Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Goodbye to Bertie (Mar. 28, 2016)

You know that feeling when you land in a new country
at the start of a week of vacation and even the very air
seems fresh and full of promise?
So, that.
One birthday celebration a week with Eldad Levy wasn't enough, so what was supposed to be an impromptu meeting quickly turned into a sequel exulting the virtues of Burgundy and Champagne: freshness of fruit and clarity of terroir captured in bottle (at least in the case of five of the eight bottles). Sadly, though, this turned out to be my last dinner at Bertie in its current incarnation.

Ah, Bertie. You've been my second or third home for almost four years. And it's been true love right from the beginning.

"I started out with Burgundy and soon hit the harder stuff".

And, it seems I ended up with Burgundy. The circle is closed.

Vilmart, Grand Cellier Cuvée Rubis, Brut Premier Cru, 2009

This is a very appropriate Champagne to bring to a Burgundy themed evening, as it is as close as you will ever get to a Grand Cru with bubbles. The nose is very sexy, slowly changing with the passing minutes, showing red apples, minerals and forest floor. The palate is very complex and long, with flavors and acidity of a fresh grapefruit acidity. The fruit is so ripe, it almost feels sweet, but that fantastic acidity...

Domaine William Fevre, Chablis Grand Cru, Le Clos, 2006

Lately, I've often been disappointed with Fevre Grand Cru bottlings (I haven't been buying Fevre in recent years, so the Premier Crus might actually still be good buys, I've simply drunk them all years ago and haven't bought new ones so I wouldn't know). This is no exception. There're some minerals and hints of tropical fruit, and low acidity, and in all, it feels like an indifferent Chassagne.

Domaine de l'Arlot, Nuits-St.-Georges Premier Cru, Clos des Forets St. Georges, 2004

This is just okay. Smooth, with mediocre acidity, making for a one dimensional palate. The nose is better, though, with exotic spices providing interest, but that's as god as it gets, for such an expensive wine.

Domaine Henry Gouges, Nuits-St.-Georges Premier Cru, Clos de Porets St. Georges, 2007

Same vineyard, an arguably better year - for my money, a much a better producer. This has a delightful nose, more exotic than I'd expect from an NSG, although it is earthbound by iron and animalistic aromas (not dirty, barnyard smells, but rather healthy, clean animal smells). The palate is reserved and short at first, but expands well, showing great, acidity driven complexity.

Arnaud Ente, Meursault, 2008

This is the first of the surprises that Daniel Lifshitz brought. Arnaud Ente is the younger brother of Benoit, who makes fantastic Pulignies of a similar bent. This is only a village wine, but it is really awesome, perhaps the best village Meursault I've ever tasted, certainly the best not to come from a single lieu-dit. The nose shows tropical fruit balanced by a very complex lattice of minerals. The palate is full of saline acidity - vibrant, complex, fresh, like chancing upon the slab of marble that Michelangelo carved the David out of.

Domaine Ponsot, Morey-St.-Denis Premier Cru, "Allouettes", 2005

When I first started drinking Burgundies, the book on the Allouettes called it one of the best value Premier Crus. Sadly, I've never drunk a great bottle. Most were actually off, but now that I've finally found a decent bottle, it turns out to be just that: decent. It has a lot of what I love in red wines, i.e. understated power, but lacks what I love in Burgundy: that same power married to subtle complexity.

Marquis d'Angerville, Volnay Premier Cru Champans, 2011

Very young, but sexy and fresh the way only fine Bourgognes can be, floral with earthy spices, and it picks up complexity and body. The very epitome of what we mean when we call Volnays "feminine". A great wine by a great producer, and it's not even a great year.

Domaine Rossignol-Trapet, Beaune Premier Cru, Les Teurons, 2010

Daniel's second offering of the evening is an even bigger surprise. The Rossignols are yet another Cote d'Or clan, although not as well known as, say, the Gros or the Gagnards. It has even greater length than the Champans, arguably sharper focus, with nubile complexity. An under-rated wine that managed to get to the top of the evening's lineup by dint of purity and indefatigable freshness:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lookalike Lineup @Coffee Bar (Mar. 26, 2016)

So Eldad Levy had a birthday, Roi had twins, I got a new car and Eran and Avi had a few good jokes between them. There's always something to celebrate.

