Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Larmandier-Bernier Tasting (Dec. 14, 2017)

Eldad Levy's Champagne catalog lists seven growers. They are all very dear to my heart and I'd hate to have to choose between them or even rank them. But if I had to make a case for Larmandier-Bernier as the number one seed, my argument would be that Larmandier makes the purest, most intense wines of the lot. We like our Champagnes to flirt around with maturity and show that lovely brioche/mushroomy/biscuity character, but they all start out as young and fruity with traces of yeast. Which is where, I think, you can make the best cross comparisons, at their youth, before age starts to obscure any differences

Having tasted most of the catalog both in youth and with some age, I can say that the young Larmandiers are full, ripe wines, arguably the ripest of the lot, but that ripeness is backed by solid, almost intense acidity. The dosage is very low, so with the acidity being so generous, they don't taste sweet at all. In fact, they seem lean and lithe, almost electric, the balance of fruit and acidity making for powerful tension. At the same time, they're so well crafted that their intensity is never abrasive and, at the end, they impress for their finesse. I enjoy drinking them young because that tension is so very gripping and fascinating to experience. The reason I have enough patience to lay them down is because drinking ten and twelve year old Cramant Grand Crus has taught me how long lived these wines are.

I'll be mentioning the vineyards and villages worked by Larmandier in my notes. So a little background first. Laramandier is based in the Côte des Blancs, which is Chardonnay country, as the name broadly suggests. The domaine is located in the Premier Cru village of Vertus, but also works vineyards at Cramant, Oger and Avize, all Grand Cru villages. The debate around the Champagne classification system will never end, which is appropriate because it's dumb and classifies villages instead of vineyards. I'm telling you this because the Larmandier Vertus is almost as grand as the Cramant, just so you know when you plan your purchases. 

You can read more about the domaine here or skip to the notes.

Latitude, Premier Cru, n.v.

This is made from young vines south of Cramant and it's primal and citric and in need of time. To wit, fifteen minutes were required to show more aromatic complexity and chalk.

Longitude, Premier Cru, n.v.

Made from all the Laramandier holdings in the Côte des Blancs: Vertus, Oger, Avize, Cramant. This is obviously where the real fun begins. Greater nuances and power, probably as good as an ‘average’ vintage Champagne. 

Terre de Vertus Premier Cru, 2009

This is the kind of wine that is almost too easily labeled as intellectual. Which means it's too rocky and electric to drink casually and really demands you pay attention to it. Now, I wrote earlier that it's of Grand Cru caliber, but it's not quite as broad and complete as the Cramant. For one thing, it's a fair bet that while the Vertus vineyard this hails from is at least a match for an average Cramant vineyard, the family's Cramant holdings are hardly average. For another thing, it's a different style of wine, lean and angular and made with zero dosage, which makes it less approachable. This is probably a good place to quote the Larmandier philosophy on dosage:

At Larmandier-Bernier, no secret recipe: once again, our ambition is to allow the terroir to express itself. After all the care lavished on our wines, starting in the vineyard, we are not going to add anything which might go against them.

While most brut Champagnes are dosed at around 12 grams per litre, we never exceed 4 grams for our cuvées. For the 'Terre de Vertus', it's simple: we add no sugar at all. Generally speaking, there is about 1 gram of residual sugar anyway. We prefer to favour the maturity of the grapes and their natural sugar rather than adding sugar when the bottles are disgorged and running the risk of making the Champagne heavier and losing sight of the terroir.

Rose de Saignee Premier Cru, n.v.

Sourced from the family's only Pinot Noir holdings in Vertus, this is floral, very Pinot ish. Still, despite its obvious sex appeal, it is very discreet. This is the only wine in the lineup that I would enjoy a great deal more with age, because it's really too demure to impress right now.

Les Chemins d’Avize Grand Cru, 2009

This is the newest single village wine in the portfolio, and 2009 was the first vintage. Again, a whole bedrock of minerals, but complemented by flowers, it's a  sedate wine, less angles and knees and elbows sticking out than the Terre de Vertus

Les Chemins d’Avize  Grand Cru, 2010

The year is cooler and I get more flowers, a more intense bouquet, while the body is leaner. Never mind the descriptors, the common thread of the evening is how Larmandier puts so much stuffing without loss of grace, all the while insinuating and hinting at nuances. The specifics are less important.

Vieille Vigne du Levant Grand Cru (formerly known as Cramant), 2007

The house’s crown jewel, this is a very full wine, so full that this time the minerals are buried under baked apples. In a way, it's paradoxical how such a backward and monolithic wine is also the most complete wine.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Taking Care Of Business (Nov. 2017)

Shvo, Chenin Blanc, 2015

What does this remind me of? More Savenieres than Vouvray, I reckon. Not really a wine for a casual drinker, so it's a good thing I take even my casual drinks seriously. On the face of it, the grocery list includes just a few ingredients - cantaloupe and brimstone - but the wine gets a lot of mileage out of them. 

Vitkin, Gewurztraminer, 2016

I'm not sure how this would fare in a comparative tasting (oh god, a comparative Gewurztraminer tasting!) but it really is a lovely wine on its own and by its own merits. The nose is roses and white pepper and that impression is echoed on the palate with its spicy finish.

Both drunk Nov. 4, 2017. I had the Shvo a month later and if anything, it only improved, the nose and plate more intense and focused.

Lewinsohn, Garage de Papa, Rouge, 2015

The Garage de Papa started out as a Bordeaux blend or maybe a varietal Merlot, I forget, but over the years, Ido shifted to other grapes: Carignan, Syrah, Petite Sirah, you know, what writers term Mediterranean grapes. It's a good thing we don't call them Third World grapes or Afro grapes. This year, on the wake of last year's limited edition Petit Sirah - which was fully or mostly fermented with its stems -  the Rouge is 80% Petit Sirah, only partially de-stemmed, the rest Marsellan. The result is the lithest, most floral version yet, the farthest you can get from the cumbersome, oaky reds that ruled the marketplace only a few years ago.(Nov. 6, 2017)

The white is of the same caliber. Although I usually prefer the red, the Garage de Papa, Blanc, 2016 , also just released, is the first time I've personally loved the white just as much. It's always a varietal Chardonnay, always one of the best we have, but this year it expresses the character of the grape just as well as its Burgundian peers. Now, I'm not saying we should aspire to copy Burgundy - although you'd be a damn fool to not admire the quality of the wines produced in the Cote - but I am saying that the core, the idea, of Chardonnay is something pretty terrific that the Burgundians really nail: the apples and pears, the flint, the dry grass, the savory dryness. There's a reason everyone aims for that ideal, and if you get good enough grapes and handle them just right, you've got a shot at it. And, along the way, you can express local character, because Chardonnay is very generous at giving up that sort of expressiveness. With the 2016, Ido got there.

