck, Riesling Kabinett, 2016

Strub is one of the mainstays of the Terry Theise portfolio that I’d been perusing in the annual catalog for years without ever buying. Israeli importers never carried the house and I’d always had better things to carry home from my travels than a little known name from Rheinhessen. But I was looking for interesting things to drink at the fifteen dollar price point and this caught my eye. 

This is a single vineyard wine and the Herzstuck tag means free run juice. While Bruckchen is not a Grand Cru, Theise says the vineyard has warm micro-climate with cool soils making for ripe wines with high acidity. That’s a very good entry point to the wine. Young Riesling is always dominated by apples, and this is no exception, although the ripeness of the fruit introduces aromas and flavors of peaches and apricots. The acidity ensures not only structure but an expression of salinity on the finish. Lovely purity and great value.

J. H. Strub, Rheinhessen, Niersteiner Paterberg, Riesling Spatlese, 2016

In contrast to the Bruckchen Kabinett, this is totally dominated by apples. It’s also fuller, rightfully so, being a Spatlese. Great purity of fruit, again, the saline/mineral nuances more obvious. Despite a thrilling balance of sweet fruit and intense acidity, it’s less expressive right now than the Kabinett.

Jos Christoffel Jr., Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Erben Urzinger Wurzgarten, Riesling Spatlese, 2011

Crystalline, gossamer, purity on palate, nuanced aromatics of apples and icy rock. Typical Mosel, in short. Better defined, refined and focused than the Strubs, if you need a comparative context (that sidesteps terroir, age and vintage variations).

Chateau Peyros, Madiran, Tannat-Cabernet, 2014

60-40%, young vines. New World techniques (micro-oxygenation and pre-fermentation maceration) manage to temper the Tannat’s tannic bite with smooth, ripe fruit, while leaving in place many things to appeal to lovers of classic France: rusty tannins, aromas of iron and rock co-mingling with black fruit. A ten dollar wine offering the delights that twenty-forty dollar Bordeaux clarets forgot they once had in them.

Domaine Pichot, domaine de Peu De La Moriette, Vouvray, 2017

One of the big surprises of the trip, considering it's a ten dollar wine at Costco. Sometimes capitalism wins. Full, yet surprisingly zesty. Melon and wet wool. A bit of rocky chalk. Very good.

Mount Edward, Central Otago, Pinot Noir, 2016

The fruity side of Pinot, and I mean that in a complimentary way, the fruit being so restrained and compact. Smooth, silky, supple cherry fruit, an earthy note providing sobriety. Only fair complexity, and the tannins are a bit firm and drying, but overall, this is very pure and moreish. And I like it a lot.

Adelsheim, Williamette Valley, Pinot Noir, 2017

The interesting manifestations of Pinot Noir juggle spicy, earthy and floral components with fruits of varying colors. This regional wine from one of the first pioneers of the grape in Oregon moors black cherries in a spicy, earthy framework, with violets in deep outfield and a touch of pine needles. It may not have the class and blast of single vineyard bottlings, but don’t underestimate it, it’s graced with a downhome, exotic flair and requires a couple of hours of airing.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

April Skies (April, 2019)

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva, Montestefano, 2011

35 euros. In Milan. Which answers the prime question, who the fuck is Milan?

Sometimes old school Barolos and Barbarescos have a whiff of old wood. Which is something distinct from new wood. New wood is the smell of a busy wood shop, which time and again has proven to overwhelm fruit. Old wood is that lovely scent that warms your heart when you open the drawer of your grandmother's antique bureau. Makes me think of Dickens and Balzac. I get that here, buried in deep and complex aromas of spices and dried flowers. The palate has the typical rusty, tannic texture and penetrating acidity of the best of the old school Nebbiolos, as well as the depth and complexity of a great vineyard. 2011 has been labeled as mediocre and it shows in the way the finish diffuses in the end. I love it, despite the lack of focus, because character does go a long way. (Apr. 9, 2019)

Domaine Pattes Loup, Chablis Premier Cru, Butteaux, 2014

A honeyed, cidery note threads beneath and across the minerals in the forefront of the nose, also coursing through the tangy acidity. Some on CellarTracker found it oxidative, some disappointing, I find it odd at first, an orange wine Chablis, then, as the oxidative notes recede, a rocky, marine character comes to bear and it shows a powerful, rough hewn character, Grand Cru in intensity if not complexity. (Apr. 1, 2019)

Bourgogne Crown, 215 NIS.

