Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Sketches of Spain - An Evening At The Norman (July 16, 2019)


If you cleared the Spanish wine map of the famous names (say Rioja, Ribera, Navarra, Priorat and Toro for a start), you'd be left with a huge piece of the country and a long list of barely recognizable regions that, whatever their potential, had been making various grades of plonk for decades and needed to be stirred up, because if you left them to their centuries old tradition in the name of Old World mystique, you'd be left with plonk.

This post is the third in a largely unplanned series about Spanish wines Eldad Levy has been importing to Israel. You could say the producers in the portfolio are some of those that got stirred up. Except for Heredia, a Rioja producer you want to leave alone to continue their proud heritage.

R. Lopez de Heredia (Rioja)

Heredia is one of the last true bastions of old school Riojas. Even the entry level Crianza (from the Cubillo vineyard, whose output is always destined for Crianzas) is aged long enough to legally qualify for a Gran Reserva designation. High scores by Neal Martin have driven prices up (and availability down)  but thankfully, these reds are still very sanely priced.

Cubillo, Crianza, 2010

Typical Rioja nose, at least the way it used to be. Slightly earthy, spicy, old wood, slightly meaty. Mellow palate, elegant. 139 NIS.

Tondonia, Reserva, 2006

I've learned the hard way how long these need in the fridge. The nose is a little muted now, and it's still rough on nose and palate. Would need 5 years at least and keep much longer. 220 NIS.

Bosconia, Reserva, 2007

The nose is full of Rioja magic that defies an easy breakdown into descriptors. The wood is almost fully integrated. Will keep as long as the Tondonia but readier for drinking now. At any rate, the contrast in texture is obvious, this is feminine without loss of structure (the fruit and bright acidity make sure the tannins are unobtrusive, thus the structure is deceptively soft) , whereas the Tondonia is rough and still oaky. 175 NIS.

Zarate (Rias Baixas)

Actually, the ordinary plonk Rias Baixas had been making was always very good plonk. It's just that I never drank anything that broke through a certain glass ceiling of good bistro wines until I drank the Zarate Palomar 2016. I thought then, and I think now, that it's the Grand Cru of Albariño.

Albariño, 2018

Fruity, summer fruits, excellent bistro fare. 99 NIS.

Balado, 2017

Similarly styled to the regular Albariño, but lightly tinged with minerals and fuller, yet more nuanced. 175 NIS.

Palomar, 2017

Still needs time, with great potential for a showcase of minerals to make us swoon. Let me put it this way, the Balado is a candidate for the best Albariño ever, while the Palomar, with some age, is beyond such pigeon holes. 185 NIS.

Guimaro (Ribeira Sacra)

Yes, I never heard of Ribeira Sacra before 2018, either. And I still don't know a lot about the place, except their grape of choice is Mencia, another trendy grape sommeliers and writers like to compare to Pinot Noir.

Maixeman, 2017

I always liked this winery but already this is the most enjoyable wine I’ve had from them so far. Only fair complexity but great character. Spicy, no overt wood. 149 NIS.

Pombeiras, 2017

Capelinos, 2017

Both are dry and austere. They’re good and interest me, for their abundant display of minerals, but I can’t quite read them yet or really tell them apart. I would just like to say that here, Mencia comes off more like Cabernet Franc than Pinot. 235 NIS.

Veronica Ortega (Bierzo)

Bierzo has actually been trendy for about five years, mostly for, again, Mencia. I tried Bierzos a few times, liked them well enough, but never swooned. Until I tried the Cobrana.



Quite, 2016

Fun wine. More expressive right now than the Guimaros. A more direct and floral style, slightly earthy. 106 NIS.

Roc, 2016

A varietal Mencia, Slightly heady yet restrained at the same time, with notes of meat and spices. 189 NIS.

Cobrana, 2017

A whole cluster field blend (Mencia and red and white grapes). It has the same complexity, firm-yet-mellow structure and autumnal forest floor nuances of a fine Burgundy. The flavors and velvety mouthfeel are especially a treat, even at a tasting where every wine was delicious. Just about the best red of the tasting. Also the best Mencia or Mencia blend I have ever tasted. 159 NIS.

Cal, 2017

Pure Godello. The salt and minerals make me think of cross between Chablis and Muscadet, with brighter fruit than either, more tropical. I’d drink it now as is. 169 NIS.