160 NIS.

Vitkin, Riesling, 2014

It's interesting to compare this to the Garage de Papa Blanc, which we shared with friends at the same brunch. If you scored them, they'd both be pretty much at the same place, both technically and, for the lack of a more apt term, artistically. I preferred the Garage, Efrat and friends preferred the Riesling - but I think it's simply because RIESLING ALWAYS WINS. I have some thoughts to share about Israeli Rieslings - of course I do - but first, a few words about the wine. It's got apples and spices, which is to be expected - that's the basic expression of Riesling after all - but also quince, I think. Good acidity, too. That's the tasting note. Now for my spiel.

The thing about Israeli Rieslings is there aren't many of them, but the wineries making the good ones get the grape, they express the grape and they surprise many outsiders as to how well they manage to express it. What even the good ones lack is that extra step that the Garage takes - maybe because Chardonnay is easier to grown in Israel or more giving in general - in letting the grape express the scenery as well. Don't get me wrong, the local Rieslings are not anonymous. They offer something local. Vitkin does, Kishor does, Sphera does. Just not enough yet for me to say they're as special as the best of our other whites. Vitkin takes the grape in a tight, structured direction and does it very well, indeed, and it has the best track record so far. Even today, if you taste the Riesling alongside the Gewurztraminer and the Grenache Blanc, you'll recognize the winemaker's style and touch and how unforced they are.  (Nov. 11, 2017)

Tzora, Shoresh, 2012

Eran Pick has never succumbed to peer pressure enough to blindly follow the "Mediterranean" fad. Despite the Syrah in the blends, the Tzora reds have always used a healthy proportion of Bordeaux grapes without cloning the Bordeaux flavors. The Tzora teams have been working the same vineyards for over a couple of decades and I guess they know what works best there. And what works produces, in the case of the Shoresh red, a warm wine with balanced flavors that favors currants and complex layers of minerals. (Nov. 10, 2017)

The first non-Israeli to make the monthly post is a Bourgogne we had in Rome, of all places.

Domaine Matrot, Bourgogne Blanc, 2014

It may be the vintage, it may be the house, it’s likely a combination of both, but this is one of this ‘generic’ Bourgognes that can trounce quite a few villages. I don’t always like that I make these comparisons but they can be useful. This is as complex and as delineated as a village wine, albeit lighter. Aromatically, at least, it’s so mineral laden you might think it hails from Pugliny. And, it’s one of those young, cold weather Chardonnays so pungent and racy in youth that it’s simply electric. (Nov. 16, 2017)

Feldstein, Dabuki, 2015

Amazingly, the local press managed to write and argue the life out of the new wave of indigenous grapes, mostly abetted by the Recanati promo machine. All in the course of about a year. I don't want to talk about it. I don't know if our local grapes can be superstars. I don't care if they make the drinkers think of Abraham and Jesus and King David. I'd settle for a local Aligote. Which I think this is, actually, with its lithe frame and notes of gunpowder and bread. (Nov. 18, 2017)

Feldstein, Rousanne, 2014

This is an entirely different beast. And beast it is. There's breadth of fruit in there, but the show is about minerals, wax and a savoriness that recalls mushrooms and harmonizes with the fruit. The texture is raspy and grainy without being aggressive. Avi makes me enjoy and muse about a grape I used to not give a fuck about. (Nov. 19, 2017)

Cantina Terlan, Suditrol, Alto Adige, Pinot Bianco, 2016 

I didn't really have a lot of expectations, but I wanted to try an Alto Adige Pinot Blanc since it seems to be their pride and joy. The price point was nice. It's not very complex and it could use more interesting mineralish aromas, but its friendly, floral, almost tropical, character is very winning, especially when its roundness is tempered by a spicy finish. (Nov. 21, 2017)

13 euro.

Selbach-Oster, Saar, Riesling Kabinett, 2015 

This might not have the pedigree of the Selbach crus, but time in bottle can coax complexity and focused intensity even out of a simple German Riesling, and I'm not sure this was a very simple German Riesling to begin with. (Nov. 23, 2017)

Fat Guy, 99 NIS.

Drappier, Champagne, Carte d'Or Brut, n.v.

Drappier has the relatively unique distinction among the Champagne houses of being located in the Cote de Bar region. The Carte d'Or is the basic cuvee and it's predominantly Pinot Noir based (80-90% in most disgorgements). The brut dosage makes for a fat, round impression, while the reserve wines from the back vintages in the blend already provide biscuity aromas. All in all, a fruity, full, straightforward Champagne. (Nov. 25, 2017)

Wine Route, 229 NIS. An okay price for a decent n.v.

Barbeito, Madeira, Verdelho 10 Years Old, n.v.

More or less my first Madeira ever, its relative lightness and nutty pungency reminds me of an Amontillado, except for two things.One, the lack of the flor induced iodine bite and, two, few sherries show the kind of edgy acidity displayed here. (Nov. 26, 2017)

Luis Pato, Beiras, Vinhas Velhas, 2013

This is comprised of Baga vines half a century old. Pato uses Baga for every conceivable style, from sparkling wines to big, meaty, muscular reds. The Vinhas Velhas, on the other hand, is a lithe red, almost a rusty Gamay. This is a little better than the 2011, a little cleaner and bit more floral, the black fruit culminating in a dusty finish, whereas Baga's trademark tannins usually stain the teeth.(Nov. 30, 2017)

Both wines sold at Tchernichovsky.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Lineup (Popina, Nov. 2, 2017)

This will forever be known as The Lineup
(not pictured: Vilmart Cœur de Cuvee,2006 and Bonneau du Martray 1993)
Vilmart & Cie, Cœur de Cuvee,2006

The (quite expensive) flagship of one of the best grower houses in Champagne. This is a magnificent distillation of everything that makes Champagne great: the brioche, the mushrooms, the minerals, the fruit so lively and fresh despite its ripeness and fullness that it feels the grapes had just come off the vines. If you need a frame of reference, think vintage Krug, not just because the quality level is the same, but because both have a multidimensional presence that feels as though you're watching 3-D for the first time. 

