Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ran Shapira's 40th Birthday (Oct. 22, 2009)

Ran Shapira is your typical manifestation of a Mephistolian wine geek as host, heaping temptations upon his unwary friends even on mundane occasions. So a fortieth birthday celebration naturally upped the stakes, making me tremble in expectation when the invitation arrived and I read the proposed menu and wine list. Later, in a half-drunk mood, I rewrote John Lennon's lyrics as "imagine all the people drinking Montrachet" and it seemed like an appropriate epitaph. Although perhaps the perfect epitaph would be a simple "wow!".

Ran supplied some of the wines, we guests brought a few. The creative catering was provided by the "personal chef services" of Scarlet and finally, to heap insult upon injury, Ran came up with a cheese platter with enough penicillin to inoculate the entire United States Army.

And now on to the hard work of transcribing the notes.

Veuve Clicquot, La Grande Dame, 1990

The nose is so intense it is almost liquerish, yet it manages to preserve an air of elegance while showing lightly oxidized notes as well as brioche and sauteed mushrooms. The palate manages to show its maturity while retaining a youthful vigor. The acidity is still obvious but well integrated and, with or without bubbles, this wine has a lovely cut. And a flavorsome chalk finish. I could have sniffed it all evening and I could have finished the bottle alone. It's that kind of wine.

Zind-Humbrecht, Brand Grand Cru, Riesling, 2001

It might be youth, it might be the serving temperature, or both, but this grand Grand Cru, on this particular occasion - joyous though it might be - has nowhere near the Grand Dame's complexity or vibrancy. The class of the nose, however, is quite obvious, with its faint notes of petrol complementing lightly sauteed apples and a touch of minerality. And enough of the aromatics are carried over to the flavor packed palate to prove its mettle, just not enough for its inherent qualities to be very overt, or, indeed, enjoyable today.

Vincent Girardin, Clos del la Roche Grand Cru, 1998

Terrific Burgundy aromatics.: typical red fruit, with an earthy-meaty complexity. On the palate I find healthy tannins that are still somewhat harsh, although the overall effect is quite tasty and powerful. If a Grand Cru can be identified by diligent Bourgogne-spotters by dint of greater power or greater finesse (or, ideally, both) then this wine's entry to that exalted circle is by way of its length and size. Sadly, it lacks the elegance or the magical, electric thrill of better Grand Crus. Such as the next wine.

Rene Engel, Clos de Vougeout Grand Cru, 1996

There are hints of barnyard on the nose, which I love, but sometimes their presence can cost a wine a measure of elegance. Not here, though, as the poo only serves to add more complexity to the delicate Bourgogne spices and the deep and pure strawberry fruit. The palate suffers from following the more muscular Girardin, so I took a break and when I returned, I found the Engel's freshness very captivating. The only caveat, which I feel obligated to mention, is that a previous bottle was more complex.

Olivier Leflaive, Montrachet Grand Cru, 1995

We screwed up here. We had an initial whiff and sip and decided to go on to the Barolo flight and come back to the Montrachet later. Bad idea. The body temperature of twelve adults round the table and too little liquid in each glass was too much even for the product of the world's greatest vineyard. The nose was all butterscotch, too sweet and simple. The palate, on the other hand, was very minerally and powerful but too crude for me.

The wines weren't served in flights per se, but I used my Burgundy glass to enable me to enjoy the following two Barolos side by side.

Ellio Grasso, Barolo, Gavarini Vigna Chiniera, 1990

Barolos can present the most difficult aromatics to decipher. This is taut at first, almost cryptic, the nose showing red fruit and iron, and dusty like your grandma's old carpet. The palate is classy yet austere and I was going to pronounce the Conterno Fantino the better wine, until time endowed the Ellio Grasso with an extra dimension, further complexities and greater cerebrity.

