Tuesday, December 31, 2019

This Crete

So we spent a week this September in eastern Crete. A foodie tour, basically, put together by Atalya Ein Mor. You can't go pleasing everyone and there were obvious points that needed fine tuning. But at the tour's best moments - and there were quite a few - we touched  the heart of a not quite tame part of the island, ate outrageously unique dishes and met wild characters and living relics of bygone ages.

But you're hear to read about wines. The Crete I encountered was a mixed bag. You know, I looked at the landscape and felt the weather and I thought the place had the climate and terroir to make wines that would keep me perpetually drunk all week. Yet, well over half the wines I tasted just wasted all that potential with bad winemaking choices. 

The other half, on the other hand, were wonderfully moreish and lithe, with totally one-off personalities. You're going to have a hard time finding anything comparable with the best of the crop I had. 

Lyrarakis, Psarades, Dafni, 2018

Lyrarakis is arguably the biggest star in Crete. They make quite a number of wines, a couple of which have been imported of late by Eldad Levy. Their site has this to say about this wine: "The Dafní grape variety was saved from extinction by the Lyrarakis family, when it was planted in the Psarades family vineyard at 480m. altitude in central Crete in the early '90s." I immediately pegged it as "light, acidic and loaded with minerals", but it proved to be much more than that, more focused, more refined and more complex than my first impression. Or its 10 euro local price, for that matter. Eldad doesn't import this yet, as far as I know. If and when he does, I suggest you all load up - its lime and salt character will pair with just about every cold starter you can make it home and it will hold the wine geeks' attention as well.

Lyrarakis, Ippodromos, Vidiano, 2018

This is another single vineyard bottling, from another indigenous variety, Vidiano. It manages to follow a couple of fashionable winemaking trends. A third of the grapes were fermented whole cluster. The rest went through 12 hours of skin contact. The result has the full, honeyed texture and aromas suggestive of spices I find in some orange wines. I get the feeling the winery looked for a wine they could parade as a flagship wine, but for all that, it's not too flashy. It's fleshy and ripe and, alarmingly, it also boasts 14% ABV, but it has very good acidity and even the new oak it was fermented and matured in for two months is well integrated. And I suspect it will age nicely for a few years.

But go for the Dafni.

Or this.



Lyrarakis, Pirovolikes, Vilana, 2018

Single vineyard again, indigenous variety and 12 hours of skin contact - again. And then aged in various sizes and ages. The end result is much more balanced than the Vidiano, without any orange wine character, just oranges and limes buttered by spices and herbs, with a round, yet spicy texture and flavor set. All of which might be the grape, or it might be the winemaker's decision to concentrate the flavors with the skin contact and then round everything off with a mix of barrels - I just enjoy the results, it doesn't feel manipulated enough to nitpick. This is one of the Lyrarakis Eldad imports to Israel.  

Diamantakis, Diamantopetra, 2018

A blend of Vidiano, which is a Cretan grape, and Assyrtiko (arguably the most famous Grecian grape), grapes fermented and matured separately for three months in oak, for three months - which is very deftly integrated. I get apricots with a pungency halfway between apple skin and smoked salt. Balanced acidic backbone and a decent array of flavors.

Toplou, Thraspathiri, 2018

Clear with a distinct, intense herbal nose. Very clean and quiet, growing more intense. Like just about every good white I drank on the island, it has an clean, direct surface charisma, like pebbles skipping on a calm lake, but without great depth. The green apple acidity makes this a very enjoyable wine, and a bottle opened at home the next month revealed a prominent layer of flint. If a wine region's potential can be gauged by the charm and appeal of their 'quaffers', then Crete is indeed a place to watch.

Toplou, Liatiko-Mandilari, 2017

I ran into the two grapes in the blend on a few occasions on the island. Liatiko, which comprises 85% of the blend, is a pale grape, a little paler than Pinot Noir. It's lithe and slender, a little sauvage, and I liked it the other times I ran into it. The other grape, Mandilari, serves here to add color and tanninc. The combination works here quite well, making for a wine on the level of a Beaujolais village wine. I drank another wine or two where Mandilari was much more dominant grape, or blended with international grapes. I don't think I had a big enough sample, but the 'heavier' grapes seem to make for awkward wines in Crete. 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Day Trip To Tulip (Dec. 17, 2019)


David Bar-Ilan has been the head winemaker at Tulip since 2012. Under his guidance, and that of owner and CEO Roey Yitzahki, Tulip has been demonstrating how a winery can change its style in small increments, drawing new customers while allowing the existing base to adjust.

There are two or three factors at play here. One is the winery's decision to go for a lither, more food friendly style in place of the early heavy, blockbuster style (which I personally hated - act surprised, folks), which neatly coincided with where David personally wanted to go in the first place. The other: hiring Greek consultants, the idea was that Greece has similar climates, so let's find someone with experience mitigating the awful weather we all live through here. 

I tried to jot down what David was telling us about what he learned about vineyard management from his consultants before the tasting. I think the gist is that vines in Israel need more leaves on the canopy to protect them from the sun and encourage more photosynthesis - which is needed because despite our hot summers, our days are shorter than what the vineyards up in northern Europe get. And don't stress the vines in spring and early summer - irrigate well and leave the water stress for the end of the season.

As for the wines themselves - quite lovely. Notes to follow, but I'll give you the shopping tips straight away: don't miss the Sauvignon Blanc and, especially, the Chardonnay; the Mare Red from the sister/daughter label Maia is a great choice for a house wine (fairly easy to find in Tel Aviv); the Maia Mare Nostrum and the Tulip Cabernet Franc - Merlot are both compelling high-end reds.