Bonneau du Martray, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, 1993

When I started exploring Burgundy, most of my forays were basically books and the internet. The word on Corton-Charlemagne was Bonneau du Martray. And, no matter many books and articles I read, no matter what changes had transformed the Cote, Bonneau du Martray was still considered the epitome of Corton. The Big Name, The Name and, some would have you think, The Only Name. Out of five different bottles I've had over the years, only one lived up to the hype, a magnificent bottle drunk at ten years of age. And now this. While I'd still open my white Burgundies  at around ten years post vintage, depending on the appellation and vintage, I can't argue that this bottle passed the test of time and provides a unique experience by showing a mellow version of the classic formula of minerals and nuts.

And on to Bordeaux. Saint Julien is supposed to be the elegant AOC, Pauillac the tougher one. Yet the two Leovilles below showed a rough facade while the Pauillacs oozed sex and sensuality. It doesn't hurt that one of them is a strong contender for the best wine in the world.

Chateau Leoville-Barton, Saint Julien, 2me cru, 1998
Chateau Leoville-Les-Cases, Saint Julien, 2me cru, 1975

As every Bordeaux nut knows, the latter day properties Leoville-Les-Cases, Leoville-Barton and Leoville-Poyferre used to be a single house until the eighteenth century. Still, it surprises me to see how alike these two came off, despite the different years and winemakers, not to mention the difference in winemaking approaches that are the result of new technologies and philosophies that started to assert themselves in the nineties. But to actually get that, you first have to get past how fuckin' closed they both are, even the Les-Cases, bottled all of four decades ago! Both are really elegant and complex when they finally open, the black fruit laced with cedar, but despite that elegance, both are proud field marshalls, gruff and muscular and ready to rumble.

Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac 5me Cru,1982

I don't much like brett these days, and neither do my buddies. yet we all swooned for this wine. I guess sometimes brett works, but it took me a while to figure out why. The reason is, here it doesn't come off as poo or dirty socks, but rather tastes and smells like prosciutto! Besides, the frame is very elegant and friendly and the lovely currants and lead pencil ensure you won't be able to put it down.

Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac Premier Cru, 2002

No surprise that this is the winner. Crafted from the same cloth as the Lynch-Bages, it manages to top that incredibly sexy wine by dint of an almost ephemeral elegance.

If a wine like the Lynch-Bages is why we age Bordeaux for decades, Lafite is the best reason I know to work your ass to become a wolf, conquer the world and make lots of money.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Let's Talk GruVe (Nov. 3, 2017)

Schloss Gobelsburg, Kamptal, DAC Reserve, Lamm Erste Lage, Grüner Veltliner, 2010

I've written about the winery quite a lot. About this very wine, actually. So let's talk about the grape, Gruner Veltliner. 

It's a big white grape. I mean, it makes wines that feel big. Big and spicy. It feels like it just soaks up the sun. Which is good, I think. I think grapes that give that impression usually manage to contain the heat of summer quite well. 

Gruner always makes me think of Pinot Gris and Gewurztranminer. Not because it tastes like them, especially not like Gewurtz - by definition, nothing tastes like Gewurtz. But it's rich and spicy like them. If the great white star in Austria is Riesling, same as in Alsace, then Gruner plays the same sidekick role that Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer do in Alsace. But what a sidekick!  I think it can make more of a grand vineyard then Gewurtz and Pinot Gris usually do, and, because its character is less dominating, it doesn't overwhelm the landscape.

It won't make you swoon the way Riesling does, not at the entry level, at any rate. And even the top wines are going to appeal to your brain more than your heart and loins. But something about its texture and breadth, the way the flavors insist on attention but don't bang you around, makes you realize it's quite a unique fixture in our kaleidoscopic world of wine and deserves a place at the top of the pops.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Taking Care Of Business (Oct. 2017)

October is the best month of all because the weather allows you to drink wines of every color and style
Sebastien Dampt, Chablis Premier Cru, Côte de Léchet, 2013

Last bottle, out of three or four I bought two years ago. And every single one has been a pleasure. It may not be grand, but if you drew a Vern diagram of all the Chablis characteristics, this would be at dead center. (Oct. 2, 2017)

Wine Route, 200 NIS (2 for 300 on discount).

Rizzi, Barbaresco, 2013

Rizzi is a small Barbaresco producer imported to Israel by the Yaffo Tel Aviv restaurant. Or Eldad Levi. Or both. It's very old world, dusty, tarry, tart and opaque. I have a Riserva and a couple of single vineyards that will need long cellaring since even the basic bottling is so defensive and reserved - although both the rose-water-and-salt nose and the tough-as-rusty-nails core are compelling. (Oct. 4, 2017)

Tscharke, the Potter, Grenacha, 2011

The reason this wine gets me is I sense it can teach me something about Grenache and how it evolves, if you start out with a good specimen, which this is. I'm an avid pupil - this is my fourth bottle over the last three years. The basic premise of the Potter is black fruit, just a little candied on the fringes, spiced by white pepper, the ample fruit supported by acidity and to a lesser extent very fine tannins. What I was looking for is what complexity it would develop and what its glass ceiling might be. The answer is, it's moderately complex with a filigree figure and I get a sense it could go another seven, eight years, deepening just a bit without gaining a lot more complexity. At the same time, it won't pick up ungainly wrinkles,either. (Oct. 5, 2017)

Mersch, 130 NIS.

