Friday, March 27, 2009

Misc Notes (Mar. 2009)

Besides my usual German/Loire fare of late, this month I found myself drinking more Bourgognes than usual at home. So let's start with those.

The following two wines are the best arguments against the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) Movement that I am aware off. Why is that? Because of their purity, personality, sense of origin and fair price.

A. Et P. Villaine, Cote Chalonaise Blanc, "Les Clous", 2006

I had read some very nice things about this wine and thus approached it with anticipation and, luckily, was not disappointed. A gorgeous white Bourgogne nose greets me with all the poached pears and flint you might expect from further north, with a touch of dried grass and smoked meat. The palate is minerally and crisp yet still a bit dour, somewhat bitter and closed, but presents obvious purity and typicity and grows broader in time, as the wine unravels juicy citrus aromas and flavorings. Lighter on its feet than anything from the Cote de Beaune, I suppose, with only faint traces of wood. Furthermore, though the acidity currently feels a bit low, there's a balance in place that suggests it's only dormant (and indeed it does assert itself in glass after a while). Though it may not be exactly as great as the Villaines claim, it is a terrific value and I tend to agree with both the winery and Burghound that it will last for some years and in fact it could probably use a year or two to soften. (Mar. 5, 2009)

Imported by Tomer Gal and still available for about 115 NIS at Hinawi. The 2007 vintage will be available shortly.

A. Et P. Villaine, Rully, "Les St. Jacques", 2006

Comparing the the Rully with the Les Clos is a nice exercise in the wonders of terroir. The nose offers only hints of flint while the spicy poached peaches are more dominant, mingling with sweeter notes of oranges and clementines. The wood is still present on the nose, but already well integrated and is submerged within the fruit after a few moments. There is a similar effect on the palate, which is livlier and more elegant than the Les Clous, and, while it doesn't offer the intellectual poise of the Les Clous' mineral core, it does offer a certain purity and a delightful, citrusy, saline-sweet finish. The winery says the Rully should generally be drunk at a younger age than the Les Clos and I certainly would prefer to enjoy the zestful charms of its youth, after perhaps letting it age a year for some subtle fine-tuning. (Mar. 26, 2009)

Also imported by Tomer Gal, it costs more or less the same as the Les Clous, though I haven't worked out the mysteries of its distribution. It was listed at Hinawi when last year's catalog came out but it wasn't available and I got my bottles from Tomer. Whatever, any wine I finish off within an hour deserves the effort of hunting down.

Domaine de Montille, Volnay, 2002

Starts out high-toned on the nose, with a note of acetone that blows off, and shrill on the palate, but I've seen Montille's wines build up in the glass, so I wait patiently. The nose is the first to open, with red fruits and gentle spices that don't impose. In fact, it's so restrained it's almost too classical, yet there is a minerally nuance, akin to flint, that tantalizes by hinting at its presence without ever fully registering. The palate is even slower in waking up but has a nice mineral-tannic tang on the finish that I enjoy. But in the end, though it is very well made and has a feminine personality that appeals to me, it's not a village wine that outperforms its status and I expected more body, even excitement, from a vintage like 2002, even in a village wine. (Mar. 14, 2009)

Imported by Tomer Gal, 220 NIS.

Koehler-Ruprecht, Pflaz, Kalstadter Steinacker, Riesling Kabinett, Trocken, 2005

This was so similar to the 2004, that I actually had to reread the label. The nose is just as beautiful and just as chimeral as that previous vintage, with notes of white fruit as well as apples, chalk, slate and a certain yeasty-cum-herbal essance that vaguely recalls both champagne as well as soup boiling on the stove. Remarkably, the palate feels even drier and stonier than the 2004, which I assumed to be the more minerally of the two vintages. I would hazard a guess that the very soil of Steinacker tastes just like this wine. Despite a slight sweetness on the finish, in its present incarnation it ends with a pungent, mineral kick that should slice through garlic based food. (Mar. 3, 2009)

Giaconda, 117 NIS (sold out).