Conterno Fantino, Barolo, Sori Ginestra, 1990

This is a riper wine and the nose has a touch of kink to it, like someone had sex on your Grandma's old Carpet. And quite recently. The aromatics are surely more pungent, gamier too. The palate is full without trying unduly to flatter and I thought it had the Ellio Grasso beat until, well, you've already read my verdict.

Enjoying the ride so far? The big guns are still ahead...

Rene Rostaing, Cote Rotie, Cote Blonde, 1999

The nose is a stunning blend of red and black fruit served on a platter of sewer stink that is lovely to behold, especially as it is complemented by black pepper and minerals. What would the world be like with the great Rhone Syrahs? Big yet elegant. Tannic but at this level, tannins such as these can be delicious in their own right, even if they're not what Robert Parker calls sweet tannins (and thankfully so, I might add). Despite the current great performance, the Cote Blonde still has much more to give, although it is already complex and, despite the tannic crunch, elegant.

Chateau Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan 1er Cru, 1990

Alright, I really loved the Cote Blonde's nose but the Haut-Brion offers even greater finesse and tantalizes in ways that are difficult to verbalize. It has sweet red fruit, saddle leather, minerals, a touch of sewer yet again. The palate is claret with a capital C! Very elegant, with laser sharp tannins, a tobacco twang on the finish and a never-ending aftertaste. Bliss.

Chateau Lafite, Pauillac 1er Cru, 1990

The nose is another fine trophy, with black fruits, lead pencil and a touch of barnyard. The palate is not so much austere as it is discreet. It is smooth and muscular, meting out is power like Joe Louis setting up Max Schelling for the knockout. But it's still too early to drink. Proof positive of the 1855 Classification.

Vega Sicilia, Unico, 1986

The nose is so fresh it feels like the smile of a pretty woman. I must admit I was growing tired but the palate has such length and such incredible vibrancy and finesse that it woke my palate up with its succulent, juicy acidity. This is at its peak and easily proves the Unico's claim to be Spain's greatest wine.

Alfred Bonnet, Rheinpfalz, Friedelsheimer Schlobgarten, Beerenauslese Riesling, 1976

The nose is charming if not too complex - orange marmalade, spices even a hint of cigarette smoke, oddly enough - but I must admit I found the palate tired and somewhat flat and kept looking for more complexity.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Marquis d'Angerville, Volnay Premier Cru, Champans, 1996 (Oct. 17, 2009)

I opened this wine with a relative newcomer to wine, as way of introduction to Burgundy. But we had a warm-up wine first:

Perrin et Fils, Vacqueyras, Les Christins, 2007

Very primary upon opening. Nice aromatics, the fruit veering towards wild berries and complemented by broad hints of Provencal herbs. Although ripe and a little jammy, the nose remains harmonic and has a nuance of crushed fruit that I'm very fond of. The palate, however is very backward, tannic and grainy and when I opened it a couple of hours before our guests arrived, I was frankly worried it would not open in time. Glad to report that it opened nicely, even though it was too round and simple for my tastes. Hopefully, in two-three years the palate will hold up better against the nose.

Sold at WineRoute for about 90 NIS.

And on to the to the main event:

Marquis d'Angerville, Volnay Premier Cru, Champans, 1996

Whatever I love about the unique aromatics of Burgundy can be found in this wine: red cherries, forest floor with rotting leaves, game meat, pungent spiciness. The palate is tasty but on the lean side and angular and is disappointing for showing less power than I'd expect from a 96, even if I do enjoy the way its personality carries through in a whisper and not a bang. The fruit is good but in recession compared to the acidity so some people might object to it. A very good wine but the bottom line is that despite my affinity for the style, I would require more from this wine in order to place it in the top tier of Premier Crus.

Purchased in London for about 40 pounds.

For dessert, we had, once again, Krebs-Grode, Rheinhessen, Eimsheimer Sonnenhang, Riesling, Eiswein, 2002. As usual, the peaches on the nose are echoed on the palate, which is a bit bottom heavy but is nonetheless powered by a juicy acidity that never rests and carries it to the point where none of its drawbacks are very obvious.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Volnay and Pommard Tasting (Oct. 13, 2009)

Tomer Gal and Burgundy Wines Ltd. have a new tasting room in Yaffo, on the ruins of the late, great Keren restaurant and it's a beautiful setting. I wish them all the luck in the world and I'm happy to report they christened the place with an interesting and quite yummy tasting.