Drank through a few Burgundies at Habasta. Olivier Guyot, Bourgogne, 2015 is very typical for the house and the village (this is a declassified Marsannay), so if you've enjoyed the previous vintages as much as I did - and this is one of my favorite house wines - go for it and consider aging it for a few years. Because it's my go-to wine, I ordered a bottle for a party of four, but the the wine I ordered to expand on my own knowledge was a pre-dinner glass of La Maision Romane, Eaux Vives Blanc, nv, which is a multi-vintage blend from Macon (the Bourgogne Crown catalog says 2012/13). I'm going to say it's a funky, earthy wine that is so much more about Burgundy than about Chardonnay that you might confuse it for a red wine in a blind tasting - and you're going to think it's an orange wine. I doubt it is, but if it is, well, Oronce de Beler may have pulled off a minor miracle and came up with an excellent orange wine. (Oct. 6, 2017)

Domaine Pavelot (Jean-Marc et Hugues) Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Guettes, 2010

Apropos the Burgundy Crown catalog, they carried Pavelot through a couple of vintages and stopped. I believe it's the only producer they dropped - or vice versa. I didn't mean to open any more 2010's for a while, I swear, but my I guess it's time for bifocals because I thought the label read 2011. This is fun to sniff, very pure red fruit, very alluring, sexy even, its complexity developing slowly. There's a good balance of red fruit,spices and iron fillings with no component dominating at the cost of the others. The palate is up to par, just as alluring and inviting. (Oct. 7, 2017)

230 NIS.

Dönnhoff, Nahe, Oberhäuser Brücke, Riesling Spätlese, 2007

A bad start. The color was not a good sign, light-amber and gold, way too deep for a ten year old Spätlese. The nose was a little more promising - apples and spices - but the palate is the worst offender of all, fat and cloying. Forty minutes later and the Brücke has gone through a full makeover. All the fat gone, it shows a lithe, fresh, racy figure - all the things you want in a top flight Riesling. Maybe the dollop of sweetness at the end is more fitting for an Auslese but it's balanced by salty flavors. Ultimately not a great bottle but its come back is very impressive. (Oct. 8, 2017)


Tabor, Shahar, Riesling, 2017

Well structured, an interesting nose - fresh apples and white pepper - now, if only it had a bit more flavor... (Oct. 9, 2017)

Feldstein, Sauvignon Blanc, 2015

It was so hard to get a good read of this wine at Avi's launch that I had to get an extra bottle for a second peek. The big block last time was the predominance of gooseberries and the second bottle is just the same, except it's starting to show minerals on the nose. In a way, it mixes Kiwi hygiene and ripeness (to the point it even hints at currants) with the kinky salinity of the best of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. Except it's still very much cloaked in its own monolithic shell. (Oct. 13, 2017)

About 120 NIS, your mileage may vary.

Giacomo Fenocchio, Barolo, 2012

This is very classic, but probably proves that most of the pleasure in Piedmont today is in the crus. (Oct. 14, 2017)

Álvaro Castro, Quinta da Pellada, Dão, Tounot, 2011

The importer says this is a blend of Touriga Nacional and Pinot Noir, but some online wine shops say Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Alfrocheiro Preto. There's certainly a fresh, floral sensuality to it that is Pinot-ish but the dark color and savory herbs, recalling tobacco leaves, is all Portugal. I think this has reached its peak plateau; it'd have needed sterner tannins and sharper acidity for a longer shelf life. (Oct. 15, 2017)

Tshernichonsky, about 300 NIS.

Tzora Vineyards, Judean Hills, Blanc, 2016

Nowhere is the modern winemaking evolution in Israel more evident than in our Chardonnay. The best of the crop have steered away from the bland, oaked products of copycat producers of a decade ago that fooled so many consumers and critics, some of which, in hindsight, should have known better. This is a firm, yet friendly, wine, its acid backbone providing ample support to the ripe fruit. But fuck the polite description of measured balance, what should win you over is the lovely bouquet of citrus fruit and minerals - even if the palate is going to remain bitter for 2018 and a long stretch of 2019.  (Oct. 17, 2017)

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Blanc de Blancs, 2009

For years I'd been wondering when they'd finally do it, when GHW would manage to ruin their last remaining great wine. When the BdB would go the way of the dodo and the elegant Yarden Cabernet. Don't worry, that hasn't happened yet, not quite - but, the 2009 is only good. Which, when you think about it is a minor miracle - a good, worthwhile Israeli sparkling wine with no local predecessor and virtual no peer - that I don't stop to think about too much and I should. It's a shame that, while I thought previous vintages could give a good n.v. Champagne a run, this lacks body and presence, even though its complex and savory enough to make a fine dinner companion. (Oct. 19, 2017)

Luis Pato, Bairrada, Vinha Pan, 2011

I wonder whether Luis Pato might be interested in a barter deal for my translation skills. I think he broke Google Translate. It took me a couple of passes through the winery's notes to suss that the wine is sourced from the same vineyard as his sparkling Baga wine, Pan being short for "a place called Panasqueira" - or a more marketable label. Tne vineyard is first harvested for the sparkling wine, then for this a month later. According to Pato, this gives the wine "unusual concentration". Thankfully, six years after that second harvest, that concentration shows as a very good integration of fruit, tannins and acid, rather than a monster bomb - which, to be honest, is what the phrase "unusual concentration" often implies. It's still in its formative days, though, so it's very dusty, almost tarry a la Nebbiolo. I also find graphite, iron and ink and a very saline finish. Days will tell, quite a few of them - right now, that dusty character is a little too much. (Oct. 21, 2017)

Tabor, Sufa, 2013

This Petit Sirah-Cabernet Sauvignon blend is the best wine I've tasted from Tabor recently, including more prestigious wines like the Shahar above or the Tannat. The nose is subtly earthy and dusty - I stress the word "subtly" because the offhand nuances are a relief after the Pato Pan - and the fruit is at quite a precise juncture between ripeness and freshness. Lovely.

But seriously, Tabor people, what's with the back label spiel? "An exciting, fascinating wine that offers a sensual experience that leaves a long lasting impression" reads like a parody. (Oct. 22, 2017)

Niepoort, Ten Year Tawny Port, nv

This is lighter than the Colheita, 2005, with roughly the same level of complexity and character, though: nuts, cured meats, mildew. The rusty, savory finish takes it beyond aperitif/digestif territory where it's actually not a bad accompaniment to a winter stew or the like. (Oct. 29, 2017) 

Porto, 160 NIS.

