Friday, January 30, 2015

A Pair Of Mature Muscadets

I've been waiting a couple of years to drink a mature Muscadet - due to their vaguely underground, hipster reputation for being lean, tasty and long-lived. Wine Route, who import Chéreau-Carré, recently brought in a few measly bottles of back vintages directly from the house, costing 130 NIS or so, and I immediately grabbed a couple.

Chéreau-Carré, Comte Leloup de Château de Chasseloir, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie, Cuvée des Ceps Centenaires, 2004

"The Melon de Bourgogne was introduced into the Nantes area by Burgundian monks in the early years of the eighteenth century", says the Chéreau-Carré site, and I get a sense of a similarity to Chardonnay. Like Chardonnay, there's a similar neutrality that supposedly brings the terroir to the forefront: here, the very complex bedrock of mineral inflected aromas covers every type of rock and soil from flint, to clay to marine fossils, and I'd be very pleased to get that level of effortless elegance in a mature Puligny (only that rarely happens anymore in the Cote d'Or, due to widely discussed premox issues). Unlike Chardonnay, the fruit is more about melons than apples, so the Melon part of the name is apt. The palate packs a lot into a lean, saline frame, and is actually more complex than most Chablis Premier Crus I've had. In short, this is an amazing value and I hope producers like Chéreau-Carré manage to thrive under the radar for a few years longer. (Jan. 9, 2015)

It's hard to make an accurate vertical tasting spaced four days apart, especially with two very similar wines to begin with, but the 2005 seems to be slightly more mineral inflected, with clearly greater focus and definition, although it probably could still use more fine tuning than than the 2004. Both have terrific acidity, that, combined with  the saline, chalky finish, are the reason these wines have earned a reputation for pairing with oysters.

Just to put things in perspective, this cuvée is sourced from 100 year old vines!

That bit I quoted about Melon de Bourgogne being introduced to Nantes reminds me of a great Farside cartoon. I hope I'm not violating Gary Larson's intellectual property, I'm just taking the opportunity to salute a great comic genius - and if you're not familiar with him already, look him up!

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Writing about sparkling wines before New Year's Eve is so 2014!
I'm crazy about Champagne, but it's not exactly a state secret that they can be hard on the wallet. So I have to look elsewhere to fill in the gaps between splurges. Eldad Levy, who's the best local source of excellent Champagnes producers (often at sane prices) also exports the very worthy Languedoc producer Jean-Louis Denois, but I've already written about him several times. Other than that,arguably the best imported 'substitutes' are carried by Giaconda.

I placed quotation marks on 'substitutes' because the sparkling wines in the Giaconda catalog are anything but substitutes. First of all, they are from appellations where sparkling wines are part of the local culture. And more importantly, the best are good in their own right and have their own very specific personalities.

For the most part, we're talking about German sekts. And it seems just about every German producer in the catalog has a sekt. I've written about just about every one of them in the past, but now I'd like to focus on a couple of Pinot-based wines made by the only pure sekt specialist in the portfolio. Raumland makes Riesling based sekts, of course, but those haven't arrived in Israel yet. And call me a sentimentalist, but what really move me are the Champagne grapes, anyway.

Raumland, Rheinhessen, Cuvee Katharina, n.v.

This is Pinot Noir/Meunier based, and it's actually fairly entry level in that it's made of lesser quality grapes. Some tasters on Cellar Tracker are calling it coarse, but I do find plenty of refinement for the price. This was disgorged in early 2012, and, from what I've read, it's usually kept on its lees for 42 months. So some back dating says it's based on the 2008 vintage, which is a decent year (although no German vintage chart ever talks much about sekts) and the bottle has some nice age on it. Which probably explains why I don't find it coarse. It's a very good basic wine, indeed, with nuances of brioche and nuts, and fresh and tasty. Plus, it's dry - no makeup here to draw in the the casual drinker! What it lacks in my eyes, in comparison with a decent non vintage Champagne, is more girth and sheen on its fruit. (Dec. 6, 2014)

130 NIS.

Raumland, Rheinhessen, Rose Prestige, n.v.