We started the tasting with a sample from a Champagne method sparkling wine made from Carignan and French Colombard (the latter a grape David really loves as a blending ingredient). The vintage is 2018 and will remain on its lees for another year before disgorgement. It's fruity and minty and will need that additional year to work off its nubile bitterness and hopefully gain some body. It will be interesting to taste when it comes out, even though I'm not thrilled by its relatively low acidity.

Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve, 2019

I am, by now, highly biased about Israeli Sauvignon Blancs and their brash display of fruit, which always has a tropical aspect without over-doing it. The fruit here is indeed brash and focuses mean and lean tropical notes, which it then condenses into an endgy, minerally concoction. 

Tulip, Chardonnay, 2018

This is the best white we tasted, a Chardonnay of true class, classic chalk notes framing restrained fruit, and a step up from 2017. I’ve recently read a criticism that Israel Chardonnays are a bit dull, and while there’s a grain of truth there, isn’t it also true that we applaud Burgundy whites for their constraint and reserve. I thought, when I read that criticism, that it's a thin line between reserve and dullness. This is not a dull wine and I want to say that while this doesn't match the depth and complexity of the best of Burgundy, it shows the same elegant reserve that made Burgundy's reputation throughout the 20th century.



Maia, Mare Red, 2018

This is what's becoming a classic local blend - Carignan-Syrah-Mourvèdre - and it's fruity and floral, friendly and attractive. 

Syrah, Reserve, 2017

This reminds me of the 2016 - and both are wines I kinda wish I liked more. It's ripe, but not jammy, with black pepper and flowers accenting black fruit that I wish was a little more vibrant.


Looking through a back-bent tulip
Cabernet Franc - Merlot, Reserve, 2017

On the other hand, I have no reservations about this this one. The Cabernet Franc, I assume, is responsible for the red tones of the fruit, the Merlot probably beefs up the body. Between them, they conjure an overlay of black pepper that both decorates the wine and drives it forward.

Maia, Mare Nostrum, 2016

We tasted a couple more reds, and this Carignan-Syrah-Doriff blend showed the most complex and balanced set of aromas and flavors. It's a headier, spicier blend than the Mare Red, showing some dried fruit notes - carob? - that the "old school" Israeli wines used to have, but the fruit retains enough freshness to push those notes to the background and, like the Mare Red, it's a lithe, fruit-friendly wine. This I know because we took both wines out to lunch. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

Syrah Battle at Hudson (Dec. 19, 2019)


It wasn't originally conceived as such, but our monthly get-together turned out to be the ultimate, classic Cornas showdown.

Auguste Clape, Cornas, 2009

A fantastic, well delineated nose, the kind where the descriptors would not carry across its awesomeness, but do convey its typicality (black pepper and bacon, which is what you'd usually look for in the Northern Rhone). The palate is smooth and elegant, sadly not quite  yielding the wildness of Syrah at its best, silky without being too sweet, its tannins becoming grippier with air.

Thierry Allemand, Cornas, Chaillot, 2012

More than any other Cornas I've ever drunk, Allemand is the ultimate expression of Cornas the wildebeest, and as such, art of the purest form. It wins the battle hands down, more complex and slithering than contender Clape, sterner and more convincingly fluent in the language of wine and the cadence of the phrases and notes it plays, expressing itself with chords of iron and pepper. One of the best wines of the year, and it's actually only Allemand's second wine.

But, first, before the main even, we had a few preliminary matters to attend to.

Michel Arnould et Fils, Verzenay Grand Cru, Mémoire de Vignes, 2012

I really hope this is not a typical bottle, because I loved the 2011 version of this wine, where the house crafted magic out of a challenging vintage - whereas 2012 has already gained a reputation of a great vintage. The nose initially strikes me as too yeasty, but once it gets a few minutes of air, it's quite lovely with a charming layer of chalk. The palate, though, never gains any depth or complexity.

Chapoutier, Cote Rotie, 1993

This is quite a classic Cote Rotie with savory black fruit, bacon and black pepper. I'm not saying this is a great wine, but it is the kind of mature, classical wine that makes you appreciate a good cellar. And the nose is fantastic.

Domaine du Coulet (Matthieu Barret), Cornas Brise, Cailloux, 2015

This is Coulet's basic Cornas and it's always an excellent cuvee that deserves a lengthier excursion. With just a single glass to examine, I get flowers, hints of bacon and smoke on a sweet baby just starting tom shed its fat.

Chapoutier, Saint Joseph, les Granits, 2014

Chapoutier's upscale Saint Joseph cuvee that I'd always wanted to try but never quite got around to. It shows as a young and ripe wine - but nonetheless worthy of its reputation - with notes of black pepper, bacon and iron.

Friday, December 20, 2019

You Can Call Me Boal


Barbeito, Boal, 10 Years Old Reserve

A friend gave me a Justino Boal as a gift, because I told him that was the one Madeira grape I hadn’t tried. The Justino turned out to be your granny’s Madeira, the kind of dull, musty drop that made the style go out of style. The Barbeito is a different ball game, a whole other level. In general, Barbeito is a producer returning excitement and creativity to the field.