Chateau Cantemerle, Haut-Medoc 5me Cru, 2008

When I bought this six or seven years ago, it was already quite sad to think what 200 NIS could have bought a decade before. In 2017, 200 NIS will hardly even get you a Cru Bourgeois and that's depressing. But this is a very, very nice wine, its nose very fine, actually, a mix of black fruit, crushed rocks and a touch of cedar, detailed and refined. The palate has solid weight and length and is very refreshing - rusty and tart in a textbook claret way, the same rust and tartness fanning out into a splendid savory bite on the finish. (Oct. 31, 2017)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Iterum Caftory

For my money, Uri Caftory (IPVinum) is one of the most distinctive local importers, one of only two or three with anything like a individual voice that they actually came up with on their own. The range is limited to France, usually to the less traveled parts of southern France (that is, less traveled by local importers). Even when he strays closer to the more familiar appellations, he either fishes unknown names or comes up with obscure satellite appellations most of us never knew existed. I can't say I'm always an ardent follower of his approach, but he has come up with a few names that are very dear to me (Redde foremost, but I'd also recommend Matthieu Barret from Cornas and Domaine de l'Horizon in Languedoc - there are others, but these are a good place to start). 

Two recent additions to the portfolio especially illustrate his approach and its appeal to his fan base, such as it is.


The first hails from Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine, which is an appellation which I explore whenever I get the chance (but which is sadly under-represented locally). The cognoscenti claim Muscadet can age for a very long time. My stance so far is that I'm happy with five to eight years on them. The three wines I tried from Bonnet-Huteau should reach that milestone with ease.

Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie, Les Dabinieres, 2015

I'm not a terribly perceptive lover of fruit. Usually, what I pick up is apples, peaches or just generic yellow or tropical fruit. I'm useless beyond that. So here, I just noted yellow fruit, but there's a lightly spicy kick to it and touches sculptor clay. This is just a pleasant pairing for a light meal, but there's an elegant small scale sparkle to it. (Sept. 7, 2017)

80 NIS.

Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie, Les Gautronnières, 2015

I checked the winery's site. Each of the bottles under discussion here come from vineyards with different soil types. The Dabinieres comes from "schist and gneiss" and the Gautronnières doesn't. It is an "expression of a terroir made of green rocks and amphilolitic silidous-clay soil". Well. It has a different character, anyway, steelier and more elegant, very tense minerality. With both these wines, you get an insinuation of potential of additional complexity and breadth. (Sept. 8, 2017)

80 NIS.

Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie, Les Laures, 2015

This is the priciest, but it doesn't yet show where the expense went, because it is so drenched and entrenched in minerals that they actually obscure the fruit. Almost like tannins, really. The potential is here as well, but the wine doesn't insinuate the need for cellaring, it actually insists on it. (Sept. 10, 2017)

125 NIS.

Guilhem et Jean-Hugues Goisot

Goisot is a producer from St. Bris outside the Chablis border. Caftory says Goisot is just as good as any good Chablis producer. If I were the importer, I'd say the same thing. But I googled around and it seems to be a fairly consensual opinion. Goisot seems to be as close to a household name as that area ever gets. What Uri brought are wines from Côtes d'Auxerre, which is even more obscure. How obscure? The edition I have of the Johnson and Robinson Atlas Of Wine devotes a couple of sentences to it. The New Sotheby's Encyclopedia of Wine dismisses it and Hugh Johnson's Wine Pocketbook doesn't even miss but does recommend Goisot under the St. Bris and Irancy entries.

St. Bris is a Sauvignon appellation, Irancy is Pinot Noir and, finally, Côtes d'Auxerre is Chardonnay. You're all set to go on to the tasting notes.

Côtes d'Auxerre, Gueules de Loup, 2014

This is as good as a Chablis Premier Cru: lithe, long and complex, the acidity so vibrant it's almost combustible. There's enough to differentiate it from Chablis. It mixes the fossil and salt thing with flint, and it might be a tad fatter, I'm still undecided on that. Whatever, it's so tasty you'd be a real dumbass not to buy it. (Sept. 12, 2017)

175 NIS.

Côtes d'Auxerre, Corps de Garde, 2014

I suppose this sort of parallels a village Chablis. This is very racy and rocky, impressing as lime juice poured over oyster shells. It's not of obvious lesser breed than the Gueules de Loup, a little less complex for sure, but its steely focus stands out and the marine character is less overt (Sept. 13, 2017)

125 NIS.

Côtes d'Auxerre, Biaumont, 2014

This seems the most intense and pungent of the three to me. Whereas I thought the Gueules de Loup was fatter than most Chablis, this might be leaner, actually. It's very savory, though. You could argue with my enthusiastic assessment of Goisot - I think I was fairly sound and levelheaded here, but I wish I'd had more exposure to the house before making my final call - but that savoriness is what makes it cross over. That same tasty, saline savoriness that is the grail stone we always seek in Bourgogne. (Sept. 16, 2017-

175 NIS.

Some other wines from the portfolio:

Domaine Bott-Geyl, Kronenbourg, Lieu-dit, Riesling, 2009

Even though I consider Alsace a distant third among the classic Riesling countries (after Germany and Austria), I do like to have a try at it every now and then. It is a beautiful place, really it is, and the terroir is intricate in a way that appeals to the more bookish wine geeks. There are literally hundreds of producers no one outside of France has ever heard of.

Caftory has been carrying Bott-Geyl for years. It's an interesting little house, given to wines spiked with an abundance of minerals. This wine comes from what in Burgundy would be a village or Premier Cru vineyard. Since Alsace has about fifty Grand Cru vineyards, I'm not sure the difference between a mediocre Grand Cru and a good Premier Cru would be very pronounced, but Kronenbourg seems good enough to broach on GC territory. I've had a few vintages of the Bott-Geyl version and it's always very mineral laden. I've even had the 2009 before. At the time, I was hoping it would improve its interest level with age, without actually expecting to run into it again. Now that I have, I love how it spikes the apple fruit with quartz. I know, I already used the verb "spike" earlier in my spiel, but "lace" is a little too tame for the the complex and fierce impression the Kronenbourg makes on the taste buds. It's at its peak now, but I'd definitely buy more. (Sept. 22, 2017)

125 NIS for the 2013.

Dirler-Cade, Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes, 2012 

Caftory has been recommending this for a while. Naturally, I shied away. Sylvaner is the neutral, workhorse grape of Alsace. There's every reason to pursue other wines, even if this specific wine is made of old vines. Nonetheless, I was in an adventurous, explorative frame of mind, so I took home a bottle. This is a neutral wine, indeed. Aromatically, at least. Nothing explodes out of the glass. yet, there is a delicate, nutty earthiness to it. The payback's on the palate. The texture is firm, complex and interesting, with spicy, rocky finish. Nothing very neutral there. (Sept. 23, 2017)

100 NIS

And one red.