I was really looking forward to trying this because of the whole rose mystique. This is one of the palest roses I've encountered, shaded a pale bronze like an orange wine. At first, the fruit doesn't lean so much towards red fruit as other roses I've had, sparkling or otherwise, unless you count pink grapefruit as a red fruit. Then it picks up intensity and presence, as well as an obvious Pinot character. It's slightly sweeter (riper?) and less complex than the Katharina (which wasn't that complex in its own right), but livelier and more refreshing and mineral laced. As it's recently disgorged (June, 2014), I'm willing to wager it will develop complexity and a more definitive sense of wineness with a couple of years of patience. (Dec. 7, 2014)

160 NIS.

My favorite Giaconda sparkler, though, is not a sekt.

Andre et Mireille (now Stephane) Tissot, Cremant du Jura, Blanc de Blanc Cleve en Fue, n.v.

Despite the label, this is actually a pure 2007 bottling and is probably the best sparkler in the catalog, unless there are surprises in the sekt department since I last ambled through it. As always, I get cashews and mushrooms and savory salinity. If you like that sort of thing - and who wouldn't, these are some of the traits one looks for in a good, basic Champagne - then this is the best offer in the bubbly section of the portfolio. (Dec. 12, 2014)

160 NIS.

Over the last few years, I've bought, drank about the Huet, Vouvray, Petillant, 2005 and it's a crazy value. Terrific stuff. The only reason I've stopped buying it is because of the changes in the wine-making regime at the domaine.

On the local front, The Golan Heights Winery is renowned for making the best methode traditionelle in Israel and I've been meaning for years to try their Blanc de Blancs (I've had the discontinued Brut on several occasions, but never the BdB for some reason). I finally got around to it. The Blanc de Blancs, 2007 has plenty of chalk and both citrus fruit and citrus blossom. It's a little sweeter than what I usually drink (although there's plenty of acidity to rein that in) and, after five years in its lees, more than hints at the roasted nuts/brioche/mushroom character I love, especially on the gorgeous nose. It's much more tame and correct than the any of the above (that's not necessarily bad, but worth mentioning at the very least), but it is very tasty and fresh and crazy value, at about 120 NIS. I should get some more. (Dec. 28, 2014)

There. Now you can't say I never say anything good about GHW!

Of course, there ain't nothing like the real thing.

Gaston Chiquet, Valee de la Marne, Millésime Or, 1er Cru, Brut, 2004 

Opened to celebrate the New Year, this shows greater depth and 'seriousness' than any of the above, as well as the nuts and brioche of a robustly mature Champagne. The fruit is ripe, feeling sweet despite the low dosage. Yet despite that sweetness, there is a fresh backbone of fine acidity that belies the lightly oxidized notes on the nose, and a long, brothy  finish. At the end of the day, it's hardly the most elegant Champagne I've had, but I wouldn't ever throw it out of my bed. (Dec. 31, 2014)

Fat Guy, 295 NIS. 

Jean Lallement, Verzenay Grand Cru, Brut, n.v.

This is one of my favorites, probably the wine I most often long to open, ever since I first drank it last year. I have no idea what vintages this bottle is based on, but the cuvee is heavily into Pinot Noir (80% of most bottlings, from what I read). It's not only supremely tasty, it's always interesting and unique. It's always about chicken stock, sauteed mushrooms and salted cashews, even more than it is about minerals and fruit - and there's plenty of minerals and fruit in there - always lifting my spirit and imagination. There's more complexity and detail in here than your average non-vintage has, and eventually the erstwhile Monsieur Lallement will release his first vintage wines and I will be able to sleep peacefully. (Jan. 1, 2015)

Fat Guy, 269 NIS.

Friday, January 16, 2015

White Pizzas, Truffles, Wine (Dec. 21, 2014)

There's a story behind how Roie, Amit and I once again became a minority in a group of winemakers drinking fermented grape juice. But the bottom line is we ate some yummy white pizzas topped by truffles at Nono at Hod Hasharon; and we tasted, by my count, at least three memorable wines.

Delamotte, Blanc de Blancs, 2002

I wish I had more 2002's because the better ones feel like they could go on forever. This is steely and refined and, just coming out of adolescence, proves how fresh Champagnes can be. Then there's the usual Champagne checklist: pungently green apples, baked dough, mushrooms. This cost about 55 GBP in London and fuck, fuck, fuck, I should have bought more.