Scurek, Dugo, 2013

This Solvenian wine is one of the few orange wines I feel I'll ever need. A blend of 50% Ribolla Gialla, 30% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Blanc from vines with an average age of 40 years., the nose is an offbeat marriage of sweet, cider-like notes and pungent minerals bordering on metal. The reason I like it is because it not only tells a story of a culture where this type of winemaking has a rich history, it's a fascinating wine in its own right (and no oxidative notes!). Close your eyes and focus on the aromas and flavors: the richness and character of the bouquet, the combination of sweet and umami flavors - they evoke a fine old Rioja Gran Reserva (you're welcome to choose your preferred color). (Apr. 5, 2019)

Saro Imports, 180 NIS.

R. López de Heredia, Rioja Reserva, Viña Tondonia, 2005

Seventeen times out of twenty, Heredia will give you a very memorable experience (out of the other three, one would be their weird rosé and two are bottle variations, since you'd likely drink them mature). This is one the memorable ones, a wine that develops and enriches over the course of three-four hours. The nose is nuanced and classic Rioja, red fruit with notes of cedar, balsamic vinegar, iron and worn leather. The palate balances its rich, warm fruit with excellent acidity and integrated, savory tannins. It doesn't lack in class or length - it'd outclass an average Gran Reserva (although not, of course, the Tondonia Gran Reserva, which is a class of its own). (Apr. 9, 2019)

Benoit Ente, Bourgogne-Aligoté, 2015

Proof that Burgundy is terroir first and grape second, because the nose is adorned by aromas of drying grass and flint that are what the Cote de Beaune is all about. The palate has a tangy, lively mix of soursweet acidity, ripe oranges and a pungent bite, which actually does come from the grape, Aligote. (Apr. 10, 2019)

Bourgogne Crown, 100 NIS. 

Vitkin, Grenache Blanc, 2017

A funky, flinty nose with broad melon notes, followed by an austere, bitter, almost cerebral palate. I usually like this more. (Apr. 26, 2019)

Vitkin, Petite Sirah, 2013

This is very consistent, year in, year out, always showcasing black and blue fruit whose ripeness is balanced by juicy acidity and grainy tannins, graphite and iodine notes. I think there is greater potential elegance here than in previous vintages. (Apr. 27, 2019)

Quinta dos Carvalhais, Dão, Encruzado, 2017

White grapes are Portugal's secret weapon, so secret that no one has attempted to grown them abroad (as far as I know). Encruzado is the star of the Dao region. At its best, it displays focused exoticism generously tinted with minerals, structured as finely as a good Bourgogne. This isn't quite as fine or complex as the very best, but it's a good introduction. (Apr. 30, 2019)

17 euros.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Flirting with the New World at Yaffo-Tel Aviv (Apr. 4, 2019)

Larmandier-Bernier, Vieille Vigne du Levant, 2008

Just about everyone I know who's into grower Champagne says Larmandier is their favorite house. It sure is mine. The wines are always gloriously ripe and deep without the slightest excess of sweetness, low dosage without a hint of evisceration. This is the flagship wine, all Cramant Grand Cru fruit, a masterpiece that knocks me out every time I'm lucky enough to drink it. If Larmandier had ever joined the Club de Viticultures Champenois, this would have been their Special Club. With a year like 2008, the glass and a half I had was barely enough to scratch the surface. Eleven years into its journey, the fruit just barely unfolds a cloak of toast and mushrooms.

Grosset, Clare Valley, Polish Hill, Riesling, 2010

It's been years. I had a couple of bottles of the 2008, which I'd drunk up by 2012. I don't think time can ever actually touch the steely heart of this ice queen. The nose is a knockout, what with its petrol, rock, lemon, frozen apples, but the sting of the acidic backbone never lets up. There's greatness in it, and that full-throttle dryness works better here in any other Riesling I can remember, but in many ways its more fascinating than it is appetizing.