Domaine Christophe Peyrus, Coteaux du Languedoc, Pic St. Loup, 2014

Christophe Peyrus is the owner of Clos Marie, a Languedoc property that Uri has been importing from the start. This is pure Syrah, I think, and it has the same vibrant freshness as a young Saint Joseph or Crozes-Hermitage. Except, it ups the mineral quotient and there's almost no black pepper. I think that conveys its personality. It's a little dirtier than I prefer these days, but all in all it's a tasty wine. (Sept. 30, 2017)

135 NIS.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Meal and a La Meal At Halutzim (Sept. 28, 2017)

Gvaot, Gofna, Jandali, 2016

This is yet another wine made of indigenous grapes that predate the plantings of commercial wine grapes in the nineteenth century. It's fresh, floral and saline, but simple and short. The background story is more interesting than the wine itself. It'd make a fine summer wine to sip on a balcony and I suppose if you paid a few euros for a carafe at bistro on a holiday you'd be more pleased with it than had you paid the 100 NIS or so that it costs in Israel.

Roulot, Meursault, Vireuils, 2014

This is a good village wine that doesn't reach a lot beyond its class (and at its list price of 400 NIS it might be expected to show almost Premier Cru breed) but does show a racy, mineral edge and understated finesse I usually associate with Puligny, as well as a fine, smooth texture, with long, persistent grip.

Pierre Gimmonet, Oger Grand Cru, 2004

This is the first single vineyard Champagne Gimmonet had ever made. It is still explosively young, but long with great multi-dimensional presence. A delicious mix of chalk and salty and sweet flavors, it has all the power and complexity of Gimmonet's Special Club wines, except that it's a single vineyard Grand Cru. Unless the concept and bottling is purely a marketing ploy, I would expect to find some differences in a side by side tasting. 

Yves Cuilleron, Cote Rotie, Madiniere, 2008

It has that signature I associate with the North Rhone, black pepper and a core of smoked meat. But it's awkwardly structured, with green tannins in the finish and not a great Cote Rotie, despite my enjoyment .

Chapoutier, Hermitage, La Meal, 1999

A great Rhone really gets me at my core, a delectable siren of aromas and flavors. And this, which had been sitting in my fridge forever, it seems, is one of the best wines I ever brought to a tasting. It has power, it has presence, but for all that it is nuanced - a detailed tapestry of tapenade, pepper and minerals. We pay (or pretend we do) wine writers for their tasting notes, but a grand vin like this is an exercise in futility because words can't really capture or convey its understated grandeur.

Miles, Gewurtzraminer, 2013

This is a very typical expression of the grape, and while it is not really a great dessert wine, its mineral bitterness will at least ward off the casual Gewurtz drinkers out for an easy, flattering drop.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Taking Care Of Business (Sept. 2017)

Domaine Bernard Baudry, Chinon, La Croix Boissée, 2011

I assumed that 2011 in the Loire was the equivalent of 2011 in Burgundy and the Rhone: a vintage you could approach early while waiting for the 2010's to start showing facial hair. And this is indeed approachable, but not quite. It impresses me as a nubile claret, much cleaner than other Baudry cuvees, which I'd grown just a bit disillusioned with lately. There's much potential here, natural fruit sweetness whose personality is rendered with notes of cedar and bell pepper and a sort of earthy, gritty, saline finish. Approachable my foot, it could age anywhere between five and fifteen years more. But it's really a great pleasure to follow it now, if you have more than one bottle. (Sept. 1, 2017)

Wine Route, 160 NIS.

Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint-Aubin Premier Cru, Clos de Meix, 2013

There's always a sense of classicism with Lamy: class form, classic flavors, classic aromas. You'd think so much typicism and adherence to a paradigm would be boring, but the wines are so vivid and flavorsome they would escape any pigeon hole. Like just about any Lamy white, Clos de Meix displays the same kind of complexity and finesse I associate with Puligny and makes me very happy when I find it in the less expensive villages. Not that Lamy is cheap, exactly, but the wines are usually cheaper than Puligny, except for the flagship Haute Densité bottlings. (Sept. 4, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 270 NIS. 

Sphera, First Page, 2016

This time it's a blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Semilon. However, it's hard for me to spot any of the components (not that there's anything wrong with that, I'm just commenting on the fact). Aromatically, there is a sort of vaguely gray and muddy rainwater character, which I like, that reminds me of Muscadet, a bit. It's easy going on the palate: the fat comes from the Semilon, the sweetness from the Pinot and Riesling? Just a guess. Anyway, this is an interesting wine and there is both austerity and and an interplay between clarity and brittle, muddy bitterness that I take to be the winery's signature. (Sept. 5, 2017)

Sphera, Chardonnay, 2016

This is even better. It catches one fine aspect of Chardonnay: the fruit mostly apples with a touch of oranges, cloaked by flint; smoky, savory, almost salty, on the finish. It's actually the best aspect of Chardonnay and the reason people make those comparisons with Burgundy - before the grape became misused and abused, people looked to Bourgogne whites to showcase Chardonnay's ability to reflect changes in climate and field as nuances of savory, mineral drenched flavors. The flavor here is just a little more dilute than what you get in the Cote d'Or, at least, but there is a lithe structure and a fine sense of purity. Doron Rav Hon is a fine winemaker. (Sept. 6, 2017)

Both should be about 110 NIS, but this is Israel and your mileage might vary.

