Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Pick Your Poison - Garrigue, Tel Aviv, Nov. 5, 2016

Eventually, modern medicine was able to find a cure for our addiction, but until then, we partied with precise and alarming regularity.

Moet et Chandon, Cuvee Dom Perignon, 1978

This was a totally dysfunctional bottle, but I feel duty bound to report. An ullage the size of the Grand Canyon, the color of a dead rat and aromas and flavors of a savory manzanilla.

Domaine Vincent Bouzereau, Meursault, Les Narvaux, 2012

Did the denizens of Meursault come up with the concept of the village lieux-dits because the lack of a Meursault Grand Cru necessitated a new marketing approach? I'm just wondering. Anyway, Narvaux is a fairly well known vineyard. This is only my second or third sample and if I were to generalize from such a small sample, the wines are rather limey and flinty/marine in a Puligny style, with an nervy edge. That would be my tasting note here, although I'll add that this does end up somewhat fat and generic on the finish.

La Maison Romane, Corton Grand Cru, Les Perrieres, 2008

This is a Grand Cru that floats by on its complexity, long and rusty, with exotic spices and iron. It's very true to the style of 2008 from my experience, with the acidity upfront, and will need more time to fill up its lithe frame.

Chateau Meyney, Saint Estephe, 1982

Black fruit, barnyard, decent length and complexity, but not much more. Nice, but seriously, it's amazing that you can actually find any of these: anyone that bought this and aged it for this long was a fool, there was absolutely no upside in cellaring this past the late 90's.

Dunn Vineyards, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain, Cabernet Sayvignon, 1998

This displays a less common manifestation of Brett, according to Ido. Interesting to learn the foulness has multiple aspects and that winemakers can actually tell the difference. Thankfully, it's less prominent here than in the Meyney, and overall, this is tasty, just not a star.

Yannick Amirault, Bourgueil, La Petite Cave, 2006

Finally, a brett free claret, which is appropriate, as Amirault makes the cleanest Loire reds I've tasted. I'm sure some will find fault with that and label him a modernist, but here's what I think: start off with clean flavors and a balanced wine and then let time in the cellar do the rest. That's what his forbears would have done if they could have afforded cleaner facilities. This is way too young, even at ten years of age, but the vivid fruit makes this a great little gem, with a hint of spices providing interest even now. This is costs much less than 200 NIS and will age as long as a Bordeaux costing twice the price, say twenty years - in fact, it will need those decades in order to provide significant enjoyment.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How To Taste A Spätburgunder

Pinot Noir - it takes a lifetime to understand the simple truths it expresses with its clarity of acidity driven fruit. And that's assuming you limit yourself to its homeland in Burgundy. So what happens when your broach its Teutonic counterpart, which the Germans call Spätburgunder, inflicting pain and confusion on spell checkers everywhere?

The late Bernhard Huber was a pioneer and master of the Bourgogne varieties in Baden, which, along with Nahe, is the classic Spätburgunder region (even though producers like Laible make wonderful Rieslings and Scheurebes there). As any lover of Burgundy knows, mastering Pinot Noir means finding ways to let it clearly, subtly, voice the nuances of the vineyard, vintage, even the winemaker's temperament, without forcing the issue or losing sight of the grapes lightness of voice and form. As any lovers of Burgundy will tell you, it's never an easy task.

Bernhard Huber, Baden, Spätburgunder Alte Reben, 2011

After following this over three bottles, I have finally concluded that Huber was very much interested in capturing the lithe, acidity driven structure of a fine Burgundy red, but much less interested in replicating the specific aromas and flavors of the homeland of Pinot Noir. Which means he treated Spätburgunder with great respect, because, above all, the Pinot family reflects land and climate. So, let's play a game. Pretend this was served at a being Bourgogne tasting. Where is it from? Something about the weight and darkness of the fruit would point you to the Cote de Nuits, only you'd be hard pressed to settle on a village. There's nothing exotic or floral about it, so that rules out Vosne or Chambolle. There's a bit of sauvage about it, but also some iron, so you oscillate towards Nuits-St.-Georges rather than Gevrey and realize it's complex and persistent enough to be a Premier Cru. But you still can't really place it - there's a scent of coffee grains impregnating the autumn leaves and a rather serious aspect, so studious, struggling to hide a smirk. Nothing you ever found in Burgundy, really. (Oct. 25, 2016)

35 GBP.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Taking Care Of Business (Oct. 2016)

Perhaps it's the holidays season, but this month's lineup was heavily dominated by local wines.