Arnot-Roberts, Santa Cruz Vineyards, Peter Martin Vineyard, Pinot Noir, 2013

Admittedly, this is only the second single vineyard I've had from Arnot-Roberts, but both have been disappointing. Like the 2007 Alder Springs Vineyard, Syrah I drank a couple of years ago, this isn't going anywhere. Floral, simple and short, it tastes more like an minor league Beaujolais than a class act Syrah.

Segal, Rehasim, Dovev, Merlot, 2006

A 13 year old Merlot - not really a signature grape here in Israel, from a year when growers in Northern Israel, where the Dovev vineyard is located, could barely tend the vines in summer due to the second Lebanese war - this has held up remarkably well. I wouldn't have cellared it for this long, but only because it feels as though it had reached this maturity plateau about five years ago and I never gamble against time. I'm guessing few bottles remain, so acting as history's scribe, this displays fruit pie and dried fruit served with a sprinkling of black pepper, held together with rusty tannins. The fruit might have suffered in the war, but Avi Feldstein should be proud of what he did with it.

Ata Rangi, Martinborough, Celebre, 2014

My bottle. I thought I was buying a Pinot when I ordered it online and only found out this was a Bordeaux blend (and heavy on Merlot), when I entered the wine into CellarTracker. Any wine geek knows the feeling: you want everyone to love the wine you brought, even though you weren't the one who made. So I noted the majority of the party liked it, but not all. Still, it's a savory, well made claret, not very complex or intense, but fun. And most importantly, fresh.

Betz, Washington, Walla Walla, Yakima Valley, La Sernne, Syrah, 2016

Washington (and Oregon, too, for that matter), are states I should explore more. Even though my knowledge of California is perfunctory at best, it seems encyclopedic in comparison. Anyway, this is an interesting warm climate Syrah, smoky, ripe fruit, arguably too far along its aging curve. 

Wolf-Blass, Grey Label, Robe Mount Benson, Shiraz-Cabernet, 2008

Glaymond, Barossa Valley, Distinction, Shiraz, 2005

I didn't take detailed notes at this point, but I believe sometimes first impressions tell the story. The Glaymond, despite an appealing layer of minerals, is a big, New World red from the period when Australian reds became too big and New for their own good and anyone else's. How big? 16+% ABV big. The Wolf-Blass, on the other hand, seemed to have benefited either from a shift to saner proportions in Australia or from some inherent, unexplained complacence, if not outright resistance, towards bloated proportions in the first place.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

HD Drinkability - New Wines From Segal

Ido Lewinsohn has been heading the Barkan/Segal winemaking team for about two years, and now a batch of interesting wines made during his's tenure is seeing the light of day. 

Look, the big change that Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate and all those British wine television shows brought to the world of wine is they made wine a household beverage. And after that, it was only a matter of time before it became susceptible to trends. The latest is drinkability. Which is a good trend. Wines that lure you with moreish vivacity while not necessarily forfeiting depth and complexity.

The interesting thing about the three series Segal has released is that each approaches the concept of drinkability with different techniques. Because I'm lazy - and you probably are, too - there's a short overview of the techniques at the bottom. All are lithe, vital, fun wines, a fun that comes from aesthetic intent, not merely a sensual one. When I got pulled in this wonderful world, seventeen years ago, no one made wines like this in Israel. You can argue comparative quality, but, at least among their red peers, I struggle to think of many wines that match the freshness here.

And they're all decently priced for the quality.

The first two are reds made in the whole cluster fermentation technique. Each comes from a different vineyard in the Jerusalem Hills.

Whole Cluster, Pinot Noir, 2017

No, Burgundy does not equal Pinot (or Chardonnay), but its spirit is a notion that sensitive winemaking, taking advantage of grapes with the transparency and delicacy to reflect the place of origin, can capture that elusive idea, terroir. Which is something that the Segal team has done quite well here. It has the same autumnal, vegetative decay thing Pinot does so well in Burgundy going on around the fringes, yet that is just salad dressing to a combination of black cherries and shades of cranberries and chocolate that with any luck will prove to be a local Pinot signature. The quality and style are an almost shocking surprise. I never expected such lithe freshness in an Israeli Pinot Noir. It's not very complex, I admit, but I'm a fan of deceptively simple Pinots that go for purity, vibrancy and sheer pleasure.