Reboltz, Pfalz, Muskateller Kabinett, Trocken, 2006

Melon on the nose with earthy overtones. The palate is indeed dry, with just enough residual sugar and this dynamic acidity keeping it lively, echoing the melon notes of the nose. It's delicious and soft yet crisp and structured. Don't be misled by the relative brevity of the note, this wine is a charmer; I regularly read many notes on the web about unpretentious little wines that have little import beyond extolling the virtues of their origins, and the way this wine smells and tastes is just how I've always imagined those wines to be. Drink within the next two years.

Giaconda, 129 NIS. I like it, but it's a little too simple for the price. I would like to see at priced at about 100 NIS and I would love to see it going for the same price as the importer's Tavels.

Chateau de la Guimoniere, Coteaux du Layon Chaume, 2000

I thought a sweet wine would be appropriate for Purim so it was time to try this Chenin Blanc from the Chenin Homeland, recommended to me by Ran Shapira. The nose is intriguing, with ripe peaches complemented by botrytis funk and a pinch of flint. The palate is interesting and fairly complex in a brown sugar vein but is bogged down by a lack of acidity and at 13% ABV, the low acidity is just too much to overcome. Thus I'm not quite sure I really like it though the glass I poured from the very cold bottom of the bottle was markedly better than the rest. (Mar. 10, 2009)

Giaconda, 121 NIS for a 50 cl bottle.

Josef Leitz, Rheingau, Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck, Riesling, Spatlese, 2004

My tasting notes, like many others', usually start with a description of the nose, only then paying attention to the palate. But this time I will start with the palate because it is currently the Berg Roseneck's most riveting strength. See, the palate has this amazing acidity, that is juicy like a freshly picked green apple, yet soft and inviting too, somehow. This lively acidity is why I love German Riesling to begin with and I believe it will sustain this wine for a decade more. It is so vivid, in fact, lending the wine such length and power, that it totally overshadows the nose, which is admittedly in a very raw, fruity phase to begin with. So if, tradtionally, petrol/kerosene notes are a sign on of maturity in a German Riesling, you won't find them here today (though oddly enough, the wine did display them three years ago). However, there are other facets of maturity which this wine is just starting to show, taking an hour's worth of airing to surface: playing harmony to the apples and apricots is a certain herbal nuance which recalls a frying pan full of onions and dill. (Mar. 21, 2009)

Giaconda, approx. 150 NIS.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Marcel Deiss Tasting At Giaconda (Mar. 22, 2009)

I don't like to use the word "genius" in describing winemakers. Intelligence and sensitivity are pre-requisites, of course, but beyond that there is just too much plain hard work. So let's just call Marcel Deiss' winemaking inspirational.

What makes the winery special in Alsace is the fact that its greatest wines are not varietals but rather field blends, intended to highlight the terroir and not the fruit. And, except for the final wine of the evening, that's just what we tasted.

Grand Cru Mambourg, 2004

This is a blend of all the Pinot varieties allowed in Alsace*, and it shows, as my notes make obvious. The nose is the most explosively minerally nose I have ever sniffed, ash and fossils dominating over a background of quince. This is quite Pinot Gris, only those fossil notes make it more intellectual on the one hand while more lunatic on the other. A Mad Scientist type. I also find, after some airing, hints of forest floor and red fruit which I suppose is the Pinot Noir's contribution to the mix. The palate is just as minerally as the nose, but also razor sharp and l-o-n-g. Those minerals are packed so tight that the wine almost feels tannic. I don't often score wines but this wine just makes me want to stand up and announce: "NINETY-SIX!". 522 NIS.

* Anat Sela from Giaconda corrects me that Pinot Auxerrois is not included in the blend so the above should read "almost all of the Pinot varieties allowed in Alsace". I never could count past Pinot Meunier.

