Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Got It All Rhone

Domaine Vincent Paris, Saint Joseph, Les Cotes, 2016

My love affair with wine began sixteen years ago, in 2002. That's a long time, almost two generations in the wine world. Right at the start of my wine romance, Al Hashulchan, a local foodies magazine, ran an article in its wine section about the Rhone Valley. Something in the tasting notes and the background story hooked me and my first major purchases were based on the article's recommendations. Over the next few years I kept hunting down Graillot, Cuilleron, Chapoutier (I realized from the start that Guigal was out of my reach). That's more or less all we had in Israel at the time. I still buy them whenever I can, although the fact that the local Cuilleron importer has taken me off the mailing list has placed purchases from that producer on a hiatus.

Sixteen years really is a long time. Enough to change the map a few times over. The Rhone, especially the north, has grown ever more trendy and popular. As the venerable names became more expensive, the new guard marched right in. And some lesser known, older names just leaped out of the cellar to become marquee names. Vincent Paris is one of the new guard in that he created his own domain, but he also inherited vineyards from his grandfather and was trained by his Cornas legend of an uncle, Robert Michel. In that sense he has real ties to the older generation.

This is one of his basic cuvees but it does live up too all that the 2002 article said about Saint Joseph, and everything I've learned about it since: the succulent fruit, the vivid smokey/peppery personality, all sprung to life with seemingly effortless ease. (Apr. 20, 2018)

Fat Guy, 125 NIS.

2015 is the most praised vintage for the north Rhone since 2010. Paris made such great wines in the much less acclaimed 2014 that it's a shame the only Cornas currently available in Israel from 2015 is the entry level Granit 30. The thing about young Syrah, as you'll see in all the notes here, is that it's very vital and crunchy/juicy, almost the most joy that such a tannic red grape can sustain. And Cornas is a tannic appellation, even though Paris is very good at taming the tannins, meshing them and the fruit in a rusty, mineral finish that is very food friendly but also works well alone.

fat Guy, 159 NIS.

Guillaume Clusel (Clusel Roch), Côteaux du Lyonnais, Traboules, 2016 

The Closel family has been making wine in Cote Rotie for over sixty years, which makes them old guard. Parker was already writing about them in the 90's, so they were known on the American marketplace. Their son Guillaume has ventured north with a few rented vineyards in Côteaux du Lyonnais. This is made of Gamay fermented and aged in steel tanks and captures a peppery character similar to North Rhone Syrah. That's actually befitting. Coteau du Lyonnais is an AOC between Beaujolais to the North and the Rhone to the south and this wine hails from a vineyard on the south side of the appellation. Besides that, it's plump and rollicking, the finish soft sandpaper tannic. (Apr. 21, 2018)

Fat Guy, 79 NIS.

Guillaume Clusel (Clusel Roch), St. Joseph, 2016

A very classic Saint Joseph with a more somber personality than the Paris version, the pepper and iron also more pronounced. I'd say it's midway between Cote Rotie and Hermitage: not quite as elegant as the first, less massive than the second. Nonetheless it is not an almost-ran, as it's just as complex as any decent sample of these two big names, just as tasty. (Apr. 24, 2018)

165 NIS.

Yves Cuilleron, IGP Collines Rhodaniennes, Les Vignes d’a Côte, 2016

Syrah from the wrong side of the tracks, sorry, river. This is Syrah as a forward nubile, plump and juicy and floral, a dead ringer for a Saint Joseph of the fresh and fruity kind, pure fun. Not complex but with a refreshingly peppery finish. This cost 12 euros at a supermarket in France, not even one within the Rhône, so ideally it should cost 70 NIS in Israel. But a good price point was never an ideal to die for, for some.

In a similar vein, Jean-Luc Colombo, les Collines de Laurie, Syrah, 2016 is also a very good introduction to the North Rhône. It is made of young Cornas vines. The vinification is the same as the more ‘serious’ wines of the house, other than being bottled after only 7 months in barrel. At 9 euros in French chains, comes across more as Crozes than a Cornas. It’s very fruity, its tannins silky, when you can sense them at all. There are hints of minerals and pepper. In the end, it's just simple fun, but never underestimate the value of fun.

Another wine from the Collines Rhodaniennes IGP is the Michel and Stéphane Ogier, Syrah d'Ogier, 2016, which is sourced from young vines from a flat plain. Wine Route is carrying Ogier again and selling this for 140 NIS. It carries itself better than the Cuilleron, the tone is a littler darker and more complex , carrying black pepper with hints of meat. An initial hole in mid-palate fills up within an hour, delivering juicy, saline flavors. The best of the three IGPs.

Like almost every North Rhone producer, Ogier has a Saint Joseph. The La Passage, 2015 is suave, ripe and juicy, on the modern side. How modern? It's just a little too suave and too ripe, the tannins too sweet and soft. The black pepper aromas are nice, but the nose on the whole lacks depth. The contrast with the less prestigious d'Ogier only emphasizes the disappointment.