Whole Cluster, Syrah, 2017

Another way to approach the concept of terroir is to say that the good vineyards foster the best expression of a grape variety (and I'll skip over the paradox that there is more than one way to best express a great grape variety). I don't claim that the hills of Jerusalem have vineyards the likes of those found in Cote-Rotie, Hermitage or Cornas (or the Alexander River, for that matter), but this is a good example of Crozes-Hermitage level Syrah: floral, balanced, comfortable level of fruit and tannins, some black pepper. Shorter and fatter than the Pinot, and a step or two behind it.

The prices are just fine. The Whole Cluster is priced at about 100 NIS, I believe.

Next are two wines fermented with the wild yeasts that are always present on the grapes themselves. They're priced at about 60 NIS.

Wild Fermentation, Chardonnay, 2018

I admit I can absolutely not discern the contribution of the wild yeasts here. Whatever, this is a nice young Chardonnay, showing the floral and citrus side of the grape. Not a phase of Chardonnay I'm too crazy about, which is why I rarely drink Chardonnay this young. But Ido - and teams working under his direction - has a good track record working with Chardonnay, and this shares the same purity and clarity of his more prestigious Garage de Papa Blanc. Judging by the development after a couple of hours (more aromas of flint, a broadening of the attack, more punch on the spicy finish), I would expect it to bloom after a couple of years in the fridge.

Wild Fermentation, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017

It sometimes seems like everyone in Israel, including Ido in his Recanati days and in his own boutique winery, favors the Rhone and Southern French varieties over the Bordeaux grapes. How ironic is it, then, that he coaxed so much drinkability and liveliness out of a grape I hardly ever enjoy much in its youth. The Cabernet traits are well presented, currants with a touch of pungent leafiness. Solid length and a lot of interest for the money.

Finally, the Free Run series, explanation at the bottom. These are also priced at about 60 NIS.

Free Run, Chardonnay, 2018

Describing this wine won't carry across the impression of how it's akin to, yet at the same different from, the Wild Fermentation sibling. It's floral and citrusy, too, yet there's a green herbal tint that would make me guess Sauvignon Blanc and it leans toward rainwater rather than flint. For me, it works better young than the Wild Fermentation, but both are wines I'd drink for the immediate pleasure they offer.

Free Run, Merlot, 2017

More immediate than the Wild Fermentation Cabernet, shorter too, with tart, earthy fruits. This isn't Merlot The Fruitcake. And it isn't Merlot masquerading as Cabernet Sauvignon, either. Cabernet Franc, maybe.

1. Whole cluster fermentation refers to the fermentation of intact clusters of grapes as they are picked from the vine with no intervention of machines leaving all berries and stems (the part of the stem which holds the grapes is called the rachis) intact.
2. Fermentation, by either wild or industrial yeasts, has become synonymous with the battle between all that is natural, and the convenience and consistency of man-made machination. ... Wine is a product of fermentation, the process by which yeasts turn sugar into alcohol in order to yield energy.
3. "Free Run” is the terminology used to describe the juice that flows freely from freshly picked grapes before they are pressed. When the bunches of grapes are stacked up on top of each other, the sheer weight of all the the fruit results in the release of some liquid.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Beware The Wines Of March (March, 2019)

Domaine Du Jaugaret, 2011

The story is well known in trendy Manhattan wine circles: a small domaine in Saint Julien - you can't even call it a family domaine as it is run and maintained by childless octogenarian Jean-François Fillastre, hanging on to his family heritage for as long as his body will hold out - that was booted out of the appellation for lack of typicality. It's true that it's more masculine and earthy than what most would consider appropriate for the village, but no one ever kicked out Chateau Talbot for being foursquare and stodgy. When I first sniffed the graphite, iron and earth I thought of a cross between Haut-Medoc, Saint Estephe and Pessac-Leognan. And yet, the red fruits, velvety body and juicy acidity are classy and, indeed, very much in the Saint Julien mold. It's lovely, gorgeous, tasty, better than the 2012 we had a few months ago, and the world would be better off with more wines like this. A craving for claret coupled with news of 2011 mediocrity made me open it now, but this could have stayed in the fridge another decade and, at the very least, have held very well. (Mar. 30, 2019)

