Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Wines and Meat (Sept. 6, 2018)

Wines for hipsters vs. wines for the affluent
If someone asked me to pick a wine for hipsters, the last place I'd look for one is Bordeaux. I love Bordeaux. I love the infinite variety and richness, the heritage, the dream of a lush life the wines offer, the taste. But, Bordeaux is basically about getting the best wine money can buy. It's been like that since the Dutch drained its swamps and the upper class came rushing in to build their chateaus. Even the garagistes were just a tweak to the system, not a real change in direction.

In short, good to great wines all over the place, dependable and predicable, but, as Hugh Johnson put it, "not much novelty - hence less sommelier excitement".

But there's one small domaine in Saint Julien that's been doing things their way for centuries, a Carl Fredricksen hanging on to his house while skyscrapers tower over him. The Fillastre family has been tending the Domaine du Jaugare and their meager 1.3 hectares of vineyard since 1654. But they've come to the end of the line. Jean-François Fillastre is a childless octogenarian who's been preserving his family's heritage and flying in the face of modernity to the point that the domaine was rejected from the appellation for lack of typicality.

Judging by the prices this sells for at Manhattan wine stores, the hipsters have indeed been taking to Jean-Francois like Russel took to Carl. 

We recently drank the Domaine du Jaugaret, 2012 that Yotam Sharon brought for a belated birthday celebration. I liked it. It didn't make me swoon, but it really is a charming wine and if the establishment is successful in grinding down the domaine, it will be a tragedy. The grapes seem to have been picked slightly earlier than the norm in Bordeaux, so the fruit is very red (not green, just red). That's probably why pundits compare it to Burgundy - I personally find it Loire-like, rather, on the palate. The winemaking is solid, with no bombast or flash. The fruit is clean, with good acidity and no brett. A wine of great, rough charm and the "lack of typicality" claim baffles me. Sure, it's miles apart from the Leovilles, say, but for me, well within reasonable bounds of variety.

Benoit Ente, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, Sous Le Puits "Terre de Blagny", 2012

This is one of my favorite producers in the Cote de Beaune, with a style and approach that highlights balanced, acidity driven wines. The wines cost roughly as much as the better known Puilgny name Etienne Sauzet, but Ente consistently thrills me more. This is lovely, with a nose of decent complexity, if not more, and detailed nuances of flint. It's lithe and savory and develops and grows well in glass.

Michel Redde et fils, Pouilly-Fumé, Les Champs des Billons, 2011

This family establishment, and this wine in particular, are a long time favorite of mine, but I'm not sure aging really serves the Champs des Billons that well. At four years old, it was as great as the very best Chablis Grand Cru. Two years later, it started slowing down. This bottle is still holding steady, but it sure doesn't seem like there's an upcurve in the future. I am going to be more conservative about aging Sauvignon Blancs.

Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac 5me Cru, 2004

I've been fortunate enough to have drunk more than a dozen vintages of Lynch-Bages over the years. And what a classic claret it is, with that elegant richness of form and taste of the best of Bordeaux. This is more of the same and very presentable. If you have multiple vintages, this is the one to open now.

And this is the wine to keep away from for the next ten years:

Chateau Canon, Saint Emilion, Premier Cru Classe, 2015

Too young. Fruity but not raw. 

Alion, Ribera del Duero, 2006

I usually find this boring. At best, it's a well made wine that impresses without straining to do so, but lacks excitement nonetheless. That's just me, of course, but I do try to like any wine I buy, if only to justify the expenditure. Tonight, though, it really meshed in the lineup and there’s a freshness and persistent buzz of iron that lifts it beyond its usual game. Best Alion experience I’ve had.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Hot Days of Summer's End (Aug. 2018)

The Crianza that decided to be a Grand Reserva
R. López de Heredia, Rioja Crianza, Blanco Viña Gravonia, 2007

The problem with mature white Riojas is that the style is the quintessential acquired taste. I have acquired a taste for them over the years, to the point I now regret I didn't buy more of the Gravonia. It's easy to pigeonhole the savory aromas - roasted nuts and minerals bordering on cured meats - as oxidized, and that's certainly what I thought when I first encountered white Riojas. And, surely there is light touch of deliberate and measured oxidation. Yet, the Gravonia's bouquet is so complex, vibrant and convincing that it wipes out any preexisting bias. Same for the palate: there's a richness bordering on sweetness, but even after years in bottle, the acidity is still in vibrant balance with the fruit, so that the form remains focused and culminates in food friendly saltiness. 

There is actually another problem with mature white Riojas: bottle variations I've had a decent amount of white Riojas from Heredia. Some were gems, some were really off and some just did not meet expectations. I've had Reservas playing at Grand Reserva level and vice versa. The best white Heredia I've had was a twenty one year old Grand Reserva Tondonia 1991. This is a very close second. (Aug. 15, 2018)

Fat Guy, 150 NIS.

Joseph Drouhin, Gevrey-Chambertin, 2012

I don't have too many data points on Drouhin, but the best of the wines I've drunk ranked as the best wines of their class from the negociant houses. A wine store near our offices accepts lunch vouchers as payment and I'd had my eye on this for a few months. The thing was, I didn't trust the store's climate control. When I asked the seller to bring a bottle from the back of the shelf (less exposure to light), he said the batch came in "just this week". Yeah, right. But this bottle is in decent shape, a sous bois, umami shape. It's an old school Gevrey, a wine that coughs and scratches, rather than seducing: drying tannins and aromas of black fruit, blood and iron, and not one to age further. Yet it does have its roguish charm and those tannins eventually soften up and put out. I like. (Aug. 2, 2018)

Vitkin, Israeli Journey, Special Edition, 2016 

What's special about this edition is that it's based on Marsellan (and then Carignan, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdo), which has been hit and miss with me so far. It's different from the regular Journey in that it is more floral and riper, whereas the regular shows iron and graphite. It reminds me of their 2014 Grenache, and although it is less convincing than that beautiful wine at this point, I think there's mid term promise here. (Aug. 3, 2018)

About 90 NIS.

