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.