Selbach-Oster, Mosel, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Riesling Spätlese, 2012

In order to convey the beauty of Mosel Rieslings, I need to go a little Zen on you. It's all in the simplicity of their complexity, in the lightness of their depth. In the way they express so much more than the sum of their aromas and flavors. And this is a spectacularly expressive and tantalizing rendition, with a texture both gripping and nuanced, light yet lingering, limpid yet buoyed by a swath of electrifying acidity; all the while the bouquet (apples and green mint, flowers and mossy cold chalk) carries a stamp of place that will convert anyone to the lore of terroir. (Mar. 10, 2019)

Eldad Levy, 155 NIS.

Tulip, Winemaker Series, Chardonnay, Mata, 2017

David Bar-Ilan writes on the back label that it took him a few years to learn to love Chardonnay and then a few more to settle on his own approach to the variety. Formally, that turned to be a single vineyard bottling (Mata is the name of the vineyard) and a relatively light barrel regime, 6 months. It's a clean, focused, savory wine, not thin or scrawny, ripe pears rubbed with baking spices, minerals hidden deep beneath the surface. Cote Chalonnaise. rather than Cote d'Or, would be a good reference point. It's a good, promising debut, and although there's still a ways to go, I'm happy David opted for clarity rather than flash. (Mar. 15, 2019)

Joseph Drouhin, Pommard, 2011

The blood-and-iron beauty of Pommard, with just a hint of flowers, wonderful clarity of fruit and surprising freshness for a village wine of this vintage. Sometimes Burgundy gives your a surprise French kiss. Although, to be honest, one that ends somewhat abruptly, in this case. (Mar. 17, 2019)

Lahat, White, 2017

Rousanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc - must be an Israeli wine because few other countries can boast of blends like this. What it has is yellow summer fruits with a streak of earth and dust. If it evolves like the 2013 I had a few months ago, expect that earthiness to morph into flint. For now, enjoy the spicy finish. (Mar. 19, 2019)

Sphera, Sauvignon Blanc, 2018

This is a style I pigeonhole as New Zealand. Because of the guayavas and the other tropical fruits in the mix that I can't make out. And the green freshness that transports you to a postcard picture of grassy hills and bright skies. Because of the way it's both taut and broad at the same time. But a lot of that is because Sauvignon Blanc is just so vivid and tangy in its youth that it overwhelms the sense of terroir. Like most of its peers in the Israeli top class, this Sauvignon should expose layers of minerals in a year or two. Enjoyable at any age, really. (Mar. 20, 2019)

Sphera, Riesling, 2017

The book on Riesling is it shouldn't thrive in Israel's warm climate, yet, for the second straight vintage, Sphera virtually rewrites the book. Apples seared in tarragon and garrigue and a long, spicy finish. (May. 21, 2019)

J.L. Chave Sélection, St. Joseph, Offerus, 2015

Is it till late to submit a Winter of Syrah post? I only drink this lovely wine, that Chave make in their role as neogicant, once every few vintages, but it's always a sexy example of the appellation, succulent fruit that manages to be broad and focused at the same time, with tasty nuances of bacon, olives and pepper. 2015 is a bit on the fat, sweet side, due to the generous weather, but it's still a good wine. (Mar. 23, 2019)

Wine Route usually sells it at around the 150 NIS price point, in one of their various discount permutations.

Sea Horse Winery, Antoine, Tete de Cuvee, 2013

A lovely country wine, with fairly complex aromatics (herbs, iron, iodine), a sweet/savory finish and tons of personality. A craftsman's work. (May 25, 2019)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Crus Around The World (Mar. 16, 2019)

An interesting night. A fun night, great company and an interesting impromptu lineup that touched on old favorites as well as one wine that strays very far from my usual drinking holes. Half a world away, in fact.