Borja Perez (Tenerife)

I wrote about Perez a few weeks ago, so I won't avoid the repetition. All you need to know is that even though the Canary Islands' have the most unlikely geographical coordinates for vine growing, the heights of the vineyards, some cloud coverage and volcanic soil make for the biggest surprise I experienced this year. I posted detailed notes about the Listran Blanco, 2017, the Viduanos, 2017 and the Tinto, 2017 so I'll skip them here and go straight for the one wine I hadn't drunk before.

Babaso Negro, 2016

Floral, very nubile the fruit is so luscious and sexy it almost feels unformed. Think of a young Chambolle, where all you get is roses and can’t really get a sense of structure, but you just know it will stab your heart in five-ten years. Same thing here, except that when it peaks, it will be hard to compare it to anything else. 285 NIS.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Four Decades of Bordeaux (July 18, 2019)



This year's birthday party did have a theme for a change: four decades of Bordeaux! A bottle or more from each decade since the 70's.

And Champagne and Mosel to make sure our hearts were filled to the brim.

Vilmart, Grand Cellier Rubis, 2011

A wine that I always wanted to drink turned out to be too young still, even after eight years. Even in an unpromising vintage. Surprisingly young and backward at first, showing very fresh strawberries and not much more, it starts to hint at mineral aspects after fifteen minutes or so. It never loses that reserve but its depth is very impressive.

Chateau Montrose, Saint Estephe 2me Cru, 1974

1974 is considered one of the worst vintages in Bordeaux, but this has held up very well, and has not only survived but has retained loads of freshness and finesse. It has the mellow friendliness of deep maturity but has not fallen into the sink of generic old age. It's not very long nor complex but is rather tasty in a lean, mouth cleansing style, with aromas of cedar and tobacco leaves, and actually continues to develop aromatically. 

Chateau Montrose, Saint Estephe 2me Cru, 1995

This is more typical of Saint Estephe, a muscular, complex, deep wine, with notes of iron, leather and minerals. Sweet, soft tannins that provide structure and definition without impinging on the fruit. An hour later, it evolves into a wine to swoon for, with additional facets and nuances. This, and the Chevalier, is the reason we love Bordeaux.

Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Leognan, 2000

A great wine, initially outplaying the higher ranked Montrose (until the second glass of the Montrose and even then it’s a close shave). Complex and deep, black fruit infused with mint, smoke and minerals. 

Chateau Haut-Bages-Averous, Pauillac 5me Cru, 1989

This is the second wine of Lynch-Bages. It's in no way a great wine, just a good, foursquare luncheon claret (muscular black fruit with notes of olives, tannins that will continue to dry the palate until the fruit runs out), yet the wonder of Bordeaux is that this is the only wine tonight, except for the Montrose 74, which is obviously in an iffy spot, that couldn’t thrive and improve for another ten years.

Chateau Trotanoy, Pomerol, 2008

A good runner up to the Chevalier and Montrose (the difference in age makes such comparisons problematic, but what the hell), this was opened at least ten years too early but is nonetheless a great showcase for Merlot. Another wine defined by smoke and minerals and elegant muscularity -  or should that be muscular elegance? - it seems we picked the perfect wines for the terrific slabs of steaks served at Hudson.

Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Domprobst, Spatlese #7, 2005

Barely halfway through its life voyage, this is still as young and fresh a Mosel as you can imagine and the purest essence of  the freshest apples you can dream of. What the fourteen years in bottle have done is mold the fruit, sugar and acidity into a very precise, crystalline form. Of course, you have to start with a great vineyard and inspired craftsmanship.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

June Bugs (June, 2019)


First evening of June was the Champions League Finals and a simply brilliant wine to accompany it.

Zarate, Rías Baixas, Albariño,  El Palomar, 2016

The Grand Cru of Albariños, with aromas of shells and flint superimposed over flavors of lime, closer to the vibrancy, precision and power of a young Blanc de Blancs champagne than it is to any Rías Baixas or Vinho Verde that I've ever had. An amazing wine with an extremely vibrant backbone of acidity and a very long, saline finish. (June 1, 2019)

Eldad Levy, 155 NIS. 150 year old vines! That's almost a shekel a year!

Domaine Blain-Gagnard, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, Clos St. Jean, Rouge, 2014

This has always been one of my favorite 'value' red Bourgognes, a relatively lightweight Premier Cru that embodies that Burgundy ideal of fragrant, nuanced Pinot. The nose and palate both show sour cherries, wet forest leaves (you're just at the border of the forest, you can smell the leaves but you're not in the woods yet so you're not overwhelmed by the scent of the undergrowth) and hints of exotic spices .The saline finish makes for a versatile food match for just about anything with a bit of umami that's not too oily or too chewy. (June 30, 2019)

Bourgogne Crown, about 200 NIS.