Yatir, Syrah, 2010

Tightly reined in fruit, black pepper and smoke, balancing red and black fruit. The drying tannins make for an unbalanced, disappointing effect, I must say.  (Oct. 2, 2016)

Kishor, Savant Red, 2014

A food friendly wine that marries restraint to the Bordeaux blends that so readily lead to jammy ripeness in Israel. (Oct. 2, 2016)

Kishor, Syrah, 2014

Much less expensive than the Yatir, its succulent fruit, complemented by hints of black pepper, make for a more enjoyable wine. Despite being under the radar, Kishor has a distinct style: restrained and food friendly. (Oct. 6, 2016)

Kishor, GSM, 2014

I think I like it best of all the Kishor reds that I've tasted. Again, the key here is restraint. I've encountered few local wineries that avoid flash and artifice like Kishor. This has just a touch of the candied fruit Grenache provides, along with herbal/dusty notes. Like the other Kishor wines, this will give you plenty of change from 100 NIS. (Oct. 13, 2016)

Kishor, Savant Red, 2013

A wine I liked just as much as the GSM, and more complete at this point, the restraint mellowing just enough to provide even greater accessibility and highlight a lead pencil vibe I didn't quite get with the 2013. While the wines don't seem built to last a long cellaring period, I would say a year or two does bring out some nuances. (Oct. 31, 2016)

Luis Pato, Beiras, Vinhas Velhas, 2011

One of the reasons that Pato has so many different labels is that he often makes multiple harvests of the same vineyard, in order to make different wines. Thus, this is the second pass through the 45 year old Baga vines that are also the source of one of his many sparkling wines. This is a fleet footed version of his 'bigger' single vineyard wines, coming off as a more pungent brother to the Baga Natural. That pungency is evidenced on the tannic finish, Other than that, it shows the same meaty personality that Carignan also pulls off without the aid (or damage) of brett. Very nice. (Oct. 4, 2016)

Tshernichovsky Porto Wine Bar, 110 NIS.

Cave de Tain l'Hermitage, St. Joseph, Grand Classique, 2014

And now, to the homeland of Syrah. I knew Cave de Tain is a good, solid co-op, but I didn't really know how good and solid. Wine Route started importing them this year, but, since in recent years Wine Route have been selecting conservative, albeit solid, choices, I wasn't expecting a Graillot, exactly. But this is nice, not very complex, a rustic, primal North Rhone Syrah. Smokey and peppery with a hint of bacon, saline and savory on a lithe frame, with sour cherry acidity.  On the minus side, it doesn't have the well crafted clarity of Graillot. Or even the stolid finish of Chapoutier. (Oct. 7, 2016)

Wine Route, 160 NIS (the discount deal was 2 for 200, though).

Rene Rostaing, Coteaux du Languedoc, Vassal de Puech Noble, 2014

Syrah seems to be a secondary theme this month. Rostaing is a cult producer from Cote Rotie, and Puech Noble is his foray to the Languedoc. Despite Rostaing's fame, I haven't been able to get the particulars of this wine in this vintage on the web, but the Vassal is the second wine and is predominately Syrah, with about a third Grenache, thus turning the Chateauneuf (ironically closer to Puech Noble than Cote Rotie) formula on its head. You get the succulent freshness and black pepper of Syrah, a touch of candied fruit and garrigue from the Grenache. A lovely example of what the Languedoc earth can bring forth. (Oct. 8, 2016)

Wine Route, about 150 NIS. WineRoute are still a dependable, smart importer, with great business acumen, but it's been a while since I've tasted any of their ware that seemed to think outside the box like this does.