This is fresh and vibrant, the musty rancio notes left in the background, where they add nuances without intruding. The nose is lemon tea, walnuts and mandarin oranges, with a punch of spices, maybe paprika? The palate is perfectly formed, sweetish with enough acidity and umami flavors and texture to make it seem drier than it actually is and is very jaunty and fresh, especially compared to the Justino. Great finesse and it only gets better every day that it's open, as it becomes deeper and more complex and the walnuts become saltier and more roasted. (Dec. 2019)

I've drank the Sercial and Malvasia 10 Year Reserves in the past. I'd say the Sercial is the most savory of the three, the Malvasia the richest and this, the Boal, freshest and most refined.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Ortal


It started with local buzz.

I'd wanted to try the new Ortal wines that Naama Sorkin has been making since she took over the vinegrowing and winemaking chores. But it took me a while to adapt my purchasing habits, because the wines weren't sold at the stores I usually frequent. My searches led me, belatedly, to a great shop, Wines and Flavors - but that's a story for another time.

Sauvignon Blanc, 2018

This shows all the highlights of the best of the local class - and Sauvignon Blanc is a grape I find to shine in Israel - reserved gooseberry tinged fruit with loads of chalk and smoke, good structure, a long finish. But it's so awkward and rough now, it can't even contain its hints of oak. Which won't be an issue when summer rolls around again, but something to consider for the time being. (Nov. 24, 2019)

Cabernet Franc, 2017

This is where the buzz gets real. This is classically formed and classically characterized. Fresh red fruit, with notes of flowers, earth and lead pencil, quietly flexing its muscle just beneath the surface. I gather from a short interview on the IWSI blog that Naama is proud of this wine - and well she should be. It's a no brainer purchase: tasty now and balanced enough for short term improvements at least. (Nov. 26, 2019)


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

November 2019


La Maison Romane, Pommard Premier Cru, Largillere, 2010

I haven't tasted this since the very first Bourgogne Crown tasting, almost seven years ago, when I purchased it. Back then, it showed Pommad iron and rust and earth and that insinuation of muscular power. Because Oronce de Beler ferments and matures his wines in his house in Vosne-Romanee, and because he only uses wild yeasts, some of the ambient yeasts around the cellar seem to have made their way into all his wines and can show as the exotic spices typical of Vosne. This was more obvious during the Largillere's youth. I sense it now only because I actively looked for it.

Largillere is an obscure cru and rarely seen (which is why I always felt uneasy with the 350 NIS price tag, back in the day). Beler doesn't own any vines and offers his vineyard tending skills (and his famous horse) to growers in exchange for a portion of the grapes he tended to in the first place. For whatever reasons, he no longer has access to any Premier and grand Crus, as far as I can tell.

Beler's version here doesn't show the power of the big Pommard vineyards, but is rather a feminine wine, almost a Volnay. The acidity is more dominant than the tannins until the very finish, and the wine will appeal more to lovers of the more nuanced and ethereal styles of Burgundy. Although, as is often the case with wines of this style, air triggers an almost alchemical process of growth and expansion.

Because Oronce had zero track record when he started out, we had no idea how his initial releases would age. As it turned out, the aromatic and textural development are enough to fill my heart and senses with joy. (Nov. 2, 2019)

Domaine Robert Chevillon, Nuits St. Georges, Vieilles Vignes, 2010

So this finally came into its own, full of black fruit, underbrush, damp earth, even hints of exotic spices - in short, everything that has always set Burgundy apart from Pinots elsewhere. Not quality, you know, because the competition can be excellent, just the specific character of the golden Cote. (Nov. 20, 2019)

Domaine Olivier Guyot, Chambolle-Musigny, Vieilles Vignes, 2014

Guyot was for years one of my steadfast, favorite purchases from Bourgogne Crown. Over the years, I've bought and drank through their entire lineup. Except for the Chambolles, so this is a first for me. I am surprised at its masculine character. While the palate eloquates with precision, carrying black fruit and saline notes over elegant, nonintrusive tannins, the nose is earthy and iron-laden, as though it were a Morey or a Marsannay, with the beautifully evocative floral notes typical of Chambolle showing as deep background flourishes and only after a couple of hours. Could be the house style, though, the product of whatever ambient yeasts inhabit their cellars in Marsannay. (Nov. 9, 2019)

About 350 NIS.

Domaine Gérard Julien et Fils, Côte de Nuits Villages, 2015

The best candidate for a 100 NIS house Bourgogne, with exceptional aromatic complexity (black cherries and forest floor) and palate richness for its price and classification. (Nov. 27, 2019)

Weingut Keller, Rheinhessen, Monsheimer Silberberg, Rieslaner Auslese, 2005

A rich, hedonistic nose, honeyed passion fruit flavored with caramelized cashews as well as spices courtesy of the botrytis. The palate is surprisingly and deceptively light-footed - it start out mellow before exploding on the finish, the flavors closely echoing the aromas. What I look for in mortal dessert wines: richness and complexity in a lithe framework. (Nov. 13, 2019)

R. Lopez de Heredia, Tondonia, Rioja Grand Reserva, 1994

I'm surprised to find this less stellar than the 1991 was a few years ago. Now, that was a marvel of sauteed fruit and acidity combining for a very evocative wine. This is very good, even excellent, with a richness to the nose and fruit, but it's one-dimensional and there is less lift from the acidity. The cork was very wet, so I'll chalk it up to bottle variation. (Nov. 1, 2019)

Olivier Rivière, Rioja, Gabaxo, 2016

Rivière is a young winemaker with road experience in Bordreaux and Burgundy. He gets a lot of accolades for the fresh air he and his peers have brought to the classic Spanish classics. This is a  totally different Rioja. A blend comprised of 50% Garnacha, 50% Tempranillo, fermented in cement tanks and matured in 6000 liter foudres. The result, in the case of this entry level wine (sourced from 'young' 20-65 year old vines), is a forward wine, black cherries with hints of spices, picking up meaty notes with exposure to air. Interesting aromatics for the entry level red, though the palate is fairly straightforward.
 (Nov. 23, 2019)

Domaine Vincent Paris, Cornas, Granit 60, 2014

The mid-range Paris Cornas from an underrated vintage shows succulent black fruit, rare meat, black pepper, smoke, a bit of rust - a portrait of Syrah as a young Cornas, still fresh, vibrant and juicy, but with enough balance of acidity and fruit backing up the sandpaper tannins for a promising mid-term cellaring period.. (Nov. 7, 2019).