We started with leftovers of a wine Eldad Levy has started importing that we were all eager to taste.

Vincent Paris, Cornas, Granit 30, 2014

Peppery and lean. Even though this is Paris' "entry level" Cornas, this - as well as the 2009 and 2010 I've had in the past - seems to need more time than I'd expected.

Eldad is, of course, renowned locally for his portfolio of grower Champagne. Since we were celebrating his birthday, he brought a vintage Champagne, a Grand Cru vintage Champagne.

Larmandier-Bernier, Cramant Grand Cru, 2005

An amazing classic, laden with chalk, and a touch of brioche. The key to the best of Larmandier (or even his baser efforts) is that they are full, fruity and powerful without loss of grace and that sense of clean saline dryness that both excites and soothes the taste buds. We're so used to dealing offhandedly with younger aged vintages that's it's easy to overlook the fact that this is an eleven year old vintage champagne drinking like a baby.

At this point, we passed through the looking glass and had a Bordeaux from California, an old time Chateauneuf from Gigondas, a Nuits-St.-Georges from Germany and a Hermitage from Australia.

Dunn Vineyards, Napa Valley, CS, 2006

Very much a classic claret, with cedar and tobacco and currants on the nose. The palate is slightly riper and fuller than a mid-tier Bordeaux Cru would be, but in all, this is really a reserved, elegant creature and very, very lovely.

Perrin et Fils, Gigondas, VV, 2007

Closed and needs to be drunk in a Burgundy glass, where it shows white pepper and a hint of garrigue. Full and sweet, yet - for all the derision the grape usually gets - balanced, with exquisite freshness.

Bernhard Huber, Baden, Spatburgender, Alde Reben, 2011

Classic Pinot, forest floor - albeit the forest where Hansel and Gretel got lost. Although at first I thought my previous bottle was better structured, that did not turn out to be the case. With its well judged acidity and focused tannins, this should age for five years or so.  

Unique, the Haley's Comet of Australian Syrah

Sami Odi, 2014

A focused wine that delivers ripeness with such precision it does not in any way overwhelm - rather, it is opaque, big, broadcasting fresh fruitiness, while at the same time burying it in cryptic, tannic structures. This is the only wine I can think of that would equally appeal to Parker as well as hardcore, Old World acolytes. Don't be frightened by the packaging - Brandy shaped bottles and hand-made labels that change with every vintage - the fact that it is the most hipster looking wine in the world belies the honest, idiosyncratic content.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Taking Care Of Business (Mar. 2016)

Through a glass, darkly
Burguet at Basta
Domaine de Clovallon, Vin de Pays Haute Vallee de l’Orb, Pinot Noir, 2014

This is a fantastic selection in the Uri Kaftori portfolio, and is an example of the experimental side of the new wave Languedoc producers. The wine comes from Bedarieux, in the northern part of the Faugeres appellation, but this, and other Clovallon wines, are made of varieties not allowed by the AOC regulations, and so it is labelled a Vin de Pays. The vineyards are very high and cool, allowing the Pinot to thrive, and, indeed it does, in this case. The vines are fifteen years old, so it is not the most complex of wines, but it is so fresh, so lively, simply and utterly charming, that I fell in love in it from the first sip. It has all the traits of a 'generic' Cote d'Or Bourgogne or a Cote Chalonnaise village wine: forest floor, fresh red fruit, floral, light and lithe. (Mar. 2, 2016)

IPVinum, 109 NIS.