Markus Molitor, Mosel, Riesling Alte Reben, 2015

Ideally, I would have more to write about this, but it's only a good dry Mosel, not the outstanding wine I'd hoped it would become, with only fair complexity and depth. (June 2, 2019)

Wine Route, 160 NIS.

Feldstein, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, 2016

The blend has been dominated by Semillon every year since the inaugural 2014, but its presence was never as dominating as it is this year, which espouses the French principle: "the fruit is the frame, not the picture". So the fruit is there, but the gist of the wine is nut oil and herbs and flint, apricot and melon providing the groundwork and walls. Drinking great now, with a more refined form than its predecessors. (June 4, 2019)

Lewinsohn, Vendage Entière, 2016

The clean purity of the black and red fruit, adorned as it is by black pepper, is still obscured by a bitterness that is half espresso and half stems. It’s a really fine wine that is only going to get better but it still needs time to develop the intriguing meaty/herbal note I already enjoy in the finish. (June 8, 2019)

The 'regular' Lewinsohn, Rouge, 2017 is, as usual, a tasty early drinker. The cliche is that a red wine as 'serious' as this shouldn't be this tasty in the flush of youth, but this feels like someone sauteed red grapes in olive oil and marinade. It's a treat. (June 15, 2019)

Chateau Golan, Sauvignon Blanc, 2017

A classic, serious wine starting to hit its stride, coming out of the shell it was in half a year ago, to show a youthful, fruity aspect, as well as hints of nuts and minerals. (June 10, 2019)

149 NIS.

Château Montlabert, St. Émilion Grand Cru, 2012

Seems like a dependable Right Bank for people who like oaky Merlot, decently priced, basically spicy fruitcake with too much oak. Not for me, though. Definitely not for me. (June 22, 2019)

Israco, 190 NIS.

Prunotto, Barbaresco, 2015

Piedmont, the only place where a glass of light, muddy red wine makes you optimistic about the outcome. The recent Produttori dei Barbaresco tasting sparked an itch I needed to scratch. This needs coaxing. The start is very mute, red cherries and flowers - the tar so closely identified with Nebbiolo starts to show after two hours. I very rarely run into a truly dumb wine, but this nails the definition. I suspect it will turn into a lovely, elegant, yet grippy\ing, feminine beauty in three-five years. (June 29, 2019)

Hakerem, 155 NIS.



Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Yaacov Oryah


I've been following Yaacov Oryah's career through his various stints at Assif, Midbar, Psagot and now his namesake label*. Actually, you could say I've been paying attention to the guy since he walked into one of Tomer Gal's Burgundy tasting about ten years ago. A religious Jew in a tasting of non-kosher Burgundy  wines is always an unusual sight.

* I didn't forget Ella Valley - I just never tasted any of the wines he made there.

I was fortuitous enough to taste through a wide lineup of his recent releases over the course of May and June. These included a red wine, a rose, a blanc de noirs, a trio of orange wines and quite a few whites. 

Yaacov has always taken pride in his white wines. When I first tasted his Midbar whites about seven years ago, I was quite taken with their refreshing leanness. Drinking through the his latter-day whites now, I find the theme a little redundant. I enjoyed each wine on its own, but it feels as though every blend winds up showing the same lean figure, the strive towards freshness almost formulaic. I found the rose and blanc de noirs much more captivating. 

I'm not a great fan of orange wines, but drinking the Alpha Omega series, Yaccov's orange wines, I felt that the extended skin contact gave the wines a little more stuffing while preserving the lean figure of the regular whites. In fact, I mostly wished they were a little fuller and more intense, which isn't something I'd imagined I'd feel about orange wines.

I tasted three wines from the 2016 vintage (I skipped the Chardonnay, which was corky, a very strange experience: a corky orange wine).

Chenin Blanc

One of arguments against orange wines is that they allegedly obscure varietal character. Or terroir. Well, I say, how do you know? Just because we're used to drinking white wines without skin contact doesn't mean it's the best way to capture the essence of grape or place, just that it's arguably the best way to make wine out of white grapes. The safest, anyway.  The technique we're the most familiar with. The extended skin contact can take them to places you couldn't readily extrapolate from experience with 'normal' white wines. Take this. Granted, Chenin can be taken to almost outre expressions of minerality even without skin contact, but the slightly deranged nose here surprised me, recalling Nicolas Joly's Savennières, The ripe apricots, pickled mango, ashy earth and roasted cashews are fascinating, but the fruit at the core is soft and I wish Yaacov had coaxed a little more intensity on the palate to match the pungent intensity of the aromas. 