Clemens Busch, Mosel, Punderlicher Marienburg, Grosses Gewaches, 2008

Style counts as much as quality: this is one of those dry Rieslings that create inner conflicts for me - it's obviously excellent, complex and long, but the oxidative winemaking produces a wine that appeals to my brain much more than to my heart. There's enough slate and apples and dill to point at the Mosel, yet enough petrol to convey an age older than six years old.

Domaine Roy Marc, Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos Prieur, 2008

I proselytize 2008 Bourgogne, so this embarrasses me. The aromatics have potential, with black pepper and hide that point at other regions and grapes, but the palate, ugh, is an uneasy blend of sweet fruit and sour.

Domaine Blain-Gagnard, Volnay Premier Cru, Champans, 2008

An interesting nose but off putting, where Burgundy should really make at least an honest attempt to seduce. The palate is better than the nose, though. What a shame, as I loved the Blain Gagnard red Clos St. Jean in 2011.

Alain Graillot, Crozes Hermitage, 2000

Back to Elegance-Land. This is earthy and appealing, with languid fruit cloaked by meat, pepper, flowers, rust. Great to know how effortlessly Graillot can age.

Scarpa, Barbaresco, Tettineive, 2004

Let's face it, with most good Nebbiolo, you spend half the time admiring the aromas and half the time trying to get past the tannins. Until you've aged it for quite a bit. Fortunately, Barbaresco comes around earlier than Barolo, so this is tasty and friendly.

G. D. Vajra, Langhe, Freisa, "Kye", 2008

This is my first encounter with the Freisa grape and it comes off as  hard as Nebbiolo, but with arguably less appealing aromatics. Especially here, where the nose is tinged with modern-ish vanilla.

Domaine Georges Noellat, Vosne-Romanee Premier Cru, Lea Petits Monts, 2012

Basically, what you want from a Vosne-Romanee Premier Cru is a lush and exotic effect, buffeted by velvety, yet restrained trappings. And you get that here, once the wine brushes off an initially modern and oaky disposition and starts to discourse on its potential.

Broc Cellars, Luna Matta Vineyard, Mourvèdre, 2011

Funky and meaty, even exotic, with persistent yet mellow acidity, this is very, very interesting and I'd love to run into it again. I've been doing this for twelve years, so you'd think I'd stop thinking in Old World/New World terms, and yet... I'd call this an Old World style with a New World veneer. A revelation for showing what California can produce.

Castello do Argiano, Brunello  di Montalcino, Sesti, 2009

Even funkier than the Broc, with acidity almost as fine. A fine performance, although I have to wonder what the world is coming to that a five year old Brunello is this drinkable, without at the same time being a modern-styled harlot.

Walter Quint (?), Mosel, Klufferather (?) St. Michael, Auslese, 1976

This is what I was able to decipher of the label, but Google can't find a trace of the name. Hmmmm, a charitable man would call this very mature, one of nastier mettle would say it's over the hill.

Clonakilla, Riesling, Auslese, 2011

Oh, my! This is quite nice. There's luscious breadth and length of fruit here, and I'm almost sure some botrytis. Winner of the dessert wine flight.

Fattoria Corzano e Paterno, Il Passito, 1999

And the loser of the dessert wine flight is this, a Vin Santo by any other name - it's not allowed to use the DOCG as the alcohol level is below the mandatory 13% ABV. Vin Santo is quite possibly an acquired taste, one I have no intention of acquiring.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Taking Care Of Business (Dec. 2014)

Marie Jacquenson, this month's discovery
Marie et Paul Jacqueson, Rully, Les Chaponnières, 2011

This is lovely. Sous bois with a hint of minerals, with supple tannins providing a soft, yet insistent frame. Succulent, saline and deceptively easy to drink, with a pleasant touch of greenness. I like this style of Bourgogne, light and fruity, yet complex and earthy, with a perfume and finish that grow more complex and persistent with time. (Dec. 8, 2014)

Giaconda, 150 NIS. I'll follow up.