Domaine de la Vougeraie, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru, Bel Air, 2010

Vougeraie reds are dependable and usually approachable early on, so no surprises that a Gavrey Premier Cru from such a beautifully classic vintage is already drinking so nicely after nine years. It's a solid, nuanced Premier Cru, with very good length, depth and complexity, but perhaps a bit too well-mannered (not boring, just more Ellington than Coltrane). It's more vegetative than suavage, with notes of forest floor, vegetable stew and espresso. 

John Duval Wines, Barossa, Entity, Shiraz, 2014

I obviously don't drink a lot of Australian wines. To be quite honest, when Ram invited me to choose a wine from his fridge, the only reason this stuck out is because I'd just been reading about Australia in one of Oz Clarke's books. It turned out to be a good choice. John Duval is the Penfolds former head winemaker and he sources the grapes for this wine from old vines in the Krondorf, Eden Valley and Marananga regions. As you might expect, this is quite hedonistic, although not a blockbuster, sporting blue fruit, pepper and dark chocolate, enough fruit to bury the elegant tannins and enough acidity to skirt around palate fatigue. To sum, this seems like the old guard catching up with the young Turks to make the classic style of the 80's and 90's more relevant. I think it works.

Chateau Ormes de Pez, St. Estephe, Cru Bourgeois, 2009

Classic St. Estephe: cigar box and tobacco, iron and violets, fresh black fruit, on a round, tannic, midweight frame so typical of the village. Again, a Bordeaux that makes me wish I'd stocked up on 250 NIS clarets from the last few vintages of the last decade, when you could still get solidly good stuff for 250 NIS.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

My Favorite Things (Elena, Mar. 14, 2019)

Take it, take another little piece of my heart
Except for Hamas missiles in the sky of Tel Aviv as we were about to sit down - and worse, a corky Beaucastel 2001 - this was a perfect night. Substitute a Champagne or a Barolo for the Mont-Redon - and every single one of my top favorite wine regions would have been represented. 

Weingut Reinhold Haart, Mosel, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Grosses Gewaches, 2013

If you're any kind of fan of German Riesling, then you probably are aware of the decades-old debate about 'classic' German off-dry style vs full-dry style. So you might have a preferences for Spatleses and Ausleses over Grosses Gewaches, or vice versa. Me, I'm totally a classic guy, at least in the Mosel, where I feel the balance of sugar and acidity serves to highlight every last bit of flavor and nuances in the wines. This, however, is amazingly delicious, even though the flavors don't carry the same complexity as do the aromas, and marries the dryness of a GG with the sexy sweetness and steely minerality of the Mosel and the creaminess of an Auslese. 

Chateau Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2014

This surprised me, because I dislike Chateauneufs so much I would probably be branded an enemy of the church  in Avignon. But this is really tasty and fun, a juicy CdP bursting with aromas of tar and garrigue. Not even close to being as overblown  as its peers, it seems totally oblivious to the rest of Châteauneuf getting bogged down in extract, alcohol and Parker scores and just chomps happily along as an almost lightweight bistro wine.

Meo-Camuzet, Nuits-St.-Georges Premier Cru, Les Perrieres, 2006

I would make an educated guess that  few diehard Burgundy lovers would care to scare up any cash flow for Meo-Camuzet or even have it touch their spit. I actually did start out as a fan (I guess I wasn't much of a diehard in the beginning) and bought two or three bottles. Then, my appreciation for Camuzet set out on a long downslope, which has now come to a temporary pause with this terrific, memorable wine, which I find irresistible and very deep and stirring in a roguish way. It’s a legitimate depiction of Bourgogne, at least after spending so many years in bottle, with aromas of spices, black pepper, saddle leather and black fruit, the body more linear than the other Camuzet's in my backlog.

Francois Villard, Côte Rotie, Le Gallet Blanc, 2012

Syrah is a really sexy grape and it only gets sexier as you near the epicenter of its homeland in the Northern Rhone. Which should be right about the slopes of the Côte Rotie appellation on the west bank of the river. I had this same wine with this same group almost two years ago and this bottle is no less of a sensory and emotional delight: the bacon and violets and black pepper of an adolescent Syrah always get me.