Francois Villard, Saint Joseph, Mairlant, 2013

A fun Syrah from an excellent practitioner: peppery and meaty, lithe and succulent, with persistent yet friendly tannins and iron on the nose. Deep, fulfilling nose, the palate a step behind. (Sept. 10, 2017)

Domaine Duroché, Gevrey-Chambertin, Les Jeunes Rois, 2014

It will age well - there's no way a wine with such balance of fruit and acidity could fail to age - but it's so unnervingly delicious and tasty I forgive myself for opening it now. This lieux-dit, like most of the domaine's wines, has a nose that shows a floral side of Gevrey with a touch of animal hide minerals. It's a lithe wine that makes me wonder how the hell a tart wine like that wound up with so many flavors without tiring my palate.

Cool fact to impress your friends: les jeunes rois means the young kings, but the vines are actually over sixty years old. (Sept, 18, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 240 NIS.

Benoit Ente, Aligote, 2014

I really have no idea how he does it, but all Benoit Ente's wines show filigreed purity and complexity and punch above their weight. In the case of the Aligote, make that way, way above their weight. It's probably my favorite Aligote, year in, year out, a prime showcase that it can be a world class grape. It has a very attractive flint and matchstick bouquet and a sour/sweet/salty melange on the finish. (Sept. 27, 2017)

Bourgogne Crown, 100 NIS.

Tabor, Shifon Vineyard, Tannat, 2013

Everyone seems to be planting everything, trying to carve out  a niche while participating in the national hunt for the ideal local grape or grapes, hoping to nail one that can be marketed as "Mediterranean". One of Tabor's candidates is the Tannat grape. They've got a precedent, at least. Originating in southwest France, it's already the Uruguayan national grape. It's usually a tannic wine, appropriately enough given its name, and that is also the case here. It's not a very easy wine - it's not very friendly and it's certainly not elegant, it's actually rather awkward. (Sept. 29, 2017)

100 NIS.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Playing Guess The Wine at Claro (Sept. 14, 2017)

Schafer-Frolich, Nahe, Felsenberg, Riesling Großes Gewäch, 2008

Even though the nose suggests sweetness, this is a very dry wine. It's very elegant - unlike some Großes Gewäches - its dryness and mineral drenched backbone tempered by hints of sweetness on the finish. It's complex on both nose and palate, where the clean fruit complemented by minerals and dill. 

It was obliviously German. Nahe to me was also an obvious call - the marriage of elegance and dryness is very much in the Nahe style, even though I suspect that the "Nahe style" is really the style of three-four producers. Once we got that far, the playing field narrowed down, because we all buy from the same places and we all know what Nahe producers are available locally. It just didn't seem like a Donnhoff. Donnhoff's dry wines are much rougher and grainier than this and, to be honest, somewhat less fine. So we narrowed it down to Schafer-Frolich and Emrich-Schonleber and took random shots at the year. A decent round.

Simon Bize, Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru, Les Fournaux, 2002

When I tested it at the start of the evening, it was very murky, all rotting forest floor leaves and old wood. By the time we got to it an hour or so later, it had emerged to show sweet cherries, the rot and mud transformed into iron and wet earth.

In Burgundy, you have the bad stuff, the good stuff, the really good stuff and at the top, the glorious, moving bottles of juice spearheaded by the expensive unicorns you just can't afford. This edges into the "really good stuff" category that is where the Bourgogne freaks would love to live every day. It has excellent balance and finesse, although, to be honest, it is just a tad foursquare.

This was my wine and I knew that only a real die-hard would guess the village. Everyone got Cote de Beaune and said it was not from Beaune itself. Which was a good direction because this really is a cross between the finesse of Volnay and muscular Pommard.

Segal, Unfiltered, 2008

This is obviously a warm, New World wine. Wait, it wasn't obvious at the start. It was a struggle to decide between a modern winemaker from warm, Old World country and a New World wine outright. I guessed south France because the depth and fullness of the fruit suggested, to me, a cross between Cahors and a less tannic Madiran. I was just following wild impressions and wild guesses. The difficulty was that the wine itself eludes obvious categorizations. Basically, it has sweet fruit that is structured as well - and that combination is always hard to peg down - with notes of iron, brine and spices.

Once its origin was revealed, I guessed the year based on my assumptions on how a local red of this style might age. It was a convoluted guess, though. Assuming an age-worthy style, anything post 2010 would have just felt too young. It had to be something older, but I don't think a lot of winemakers in the last decade managed to get that much fullness; a lot of wines were a blend of ripe and green. So there was really a limited period when someone could have made a wine of this style, and arguably less than five who actually did.

Josheph Drouhin, Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru, Champeaux, 2009

During this round of the guessing game, I was the last one to succumb to the idea that this is a Bourgogne. Once I bought into that, Gevrey was a good choice. I didn't guess the year, I got Drouhin after going through a couple of Gevrey names. A bad round for me, but a truly excellent wine, very much in the Gevrey style, floral and earthy, black fruit driven by soft tannins with fresh acidity that is quite surprising given the year. Will easily age for another decade.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Summer Of Riesling, 2017

Only Reggie Jackson has ever had a more successful autumn season
than Riesling in the Mosel
Fritz Haag, Mosel, Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese, 2011

This is a much more classic rendition of Mosel, a light bodied, almost ethereal Spätlese, smokey slate and apples, icy cold and steely, and there're even hints of sea salt and lemons. Look, this is the annual Riesling roundup, I'm going to go full retard poetic on you by the time I'm through, but I was hoping to start off much more critical and analytic. Yet this gossamer abstraction of Teutonic cool -  complex and youthful, monolithic and welcoming at the same time - claws elegantly at my heart and jabs my intellect into silence. (May 8, 20170

33 euro in Berlin. Giaconda carry some Haag.

Max Ferd. Richter, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese, 2004

Unctuous enough to be a beerenauslese, I swear, monolithic enough to be a five year old, the acidity buried until the very end of each sip. I think this will be massive for a decade or more and I'm not sure it will ever shed its fat, even then. Right now, brutally simple. (May 3, 2017)

Weingut Max Ferd. Richter, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Graacher Domprobst, Riesling Auslese, 2004

Although also years from maturity, this much better structured and racier, more complex, the honeyed apples flecked with apples skins and dill. (Jul. 13, 2017) 

40 GBP.

Dr. Loosen, Mosel, "L", 2015

Efrat asked me to buy some wines for "her'. What she means by that is the following. A relatively inexpensive, fruity white, with good acidity and residual sugar. A tasty white. A wine to refresh yourself after a long run. What the hell, I know what she wants. She wants a Riesling. There you go, babe. (May 22, 2017)

Wine Route, 70 NIS.