Premier Cru Engelgarten, 2005

In any other context, I'd say this is a minerally wine as well, but the Mambourg is a tough act to follow. At any rate, the minerals here are of a cooler nature, more of the frozen slate I delude myself into finding in Mosel, deftly framing the fruit. This is a Riesling based blend as the petrol and apple aromas attest. The palate is sweeter, yet there is a taut structure, with pleasant, if perhaps not abundant, acidity. By the evolution of the wine in the glass, I'd say this will turn out to be even more mineraly, though I very much doubt it will ever be as convoluted as the Mambourg. 225 NIS.

Premier Cru Rotenberg, 2004

While the nose is less intense than that of the Mambourg, it is my kind of wet dream, with a heady mixture of flint, minerals, honey and quince. But just like that kind of dream, it peaks within minutes... and then comes back, less intense but more finessed. The quince are present on the palate as well but soon make way for apples while here too the minerals lend great structure. Better balanced, longer and more delicious than the Rotenberg, this is arguably the best value of the tasting, even at 288 NIS.

Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim, 2004

Sylistically, this falls between the Mambourg and the Rotenberg, but is fruitier than either. Quince again, with ripe, almost baked apples and noticeable botrytis while any minerals remain in the background. Long and wide, fruity where the Mambourg was minerally, this is an excellent wine and while it seems bigger than the Rotenberg because of its breadth, for my taste the Rotenberg has a slight edge. 460 NIS.

Grand Cru Schoenenbourg, 2004

I find this wine hard to encapsulate. There is at first a lot of kerosene on both nose and palate, which transforms into a more subtle sculptor's clay, and that's all there is to it: kerosene, clay and apples. It's what it does with them that makes it a great wine. That and the deep, long French kiss of that juicy acidity. What a sexy wine. Only the ever-present shadow of the Mambourg ruins its bid for wine of the night. 450 NIS.

Gewurztraminer, Bergheim, 2004

This is the only varietal wine of the night and to be honest, it really doesn't take the Gewurztraminer paradigm to any new places. Just a classic Gewurztraminer, maybe a bit more finessed than the norm, with the telltale leechee and smoke, perhaps some flowers. It's a tough act to follow the Schoenenbourg but anyway, for the same price I'd go for Albert Mann's Furstenstrum (and in fact I did). 207 NIS.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ma Chenin Amour - Tasting Of Various Wines At Giaconda (Mar. 13, 2009)

Of all the lies and half-truths that make up the life and soul of contemporary man (and woman), the most dreaded and dreadful one is this: I will not cheat, I will not stray, I will not even look at someone else. And so, my dear German Riesling, it is time to confess. I have been dallying with another grape. Oh, she may not be as drop-dead gorgeous and as statuesque as you are and she may hum where you simply stretch your toes and purr, but she's just as captivating as you and there's real fire in her. Not that you don't have your share of soul-enslaving fire, but she's just... different. Really, there's no one in the world like the two of you and you'll just have to find a way to get along and share me.

Chateau del la Guimoniere, Anjou Blanc, 2005

I may be smitten by Chenin Blanc but that doesn't mean I love or understand all of the grape's facets. And this is  a wine that for the second time eludes and confounds me. It's got a fascinating nose, with a sort of funky minerality - how should I put it? It smells like wet minerals, if you know what I mean. There's also a touch of alcohol on the nose, and though there is fine acidity on the palate, it ends on an uncomfortably bitter note. It's almost as though this quaffer was stuffed with more than it can handle, like Britney Spears trying to sing Elvis Costello. Or maybe it just needs time. 90 NIS.

Chateau de Varennes, Savannieres, 2004

Savannieres is my favorite Loire appellation so far. Though the the sweet appellations are very alluring, it's this bone-dry freak that appeals to both my sensual and intellectual sides. And I mean freak in the best sense, there's just something appealingly outrageous about some of the wines that Giaconda import from the area.