Shvo, Mourvedre, 2014

A monolith of fruit and tannins, it only begins to show some interesting dusty notes the next day. If the best-selling, regular red is Gavy Sadan's "Rumours", the Mourvedre is his "Tusk". (Nov. 16, 2019)


Friday, November 29, 2019

I Miss Piedmont

I got back from Piedmont with a deep craving for those most royal of Italian wines, and their lesser entourage. Half a dozen Nebbiolos later, each with its own distinct personality, and I sort of managed to scratch that itch, but not quite.


Fontechiara, Colline Novaresi, Nebbiolo, 2015

This shows better than it did at the small family owned winery from the fringes of Piedmont, which stands to reason - you never know how long a bottle had been open on a given day, and I've never particularly trusted various methods of handling open bottles. The palate, while certainly not a generic food pairing/palate cleanser, gives away its backwater origins, due to its lean frame, but that frame carries fresh fruit and the typical spicy acids and rusty tannins combo. The nose is even better, tarred cherries on a dusty road. (Nov. 3, 2019)

15 euros at the winery.

Luciano Sandrone, Nebbiolo d'Alba, Valmaggiore, 2016

From a single vineyard just north of Alba, this leans towards the cool, floral side of the grape, black cherries with intense notes of tar that slowly add earthy tints, but none of the savory elements you'd get in the great vineyards to the south. The tannins are smooth without being tame, but one reason I don't find the savory, spicy finish I look for is that they provide a bitter counterpoint to the cool fruit, rather than a rusty, grainy one. (Nov. 16, 2019)

This is sold by Wine Route for about 150 NIS.

G.D. Vajra, Langhe Nebbiolo, 2017

This is sourced from young vines from all of the estates vineyards in Barolo, aged mostly in tanks, and it shows. Naturally, it's lighter and fruitier than a Barolo, but the quality is quite eminent. The tannins are very focused, elegant yet dusty, while the aromas show iron, earth as well flora and truffles at various stages of development -almost a junior version of Barolo, with a character of its own. (Nov. 19, 2019)

Cavallotto, Langhe Nebbiolo, 2015

Like the Vajra, this is a declassified Barolo, with a subtle difference: the criteria for the declassification is purely qualitative and not based on the age of the vines. Any grapes not good enough for Cavallotto's quite renowned Barolos end up here. In either case, you start out with lesser grapes, but here these would include grape from old vines, and that's a telling character trait. Regardless, the end result is markedly different, because the styles of the houses are different to begin with, and this is aged in Slovenian foudres, just like a Barolo, albeit for a shorter period. The end result is quite a traditional Barolo, with a bouquet of cherries, tar and dust; its tannins puckering but not massive, the fruit austere and lithe, cherries with gracious acidity. Damn fine in its own right, the best of everything I drank tagged "Nebbiolo" this month. (Nov. 22, 2019)

Now, on to the big boys.

Azienda Agricola Ronchi di Giancarlo Rocca, Barbaresco, Ronchi, 2013

What I started to learn in Piedmont is that the great Nebbiolos start to dance, for me, not when the tannins and acidity start to soften, but when their aromas and flavors abound with an earthy savoriness that recalls truffles. Ronchi's version of their namesake cru, matured in mostly used barriques, is just a tad too round in the mouth to best reflect its lovely aromas. But, if it's a sort of a rich wine, it never overplays or overstays its richness. In the end, it still comes off as traditional and that nose really is quite lovely. (Nov. 4, 2019).

This costs 20 plus euros at the winery and about 40 USD at K and L Wines.

De Forville, Barbaresco, 2016

This, like the Ronchi, has a nuanced bouquet dominated by earth and truffles, with a touch of iron. The palate is leaner and more austere than the Ronchi, the tannins rustier and more old school. My personal favorite of the three Barbarescos. And it costs only 15 euros in the supermarkets in Piedmont! (Nov. 10, 2019)

Luigi Giordano, Barbaresco, Asili, 2016

Still backward, this is obviously not a wine smoothed and softened by barriques. The nose is initially dusty and spicy, with time and concentration, it shows hints of flowers, earth and truffles. The palate has plenty of tannins, but despite that feels the roundest of these three. A bargain cru bottling (15 euros), but far from being an exceptional one. (Nov. 12, 2019)

Fratelli Brovia, Barolo, 2013

I opened this on the early side, because I remembered the 2011 drank quite well at a similar age. Posters on Cellar Tracker think it's a sin to open it this early and, while I agree I'll have to hunt down another bottle, it is already quite expressive in a gruff, grungy way, with loads of iron covering its dark fruit and rusty/dusty tannins. It's even more expressive with air, when it hints at truffle-inflected exoticism. Thrilling. (Nov. 17, 2019)

Friday, November 15, 2019

Autumn Leaves (Oct. 2019)


Seresin Estate, Marlborough, Noa, Pinot Noir, 2013

This is just about the most high end New Zealand Pinot Noir I've had yet, so I have little basis for comparison. A couple of years back, I had a cool vintage Marsannay from a cold village vineyard and that's the closest comparison I can make, although the texture is fatter than a Bourgogne - not bigger or riper or more muscular, just a little thicker and juicier. The nose is herbal to the point of making me uncomfortable at first, although the palate is solid and full, with very clear and clean fruit. And it needs time to unwrap, and, as it does, it shows raw fruit flavors somewhat tempered by saline, savory notes. Meanwhile, the aromas shed that herbal tint and become much more nuanced and appealing, more in the vein of forest floor and leaves, as well as some violets. Those violets grow stronger - a wonderfully good sign for a wine that will easily glide towards its tenth and fifteenth birthdays. (Oct. 17, 2019)

About 40 GBP.