Sphera, White Signature, 2013

I know what the fuss is all about, because the flint-laced nose will make any lover of Bourgogne smile. However, it doesn't strike that balance of flavorsome spiciness and lean mellowness that the winery's lesser wines show - and I would hurry to add "yet", because the barrel influence is obvious here texturally (but, thankfully, without any flavor additives), lending the fruit a constricted, almost tannic, edge that hasn't really opened up. (Oct. 10, 2016)

160 NIS.

Recanati, Reserve, Wild Carignan, 2013

The structure seems to be unraveling. As much as I loved this wine in the past, maybe it wasn't a vintage to keep, after all. (Oct. 11, 2016)

149 NIS.

Le Domaine d'Henri, Chablis Premier Cru, Fourchaume, Heritage, 2012

I finally got around to this "flagship" wine - since the domaine doesn't have any Grand Cru holdings, the Fourchaume fits that bill, since it's one of the most venerable Premier Crus, and the Heritage bottling is sourced from extremely old vines, planted in 1937. Like the regular cuvee, it it a very pure expression of one of the Chablis signatures: moss and wet rock. I can't tell if it's necessarily more complex, since I didn't taste them side by side, but I am certain that it has more much stage presence, and it is much more visceral, feeling as though that Chablis essence is shoved straight at my senses, at the same time without any loss of elegance. There's greater ripeness, that comes across as succulent sweetness of fruit without any loss of nervy, edgy, mineral cut. (Oct. 12, 2016)

Bourgogne Crown, 250 NIS.

Mia Luce, Syrah and Stems, 2015

First, the name: the name acknowledges that the wine was fermented with 2/3 of its stems. In modern winemaking, grapes are almost always de-stemmed, but there's a recent trend to leave the stems in, all or partially. I won't delve into the technical aspects (what it does to the wine,  what are the drawbacks) - because I really don't know enough about the subject, but I understand it's usually deemed an appropriate approach to Pinot Noir and Syrah, which is why it's common in Burgundy, Beaujolais and the Rhone. What I can and want to tell you is how this wine turned out. I've drunk my share of local Syrahs, and this is the one that best captures how young Syrah smells and tastes in Crozes-Hermitage and, especially, St. Joseph. Forget what you heard about black pepper, violets and bacon. It's here, alright, but the point is the succulent, fresh, floral fruit etched so vibrantly on the palate. (Oct. 14, 2016)

160 NIS.

Mia Luce, CSM, 2015

This Carignan-Syrah-Marselan blend is not only a clever word play on the GSM name and formula. The interaction between the meaty rusticity of the first, the black pepper of the second and slight candiness of the third make for a very tasty sum of the parts, with good complexity and depth and a hint of minty herbs. There's obviously an on-going stylistic and philosophical trend in the country. People call it Mediterranean wines, which is over-simplifying things, but as shorthand, it's at least better than talking about Mediterranean grape varieties - as my friend Avi Feldstein sarcastically put it, if you plan any decent grape within sight of the Mediterranean sea, it will wish it was a hundred miles away, away from the heat and humidity. What we really mean - and want to drink - is wines made of grapes that have it in them to reach phenolic ripeness in the Levant climate without turning jammy. You still have to adjust the acidity, but you will get plenty of flavors without the burden and the heat of alcohol. This is a showcase of that style, with enough tannins to frame the warm sweetness of the fruit, to create a forceful impact of flavors while still allowing the tannins to cleanse the palate. The hipster sommeliers will have a good story to sell with this one and we'll have yet another local wine that tells the story of the land without tiring the palate. (Oct. 16, 2016)

150 NIS.

Lewinsohn, Garage de Papa, Rouge, 2013

Ido's a friend and I always loved the Rouge, but fuck it, I still didn't expect it to be this good! It's really succulent and vibrant in the same North Rhone style that his colleague Koby Arviv conjured in the Mia Luce Syrah, It's about half Petit Sirah, the rest split between Syrah and Carignan. Where it breaks away from other local variations on these three grapes is its carefully tended cleanliness. There's a note of raw meat that almost convinces you the wine is going to be rustic, until that clean fruit hits the palate. Clean fruit - not sterile. (Oct. 18, 2016)

150 NIS.

Produttori del Barbaresco, Langhe Nebbiolo, 2013

The lighter side of Nebbiolo, perhaps the place where texturally, at least, it does resemble Pinot Noir. Aromatically, well, nothing ever really does smell like Nebbiolo, and here, the tar and dust are so prominent, it's like sipping from a jug on the back of a pickup truck going down a desert road. Notwithstanding the quaint image, which serves as shorthand rather than an indication of any emotional attachment on my part, this is not especially memorable. (Oct. 21, 2016)

Wine Route, 130 NIS.