Having said all that, this is a calmer version of the style, almost deadpan in comparison to the two that would follow in the tasting. The nose is again minerally, with aromas that vaguely recall a frying pan in action, as well as a touch of tea leaves. The palate is very crisp with a spicy finish that turns pleasantly sweet as it fades away. Not a great wine but although I would prefer to add 30-40 NIS and buy Baumard's Clos de Papillon, I think it would be a useful wine to have around the house until the bigger Savannieres come around. 121 NIS.

Nicolas Joly, Savannieres, Les Vieux Clos, 2006

Hello! This takes some time to come to terms with, but oh boy, this baby hums and sputters like a four by four driving up a cliff. The nose at first owes more to the whiskey world than the world of wine, with a predominant note of ash, but it keeps changing, developing new nuances and refining existing ones. The palate is intense and incredibly long, the acidity amply juicy, seemingly at mid-point between the Baumard and Closel styles. 193 NIS.

Domaine du Closel, Savannieres, Les Cailardieres, 2003

Closel is starting to grow on me. And rather unexpectedly, I might add. Not that it gets any easier to encapsulate these wines, so the best I can offer is that both nose and palate feel like peppery honey, with a synthesis of spiciness and sweetness. Mellower and less alcoholic than the last time I tasted it, though I would have placed it before the Joly in the tasting. 135 NIS.

Marc Tempe, Burgreben, Riesling, 2001

Back to my original mistress. Sort of, as this is Alsace and not Germany but I really like it, after dimissing the wine when I tasted it at Catit a few months ago. Perhaps the different setting is the cause of that, or a few more months of rest. Whatever the cause, this is just lovely, if at first only for the nose, with its peaches, honey, cold slate and hints of petrol. The palate is initially lean with a green apple attack and a grapefruit finish. But time again plays a clever hand and it grows rounder and friendlier and unveils a finish that smacks of both sweetness and salinity. A wonderful wine to drink now. 162 NIS.

Domaine des Baumard, Coteaux du Layon, Carte d'Or, 2005

I've tasted this wine before and while I still think it's obviously not in the same class as the bigger Loire dessert wines, it is a very good value. The nose displays both saline minerals and peaches and the botrytis funk is obviously present and develops smoked cheese notes. Just splendid. The palate is very ripe but at first the acidity is not dominant enough for my taste. It's quite up to balancing out the sweetness of the ripe fruit but it almost seems as though it wears itself out in the process. And while in time it does exert itself, what I would look for if I were to magically upgrade this wine is more acidity. Still, at 117 NIS it is, as I've said, great value.

PS. If there's one thing Giaconda understand that other importers and wine stores do not, it's the importance of matching the proper food to the wines and this was just as deftly handled as usual. So, thank you ladies for all the attention to details, and take that WineRoute, you and your incongruent cheeses.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Misc. Notes and Some Hollywood Similes (Feb. 2009)

Chateau d'Aqueria, Lirac, 2005

I've had Lirac very rarely in the past but this was, even to me, oh-so obviously Southern Rhone, almost Gigondas in character, but with less concentration. The nose is black fruit - plums I'd say - with roasted, meaty notes and Provencal herbs. The fruit leans rather more towards red on the palate, somewhat watery in the middle at first, yet with juicy acidity and a saline finish. While it is, like I said, not as concentrated as the major appelations of the area, it is savoury and appealing in its softness and smoothes out a certain bitter ruggendness with some air. This ruggedness, how should I best describe it? Not exactly John Wayne, more like Buddy Holly singing "That'll Be The Day". (Feb. 5, 2009)

Imported by Giaconda, 99 NIS.