Pelter, T-Selection, Riesling, 2018

So few attempt to make a Riesling in Israel, that anyone brave enough will by default produce one of the best ten local Rieslings. So, welcome to the club, Tal Pelter. It's a pretty good first effort and joking aside, comparing local Rieslings is tricky, and here's why.

I think there are two basic styles of quality Rieslings. You have the lithe, filigree Rieslings of the great German vineyards, that are almost ethereal and where the trick is to pack as many flavors without losing that airy body and silky texture. Of course, as you go up the pradikat hierarchy, the increase in sugar makes the wines more unctuous, but the starting point is that litheness. 

On the other hand, you have your dry Austrians, Alsatians, Australians, even your German Grosses Gewaches, where the texture is rougher, the body bigger and bolder, and of course, they're bone dry. There, the point is how much flavors can you pack before the fruit, acidity and alcohol get out of hand and start careening around your taste buds.

Israeli wines don't have the substance of the latter and while they're lithe and agile in form, they don't usually have the same class as the Germans. Let's face it, they offer less flavors and complexity than the best of either, be it due to climate, terroir or simply because we haven't been growing Rieslings for very long and (I assume) the vines are fairly young. When that's the starting point, the differences between the members of the top class of Israeli Rieslings are often a matter of a few inches, really, mostly whether the grower and winemaker managed to coax a few more flavors out of his grapes that year. So I would say the Pelter has a very good, even pretty form, good balance between sugar and acidity, a typical flavor profile and green apples with maybe just a touch of petrol, but less complexity and intensity of flavors than, say, Sphera or Vitkin. (Oct. 4, 2019)

Reinhold Haart, Mosel, Wintricher Ohligsberg, Riesling Spätlese, 2012

If you want to know what a fine, filigree Riesling from a great Mosel site is like, the Haart Ohligsberg is just about as fine as you can get, a textbook example of Mosel in the prime of early maturity, in fact. The granny apples, which accompany a Mosel until the very end of its life, are wrapped in a fine veil of herbs and minerals, which create a cool expression of what we call icy slate for shorthand. The sweetness has not yet started to fade, even though the acidity keeps the wine lively and racy, and the finish lingers with sweet and slightly salty flavors. (Oct. 9, 2019)

Selbach-Oster, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Spatlese Feinherb, Ur Alte Reben, 2012

This isn't exactly dry, but it feels that way. It not only balances the sugar and acidity so deftly that the chemistry becomes alchemistry, the nose is absolutely stunning in the complex way it offers up aromas of apples, mint and sea salt. The flavor set is just as beguiling, although of a hardier character than the Haart. If you even dared think Mosels are all of a kind, here are two wines that would politely show you the errors of your ways. (Oct. 12, 2019)

Rey Fernando de Castilla, Jerez, Palo Cortado "Antique"

If you love sherry, few wines will be as magical as a great Palo Cortado. If you speak its language, few will be as poetic as the Castilla "Antique". Imagine a wine that reduces the aromas and flavors of a pecan, caramel and chocolate pie to a wonderfully savory and complex umami, totally dry, with weightless depth. Well, not totally weightless. The reason the Antique is so finely balanced is that the fruit has retained enough body after all the years in the solera to balance the intensely salty flavors with a suggestion of sweetness, even acidity. At the same time, the fruit flavors are still fresh enough to accompany the umami flavors with suggestions of lime, apples, even grapes. (Oct. 10, 2019)

Chateau Golan, Syrah, 2017

The North Rhone is a template for Syrah throughout the world. With classic appellations that define the grape and its various styles, the North Rhone has been setting the bar for decades: supple fruit with black pepper aromas throughout, bacon and violets an option, tannins ranging from brawny and muscular to lithe and athletic - life defining experiences to life affirming bistro wines. 

What Chateau Golan, like many Israeli Syrahs, has taken from the paradigm are the basics. The supple fruit, married to the sweet warmth of Israel, which really isn't that far removed, today, from a warm vintage in the Rhone. The black pepper and a hint of violets. I like how this wine works. I like the direct, but not overdone, fruitiness that has been Uri Hetz' trademark with his Syrah for years, although at first, the fruit overshadows the tannins (they're there, but they need some time to show - I just told you they were overshadowed). Now that I think about it, I don't think I've ever drunk a tannic Israeli Syrah. Maybe in Israel,  the grape never reaches a balancing point where the tannins are prominent. (Oct. 19, 2019)

Shvo, Syrah, 2015

Actually, I did drink a tannic Israeli Syrah: the 2014 Shvo was an odd mix of ripe fruit and bitter tannins. This works better, despite 2015 being a much more challenging year than 2014. While the tannins are astringent enough to require cellaring, they make for a dusty effect, rather than a bitter one. The charry, peppery aromas need time to gel, while the acidity initially bruises in a way that the regular Shvo red would never contemplate doing. (Oct. 29, 2019)