Rousanne/Viognier/Semillon

With a blend, varietal authenticity is a non-issue, and, considering I like/hate/love the varieties in the blend, extended skin contact might even be a blessing in disguise. The nose has a rocky/earthy sheen that's almost claret-like. Unlike the Chenin Blanc, here the intensity of the flavors are a match for the intricate pungency of the aromas. Whatever picture Yaacov was trying to paint here, it's a great success.

Gewurztraminer

Gewurtz is so deeply tinted and intense to begin with that the skin contact merely intensifies the character of the grape, rather than transforming it too radically. Of all Yaacov's wines, this is the one I was most eager to taste. That's because I have a love/hate relationship with Gewurztraminer, leaning towards hate actually, and I keep getting drawn back a couple of times a year. The nose highlights the rose petals and litchi aspect of the grape (rather than the ginger and white pepper, which I usually prefer) and suggests a sweet wine. However, the palate is very dry, not quite as deep and complex as the nose, and the contrast is interesting. At the end of the day, it's my least favorite of the three.

Pretty As The Moon, 2018

A Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Syrah blend is a witty variant on the GSM theme even as a red,, let alone as a rose. The result here is a reserved wine that need time to open up, eventually showing more than decent plus aromatic complexity, minerals and herbs taking on a prominent role. The palate is lithe and focused, with a very saline finish. The pleasures of a rose, even an excellent one, are fleeting at best, and the Pretty As The Moon is a very ephemeral rose by Israeli standards - yet it manages to leave a surprisingly lingering impression.

Light From Darkness, 2018

This is a blanc de noirs made of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Syrah. I haven't tasted enough BdR's to form any opinion other than that they're never really white and arguably not as interesting as a rose.This, however, is a surprise. The aromatics are charmingly embossed by chalk and flint with a faint echo of red cherries and flowers. If you only sniff it, you really might think it's a white wine. Tasting it blind, though, it's sweeter and rounder than the nose suggests and you'd think it a rose. Either way, I'm engaged. 

Eye Of The Storm, 2016

A GSM blend, heavily dominated by Grenache, judging by the aromas and flavors, closer to a Cotes du Rhone than a Chateauneuf. (May 2, 2019)

The Silent Hunter, 2018

Yaacov's signature wines in his days at Midbar Winery were the Semillon and the Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend. This is a variation on a theme, Chenin Blanc taking the Sauvignon's place. The name is a homage to Australia's Hunter Valley, which was the first (and only?) appellation famous for varietal Semillon. This is a successful variation, summer fruits adorned by flint and oyster shells. the palate tautly juicy and well delineated by acidity and a saline tang. Quite lovely in its youth. 

The Silent Hunter, 2017 is more of the same, not much further evolved. Both are fresh and vibrant, but not especially complex.

The Soulmate, 2018 is a another unexpected blend, Chardonnay (55%) and Chenin Blanc (45%) this time. Like the Silent Hunter, the nose is a mix of summer fruits, flint and shell, while the palate is lithe and tautly fruity, without great length, intensity or complexity, just tasty and charming. 

To find out how Yaacov's whites evolve, I turned to the Valley of the Hunters, 2009, a library bottle of his first Semillon from the Midbar days and paired it with the latter day 2018. The 2018 is, again, a very lean wine, almost slender thin, without a lot to set it to apart from the other Semillon variations. The 2017, on the other hand, is starting to come together and show a personal character, lime and minerals, like Muscadet and oysters. Yaacov has always felt the Semillons needed a few years after release to play, if I recall, but if he had expected it to bloom after ten years, then he'd set the bar a little too high. The 2009 is still alive, which is quite an achievement for a first vintage of an Israeli white, but it's past its best, the fruit withered back to a skeletal frame its best and there's not a lot going on beyond an interesting sea water funk on the nose. I'd tasted it quite a few times over the years and it was quite lovely at three-five years post vintage. So I'd recommend cellaring any young vintages you buy for a couple of years. Admittedly, I've read better reports about the 2009, but you know how it is with mature bottles.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Produttori Dei Barbaresco 2014 Cru Tasting (June 25, 2019)



Loving Piedmont did not come easy to me. I always appreciated Barolo and Barbaresco, but it took a few years until I was able to really get the wines and connect emotionally, sensually, and intellectually. What I finally learned to love about Nebbiolo is the specific texture and flavors of its fruit and tannins, that unique combination of earthy cherries, tea, tar and spices no other grape can match. I suspect a lot of that comes from the tannins, which explains why I do enjoy the tannic punch of a young Nebbiolo.