In any tasting pitting these two famous bastions of Cote de Beaune red wine, two questions come up almost invariably:

Were the monks and the INAO correct in denying Volnay and Pommard any Grand Cru vineyards?

Can the two be cleanly categorized as feminine Volnay versus masculine Pommard?

The tasting left these questions rather unanswered but it sure was fun helping Tomer with the research.

Comte Armand, Volnay, 2006

The nose is a promising start to the evening, with quintessential Pinot red fruit, game meat and lightly pungent earthiness. Inviting yet subtle at the same time. The palate is medium-bodied, leaning towards light, with raspy tannins, delicious but typically Villages in the way the nose overshadows the palate. Tomer said this wasn't a very feminine wine but I have to disagree. This is definitely a woman, but she sure has a sharp set of nails! 190 NIS.

Chateau duPuligny-Montrachet, Pommard, 2006

This is really not that widely different from the Volnay. Sure, the red fruit is more upfront, the earthiness less pronounced on both nose and palate and there is more fruit on the mid-palate, making the wine rounder and better balanced. But personality wise, this too is a woman. In fact, she even trimmed her nails. This is a better wine right now, but I find greater intellectual pleasures in the Comte Armand Volnay. 200 NIS.

Dugat-Py, Pommard, Levrieres, 2006

A very impressive nose, and very concentrated for a Pinot, spicy and meaty, with, surprisingly, black pepper as well. My neighbor muttered "Gevrey" and I'll have to take his word for it. Moving on, I wouldn't go as far as to call the palate oaky, yet the oak is definitely felt, although overall it is a very balanced wine and maybe the only truly masculine Pommard of the evening. Final verdict: great nose and fine tannins. 530 NIS.

Domaine Leroy, Pommard, Vignots, 2005

Tomer's tasting are never over until the old lady sings and this time we got to taste Madame Leroy's wares twice. This is from the domaine, meaning that at this stage (pardon me while I circle a few sacred bovines), it's more about Leroy than about Pommard. Slow to open, the nose shows ripe fruit and dusty ground and in time the earthy essence becomes deeper and bolder. Taut palate, with great length and fine tannins. The Madame sure makes great wines, but here, as usual, the pleasure costs at least twice as much as I'd be willing to pay. 1300 NIS.

De Montille, Volnay Premier Cru, Brouillards, 2006

Another chick. And a fickle one at that. The nose opens and shuts down and then opens and shuts down again. While it is open, I get ripe cherries and that candied feel of a young Bourgogne. Then it develops mineral notes that overshadow the fruit and then shuts down. The palate is fruity with unsatisfying length. It's an interesting one but it's also a tease, and the thing about teases you can never decide whether you like them or not. 310 NIS.

De Montille, Volnay Premier Cru, Champans 2006

I had my reservations about De Montille when I tasted the 2004's, and now the nose on the Champans itself was enough to finally dispel any remaining qualms. A few steps up from the Brouillards (well, probably an entire story), the nose is simply gorgeous, with enticing red fruit, game meat and a smoky minerality. The palate is deftly balanced and if it still pales besides the nose, one would have to be a very dour taster not to feel optimistic about the future that the fine tannins and the mineral finish only hint at. Lovely. 360 NIS and worth it.

De Montille, Pommard Premier Cru, Grands Epenots 2006

There is a family resemblance to the Champans, as the nose has the same signature of ripe cherries, although they are rather more candied. It's a sweeter wine, which is where the resemblance starts to break down, although that sweetness is tempered by a mineral streak (more pronounced on the nose than on the palate). It is rounder than the Champans, more of a flirt, but much less of an intellectual treat, challenge, what-have-you. 360 NIS and no way I'd pay that if I can get the Champans at the same price.

