Wednesday, November 21, 2018

File Under Portugal (Autumn, 2018)

I had set myself some wine geek goals on a recent family trip to Portugal. I wanted to expand my horizons. Granted I’ve drank some of the big names in table wines (Luís Pato in Barraida, Álvares Castro in Dao, Niepoort in Douro), but to a large extent, I know more Portuguese wine grapes than wine producers. 

So I wanted to try some Baga based reds made by someone other than Luís Pato. I wanted to try more whites - which I consider the real secret weapon of Portugal. And I wanted to taste some Vinho Verde.

Vinho Verde, green wine, is an AOC named for its style or flavors rather than its color (which is why there’s a red wine in the appellation, which I have yet to try). They offer a rather immediate pleasure: racy, green apples without a lot of complexity. They are rather ubiquitous in Portugal. Every supermarket carries the same 5-10 names, up and down the coast from Lisbon to Oporto, and you can get a good, if rather interchangeable, bottle in the price range of 1 to 5 euros a bottle.

The book on Vinho Verde says the best whites are Alvarinho from the Moncao e Melgaco sub-appellation - and that Soalheiro is the leading name. You can find the basic, plain  Alvarinho bottling in both supermarkets and boutique shops. The 2017 presents very pure and clean apple fruit, finely laced with minerals. Having drunk a decent beginner's selection of Vinho Verde and Spanish Albarino, from good value wines to good quality wines, I can testify this stands at the very top. And this just the basic bottling.

Beyond the basic Alvarinho, Soalheiro test the limits of the genre with Alvarinho-based blends, oak aging, sparkling wines, different alcohol levls and vineyards. The Soalheiro section of the Vinho Verde shelf in the wine shop I visited in Porto was a treasure trove. I opted for the Mineral, 2017, which is sourced from vineyards planted above 200 meters and aims to showcase the granite terroir common to Moncao e Melgaco. What I find here is greater clarity and form than in any other Vinho Verde, a longer finish and, yes, a more intense expression of minerals.

On to 'proper' whites. As good as the green wines can be, as pure and deep as they can be at their best, they  just don't have the breadth and flair of the whites. The whites are Portugal's secret weapon and the best are glorious even in the ostentatiously red regions. It took me a while to understand I prefer them to the reds. The wines I've tasted, now and over the years, make it impossible for me to choose between Dão, Duoro and Bairrada, but I do admit my biggest regret from our Portugal getaway is not buying Bairrada whites.

Moreira, Olazabal e Borges, Dão, M.O.B., 2014

This is a blend of Bircal and Encruzado (currently my favorite grape name). Someone once told that you shouldn't use the word "minerals" in a tasting note if you can't name the minerals and I'm often guilty of that. Especially with Portuguese whites, where the best free association I can come up with is oysters marinated in exotic herbs. This could face down a decent Bourgogne Premier Cru, with its focused composite of acidity and extract. Given its local retail price of 17 euros, I'm considering a relocation.

The Dão is represented in Israel by Alvaro Castro, who has two labels imported to Israel by two different importers, Quinta de Pellada and Quinta de Saes. The Quinta de Saes, Dão, Encruzado, 2016 is a mono-varietal. Encruzado is arguably the crown jewel among the Dão white grapes. It shows elegant minerality, without the explosive, exotic, punch of the M.O.B, offering more overt fruitiness and understated finesse instead. Understandably, its youth is a factor here and deserves a re-visit in a couple of years. 

My experience with Duoro whites has been very successful. The mid-tier whites I drank in Portugal were all very tensile and saline, a perfect expression of sour-sweet fruit and rock. The Niepoort premium wines carried in Israel by Eyal Mermelstein are broad and deep and will carry the same mineral stamp in a more Burgundian mold once they mature. A somewhat more reasonably priced portfolio from the Duoro is CARM (Casa Agrícola Roboredo Madeira). I've drank a good share of the low and mid-tier whites. I find them exotic and tropical, rather than mineralish, and offer a refreshing and fruity, rather than a tense and bracing, character. The house's premium white wine is the Maria de Lourdes, Vinho Branco, 2016. The blend is 40% Gouveio, 30% Viosinho and 20% Rabigato and it's an intense, bracing, flinty wine. It, too, is made in the same dry, savory mold that made the Cote de Beaune famous, albeit, in a cruder, smaller scale, and still mired in disjointed puberty. 

Luis Pato, Bairrada, Vina Formal, Parcel Candido, Cercial, 2015

This is the most special Portugese white I know. It's also one of the most mineral laden wines I know, the minerals so exotic they could well be moon rock. If this was Hollywood, the Cercial might not win an Oscar, but it would steal any scene it was in. This and the M.O.B are the highlights of the whites in this roundup.

Baga, Baga, we accept you

I'm planning a Portuguese wine tasting in the near future with friends and hopefully there will be more reds to write about. For now, a single red wine will have to do. 

Luis Pato has spent a lifetime marketing himself as Mr. Baga. And he's earned it. I like his quirky lower level wines a lot: his Rebel, Baga Natural, the sparkling wines based on Baga - wines seemingly designed to show how versatile Baga is and how suitable it is to creative and imaginative winemakers. What I still haven't come to grips with is the Big Baga wines, the single vineyard wines (Pan, Barrosa) that look to require a decade or two to show well. Pato's direct inheritor is his daughter, Filipa, who runs her own operation. She was on my list and I picked up an interesting wine in Porto, Filipa Pato, Bairrada, Post Quercus, 2016, which is Baga aged in amphorae. There's an almost Burgundian/Beaujolais feel to it, due to its silky tannins, earthy aromas, and tart cranberry fruit. But Baga is a much darker grape than Gamay, let alone Pinot Noir, and it has a very distinctive shade and flavor of iron that I don't find in any other grape, and none of that is lost here. In short, Filipa shows yet another facet of Baga as she crafts a complex, sensual wine out of it.