Looking back, I definitely remember the 'straight' Barbaresco from Produttori (circa the 2006/7 vintages) being one of the significant steeping stone in my Piedmont romance. It was the first wine that made me long for the flavors of Nebbiolo and I became a fairly regular (if not very extensive) collector of the Produttori's cru bottlings shortly afterwards.

Produttori Dei Barbareco is a cooperative with a venerable history. Despite being a cooperative, it has always been highly regarded, not just for the quality of the wines but for allowing the aficionados something no other house in Piedmont can: a side by side comparison of nine different crus, all vinified the same way. With so many growers in the cooperative, the Produttori can source enough quality grapes from each of the sites owned by the separate growers for a Riserva bottling from each vineyard, and still have enough quality grapes left over for a very fine Barbaresco bottling.

Which explains why I was looking forward so much to the Cru tasting hosted at importer Wine Route - even though I knew it would be tough going. I usually don’t care if young Barolos and Barbarescos are tough to drink as long as they’re expressive, but these really were a challenge. Not that each wine on its own was that difficult to read, but making out comparative differences was a struggle, when the wines are still so young and opaque.

You can’t really go wrong with any of these, but my favorites are, in more or less ascending order: Muncagota, Montestefano, Pora, Rabaja and Asili. The Produttori's site reviews the different crus, but don't expect it to describe any cru as less than classic, complex and expressive. Well, that they certainly are, but the descriptions don't really provide an easy way of understanding the qualitative and stylistic differences between the vineyards. Perhaps no one can encapsulate them and it's probably something that requires a few years tasting through them, anyway, so I'm not exactly criticizing their web site here.

The Barbaresco is from the 2015 vintage and costs 249 NIS. The Crus are all 2014 and all cost 349 NIS.

Barbaresco, 2015

The nose is very raw and young, with hints of leather, menthol and tar. Palate is readier, very balanced. Despite the tautness and restraint, the potential for complexity is there, even for this quality level. 2015 is reported to be a great vintage and the entry-level Barbaresco is always a good buy at this house.

Muncagota

This is the highest, coolest cru Produttori has. Compared to the Barbaresco, this immediately impresses as a riper, bolder wine with a pronouced earthy character. The palate is a closed fist of power, while the nose is already expressive.

Rio Sordo

Rio Sordo has the lowest elevation of the crus, so the contrast between the Muncagota is quite marked The nose is more expressive and delicate, a little tarrier with redder fruit and the palate is softer. While I'd never turn it down, if you have access to all nine crus and are not buying all nine, this probably will get the least attention. It will need less years in the cellar, but I doubt that the difference between laying a wine down for three years or five will be a very big influence on purchasing strategy.  

Ovello

The aromas are deeper here, compared to the Rio Sordo, yet somehow the fragrance is what I usually I associate with a lighter hue of fruit. Abundant fruit on the palate makes the wine approachable despite the tannins.

Montefico

A direct and fruity nose, almost chocolatey but not quite. Both nose and palate are damn expressive with a most savory finish. The Produttori's site says Montefico is austere in youth but it plays a very friendly game right now.

Paje

Reserved yet expressive, which is a good combination, and my first impression was of a sauvage character reminiscent of Gevrey. In time, I find it less captivating than its peers.

From here on, we're entering a stretch of what came off at the tasting as the grand crus of the house. Nothing less than outstanding.

Montestefano

A nose to fall in love with, really the most expressive and complex nose so far, already tarry and floral. Concentrated and long and never loses refinement.

Pora

Both the Pora and Montestefano are concentrated and complex and show the liberal expressiveness framed by fine reserve that is the hallmark of a great wine, but there are stylistic differences that make life interesting. The Pora shows a greater abundance of minerals. Since it's always popular to compare Piedmont to Burgundy, I'd suggest the Pora plays Pommard to Montestefano's Volnay.

Rabajà

This is one of the most famed and highly regarded of Barbaresco's crus so it's quite apt that the Produttori's offering stands firmly on the same high ground as its three peers. Stylistically, it combines the floral and mineral aspects of the preceding pair.

Asili

Descriptors are beside the point here. It's simply a seriously grand and intense wine, almost virtuously so. Alas, I was a little slow to get to the cashier at the end of the tasting and all the bottles had been grabbed. Which makes tasting it one of the greatest and saddest experiences of the year.