Comte Armand, Pommard Premier Cru, Clos des Epeneaux 2006

If you know your Burgundy then you know this is one of the most famous red wines of the Cote de Beaune. In fact, Epeneaux and Rugiens are regarded as potential Grand Cru material, although this wine doesn't feel like a Grand Cru to me. Whatever, this is is probably what people think of when they say Pommard is a masculine wine, although I offer the opinion that the Dugat-Py would win any pissing contest even though this is the most tannic and dense wine of the tasting (and yes, I know there is a paradox in there, but who says women are the mysterious sex?). The nose is oaky and modern at first, but becomes more Bourgogne in time, with meaty notes and sweet spices. The palate is angular and rusty but tight. 440 NIS.

De Montille, Pommard Premier Cru Rugiens, 2006

For my money, the Clos des Epeneaux wasn't a Grand Cru candidate but this one is. Definitely. Not because it is a more powerful wine (it's not) but because it has enough class to display its power almost off-handedly and there is an elegance here that is hard to put a finger on. The nose is the best of the night, but its quality is ephemeral and I can't quite explain why it's better than the rest, just that it strikes great balance between fruit and clay notes. At the end of the day, I'll just quote Terrentino: "personality goes a long way". 480 NIS and if you can afford it, it's worth it.

Maison Leroy, Volnay Premier Cru Santenots, 1978

This comes from the Maison, not the Domaine, which means the Madame bought the wine from growers she respects (yet who forever remain anonymous, that's real respect for ya) and released it when she thought the wine had peaked - last year in this case. The nose pays tribute to Leroy's patience, with rotting earth, iodine and spices over a background of fruit that has long since lost any affinity with specific color. The palate, alas, feels slightly past its best, with a backbone of acidity that will never fade away, while the fruit has rather receded, leaving traces of balsamic vinegar on the finish, which I'm never a fan of. It's not falling apart, simply begging the question whether Madame could not have released this in the previous century. I think fifteen, twenty years in her vaults would have sufficed. But she took her sweet time and now the oligarchs of the world will have to pay 2500 NIS (or their equivalent) for the pleasure.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rokah 73 (Oct. 3, 2009)

I don't know quite how to express my feelings about Rokah 73. Unlike his peers, chef Eyal Lavie does not broadcast his creativity too blatantly, going for a superficially subdued French bistro style, which, more often than not, is quite tasty, and I always enjoy the cosy feelings it evokes in me . I should probably visit Rokah 73 more often, and I would, except the prices are on par with those of Lavie's more pretentious colleagues.

But I really do love his style.

Dr. Loosen, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Wehlener Sonnenhur, Riesling Auslese, 2005

Although the nose is quite fruity, it is so speckled with dill and minerals that it seems more mature than it really is. The palate is deceptively monolithic, but with a little patience shows a mineral framework that is quite complex. With its juicy acidity, this is one delicious wine.

Imported by WineRoute, it was on sale quite a few times, on some occasions selling for as low as 190 NIS.

Jos. Christoffel, Jr, Mosel-Saaw-Ruwer, Urziger Wurtzgarten, Riesling Auslese ***, 1990

This bottle is radically different than any I've tasted in the past, and I've had quite a few. The nose is simply one of a kind, reeking blatantly with spearmint. The palate is drier than the nose had led me to think (or, in retrospect, the label) and is a bit taut - the acidity, while very fine on its own, masks the fruit to some extent. Still, a unique experience.

I don't think this particular bottle was bought in Israel, but Giaconda used to carry it for about 220 NIS. They probably still do.

Mas De Daumas Gassac, Languedoc, 2001

The nose (and, let's be honest, the shape of the bottle as well) fooled us all into thinking North Rhone. It certainly has a peppery feel to it, as well as a certain barnyard veneer over its smoky currant fruit. The palate is elegant, medium-bodied, almost light, certainly elegant, feminine in a Cote Rotie style. Fell apart within 20-30 minutes, though.

