Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Magic and Loss

R. López de Heredia, Rioja Crianza, Blanco Viña Gravonia, 2007

My first encounters with the Heredia whites were so magical that I was immediately captivated and enthralled. Then I drifted away because of bottle variation and the challenge of finding drinking partners for what is one of the most unique white wines in the world. I've returned to the fold this last year, more in love than ever. Fuck bottle variation and fuck the social challenges. I'll just drink these alone if I have to. Before I check out, I want to experience as much as I can that the world of wine has to offer. The story this wine has to tell is of a time and place when drinkers didn't care so much for obvious fruit in their wines - they wanted savory wines full of umami. Of course, if that's all this wine had to offer, there's a good chance it'd fall down flat on its proverbial face. But the fruit is strong in this one, strong enough to offer a steady backdrop to the aromas and flavors of salty cashews and minerals, ripe enough to support the lightly oxidative notes that are there by design, not by fault. Sip it, drink it, contemplate it - free your mind and your heart will follow. (Jan. 18, 2019)

Fat Guy, 150 NIS.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

December's Children

Michel Arnould et Fils, Verzenay Grand Cru, Mémoire de Vignes, 2011

What an absolutely romantic name, Mémoire de Vignes, for a Blanc de Noirs that showcases what this Verzenay master can craft out of Pinot Noir vines. A nutty, autumnal broth of lemon rind, mushrooms and salt, the very characterful nose is echoed by powerful, yet focused, flavors and a form that is broad, deep, detailed and gripping, its force tempered by elegance. This is a wine that unfolds new nuances as it and the evening unfolds: chalk, citrus fruit, white flowers. In short, a Champagne that delivers everything I look for in a grower Champagne, all this from a north facing Grand Cru and an erratic, cool, early vintage! (Dec. 12, 2018)

About 60 USD. Worth every cent and every effort required to find a bottle.

Gvaot, Pinot Noir, 2012

Sphera, Riesling, 2016

An impromptu theme tasting: the two grapes least likely to succeed in the Middle East. Both wines were wonderful, although arguably not quite typical. The Gvaot is firm and muscular for a Pinot Noir, all black cherries and pine needles, not so much forest floor and spices. Now, if I set aside my expectations and preconceptions of Pinot and just take this at face value as a local red, then its poise and structure are a treat. 

As much as I want to like Israeli Rieslings more, I've found that I've stopped reaching for my wallet when I see them on the shelves. Even my local favorites (Vitkin and Kishor) leave me wanting more. The Sphera surprises me by taking things to another level. I do need to actively search for the Riesling traits, yet they are there in the way the green apples cross over to white peaches and I trust they will become more pronounced with age. The big payback is the purity and form of the palate. Excellent. (Dec. 21, 2018) 

Castel, Petit Castel, 2016

I have very vivid memories of my first encounters with the Castel lineup. I drank the Grand Vin, 1999 at a tasting of Israeli boutique wineries in late 2002 and it was the obvious star by a distance. Which is saying something, as even in 2002, its peers were Flam, Tzora, Margalit and Amphora (with Gil Shatzberg at the helm, long before the winery had more reboots than Spider-Man). The Petit Castel, 1999 was the first Castel we drank at home and it was a revelation, even to my then very untrained senses, in how it went from an initially opulent fruitiness to a more reserved and earthy character. It was the first time I'd experienced such a transformation firsthand and it left an everlasting impression, an epiphany if you will. Before I went off Israeli wines for the better part of a decade, I drank through a good number of bottles of Grand Vin and Petit Castel, from 1999 to 2002. What can I tell you, Castel had rightfully earned the right to be the first Israel boutique to be recognized internationally. 

My initial thought when I drank the latest Petit Castel, was that Castel is still exercising the same level of quality control. This is still a very good Bordeaux blend, showing the ripeness typical of our local reds without succumbing to it. What it does succumb to is oak. I do wish I could tell you that it just needs time, but I just can't shake off off a gloomy feeling that it's started out in life with an unbalanced first step. (Dec. 22, 2018)

Chapoutier, Crozes-Hermitage, Les Meysonniers, 2016

The longest time between vintages: this is a wine I know for sure I haven't drunk since my 36th birthday, all the way back in 2002, when it was a sort of house wine at Yoezer Wine Bar. It must have been the 1998 or 99. I was too much of a newbie to write notes but I sort of remember it as being too serious and tannic for my barely formed tastes. It probably wasn't serious so much as austere. This, however, shows the softer, more effusive, side of Syrah, a lovely portrait that offsets floral fruit with black pepper and a lightly tannic finish. (Dec. 23, 2018)

Hakerem, about 100 NIS. Yowsah!

Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Graacher Domprobst, Riesling Kabinett, 2017

There is a light that never goes out. But sometimes it can be almost inscrutable. Despite the lightness of the frame (this is filigree kabinett, not a slimmed down spatlese), this is a very deep kabinett, so deep and with so much substance, belying its ethereal frame, that it feels as though it can express so much more than it's showing now. It's full of green apples and cool, mintly slate, yet their interplay only scratches the surface of their potential complexity. Impressive. (Dec. 24, 2018)

Fat Guy 145 NIS.

Dr. Loosen, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese, 2009

There's a stretch between the 2008 and 2014 vintages where I stopped reading up on Mosel and Germany in general. I read now that 2009 is considered a great vintage. This is certainly a captivating, hedonistic auslese that exemplifies the Mosel ausleses reputation as liquid gold: a sweet, creamy confection reduced to nectar, with a strata of rock and parsley in the background, intense and complex, yet luscious and moreish. Too immediate and obvious for greatness, but a joy nonetheless. (Dec. 25, 2018)

Argyros, Assyrtiko, 2016

I consider Argyros one of the better surprises in the Wine Route catalog, both as an "off the beaten track" choice and as a world class white in its own right. I have no idea how it will age, but right now it's pure and crisp, balancing fresh fruit with saline flavors, its poise and focus very impressive. (Dec. 2, 2018)

Wine Route, 140 NIS.

Le Domaine d'Henri, Chablis Premier Cru, Fourchaume, Heritage, 2012

I'm burnt out on writing tasting notes for Chablis. There are only so many permutations of "sea shells, sea weed, sea breeze" I can conjure. It's a good thing the d'Henri style is so crystalline, steely and clear that you might reach for Puligny or St. Aubin in a blind tasting. The fruit profile, though, is all Chablis, green apples, crisp fresh apple skins. (Dec. 3, 2018)

Bourgogne Crown, 250 NIS.

Vitkin, Petite Sirah, 2012

Another chapter in the on-going success story that is the Vitkin Petit Sirah.  A full, fleshy, yet lithe, wine, black and blue fruit ornamented by black pepper, roasted meat, iron, graphite and hints of violets. All that, combined with rusty, grainy tannins make this a redneck Saint Joseph with Cote Rotie aspirations. (Dec. 12, 2018)

CARM (Casa Agrícola Roboredo Madeira), Douro, Maria de Lourdes, 2011

A big, monolithic wine, still primary, whose tannins and acidity are non-obtrusive enough to leave the taste buds comfortable and happy. The interest factor isn't prominent enough to draw me back right now, but the blue fruit is tasting enough and there's a hint of budding earth-laced complexity. (Dec. 5, 2018)

Eyal Mermelstein (Tchernichovsky)

Domaine Pegau, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvee Reserve, 2004

This is truly the last time, the last CdP in my collection. So it's a good thing I saved the best for last, as it really shows all - and only - the best about the appellation: savory red fruit with, clad with iron and garrigue, with no hint of over-extraction or immense levels of alcohol. (Dec. 8, 2018)

Ormanni, Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione Etichetta Storica, 2010

I gave it more than a shot. I waited a few hours the first day, put aside a third of the bottle for the second day. Beyond the heavy veil of oak are pleasant herbal and balsamic notes, but no way is this the world class wine it claims to be - or priced at. (Dec. 9, 2018)

Chateau Golan, Syrah, 2016

Typical Syrah nose, charred meat, dust, black pepper. The heat of the alcohol is still obvious on the plate. Brawny but not sweet, this needs time or air. (Dec. 16, 2018)

C.V.N.E., Rioja, Monopole Blanco, 2015

Hardly the oxidative, old school Rioja style, it almost comes off as an Albariño, with fresh summer fruits, crisp body and salty finish. (Dec. 2, 2018)

Wine Route, 80 NIS.

Domaine de Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) , Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Occultum Lapidem, 2014

A solid, small-scale Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend - which is my preferred scale for GSM. (Dec. 30, 2018)

Hakerem, about 100 NIS.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Hoildays Esprit - A Pierre Péters tasting (Dec. 26, 2018)

Even if Peters was just another grower, he'd still be a grower
from a town legendary for having no ordinary wines
We visited Pierre Péters in May and I'd like to quote two observations from my post on that visit by way of introducing this one:

"Even if Peters was just another grower, he'd still be a grower from a town legendary for having no ordinary wines."

But he's no ordinary grower. Which brings me to the second quote from the visit, which is actually something Fabienne Péters told us when she poured the Chetillons 2008:

"You probably don't want to spit this."

We didn't, and it's not only a great tasting note but the best advice I can give for anyone attending a Péters tasting: grab a cab, don't drive, and then you won't have any regrets when the evening is over.