Tzora Vineyards, Shoresh Red, 2011

This is a Bordeaux-plus blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, a little Merlot, Syrah), that, while still showing some oak-derived charcoal aromas, also shows enough minerals to convince me. It's still bitter and tannic, but the fruit is very lithe. I drank one glass and returned to the bottle a day later. It was still tannic, but the fruit is coming to the fore, as well as a hints of leather and iron. Need more years than I'd expect from a red wine costing what it does. (Mar. 3, 2016)

100 NIS.

Gaston Chiquet, Tradition, Premier Cru, n.v.

Eldad Levy's selection of grower champagnes is of such high quality, there are few bottlings I don't enjoy, even at the non-vintage entry level. This is one I hadn't had in a long, long time, until we tasted it at a recent event. So naturally, I had to get another bottle and fortuitously, I opened it just when Efrat was serving home-made gravlax. This is an exquisite concoction of apples, brioche and roasted nuts, and, leaving precise descriptors aside, everything Champagne is all about. If I were to pin down, though, what characterizes the Tradition, it would be this: forward friendliness that does not come at the cost of inarguable depth, a roundness that is rendered with enough precision to retain a mineral cut. (Mar. 5, 2016)

Fat Guy,  239 NIS.

Sphera, Chardonnay, 2014

More floral than I remembered the previous bottle to be, and gently reminiscent of sea water, in that sense as close to Chablis as we are likely to get around here. But that's mostly the aromatics, the palate is less tense that most Bourgogne would be, much less a Chablis. Thumbs up for the discrete use of oak. (Mar,7, 2016)

About 100 NIS.

La Maison Romane, Gevrey-Chambertin, La Justice, 2011

Oronce de Beler captures the spirit and heart of Gevrey perfectly here: with intense, yet elegant, earthy, sweaty, animal aromas (ornamented by exotic spices) and a palate wrought of rusty, albeit soft, tannins and juicy acidity. Intense and complex for a village wine. (Mar. 9, 2016)

Bourgogne Crown, 340 NIS.

Domaine Fourrey, Chablis Premier Cru, Côte de Léchet, 2014

I wanted another look at this, as I drank my first bottle way too warm. This isn't a great Premier Cru, at least not now. It shows a lot of typicity - that fossil and kelp thing on the nose, limey acidity and salinity that beg to be matched with oysters - but not  great deal of intensity or depth. But it lingers for a good stretch, unencumbered by oak or pretension. (Mar. 10, 2016)

Wine Route, 130 NIS.

Alain Burguet, Bourgogne, "Les Pinces Vin", 2012

Floral and elegant, with the Gevrey sauvage in the backdrop. Spices emerge in time, as well as surprising ripeness on the nose that is a little out of place. Always an excellent Bourgogne, and at Gevrey village quality, but I have to admit that past vintages made me expect a sharper bite. (Mar. 11, 2016)

Bourgogne Crown, 230 NIS.

Sphera, White Signature, 2013

This was backwards when I tasted two month ago, and it's even more backwards now. I think it's because it's a blend of Chardonnay and Semillon and they need time to settle and find a common ground. There's a mineral streak running through a fat, honeyed background and the end result comes off like an awkward, pubescent Chenin Blanc. (Mar. 11, 2016)

160 NIS.

Vitkin Petite Sirah, 2008

The winery calls this the best vintage of the wine, and it's surely a strong contender for the designation, by any means. It has all the qualities the wine brings to the table - black pepper embroidered by black pepper and graphite and meaty notes, rustic power tempered by decent elegance - with arguably more balance and sustain than usual. The fruit is certainly more focused, with less fat than the other vintages. (Mar. 12, 2016)

Chateau d'Aqueria, Tavel, 2012

Tavel - the only Southern Rhone appellation I can still stomach, because it's all rose! And Chateau d'Aqueria was probably the first Tavel I ever tasted. I still like it, a lot, and I should buy more, but there's always other priorities, it seems. I should buy more roses, period, but, again, those priorities. Anyway, this has a lot of strawberries, though I'm always psychologically inclined to find them in roses anyway - but there's an interesting, fairly complex, lattice of minerals, a hint of garrigue even. As though someone figured out the best way to rein in the excessive indulgences of those sturdy southern reds was to cool them down and wash them down. And, just like every wine I love, it has a tasty, moreish, saline finish. (Mar. 14, 2016)

Giaconda, 90 NIS.