I used to know who imported this wine and for how much, but I've aged and forgotten.

Felsina, Fontalloro, 2003

This would be a Chianti, if it wasn't pure Sangiovese and if the vineyard didn't straddle two different Chianti appellations. Whatever, the nose is pure Tuscan, with typical Tuscan spices and typical Super-Tuscan smokiness. The acidity is pure Tuscan as well. Any way you choose to call, it is an excellent wine and worthy of attention.

Anavim, about 200 NIS on discount.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Misc Notes (Sept. 2009)

Chateau du Seuil, Graves Blanc, 2005

The nose, with its pungent citrus skins and flint, is a ringer for a basic Chablis. The palate, to my taste, is dominated by the Sauvignon (40% Blanc and 10% Gris), which has a nice angularity, like a fat-free Chardonnay. After a while, something (the 50% Semillon I suppose) adds a touch of butter. This is a very savoury wine that has shed the oak that bothered me last year. (Sept. 2, 2009)

Giaconda, 117 NIS.

Koehler-Ruprecht, Pflaz, Kalstadter Steinacker, Riesling Kabinett, 2004

By now, it seems I've tasted the various permutations of Koehler-Ruprecht's Steinacker offerings more times than I've listened to the Beatles. This particular specimen, however, is in an uncomfortable place. Starting off with a piercing, sulphurous minerality that seems to overwhelm the fruit at first, it regains aromatic balance with notes of baked apples and very light hints of dough, while the minerality turns mellower and earthier. Tasting virtually bone-dry, except for a faint sweetness on the finish, it is almost Alsatian except for a typically fresh, Germanic acidity. It's tasty, it's interesting, and it's becoming more and more intellectual as it matures, but I get this impression, that I can't shake off, that for all its charms, it feigns and winks and bluffs to hide a few cracks in its facade. (Sept. 15, 2009)

Giaconda again, 117 NIS.

Val d’Orbieu, Languedoc, Cuvee Mythique, 2001

Smells and tastes like a roughly hewn Vacqueyras or Lirac, which is a nice notion for a 50 NIS wine. Having said that, it is, for my money, somewhat beyond its peak, as its red-cherry inclined fruit is too lean and rusty even for my tastes, in an Old World style that is probably what gave the Old World a bad reputation in the 60's and 70's. Still, it's nice that it's lasted this long. (Sept. 19, 2009)

Imported by HaKerem, I was surprised to find the Hinawi meat chain selling it for 50 NIS, as I remembered it used to cost 70-80.

Vitkin, Carignan, 2005

As always, this wine has sweet, round, juicy fruit that seems to sustain the ripe Israeli paradigm with smooth tannins and no excess flab. The aromatics are lovely as well, with a hint of leather and minerals over cherries and currants. (Sept. 20, 2009)

At about 80 NIS, this is still my favorite local wine.

Marques de Riscal, Rioja Reserva, 2004

This is a young Rioja where, on both nose and palate, the fruit leans towards black, with bass, iron notes. It's got enough funk and earth to be recognizably Spanish, though, while the telltale Tempranillo acidity shows up on the finish and time only brings out more and more Rioja traits - such as hints of meat and tobacco leaves on the nose and a crisp, mineral finish. It sure is nice that the classic Rioja houses still makes classically modeled wines ready for drinking upon release (although I would guess it has some three-five years left at least). (Sept. 26, 2009)

WineRoute, about 100 NIS on sale. Very good value.

A. Et P. De Villaine, Cote Chalonnaise Rouge, La Fortune, 2007

The nose still has sappy, young Pinot fruit, but also light spicy and earthy overtones. The palate has all the silky, ethereal fruit you'd expect from a well made, lower-end Bourgogne. With only medium stuffing and length, it makes an impression on pure charm. One of my notions of a house wine. (Sept. 28, 2009)

Tomer Gal, about 100 NIS. Like all the Villaine lineup, very good value.