A. Et P. De Villaine, Bouzeron, 2005

I haven't tasted this benchmark Aligote for a year and now it seems it's finally ready. At 12.5% ABV, this would be a great summer drink, only I chose to open it on one of the only true winter nights we've this year. The nose shows citrus fruit, a hint of toast, vaguely saline minerals; I'd be very pleased to find it in a Champagne. The palate is even more minerally than the nose suggests, very crisp and tasty with the kind of saline finish that spells B-U-R-G-U-N-D-Y. Some say this is a quaffer, in which case it is a very profound quaffer. If a pedigree white Bourgogne is Orson Welles, than this is, uh, Buster Keaton. (Feb. 10, 2009)

Imported by Tomer Gal. Oddly enough, in all my previous notes, I never wrote down the price but I believe it was in the 60-70 NIS range. At that price, this year I will buy more.

Koehler-Ruprecht, Pflaz, Kalstadter Steinacker, Scheurebe Spatlese, 2005

It is my contention that Koehler-Ruprecht produces some of the most aromatically intriguing wines in Germany and the allure of this little sweetheart offers ample proof of that (much more ample than the shopping list of aromas I will detail shortly might suggest). The tell-tale guayava notes may be submerged but the nose more than makes up for that with flinty aromas as well something that recalls butter melting on the frying pan, while every now and then a wisp of apple pie adds a further touch of interest. The palate is fairly well balanced, obviously dry despite a green apple profile that suggests sweetness as well as supplying ample acidity. It is gentle on the attack, pleasantly bitter-sour on the finish and overall quite savoury. While not a great wine of the highest degree, it offers, to extend the movie metaphors above, the dry wit of a Billy Wilder. (Feb. 17, 2009)

Sold by Giaconda for 117 NIS.

Falesco, Montiano, 2003

This Super-Umbrian Merlot is sometimes derided for its alleged "internationalization" and all I can say to that is, if you're going to make a Merlot-based wine in Central Italy, it would be a good idea to make it as good as this one is. Which I find myself liking more than the 2000, which was an arguably better vintage. I'm not absolutely certain I'd recognize it as Merlot in a blind tasting (although its fruitcake nose and roundness on the palate is surely typical) but I'd sure recongize it as Italian, what with the tell-tale chives and Mediterranean herbs on the nose. It was a fruit bomb when I first tasted it three years ago, but it's toned down since, although the fruit is lively enough to mature for a few years longer alongside the savoury tannins. The acidity level is typical for a Merlot, I think, that is, not especially high, yet surprisingly fine for a hot vintage like 2003. This is a Walter Hill, I think. (Feb. 19, 2009)

The history of this wine in Israel is quite curious. Anavim used to import it up until, and including, the 2003 vintage, when its shelf price was 300 NIS. WineRoute took over with the same vintage, concurrently selling it for 200 NIS and later offering it on discount, 2 bottles for 300 NIS. Since WineRoute received their lot from the winery a couple of year later on and considering their storage is probably more reliable to begin with, I'm considering opening the bottle I bought from them in two-three years.

Vitkin, Pinot Noir, 2006

The nose is promising for the level and price of this wine, with candy-ish red fruit, a touch of VA initially, some earthy nuances. The palate, I think, is schizoid, as on the one had it feels lightweight, yet on the other, strains to contain it's 13.8% ABV and thus the alcohol overshadows the fruit. I'm kind of stuck with finding an appropiate Hollywood director. I'm looking for someone you want to like for a lack of pretensions yet still can't get excited over. I'd say Penny Marshall except I really loved Big. (Feb. 21, 2009)

About 60 NIS.

Domaine Le Couroulu, Vacqueyras, Cuvee Classique, 2005

Very dark-purple in color, this wine's nose reflects black fruit from a warm vintage without veering into blatant over-ripeness, with overtones of sweet spices and and fried bacon. The palate is fiery, as the acidity still stings, but the dusty tannins are already starting to yield, making for a saline, minerally crunch on the finish. There is a rustic earthiness to both nose and palate which is just the kind I find very appealing. Compared to the d'Aqueria Lirac, this less evolved but there is that much more weight to it, that it will be the better value when it peaks in about three-five years. Rough around the edges like Clint Eastwood around the time of Dirty Harry, only don't expect an Unforgiven to ever come out of it.

Giaconda, 117 NIS.