Wild thing
Recanati, Wild Carignan Reserve, Judean Hills, 2013

I had seriously forgotten I'd already drunk a bottle and was sure I had another to age. I was starting to compose the rough outline of the note in my head. I was going to say this is always the most massive, yet refined, of the local Carignans. Then I suddenly realized I had, in fact, drunk it a few months ago and looked up the note. I shouldn't use Rogov's "consistent notes" verbiage, because I always suspected the true reason his notes were always so consistent. Yet, this wine is very consistent, a true marriage of meticulous craft, great material and individual  expression. So, read this:

"This manages to somehow be the most massive of the local Carignans I've tasted, while also the most refined, as though the rocky core was chiseled with mean intent. Spicy/peppery black fruit, good acidity, roasted meat. Very impressive."

(Mar. 17, 2016)

149 NIS.

Bestheim, Mambourg Grand Cru, Gewurztraminer, 2013

Gewurtz! What is it good for? It's always distinctive, rarely shows a lot of finesse, or the mineral cut that makes me salivate. There's a debate on how sweet it should be and a fair point can be made that it can be too effusive when sweet. Me, I feel that at its core runs a spicy extract that reminds me of mustard that I feel needs to be tempered by sugar (and, all other things being equal, I prefer less alcohol and more sugar in these aromatic grapes). So, a relatively balanced specimen will keep me coming back to the frey once or twice a year, because I do love the aromatics - lychee, roses, that unique spicy kick with a dash of white pepper - as long as I can avoid palate fatigue. Long story short, this is a good example of the kind of Gewurtz that I love. It's not a great wine in the grand scheme of things, but it's fresh and interesting enough, and, like the Bestheim Schlossberg Riesling, avoids needless pretensions without being bland. (Mar. 18, 2016)

Wine Route, 109 NIS.

Chéreau-Carré, Comte Leloup de Château de Chasseloir, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie, Cuvée des Ceps Centenaires , 2010

Muscadet is a wine I want to explore, but we don't get a lot here, except for Chéreau-Carré. Which I love with age, so I think I keep doing these an injustice drinking them young. This just hints at complexity and minerality - but even though those hints do become more daring after an hour, I'd still age further bottles for two years at least. (Mar. 20, 2016)

Wine Route, 90 NIS.

Carmel, Kayumi, Riesling, 2013

Nice enough, but it doesn't really have the electric verve of even its Alsatian cousins - and I'm not a big Alsace fan. Although the nose is very fine, with citrus, red apples, slate and petrol. (Mar. 21, 2016)

90-100 NIS.

Bestheim, Alsace Grand Cru, Schlossberg, Riesling, 2013

I'm not big on Alsace, like I said, yet the Kayumi drove me back to the arms of a wine I had drunk the previous month. It's priced the same, and a much better wine and bargain. This really has verve, and the typical Alsace food-friendly spiciness. Just as good as an Austrian - fantastic acidity. (Mar. 22, 2016)

Wine Route, 110 NIS.

Mia Luce, Rosso, 2014

This year, it's all Syrah, and, cleaner than the Carignan-based 2012, but without being technical at the expense of spirit. Absolutely not, as is evidenced by the way it reveals typical Syrah black pepper as the wine unfolds. There's a lot of baby fat that it needs to shed, but there's a lovely substance of velvety blackberry fruit within. (Mar. 24, 2016)

Guy Breton, Morgon, Vieilles Vignes, 2013

I think this is the only Beaujolais Cru  imported to Israel that I haven't tried yet. It's earthy, cleanly funky , lightly floral, hinting at bacon - and very succulent, with languid, yet very fresh fruit. A terrific, complex Morgon, deceptively delicate, close to being the best I've ever had, well worth following and buying. (Mar. 30, 2016)

Burgundy Wine Collection, 130 NIS.