Vitkin, Grenache Noir, 2015

I didn't think this is up to the par of the 2014 when I first drank it a few months ago, and I still don't think so now, but it's improving. The nose is more complex and the palate has gained a lithe shape that I really like. I do find it hard to find a tangible reason why it's a lesser wine - mostly the length and I probably miss the floral element that I loved about the 2014 - but it is a wine that I want to follow in future vintages. The reason for that is the way Assaf Paz was able to get pure, fruity, spicy flavors out of Grenache while keeping the alcohol, sugar and extract down to very reasonable levels. Take that, Chateauneuf! (Aug. 16, 2018)

Arnaud Baillot, Montagny Premier Cru, Vieilles Vignes, 2016

This is the new Burgundy negociant that Wine Route has started importing and I know nothing about the enterprise. It was a whim buy and I forgot that Premier Cru is overvalued at Montagny, with about 50 Premier Cru vineyards. This is a decent wine, nothing especially exciting here, it could serve as an introduction to Bourgogne but that's it. (Aug. 4, 2018)

About 200 NIS.

Margalit, Paradigm, 2016

2015 was the vintage where Margalit released their first red made of non-Bordeaux grapes since the one-off 1999 Carignan. I liked it a lot and I like the latest release almost as much, with some reservations, as it it's on the oaky side, on the cusp of the area where I tend to lose interest. My gut feeling is that another year of experience with the Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre grapes and the better harvest conditions in 2016 promise a wine I'd like even more down the road, when the oak integrates better. It's very well made, balancing deep dark fruit with a good flair of acidity, and despite the 14.5% ABV, it's lither than its Southern Rhone peers - even if right now the finish becomes coarser as the wine airs. (Aug. 11, 2018)

135 NIS.

Chateau Clerc-Milon, Pauillac 5me Cru, 2008

A fifth growth that sometimes deserves its rank and sometimes overachieves. This is the former, although it is enjoyable. The nose is typical Pauillac - blackcurrants, iron, earth and cedar. And a little rustic, with a touch of brett. The palate is still disjointed, the tannins and acidity in disharmony, and that makes it tough to enjoy the bottle. (Aug. 18, 2018)

Wine Route, 299 NIS.

Netofa, Latour White, 2016

Netofa is a new one for me, a small winery in the lower Galilee. I checked out the winery's site and I'm a little bothered by the formulaic nods at contemporary PR trends, i.e., references to "Mediterranean varieties" and "compatibility with the terroir" - but the wines are so attractive and tasty, with so little artifice, that they should be judged by their own meritsThe Latour White is a pure Chenin Blanc, aged 10 months in barrel, and it's a well made, worthy wine, with demure notes of pears and earth and a dry, bitter finish. How the Israeli wine world has changed. Fifteen years ago, if anyone made a Chenin, they certainly didn't position it as one of their flagship wines. And, fifteen years ago, a flagship wine was certainly never as understated as this. (Aug. 20, 2018)

Tel Netofa, Tel Kasser Red, 2016

This is an appealing Grenache-Syrah blend, one of two or three that Netofa positions in its top tier. To be quite honest, it's the kind of wine that's easier for me to enjoy than to write tasting notes for. It's very understated and it just doesn't have a very trendy story - just an aromatic signature that recalls Portuguese reds and a gently lithe structure that will pair well with many foods. (Aug. 22, 2018)

Charles Van Canneyt, Bourgogne, 2013

I thought this was close to village level when I drank it three years ago, and certainly the fact that it's still thriving three years later lends credence. As do the weight, texture and complexity - neither of which are world shattering, but of village level nonetheless. Black fruit, fresh forest leaves, rusty tannins. (Aug. 26, 2018)

Wine Route, about 170 NIS.

Harashim, Blue Moon, 2017

Harashim is a bio-dynamic, vegan-friendly winery in the Galilee I'd actually never heard about until we more or less drove by. This Chardonnay is fermented with wild yeasts, like all their wines, and it weighs in at 11.6% ABV. Until I tasted it, I was worried it'd be either too sweet or too lean. Well, it is lithe and on the lean side, but it's a welcome change of pace and I love its matchstick aromas and a salty, citrus finish. On the minus side, it's a little awkward and rough. This is a wine that will force pundits to drink some Muscadet-Sevre-Maine, instead of Chablis, when they try to find a foreign reference point. (Aug. 27, 2018)

80 NIS (I think).

Denis Race, Chablis Premier Cru, Montmains Vieilles Vignes, 2015

I suppose I may have found it too formulaic the first time around, but the Chablis formula is a pretty good one in the first place - and six additional months have made the experience a more intense one. (Aug. 29, 2018)

Wine Route, 2 for 300 NIS

Domaine Triennes, Côtes de Provence, Les Aureliens, 2014

This is a co-venture located south of Aix-en-Provence and co-owned by Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac and Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. This is a Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon blend. I wish it was as interesting as the owners' resumes, but it's basically a solid wine that's duller than many local so-called 'Mediterranean' wines, some of which I've written about above. (Aug. 31, 2018)

Wine Route, 2 for 150 NIS.