Le Domaine d'Henri, Chablis Premier Cru, Troesmes, 2014

This isn't the domaine's most expensive wine, and Troesmes is not nearly as famous a vineyard as Fourchaume, from which d'Henri source many wines, including their most expensive cuvee. What distinguishes it most of all is a crystalline purity of fruit you'd be happy to find in Puligny - Chablis has many charms, but this kind of purity isn't the first to come to my mind. The more typical marine elements of Chablis are subtly integrated here and makes for ethereal poise. A beautiful wine. (Oct. 20, 2019)

Christophe Mignon, Champagne Extra Brut, Pur Meunier, 2013

Not the most elegant or complex vintage Champagne, but a very fresh and tasty one, a broth of chalk and mushrooms enveloping  juicy, racy fruit - granny apples picked right of the tree. My problem is that, like the non-vintage, the acidity and ripeness don't really gel, and I wonder whether that's really the basic character of Pinot Meunier. (Oct. 30, 2019)

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Halloween 2019

Wham bam thank you ma'am!
Chateau Haut-Bailly, Pessac-Leognan, 2000

The best strategy in buying Bordeaux is simply buy as many 2000’s as you can. Even from the secondhand market 17 years after they were released, these are the best priced premium wines in the world. Although they're still not at their peak, they're drinking well enough now that my friends and I have started opening them over the last couple of years and we haven't run into a dud yet. This is detailed, nuanced and elegantly powerful, typical Graves minerals, smoke and tautly delineated black fruit. The 2008 is still very young. The nose is terrific, hinting at what the 2000 is already flaunting, but the palate feels lean, although there is enough balance to feel confident that it will flesh out.

We also drank the the Haut-Bailly second wine.

Le Parde de Haut-Bailey, 1998

Pretty fancy showing for a 21 year old second wine. Cedar and minerals, robust black fruit, long, not especially complex.

Vilmart, Grand Cellier d’Or, 2011

From one of the two most horrendous vintages in the millennium so far, we have here an incredibly fresh and pure Champagne, driven by piercing acidity and deep and bright lemon fruit. While it lacks great complexity, it makes up for that with that beautiful fruit and the power of its chalky texture. To place its vintage defying performance in context, this isn't even the house's top vintage cuvee.

Bruno Paillard, Assemblage, 2008

Bruno Paillard was an amazing discovery for me when we visited Champagne last year, a negociant housed in a modern winery that makes Champagnes that drink like a personally crafted grower Champagne. This is one of their two vintage wines (there's also a high end cuvee, the Nec Plus Ultra). The nose is mature, at first seemingly quiet for a great vintage like 2008, but it gains power with age. The palate is certainly as vital and robust as you'd expect from the vintage, with a chalky texture. If you run into one of the vintage cuvees and have a choice of the two, opt for the Blanc de Blancs.

Alain Voge, Saint-Peray, Fleur de Crussol, 2010

Flabby and oxidized. I'd guess it was decent in the first couple of years, after that, avoid at all cost.

Louis Moreau, Chablis Grand Cru, Les Clos, Clos des Hospices, 2014

Clos des Hospices was a monopole owned by the Moreau family, until cousins Louis and Christian split up. I must say that Christian is the better winemaker of the two, judging by this. It's very good, but Christian's version is exquisite, more refined and complex even in youth. Having said that, this is a classic young Grand Cru, balanced and vibrant, but yet to unleash its power. A few twirls, though, and you start to get steely flint. 

Feldstein, Semillon, 2015

Elusive, delicate fruitiness, with a subtle mineral overlay that is slow to assert itself.

Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley, 1998

If you married Chateauneuf and Barbaresco and added some brett, this is what you'd get: a tarry nose and a palate devoid of savoriness. This wine has its fans, whom I'm not going to try to convert. 

La Vizcaina, Bierzo, La Poulosa, Lomas de Valtuille, 2016

The first of a Bierzo mini-lineup, this is one of the projects Raúl Pérez has going on in the appellation. As you'd expect of a wine made of Mencia, yet another grape touted as some region's local Pinot Noir, this is eloquently spicy, with a silky backdrop, a round attack and a taut, saline finish.

Descendientes de Palacios, Bierzo, Villa de Corullón, 2016

This shows a different aspect of Mencia, a meaty, more masculine one, which I like just as much. I've actually had it earlier this year and the impressions seem aligned.

Seavey Vineyard, Caravina, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007

I think it's a curse. Last time the group drank a Voge together, someone had also bothered to bring a Seavey, which I detested as much then as I do today. A wine so rich and ripe, the only use I have for it is as a lesson into everything then went wrong in Napa at the turn of the century.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

File Under Piedmont (Oct. 2019)


It took me ages to fall in love with Piedmont. Dolcetto and Barbera were a passing fling at best that didn't leave much of a mark. I always appreciated the big Nebbiolo wines, but love? That only came when a few queens from Barbaresco grabbed hold of my heart a few years ago, namely the crus of Guiseppe Cortese and Produttori di Barbaresco. So much so that I once wrote that the Cortese Rabaja is the wine I'd open to show why I love wine (as opposed to casually dating wine). 

Barolos are the wines I still appreciate more than I love. I do tend to love them more the softer they are.

I planned a romantic week in Piedmont and its outskirts. At the outskirts, we mostly drank whichever wines intrigued me that were offered by the glass. In Piedmont proper, we spoiled ourselves. At the core of the trip, and this post,  is a visit to Cortese.