Domaine du Coulet (Matthieu Barret), Cornas Brise, Cailloux, 2015

Boutique importers IPVinum (aka Aron Teller and Uri Caftori) carry just a single North Rhone producer. This is the basic Cornas cuvee and this is all they carry, besides a Syrah based Cote de Rhone (a good go-to wine in local restaurants). The winery recommends drinking it at four years port-vintage, more or less. In a vintage like 2015, which is described as the sort of vintage where nature and weather smiled upon the Rhone, the rustic wildness of Cornas is almost too easily tamed here. The fruit is broad and friendly, with fairly complex and nuanced aromas of black pepper, olives, flowers, even meat. The tannins are soft and integrated, asserting themselves more with air and leaving a savory aftertaste, quite a tasty one, that scratches just enough to remind you this is, after all, Cornas. I'm familiar with the 2012, but this exceeded my expectations. Given the quality of fruit and winemaking, as well as how charming this is with patient airing, I'd buy this every vintage and hope to try the more upscale cuvees.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Every Day is Winesday (May, 2018)

Domaine Robert Chevillon, Nuits St. Georges Vieilles Vignes, 2010

Seems at peak maturity, which is surprising given what I know of Chevillon and 2010. The color is browning already, so it might be a bad bottle. As an experience by itself, it's very good, solidly packed forest floor, long if not especially complex. (Apr. 28, 2018)

Wine Route, 200 NIS on discount.

Zarate, Rías Baixas, Albariño, El Palomar, 2016

Everything I liked about the regular Albarino is here, in a wine made of 150 year old vines. I don't know what the aging curve of the grape is and I don't know whether I should have aged it longer. Curiosity killed the wine fridge. The nose is a little more complex than what I remember of the regular, more mineral yet less exotic. The extra yard it brings is greater intensity and a fuller body, but I can't tell if these are enough for great longevity. (May 4, 2018)

Fat Guy, 155 NIS.

Weingut Reinhold Haart, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Riesling Spätlese, 2012

I never bought a lot of Haart and that's a shame. This bottle definitely needs five years - or as many as you want to give, it's going to be a "forever" wine. It's quite hedonistic and concentrated, brimming with summer fruits and enough acidity to balance and promise a log life ahead. (May 5, 2018)

Fat Guy, 199 NIS.

Faustino,  Rioja Gran Reserva, Edicion Especial, 2001

I check the blog's traffic regularly. There's a bot out there that seems to fancy a note I wrote about Faustino ten years ago. I can't explain why that post keeps getting hits every week. I think the bot has an AI that assumes a correlation between consumers of porn and viagra and Faustino fans. Personally, I haven't enjoyed Faustino much recently., although it used to be a staple at home. And, as much as I love Riojas, as I've grown older, I've stopped enjoying Gran Reservas before the age of 20-30. I often find anything younger too muscular and oaky. This is especially true of this Edicion Especial. The fruit's savory enough, but the smell of roasted coconuts from American barrels is too prominent and the palate isn't very complex or interesting. Or well formed, for that matter. (May 25, 2017)

The kind of wine that Wine Route lists for 250-300 NIS and then routinely sells on discount at two for 300. 

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

It's the Champions League Finals. Real Madrid vs. Liverpool. I don't have any British sparklers and I already drank a Rioja the day before, so Spain was not an option for me. I'm not a Real fan, anyway, and a Spanish wine would have been too obvious. So I opted for a Portuguese wine, one pricey enough to warrant a special occasion. This is too young. I remarked when I drank the 2008 that it was too flashy for me and I didn't think it would ever outgrow that flash. This is less flashy, what flash there is is directed at amplifying the fruit: tart fruit with subtle hints of minerals and less obvious hints of flowers. Elegant and long, its youth showing as broad flavors, same youth obscuring its potential. (May 26, 2018)

Eyal Mermelstein (Tchernichovsky)

I rebooted the laptop without noticing a few notes hadn't been saved. Let me go over them quickly from memory, as I think they're of interest.

It's no surprise that I'm a fan of Sphera. Just look how many notes about this local white wine specialist. Maybe the disappearance of my note for the Sphera, Suavignon Blanc, 2015 is a blessing in disguise as I'm sure I was just repeating my usual praises anyway. I would like to point out that even though no one at the time expected a lot out of 2015 due to the weather, this is a wine that has matured very nicely indeed. The Castel, C, 2016 is, sadly, a different matter. I have a lot of respect for this pioneer winery, the winery that arguably invented the boutique winery industry in Israel, blasting out of the kosher ghetto with near-mythic praises from Serena Sutcliffe. But I was never a fan of this Chardonnay. Like the Golan Heights Katzrin, it pays excessive homage to the old school, oaky Meursault style, a style whose faction is not even that popular in Meursault anymore. 