Tzora, Shoresh, Blanc, 2013

Eran Pick has it made. Not only is this lovely wine full of life and energy, encasing pamplemousse and gooseberry within an elegant framework of minerals, not only does it cloak its 14% ABV -  it also has me jotting down a shopping list of Sauvignons to try or re-visit. The last minor wonder is in the way it pushes the fruit to the forefront without any loss of restraint or composure. (Dec. 13, 2014)

120 NIS.

Marie et Paul Jacqueson, Mercurey Premier Cru, Les Naugues, 2011

This is just as tasty and heartwarming as the Rully, perhaps slightly more rustic (the tannins more pronounced, the finish meatier) and yet flowery at the same time. If the Jacqueson whites are as good, I may have just discovered a new best friend. (Dec. 15, 2014)

Giaconda, 150 NIS.

La Maison Romane, Macon Rouge, Chateau de Berze, 2011

The guy's a genius. I don't know how Orence de Beler manages to inject magic into each of his wines, but they're all special and intriguing. This Macon, for example, is perhaps the best Gamay wine I've ever had, its
funky, sour fruit full of complex earthy aromas and flavors, with a dash of black pepper. It manages to convey density, while remaining light of foot, which I think is common to Orence's wines. (Dec. 16, 2014)

Bourgogne Crown, 160 NIS.

Selbach-Oster, Mosel, Zeltinger Schlossberg, Riesling Kabinett, 2012

At the last moment, Mark Chapman's hand trembled and the bullet missed its mark. Shaken to his very soul by the close encounter with death, John Lennon once again retired from music. He took Yoko and Sean as far away as he could and eventually found solace in the Mosel. After three decades of working the vineyards and winery as a simple laborer, John finally bought into a partnership with Johannes Selbach. 2012 was his first vintage, and one can almost find echoes of "In My Life" in the fragile, crystal beauty of this kabinett. (Dec. 17, 2014)

Fat Guy, 135 NIS.

I could quit writing notes after peaking with the above... but of course I won't.

Raul Pérez, Bierzo, Ultreia, Mencia, 2012 

I picked this up at Madrid, after firmly deciding not to buy any of the usual suspects (i.e., Rioja, Ribera and the like). As I was ti fund out, it's very hard to pick out something new and seemingly exciting while keeping away from stuff with suspiciously high alcohol levels. This, however, seemed safe at 13.5 ABV. It took a while to track down the details. Raul Pérez is a roaming winemaker in the Bierzo region, consulting all over the place. Ultreia is his own label and he makes a few different bottlings of Mencia, single vineyards, old vine versions. This is probably the basic cuvee, but it's really hard to Google - my best guess is the high end cuvees are exported and more widely discussed online, whereas the basic version is sold locally.

Anyway, this is obviously, but not blatantly oaky, which would have been more bearable had I not entertained hopes of avoiding the oak along with the alcohol. Even though there's decent complexity and interesting things going on beneath the oak, it lacks the clarity, vividness and freshness I look for. It wouldn't have been so bad had I not been so enchanted with some Portugese reds available locally for a similar price. (Dec. 20, 2014)

Domaine Huet, Vouvray, Le Mont, Demi-Sec, 2002

This is so fresh and light colored I doubt I'd have been able to call it as a 2002 in a blind tasting, yet it has a depth and complexity that only time can bring. First, the "my wet wool sweater got covered in honey" effect that is hinted at in a young Chenin is very much pronounced here. Then, there's a smoked Atlantic salt -  you know, just to check if you're paying attention. And that's just the aromatics. The palate strikes a lovely mix of sweetness and salinity, hinting at orange confiture and green tea. You probably get the idea idea: this just went on and on all night, like a love man who won't quit. (Dec. 25, 2014)

About 55 USD at K&L Wines.

Domaine du Colombier, Crozes-Hermitage, Cuvée Gaby, 2011

This is showing wonderful purity and typicity, full of fresh, peppery black fruit, silky tannins and juicy acidity. A lovely showing, the best I've ever had from this house's Crozes bottlings, and I especially love the bacon fat and the soft, languid mid-palate. (Dec. 30, 2014)

Giaconda, 150 NIS.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


I wish I was a trend setter, but in most cases I wind up chasing the latest buzz months after the news hit the street (in other words, the local wine press). In this case, there have been write ups about the latest wine bar/store/importer in Tel Aviv, specializing in Portugese wines. The store is called Porto and it is the love child of chef/importer Eyal Maron.