I want to start with a restaurant recommendation. In Stresa. Because it's so hard to avoid tourist traps in Stresa. Il Vicolleto. You'll thank me if you ever make it to Stresa. Fine dining and a great wine list. To wit:

Traversa, Barbaresco, Ca' Nova, Riabot, 2013

A producer I'd never heard of and that I simply can't find in any wine book. This is such a world class wine of complexity and breed that I'm shocked the property is still unknown. Even the location is relatively obscure, somewhere on the outskirts of Neive. The wine itself shows classic aromas of tar, dry roses, red cherries and a gaminess half way between leather and truffles. The palate shows great focus and is shaped by refined and well defined tannins. Wonderful. 

Schiopetto, Capriva dei Friuli, Ribolla Gialla, 2016

Another great surprise. I'm hardly a fan of Italian whites, but my antagonism was being whittled away from day one. Aromas of ripe apricots, lemons and minerals here, lovely acidity driven form and very vivid fruit.

Even before we made it to the Langhe proper, which is what wine lovers think of when they think of Piedmont, the trip gave me a quick lesson about geography and scale. I always knew the Ghemme and Gattalina DOCGs were on the outskirts of the Langhe, but I had no idea that meant an hour and a half drive from Alba - not until we drove through the Colline Novaresi DOC, which geographically encompasses Ghemme and Gattalina, and I realized how far away the Langhe was. It's hardly the dramatic land that the Langhe is, which means the vineyards don't enjoy the same steep. But you still see vineyards everywhere. Deep in Colline Novaresi, we ran into Fontechiaraa small family winery. I'm not going to tell you that it's a world beater, but it certainly is a good example a small family operation. They make a Rosato of 100% Nebbiolo, which will probably convince very few that Nebbiolo is a good choice for a rose. Besides that, they make a varietal Vespolino, a local grape used for blending (judging by the results here, it should remain in a blend, as the fruit doesn’t really stand up to the alcohol). The interesting wine is their Nebbiolo 2015, which won a Decanter bronze medal. It shows the grape's signature tar and dried roses and, while nothing like the Nebbiolo of Piedmont, it was interesting enough for me to buy a bottle to check out in depth at home.

Our final stop before the Langhe was Aoste, a detour we made just to see the Alps. I remembered reading about Aoste in Neal Rosenthal's memoirs, "Reflections of a Wine Merchant", so I checked out a few names when planning the trip. When I spotted one at Ristorante Vecchio Ristoro - Michelin level presentation, sophisticated dishes low on pure sensuality, but at least a couple were very memorable - my wine selection presented itself. 

Grosjean, Vallée D’Aoste, Petite Arvine, Vigne Rovettaz, 2018

One of the famous names in an area few get to taste. Petite Arvine is a local grape and the wine comes from the Rovettaz vineyard, which is located at the height of 550 meters and enjoys a windy, southern exposure, which keeps the vines dry. The wine is unoaked, which seems to suit it well, and it is a mini-celebration of apricots, grapefruits and minerals. A precise and piercing wine that I'd buy if anyone was crazy enough to import it.

Guiseppe Cortese - The Visit


Guissepe's son-in-law Gabriele surveys the family's Rabaja holdings from their back porch
This is maybe the most fairly priced winery in the universe. The quality is stellar and the price, at the winery and in every wine store and enoteca I checked, is almost ridiculously low. These are wines that would be a bargain at nearly twice the price. And the local price in Israel is also competitive. The Rabaja costs 40 euros at the winery, everything else exept the Riserva ranges between 8 and 15 euros. Local stores don't seem to have much of a markup.

Their winery makes some wines I'd never considered buying - a Dolcetto and a Chardonnay, two Barberas - a Langhe Nebbiolo that's a very good Barbaresco, in fact if not in name, and two Rabajas - the regular and the Riserva. I did not taste the Riserva. My timing was very bad. The 2011 was sold out, the winery didn't make a Riserva in 2012 and the 2013 will only be released next year.

Langhe Bianco, "Scapulin", 2018

Formerly labelled as Langhe Charodnnay. Chardonnays are not uncommon in Piedmont. The most famous are, of course, Gaja's. This both pleased and surprised me. It's very saline and racy, with a reserved aromatic and flavor profile that leans towards the floral side of the spectrum. I surmise it will provide both intellectual and food pairing pleasure in a couple of years.

Dolcetto, 2018
Barbera d'Alba, 2018

Both are deceptively simple house wines - fresh and spicy.

Barbera d'Alba, Morassina, 2015

Morassina, which is the first red aged in oak, is maybe the best Barbera I’ve ever had. Deep without being heavy, with complex, earthy, exotic aromas I can’t quite articulate. Vosne is a good reference to begin with, but doesn't quite capture the character.

Langhe Nebbiolo, 2017

Technically, the Nebbiolo is a Barbaresco, as it is a sort of declassification of young vines from the Rabaja cru. Tastes and smells like it, too. Elegantly fruity with dried petals, very fresh and balanced, with very elegant tannins. 

Barbaresco, Rabaja, 2016

The Rabaja is everything you’d want from Barbaresco, very refined and balanced. All the elements of Barbaresco are finely delineated. Super lovely.

File Under Piedmont

If you're looking for Barolo tasting notes, you're going to be disappointed. The way our schedule worked out, we hung around Barbaresco for the most part and even at restaurants, I found myself ogling the Barbaresco section with so much lust, it would have been impolite to look elsewhere.