There's a new German Riesling producer in town, imported by Wine Route, which brings their total up to two. Well, any new news is good news, and this is an especially venerable name.

Markus Molitor, Mosel, Haus Klosterberg, Riesling, 2015

This is the basic regional wine, and it comes in two styles, dry and off dry (white and green capsules - this is the only way to tell the two styles apart at house Molitor, throughout all the predikats). This is as good an introduction to Mosel as you will get from any marquee name, likely as good as many a kabinett. (Jun. 30, 2017)

About 90 NIS.

Markus Molitor, Mosel, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Kabinett, 2015

Even if all the Mosel produced was kabinetts, it would still be one of the greatest wine regions of the world. Here is some corroborative evidence. The Bernkasteler has great length and filigree structure, fine acidity - normal ante penny stuff for a great producer of the Mosel. What gets me, really, really gets me, is the way the Mosel style is tweaked, the racy greenness of the granny apples transformed into guyava fruit laced with a touch of salt. The Mosel has so many great vineyards that I suppose the Badstube might be overlooked (for example, the 2001 edition of the Johnson and Robinson World Atlas of Wine calls the Bernkasteler Doctor a great first class vineyard but the Badstube is only a first class vineyard - and it was great fun tracking that down), but Molitor solicits a potent raciness here that elevates it to greatness. (Jul. 3, 2017)

About 130 NIS.

Markus Molitor, Mosel, Wehlener Klosterberg, Riesling Kabinett Trcoken, 2014

Molitor has a myriad bottlings, Wine Route are bringing in only two kabinetts at this time. This is very fine, high praise from someone who's never eager to buy dry Mosels - hell, I'm going to buy more of this! Forget nuances and complexity. I'm sure they'll come in time, the balance ensures at least five years if cellaring potential. Just enjoy the visceral essence and laser sharp intensity of the green apples. (Jul. 4, 2017)

About 130 NIS.

Markus Molitor, Mosel, Riesling Alte Reben, 2015

The producer's site doesn't go into the details of specific wines, so I can only guess this is a blend of old vines from different vineyards. It's dry and more intense and denser than the Haus Klosterberg. More yellow and white fruits than apples, it is a mellower style than a Grosses Gewaches, yet its backbone of minerals is persistent and long. And tasty. (Jul. 6, 2017)

About 160 NIS.

Markus Molitor, Mosel, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Spätlese, 2012

This is far as I got with Molitor. The ausleses were just too expensive. But you could stop right here and be totally happy. Everything I love about the lineup is in place: the purity, the elegant delineation of form, the tasty, moreish effect on the palate. Compared to the others, though, this is the "it girl". (Aug. 5, 2017)

About 170 NIS.

Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Graacher Himmelreich, Riesling Kabinett, 2014

As undeniably great as Molitor is, Herr Schaefer is a national treasure. If you were building a German Riesling portfolio, and started off with Schaefer, I could see myself forgiving you for stopping right there. This has always been an intense, moreish wine, but it's now settled down a bit to show lime and apricots in addition to green apples. Without any loss of focus and vividness. You know, I don't think I've ever drank a wine that managed to do so much with the primary aromas and flavors of youth. (Jul. 5, 2017)

Fat Guy, 139 NIS.

And now, here's...

Dönnhoff, Nahe, Oberhäuser Brücke, Riesling Spätlese, 2008

Brücke is formally the 2nd or 3rd best vineyard Dönnhoff works, but looking back at my notes, it doesn't always hit very high peaks. This, however, is a high class beauty, whose claim to greatness lies in its purity and clarity of fruit. as well as a complexity carried by mellow nuances of rock and salt. Nuances. That's what this Brücke is all about: nuances worthy of a full evening of contemplation. (Jul. 8, 2017)

Giaconda, about 200 NIS.

Dönnhoff, Nahe, Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle, Riesling Großes Gewächs, 2008

Hermannshöhle is, of course, the Dönnhoff Grand Cru (not to mention the source of many scatological puns). And Großes Gewächs is the price you pay for being VDP. Seriously, I know what I'm saying is nigh heresy, but at best you pay a fifty percent markup on the price of a Spätlese from the same site just to get a dry version of grapes of the same quality. Anyway, this can be a great wine, don't get me wrong. But so is the Hermannshöhle Spätlese, that's all I'm saying. The question is, is this bottle a great bottle? I can sense this has the making of a great one, I get a notion of the quality and tensile structure of the fruit, the minerals on the verge of being uncoiled on both nose and palate, there is intensity on the finish - but it doesn't bloom or move, and I can't tell if it's on its way to future greatness or just missed a turn on the way there. Mostly what I miss is the presence of a great wine, that sense of multifacetedness, that feeling that every bit is just so vibrant with being that you feel the bottle is a chapel you could walk around in. (Jul. 9, 2017)

Giaconda, 350 NIS. I had the 2009 a couple of months later and had the same reservations. Same disappointment at the lack of presence. 

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

This was always a great kabinett, with precise balance, but I'm really running out good things to say about it. It's actually harder than coming up with a cute meme or picture for this column every year. (Aug. 12, 2017)

Fat Guy, 139 NIS.

Great companionship can elevate an already great wine, into, well, magic...

Selbach-Oster, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Spatlese Feinherb, Ur Alte Reben, 2012

I've had this wine twice in the past. I'm actually quite proud of myself for having Selbach-Oster in my sights before Eldad started importing the house -  so early, in fact, that my first bottle was so embryonic when I drank it that it might as well have been a barrel sample. It hasn't developed a lot since. It might actually be a Mosel trocken that deserves as much time in the cellar as an Auslese. It's all steel and apple/lime acidity, but the texture and salinity not only provide obvious hints at its potential, but they also make it a wonderful match with sushi - because another thing it hints at is ginger. Hints, hints, hints - in ten year it will will finally make an overt statement. (Aug. 27, 2017)

Fat Guy, 169 NIS.