Domaine de la Vougeraie, Côte de Beaune, Les Pierres Blanches, 2012

I've been buying this wine for a few years now. It's always a friendly little wine, its red fruit bordering on black, with an earthy bent and easy going grace and drinkability. It always seems very ready to drink, fleshed out and detailed from the start. Sexy - in a mundane way, but sexy nonetheless - languid and saline. (Mar. 31, 2016)

Burgundy Wine Collection, 180 NIS.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Kingdom Come - a Tasting of Mature Riojas (Mar. 19, 2016)

This was a very remarkable tasting and I'm extremely thankful to Amir Sheinman for putting it together, buying the wines and inviting me. With my fiftieth birthday coming up, I've developed a tendency to dwell on the passing of time, how the decades seem to just roll out of my grasp. So a tasting of mature Riojas - a region once the bastion of old school wine-making that has been giving way to modern technology for the last twenty years or so - obviously struck a chord.

To put the time scale of the vintages we tasted in context:

1964 - I wasn't even born; actually, my parents weren't even married yet.
1970 - I was playing in the sandbox in day care.
1973 - First grade.
1978 - We were living in a dead end small town in Long Island, the absolute low point of my life.
1981 - Back in Israel, my musical education is limited to the Beatles.
1982 - I discover the Rolling Stones and suddenly the future looks bright.

But let's focus on the wines and not on the whining. And let's start with my wines of the night.

C.V.N.E., Imperial Grand Reserva, 1982 and 1964

The flight makes a few strong points. The first is how well classic Riojas can age. The second is, given they can age so well, what a difference two decades can make. And, finally, the consistency of the house style - despite the age difference, there is a common theme and character, as both wines are throwbacks to an age before technology took over, yet for all of that, they show confident craft. The two are savory and redolent of roasted meat, the 1964 is mature and ready, the 82 still young - like the Riojanas (drunk in the preceding flight and which you can read about below), it is savory with that sense of crushed fruit and leaves that I can never really capture in notes. The 1964 is like smelling a steak and its juices and dressing, with coffee on the side, very expressive and idiosyncratic . Really the absolute example of the kind of wine they don't make any more. The 1982, by comparison, has decades of vitality and growth, with deliciously savory tannins.

And back to the original batting order.

Bilbainas, Vina Zaco, Crianza, 1970

Complex, fragrant mature aromas: leather, vegetable stew, rust. I love this sort of wine, because I love the stories odd creatures like this tell. But it's a survivor from another age and might not win many popularity contests. The palate is a fine balance of mellow fruit and integrated tannins that form a savory background, the structure supplied by acidity only.

Muga, Reserva, 1973

A strange nose, annoyingly metallic where the Vina Zaco was merely rusty. The palate has more presence, but overall, this is a foursquare npn-entity lacking the charm of the Vina Zaco and it unravels in the glass.

Cosme Palacio y Hermanos, Glorioso, Gran Reserva. 1978

I dunno, this sounds like a gang name from Breaking Bad. Which is apt, as this is a bad wine, a carcass reminiscent of an Oloroso. Granted, time has not been kind to it -  but with so many wines showing such success in holding up to, indeed flourishing under, the passage of time, I am not going to be tolerant.

Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Viña Albina Gran Reserva. 1982

This is marvelous, truly the best of all worlds, powerful yet nuanced, with aromas of tobacco, charred fat, mildew and exotic spices. Meditative, yet open and food friendly as well, it lasted a very long time in my glass.

R. Lopez de Heredia, Tondonia, Gran Reserva, 1981

This has a mellow maturity, but what it doesn't have is the power of the CVNEs or the ephemeral delicacy of the Vina Zaco. I like it in passing, but it just doesn't measure up. Although at one point it starts to pick up complexity and length, it then flattens and shows only red fruit.

Berberana, Coshecha Especia Gran Reserva, 1964

Very similar to the C.V.N.E. 1964, with the same coffee and steak funk, albeit with less focus. It's very interesting, with a unique herbal print and keeps twisting and turning. In the end I really like it a lot, even if less than the Imperials.