Azienda Agricola Ronchi 

If you only have an hour to visit the Langhe,  just pick any of the major towns and drive up. That's what you need to figure out how Piedmont works: drive up and see how each wine town is surrounded by sloping vineyards. Of course, all vineyards are not created equal and the Ronchi cru was never considered the equal of neighboring Rabaja. Down in a valley in the middle of the Ronchi cru is the namesake property , which is so obscure the only reason I'd ever heard of it is that one of the K&L Wines buyer took a fancy to it and so they carry it. We literally stumbled into the place, heading for another winery and making a whim stop there instead. Their crown jewels are two Barbarescos. The 'regular', which is actually sourced 100% from the three different vineyards in the Ronchi cru and thus entitled to mention of it on the label, is aged in large botti and is a very typical, old school Barbaresco, framing soft, sensual fruit in savory tannins and herbal notes. The Ronchi is from a single plot in the Ronchi Cru and matures in barriques, which are not very obvious as flavor seasoning but rather do impose a drying texture. We both preferred the regular.

Luigi Giordano, Barbaresco, Asili, 2016

Dried roses and herbs, minerals, balanced and drinkable despite its youth. The tannins do dry you out and it's not very complex nor as deep as you’d expect from a great Cru but is a great choice if you want to happily sip your way into the Barbaresco experience for 15 euros. This is a producer so obscure that not only do none of my books profile them, Giordano is not even mentioned in passing, despite producing an Asili, one of the most celebrated Cru in Barbaresco. 

Careglio, Roero Arneis, Savij, 2015

Careglio is a producer I’ve never heard of but this is a great Arneis, with enticing aromas and flavors that highlight a mineral aspect of the grape I never knew it had in it.

G. D. Vajra, Barolo, Luigi Baudana, 2012

Intense tar aromas, with truffles on the side, focused tannins, relatively drinkable and feminine for a 7 year old Barolo, but angular and focused for all that. Really fine.

Produttori di Barbaresco, Barbaresco Reserva, Rabaja, 2013

The best wine of the entire trip, a wine that showcases what a great vineyard Rabaja is. Intensely spicy on the nose, with aromas of dry herbs and packed earth, a hint of truffles, making for a beguiling interplay. Surprisingly ready, with a very fine structure. Drank at a one star Michelin restaurant at Priocca that probably doesn't need my recommendation, but I'm giving it anyway: Il Centro.


Giuseppe Cortese, Barbaresco, Rabaja, 2014

Another meal, another Rabaja. The similarities are striking, although this is slightly fruitier and more minerally - at the same time floral as well - rather than herbal and truffle-y. Definitely rounder and arguably shorter. Time to recommend another restaurant, Campanaro at Asti, the kind of charming, homey, delicious place that you will wind up thinking about for the rest of your life.

Giuseppe Cortese, Nebbiolo, 2015

This really comes off at a mini Rabaja. You’d never peg it as a simple Langhe. The most floral of all the Rabaja wines I tasted. Cool and elegant, mentholated, almost Pinot-like. As it unfolds, it reveals the same truffle notes I found in the Produttori Rabaja.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Ashkar


Five years ago, I spent half a day trying to find the Ashkar winery in Kfar-Yasif, following an intriguing write-up in Haaretz by Ronit Vered. Waze and Google were not up to the task. Asking passersby did not help either, as, while Ashkar is too common a name in the village, the winery, as it turned out, is not a household name even in its own household. Ronit finally answered my text message with directions and the sad news that owner and wine maker Nemi Ashkar happened to be in Tel Aviv that day and that the winery was closed.

I eventually found a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc in TelAaviv. At Habasta I believe. It was very funky with a texture of lemons and chalk. I thought it worth following up, but Ashkar is not a winery well represented in the mainstream restaurants and wine stores.

I don't remember the full details of Ronit's story, and the winery' site doesn't dwell on them either, but the family is one of many displaced from the Iqrit village during the War of Independence in '48. Not one of the highlights of that war and always a controversial episode. The winery's vineyards are still located in Iqrit, which is way up north in the Upper Galilee near the border and very high up, a region consensually regarded as excellent terroir. 

Iqrit, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015

I met Nemi Ashkar at a recent food and wine fair and he told me his vineyards managed to survive the very hot summer of 2015 (a year that still draws apologetic reactions from winemakers) and actually did quite well. He was saying that trying to sell me this wine - act surprised! - but it really is a very nice wine. On his site, he defines his style as "Old World" with minimal intervention, and this wine is indeed extremely uncontrived,  yet well made at the same time. Minimal intervention or not , Ashkar's craft was enough to avoid faults in the wine. Except for the high alcohol, which is common enough even in more lenient vintages. It's at its peak now, and while the figs, dark chocolate and dust are typical of the Israeli Cabernets of the early 2000's that I'm not usually keen on, it is very reserved for its weight and ABV and it does manage to evoke associations with Old World wines, say Southern France. (Sept. 21, 2019)

Iqrit, Sauvignon Blanc, 2018

The object of the chase I mentioned. The nose has an interesting character, melons with mineral nuances, really playing off a single note, but an interesting single note. The palate also plays off a shrill, very restricted range. It's thin to begin with, and needs food, and maybe a year in the fridge. (Sept. 28, 2019)

Iqrit, Chardonnay, 2018

Very fine and my favorite of the three, despite some reservations. A delicate Chardonnay, apples and pears with a slightly spicy finish, managing to be creamy without being fat. Nothing fancy or contrived here, no oaky flavors, either (just the texture that's derived from barrel elevage). A shame it feels more like a three or four year old Chardonnay than a one year old infant. That's worrying. (Oct. 3, 2019)