Delas, Hermitage, Domaine des Tourettes, 2013

This is a relatively lithe Hermitage. Still, it’s Hermitage, so it’s darker and weightier than the Cote Rotie. It's a less sexy wine, which might be due to its youth, although I'm not too sure, I'm afraid. Although Hermitage is less sexy, more muscular, than Côte Rotie, nonetheless it is sexy and should be sexier than this. Looking through my old notes, it seems I enjoyed Delas wines from the 90's and less since, but it's a small set of data points, so I can't really offer too many conclusions.

Chateau Rauzan-Segla, Margaux 2me Cru, 2000

And now we come to this, as convincing proof as any that, centuries after the Dutch drained the swamps of the Gironde, Bordeaux still got game! The perfection of a Bordeaux from a great vintage, no less: the fine silky texture, the sexy cedar-tinged spicing, the subtle shading of the fruit that gave up the essential beauty at its core at harvest time at just the right moment. 2000 Bordeaux is Elvis in a gold suit, and this is the King singing 'Mystery Train" with fluid, carefree ease. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Great Grey Beast February (Feb. 2018)

The first weekend of February 2019 started off with a re-acquaintance with two neglected favorites. Shvo, Red, 2015 is a lovely, post-GSM blend (Grenache and Mourvedre augmented by Barbera from what I picked up on the net). I don't have a good explanation why I don't drink more of it. I can usually find it for less than 80 NIS, which is a silly price, given it's quality. It has excellent aromatic complexity and a restrained richness of flavors which still needs time to unfold. I think it has as much aging potential as local wines at twice the price, even in a crappy vintage like 2015.

I'd almost forgotten how tasty the wines made chez Lapierre makes are. I used to drink lots of them. My blog shows 18 tasting notes, yet I haven't drunk the regular Morgon in almost 5 years. Marcel Lapierre, Morgon, 2016 shows what an oversight that was. It is such a moreish wine, sappy red fruit with a touch of spices, soft tannins that are totally unobtrusive. Unadulterated pleasure, really.

Oddero, Barolo, 2014

I think that basic Barolo bottlings are more approachable at a young age than they used to be, even when made by an Old School producer like Oddero. Or maybe I just don't mind a little tannic grunge when the complexity of the Nebbiolo fruit shines through anyway. Here, the nose already shows the tar/dust/spices/tea leaves personality that makes Nebbiolo so evocative when it hails from its homeland, while the rusty tannins serve as flavor complements to the red fruit without blocking it. Lovely. (Feb. 2, 2019)

I've always been able to score this for less than 30 pounds at Waitrose. In Israel, this would cost you about 200 NIS. Makes you want to relocate, doesn't it?

Markus Molitor, Mosel, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Kabinett (Green Capsule), 2015 

When I drank this last year, I thought it almost a cross between a kabinett and a Grosse Gewache, with a touch of guayavas. The evolution in the ensuing year has been rather minor. There is not much additional complexity (but absolutely no signs of wear, either - these 2015's are going to live forever, through the entire range of pradikats), but rather a focusing of the Mosel character. Molitor is really great, and what a shame, what a great shame, that his ausleses are so expensive in Israel.  (Apr. 12, 2018)

Wine Route, 130 NIS.

Descendientes de J. Palacios, Bierzo, Villa de Corullón, 2016

This is a side venture of Priorat's Alvaro Palacios. The Villa de Corullón is made from old Mencia vines (I read 100 year old vines when I was googling the wine earlier, but I can't find the source now). The tart, earthy red fruit, with hints of baking spices, plays out like a Latin Beaujolais Cru. The soft tannins and gentle acidity make for a very tasty wine, but I don't get any old vines depth, complexity or tension. (Feb. 15, 2019)