If you do need to spit, however, you might as well spit out the first three wines and enjoy the rest because the quality across the range progresses in a very orderly manner. The Cuvée de Reserve, Cuvée  Extra Brut and Rose for Albane are excellent, albeit obvious, showcases of skill and care, rather than visceral experiences; the Esprit a huge step up, shining in the great vintages, especially 2012; and the Chetillons is a classic that defies expectations in an off vintage like 2011 and immortal in a great one like 2002 (or 2008 for that matter). Finally, L'Étonnant Monsieur Victor is a unique approach that pays off.

Cuvée de Reserve (2014 based)

This is a showcase of the Côte des Blancs aromatic and flavor profile: citrus fruits, chalk and yeast, a dry bitter, pit-like core with sweetness on the fringes. Like everything except the rose, this is 100% blanc de blancs, from the family's holdings in the grand cru villages of Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant. The base vintage always makes up about 60% of the blend, the rest being sourced from a solera with 20 back vintages. Full and direct, it's balanced and tasty without loads of complexity, probably because it's still very yeasty and that overshadows the mellowness that the mature reserve wines in the blend should purportedly provide.

Cuvée Extra Brut (2014)

This is a vintage wine in essence if not in legal terms, as Rudolph Péters releases it before it has matured enough to qualify for vintage status. It feels like step up in quality from the Cuvée de Reserve, which is odd when I think about it, because the base wine is the same. I'd expect the reserve wines and the lower dosage to make for stylistic difference, not a qualitative one. Whatever, the nose and palate are more complex, the palate fuller and more powerful, yet with more finesse. Without any reserve wines to temper it, the chalk is more pronounced.

Rose for Albane 

This is a good rose but whenever I drink it, it comes off a step behind the rest of the lineup. It’s tasty, with an excellent texture and a lovely finish, but I don’t think it has the star quality of their best. By the way, even though the Peters site doesn't say so, I'm guessing this is another de facto vintage wine.

Peters makes two de jure vintage Champagnes. Both are extra brut, the l'Esprit being sourced from vineyards from Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant (which I guess means the best vineyards, otherwise why limit yourself to specific vineyards for one of your premium wines), the flagship Les Chetillons from select plots in, well Chetillons, ranked by many as the best vineyard in Le Mesnil sur Oger.

l'Esprit, 2013 

2013 is the best wine in the lineup if you want to experience Côte des Blancs. The 2012 and 2009 are richer, more flamboyant, vintages and the character of the terroir is still in the backseat. Here, you get the full expression of the citrus fruit, the elegance and vibrancy of that fruit, the electric thrill of its acidity. Champagne, like many of the classic French wine regions, had to contend with uneven ripening in 2013, but that's not evident in this fine, enticing wine.

l'Esprit, 2012

This wasn't a blind tasting, but I'll wager that any lover of Champagne would have pegged this as really great vintage from the first sniff. What an amazing nose! - with sweet brioche and fruit and mineral aromas. This was more intense and concentrated than anything in the tasting, including the Chetillons - which outclassed it in other aspects. But what a terrific, terrific wine!

l'Esprit, 2009

This is step behind 2012, but 2012 was so many steps ahead that it’s not a crime. Complex, balanced and and already starting to mellow with age, this is the most rewarding to drink of the flight.

TL;DR classy quality for the “second” vintage wine. Buy the 2012 if you can find it but don't be shy about settling for a lesser vintage because it's still going to be great.

Les Chetillons 2010

As I wrote above, the Chetillons outclassed the 'lEsprit 2012, even though there is no single writer that would give 2010 any chance of catching up with 2012. And it outclasses the 'lEsprit by a magical trick that great champagnes have: that feeling that the picture of the world they place in your mouth has more colors and clarity than the real world. There is simply an additional dimension of fruit here, without loss of minerals, structure, freshness  or finesse.

Les Chetillons Oenotheque, 2002

This is a recently disgorged version of the 2002 bottling, that rare vintage that everyone agrees is a great vintage, the magnificent growing season where everything was just right. All signs of yeasts gone, what's left is a Corton-Charlemagne with bubbles, a super tasty masterpiece of smoky finesse.

L'Étonnant  Monsieur Victor MK11  (2011 based)

Eldad Levy, the local Peters importer says this is a unique attempt to place a non-vintage blend at the top of the hierarchy. Simply put, the idea is to take best juice of the base vintage and vinify with the best juice of the solera at the time of blending (while making sure l'Esprit and Chetillons get their share, I suppose). I can't really speak of the uniqueness of that approach (although the price is certainly premium), but it really is a great wine. Here the effect of the reserve wines is more pronounced, giving the fruit the mellow, sautéed effect of a mature wine, even while the fruit retains quite vivid freshness. This is less overtly fruity than any wine in the lineup, with the most immediate impact: the complexity, the mineral backbone, the wine-iness are very clearly stated.