The most interesting of the AWOL notes are from Chablis and its satellites.The Chablis is from a producer I haven't been drinking regularly in years, Jean-Marc Brocard, Chablis Premer Cru, Vau de Vey, 2013. When I started drinking Chablis, there were maybe three, four producers imported on a regular basis. Brocard was not one of them and I bought a few bottles of Le Clos abroad. Two out of three were off and I gave up on Brocard. It's a small sample, I know, but so was my luggage space. This bottle was a fine way to get reacquainted. 2013 seems to be one of those "business as usual' years in Burgundy: not a disaster, not a star, plagued by the usual headaches - rot, hail - quality strictly a matter of the winemakers' competence and perseverance. Brocard did a good job. They're carried by the Flam family's import business, Hagefen, and at 160 NIS I would buy more bottles. The Chablis satellite I mentioned is the Goisot, Côtes d'Auxerre, Gueules de Loup, 2015. 2015 is the sort of rich, ripe vintage that caters to American tastes, if I'm being crude and condescending. It's not a bad vintage, certainly no 2003, more of a repeat of 2009, and it's really overshadowed by the bracing, classic 2014, by all accounts a great vintage for whites across all of Burgundy. My reading tells me that 2014 offered a much more typical rendition of the Chablis style. Having said all that, the three Goisot 2014's I drank were so bracing and austere that I expected Goisot would stay true to Chablis form even in 2015. And I was right. Give them a chance if you want to experience a slightly different aspect of the Chablis marine mineral style. Sold by Uri Caftory's IPVinum, at 165 NIS this costs as much as a Chablis Premier Cru, so you're paying a markup or the novelty factor - I'm telling you that the novelty, such as it is, is worth the price.

Monday, June 4, 2018


Ben Ami, Noble Carignan, 1977

Yair Haidu brought this to a dinner at Pronto last week. I rarely get patriotic and shit, but this makes me proud. While so many Israeli winemakers worked their asses off over the last decade to put Carignan on the map, this bottle slept out of sight and mind in someone’s fridge, made with winemaking technology that was probably a few steps behind contemporaneous standards. A gift of time.

I doubt anyone at Ashkelon Wines thought forty one years ahead. Probably, they were just glad to sell whatever they could to restaurants. I'm not sure anyone expected this to age even ten years. The Carmel 76 and 79 Cabs are generally viewed as the first serious Israeli reds, but the ones I tasted ten, twelve years ago were never as vital as this. I thought this was a thirty year old Rioja or Bandol. It showed the well formed classicism of an ageworthy wine at its peak, yet without the more delineated lines of a colder climate wine like Bordeaux or Burgundy. Given the state of vine growing and winemaking in Israel in the seventies, this is like finding out the Belgians had landed a man on the moon in the fifties. 

The label says the grapes came from a vineyard in Dir Rafat in the Judean Hills and it would have been both ironic and moving if we could be sure it’s the same vineyard where Recanati’s Wild Carignan is sourced from.

This was the evening's unquestionable emotional core, but it was just one wine, albeit a wine that held its own with wines from all over the map.

Tissot, Arbois, Les Graviers, 2012

This is Chardonnay from the Jura. I love Tissot's Cremant du Jura, Blanc de Blanc and had started to explore the Chardonnays when... well, that's a story for another time. This is lovely, showing a facet of Chardonnay I never got anywhere else: sweet, sour and tangy, orange marmalade laced with Atlantic salt, bacon fat and clay. 

Jacquesson, Grand Cru Avize, Champ Cain, 2005

A great Champagne to open when you want to extol the virtues of Blanc des Blancs. For me, it's all about orange blossoms and chalk, spiked with mushrooms, and shows a good marriage of complexity and power, minerals and the savory effect of the mushroom flavors. 

Rene Rostaing, Cote Rotie, Ampodium, 2011

The lithe, tasty expression of Syrah that is Cote Rotie. Utterly drinkable, the tannins soft, yet savory, with just enough presence to lend structure, the aromatics complex and typical (black pepper and bacon).  No one raves about 2011, yet this is still young and already an excellent wine despite being the house's entry level Cote Rotie. 

Chateau Larrivet Haut Brion, Pessac Leognan, 1995

Sometimes Bordeaux surprises you, but for the most part the wines are only as good the reputation of the house and vintage. What we have here is a tasty, but not complex, wine, just what you’d expect from just an average Pessac Leognan property from just a good vintage: rustic black fruit, lead pencil, iron, a touch of brett. 

Foradori, Trentino, Sgarzon, Teroldego, 2014

Sometimes it's all about context. Served after the Ben Ami, the Sgarzon comes off as a well mannered role player, even though it's probably the better wine. Context. A well formed wine with good complexity, tasty and savory, it's worthy of all the praises lavished on the work Elisabetta Foradori has been doing with the Teroldego grape.

Feldstein, Dabuki, 2017

I would guess that of all of Avi's wide (for a boutique) range of wines, the Dabuki is the one that the consumer is the most eager to taste each vintage. At least, consumer me. This is one of the clearest Israeli whites I've tasted, just brilliant clarity of fruit, almost floral like, with a hint of minerals in the finish that I wager will assert themselves more as the wine develops.

Chateau Montus, Madiran, 1998

Well formed and robust, reminding me of a Bordeaux in a year where the grapes ripen enough for a little fat, yet still retain good acidity. This Tannat (and Madiran) benchmark shows currant spiciness and leather, as well as a tannic finish that is both powerful and sharp. Great.