Lahat, Red, 2016

This, too, plays out like a Beaujolais Crus, but on a higher playing field than the Bierzo. Yeah, despite it being a Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon blend. I say that because it has the same vivid freshness of a young Beaujolais Cru, the same earthiness, and it has the restraint and feel of a cool climate red. Surprisingly for Lahat, there's a touch of brett, but it's subtle enough to add complexity without distracting, and the Syrah adds some touches of black pepper for good measure. The tannins are firm, yet in harmony with the fruit and acidity, and provide not just the backbone but a spicy, roasted meat finish. Although it should age well for at least 3-5 years, I suspect most people will take its immediacy and relatively lean form as signs of an early drinking red. They'd be both wrong and right, because it will develop, but it's very tasty now. (Feb. 15, 2019)

Château Golan, Syrah, 2014

I'll use the North Rhone as a reference point, not a yardstick, because that's my preferred style of Syrah: floral, lithe enough so that the fruit can show subtlety - savory fruit that's soaked up enough sun to be svelte and sweet, but not too ripe - enough black pepper to make you crave for a few pounds of flesh. There's a muscular side to Syrah, a deep dark, black, muscular side, which this also shows, given enough air, and which takes me to California as well. This is really, really excellent, the best Israeli Syrah I've ever had. (Feb. 28, 2019)

About 150 NIS.

Tulip, Syrah Reserve, 2016

Oh my god, it's been over ten years since the last time I tried the Tulip Syrah. The 2005 way back in 2008. I know Tulip has changed a lot since then. A different winemaker, a different set of marching orders from management. The 2005 was very big and ripe, and not in a complementary way, whereas this is much more nuanced and well formed. This is not a very complex wine and it sure ain't no Saint Joseph, but it smells of violets, which is something I really love about young Syrahs. It also smells of black pepper and blueberries. What can I say, the nose is a charmer. The palate is tasty, but at this stage, too broad and sweet to be be anything but plain good. I think it will remain a broad and sweet wine but will gain some savory elements and complexity. (Feb. 18, 2019)

About 100 NIS.

Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin, Blanc de Blancs, 2007

My impression of the bottle I had in October was that this was a fine sparkler with rough edges in need of time. I felt confident letting it age for a year or two. Now, I think this is as good as it will get. It's no longer rough, but no longer quite as vital as it had been. There's a decent umami complexity kindled in baked apples and nuts, and it is quite delicious, but the aromatics are mute and the form is not very inspirational. (Feb. 14, 2019)

250 NIS.

Domaine Bernard Baudry, Chinon, 2016

Going over my old Bernard Baudry notes, I realize two things. One, I drank my first Baudry 7 years ago and two, Wine Route used to charge about 30% less for this. Baudry is not a producer who goes to a lot of trouble to reign in brett in the winery, but it's held to a very bare minimum here. The red fruit is supple and juicy, good acidity of course, with hints of olives, pepper and violets, intermarried to pungent nuances halfway between wet earth drying in the noon sun and tobacco leaves. It's the tastiest, friendliest young Cabernet Franc I've had in years. Now I really can't wait for my bottles of the flagship La Croix Boissée to reach maturity. (Feb. 17, 2019)

About 120 NIS.

Emrich-Schönleber, Nahe, Monzinger Halenberg, Riesling Spätlese, 2013

Halenberg is always a winner at Emrich-Schonleber and it always reflects the vintage. Where the 2012 was ethereal fruit on a gossamer frame, the 2013 is an enigma, mixing the tingling acidity of green apples and underripe peaches with the creamy texture of freshly baked pastry. (Feb. 19, 2019)

Joseph Drouhin, Gevrey-Chambertin, 2012

Savory, autumnal Burgundy, Burgundy as umami partner to delicate fare, forest leaves and strawberries sauteed in balsamic vinegar. (Feb. 20, 2019)

Finally, Netofa has improved this year. The Domaine Netofa, Red, 2017, a GSM blend, is fresher than ever. A good wine, far from being great or complex, but tasty and moreish. The Tel Qassar, White, 2017 is a reserved, understated Rousanne, lightly earthy, lightly nutty. The Latour, Red, 2016 is a tasty, fruity blend of Syrah and Mourvedre, with pleasant spiciness and a touch of pungent tobacco leaves. It's not very deep, intense or complex, and its soft tannins won't carry it for too many years, but its small scale charms are carried out cleanly and with good precision.