The wines fall into three or four price brackets. Entry level wines are about 60-80 NIS, Reservas are 100-120 NIS and the premium wines are in the mid 200's. There were also a couple priced at 400 plus, but that's the price cap on these wines. A few thousands less than the price cap in the wine regions I regularly indulge in (the big B's).

I tasted a Tawny Port with Eyal, which was quite nice. It's been a long time since I drank a Port, let alone enjoyed one. I didn't write down the name - next time.

But I really came for the dry wines and Eyal poured a couple of wines for me and helped me pick out a few more purchases.

Herdade do Mouchão is a producer from the Alentejo region, which is a southern region whose trademark grape is Alicante Bouchet. The region is further divided into sub-regional DOCs, but the top estates, like Mouchão, prefer to use the Vinho Regional Alentejo for their flagship wines, which sort of parallels the French Vin de Pays, allowing them greater flexibility. The Dom Rafael, 2009 is their value wine and is made up of allowed varieties (besides Alicante Bouchet there is also Aragonex and Trincadeira) so it uses the Alentejo DOC. And it costs 120 NIS.

Now, when I first encounter what is for me a new grape from a new region, I don't readily pick out specific flavors and aromas. I rather get distracted by the sheer 'newness'. Then I seek out some reference points. I told Eyal at the bar (and drinking the wine later at home only reinforced my impression) that it reminds me of lower tier Southern Rhone cuvees - you know, not the ones Robert Parker lavishes points on, but the stuff you can actually drink. So, this is a palatable wine for me, and interesting, even if, I have to admit, it's not my first choice as far as style is concerned. It's spicy and dusty, which is why it reminds of, say, Gigondas, but the fruit has a different profile, a little nutty and very mellow. A fine night for a winter evening and very likeable.

Alvaro Castro
The other producer I tasted and purchased is Alvaro Castro from the Dao region, who bottles his wines under a couple of quinta (family estate) labels. The Dao, Quinta de Pellada, Branco, 2012 is an entry level white I bought for about 80 NIS without tasting as an introduction to Portugese whites and it exceeded my expectations. It has a very pleasant green-tinged aromatic profile, with more complexity than I'd expected and a tasty saline finish. Think why well-made Aligotes are gaining so much cred these days to understand my affection for this discovery. The blend is another headache for my spellchecker: 40% Cerceal, 40% Bical, 20% Encruzado. The Branco, Reserva, 2012 costs 120 NIS and has riper fruit and a greater presence for the additional cost of ownership, with a tint of smoked salt. To be quite honest, though, I prefer the regular.

There are reds, too, of course, and I took an immediate liking to the Dao, Quinta de Pellada, Reserva, 2011. This wine thrives on vivid freshness, smelling and tasting as though the fruit was picked at the second it reached phenolic ripeness, retaining every milligram of acidity - the fruity perfume being so on point, without any excess, while displaying an almost feral earthiness; while the palate is more of the same, very lively and tasty. The grapes are a field blend of Touriga-Nacional, Alfrocheiro, TintaRoriz, Jaen - and thank God we're not going to be quizzed on this stuff. Simply a lot of wine for 120 NIS.

Finally, at 229 NIS, the Dao, Quinta de Pellada, Pape, 2010 is, unsurprisingly, the highlight of my foray. Also a field blend (Baga and Touriga Nacional), it offers greater complexity and breed than the Reserva, while the lively acidity makes it just as juicy, fresh and tasty. There earthy aromatics I found in the Reserva are more refined, are actually more about rock than dirt, and counterpointed by herbs and a hint of leather - while the finish is longer and more saline, with appropriately bitter tannins. This could improve over five years, maybe more. Again, I get a sense that the vineyard work was as meticulous, the harvest just as well timed.

So, on the basis of this test drive, will Portugal replace Burgundy? Or Bordeaux? No way, but I'd give it 5:1 odds to replace anything Rhone south of Hermitage in my cellar. And, dear readers, if you're in any way attuned to my tastes, head on to Tchernihovsky 6 and have a tête-à-tête with Eyal.