Tzora, Shoresh, 2011

Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with, I believe, 17% Syrah and a little Merlot as well, this is impressive for how balanced it is. The fruit has the typical sweetness that you can't avoid in Israeli Cabernet, but there's nothing overripe about it and the dusty tannins complement the sweetness without being intrusive, a touch of cedar and minerals adding nuances. Even without knowing Eran Pick, I think you'd get the notion that this is the work of a man who loves Bordeaux, is careful about his craftsmanship and, finally, knows that Israel can't be Bordeaux. So, you get a claret that approaches the paradigm in the same way California Cabernets did in the seventies and eighties and that respects both the terroir and the drinker's palate. (Oct. 22, 2016)

100 NIS.

Recanati, Reserve, Lebanon Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011

I recall the 2010 as warm climate claret from three years ago, and the 2011, with more bottle age, is more of the same, with a mineral edge and hints of eucalyptus. Until the acidity started asserting itself - whether natural or tweaked, good job with that - I thought this was tame and correct. But it allows itself to get rowdy before it calls it a night. (Oct. 29, 2016)

About 100 NIS.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Rosh Hashana chez Zacki (Oct. 1, 2016)

Potluck tasting are a pain to write about. The lack of thematic unity offends my artistic sensibilities and I'm running out of witty introductions or generic comments on camaraderie. Luckily, this time we wound with an unplanned Barolo flight that was a beauty as well as teaching us all not to follow a Barolo with a nubile claret. So there's a theme for me.

Barkan, Superieur, Shiraz, 2006

A good effort made under friendly fire from corporate management at Barkan. A charming nose, with spices and tar reminiscent of Nebbiolo, as well as black pepper; all the while, the palate has seen better days. Damn, it's sad to reflect that there will be no truly exciting wines coming from Barkan in the foreseeable future. Even in the past, it sometimes seemed as though the winery did all it could to obscure the talents of the winemakers who worked there.

Montes Claros, Alentejo, Garrafeira, 2008

This Portuguese from an obscure appellation reminds me of a kinky New World boutique, with a peppery, almost reductive bouquet and a silky body. Interesting and, despite the new world hygiene, very characterful.

Oddero, Barolo, Rocche dI Castigliano, 2001

What you have here right now is as good as this will ever get, but what you get is very fine indeed, a classic profile defined by tea leaves, spices and rusty tannins. This is a traditional producer that doesn't get a lot of accolades - I suspect there's a ceiling to the quality of the house and this wine hits it, but within that ceiling is a lot of old world charm.

Bruno Giacosa, Barbaresco, Asili, 2009

You can't make any judgement calls about Barolos in the first thirty minutes. At first, this is disappointing, candied, alcoholic with band aid aromas, unformed on the palate.  But, with time, it shows a lot of classic elegance as the nose resolves to tar and rose petals, and even though the palate is still encased in that iron glove of tannins and acidity, it does manage to show its breed with regal gusto.

Brezza, Barolo, Castellero, 2011

This lovely, floral Barolo was my wine of the night, and just about everyone else's, too. It has a languid yet assured structure, where beneath the deceptively calm surface I find persistently focused power, as evidenced by the silky red fruit, juicy acidity and savory tannins. This is the only Barolo of the flight that is not only an expression of Nebbiolo, but also an expression of terroir, in the Burgundian sense.

Chateau Leoville-Barton, Saint Julien 2me Cru, 2008

Even though the oak is certainly too prominent right now, this hints at the classic Saint Julien sexiness and finesse. So you get a savory, tannic finish, but the suave black fruit and hints of cedar are smothered. We opened this a decade too early, now didn't we?