Well, I managed to go through another post about Portugal without writing about Ports. Instead, I offer a glimpse of the other other Portuguese dessert wine. 

Blandy's, Malmsey, Harvest, 2006

This is labelled as Harvest because Vintage Madeira is required to be aged for 20 years in cask. It has an appealing mixture of savory and sweet aromas and flavors, with just enough complexity to broadcast pedigree. Whatever it does lack in complexity it makes up for with an interplay of nutty richness and fruity softness, as it reaches for excess and pulls back. After a few days, the finish grows longer and saltier, while the iodine rancio character evokes a salty caramel/dark chocolate concoction.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Zarate, Rías Baixas, Albariño, Balado, 2016

Sourced from 60+year old vines, this is not even the flagship wine. But it's good enough to fool me. The top dog, the El Palomar, is sourced from 150 year old vines. It probably needs more time that I gave it to show its best, which is why the bottle I had in May was less spectacular than this beauty, which explodes with minerals and acidity. This is what Sauvignon Blanc would taste like if it drove a pink Cadillac. (Oct. 22, 2018)

Fat Guy, 120 NIS.

Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin, Blanc de Blancs, 2007

I'm a fan of the GHW sparkling wines - and of little else in the portfolio. So this is the first Katzrin, of any kind, that I've bought in almost fifteen years. Running through the technical details, this is 100% Chardonnay from the northern Golan Heights, it is brut nature (so virtually no dosage) and recently disgorged (I assume 1-2 years ago). Its Champagne peers would be a mid tier vintages - not the blue chip cuvees or the Special Clubs. There's a backbone of fine acidity with excellent focus, but the substance atop of that backbone is too clunky for blue chip filigree. However, given that backbone of acidity, I feel comfortable letting it cellar for at least 1-2 years and see what happens. At any rate, easily one of the best 10 local whites released this year. (Oct. 5, 2018)

About 250 NIS.

Flam, Syrah, Reserve, 2016

An excellent nose, peppery and sexy, very much Syrah, almost Rhône: riper than Saint Joseph, less complex that Cote Rotie. Needs a couple of hours of air before its sweet and bitter flavors to come into balance. (Oct. 1, 2018)

About 140 NIS.

Harashim, Black Bird, 2016

Another Syrah (from the Galilee, just like the Flam), from a small, bio-dynamic boutique this time. The Syrah character is less obvious, on the sweet side, rather than the savory, peppery side. Just okay.

Domaine Geantet-Pansiot, Chambolle-Musigny, Vieilles Vignes, 2012

The floral character of the village is here, but I admit that, were I to taste it blind, I might confuse this for a Gevrey. Well, this is probably appropriate given that this is a Gevrey domaine. The complexity and depth are on par for an upper tier village wine, while the black fruit is a tad rustic. Very good, with a tasty, saline finish. (Oct. 2, 2018)

60 euros.

Lahat, White, 2013

Mute at first, we put the bottle aside and by the time we returned to it two hours later, this Rhône white blend opened up to show funky minerality and persistent presence a la Burgundy. Lovely! (Oct. 4, 2018)

Chateau de Hureau, Saumur-Champigny, Lisagathe, 2010

With a cedar streak and subtle minerals, this is clean and easily one of the best Loire reds I’ve had. Good form and potential, potential it is already living up to. (Oct. 4, 2018)

Bar-Maor Winery, Chardonnay, 2017

This isn't bad, showing a tropical side of Chardonnay that is almost Sauvignon in character. It's a bit sweet and limpid, perhaps rather short and simple, but its clean and pure flavors are very refreshing. However, I think Chardonnay needs more tensile strength to show best. (Oct. 7, 2018)

About 100 NIS.

For the same price, and a similar approach (elevage in stainless steel), Sphera, Chardonnay, 2017 is a wine with greater focus and verve. I don't know if it's due to better terroir or a more confident hand in the winery, but Doron Rav-Hon has again crafted an elegant marriage of apples, chalk and salt, with the tensile strength I missed in the Bar-Maor. 

Muga, Rioja Blanco, 2017

What my recent experience with Iberian whites as taught me is that they can be some of the most mineral laden of wines, in a sense more so than Burgundy. Maybe it's because the specific character of the minerals they evoke can be more sulfurous and saltier. This is a good example of that, especially since it retained a lot of freshness after a mere three months in barrel, so that it shows limey, citrusy flavors complemented by  salt. (Oct. 15, 2018)

Selbach-Oster, Mosel, Zeltinger Sonnenuh, Riesling Spätlese, Ur Alte Reben, 2012

Drier than an average spätlese without being outright dry, this is a well measured and balanced cocktail of green apples, pears, pink grapefruit and slate aromas and flavors. (Oct. 19, 2018)

Fat Guy, 169 NIS.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Chateau Golan

I haven't drunk, or even tasted, Chateau Golan in ages. Maybe the odd bottle of the Syrah in restaurants. I last drank the Eliad and Sauvignon Blanc fourteen, fifteen years ago. I don't remember ever drinking the Merlot or Cabernet and I know for sure I never drank the Rhone blends in the Geshem line.

In fact, since the last time I drank a bottle of Chateau Golan, a tidal wave has hit Israel. 

A tidal wave of "Mediterranean Wines". 

For a winery calling itself a Chateau, Chateau Golan has been very matter of fact about the Geshem line. Everyone who has visited the winery has told me that these are the wines dearest to winemaker Uri Hetz, yet you never hear or read any spiel about the suitability of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre to Israeli terroir or cuisine, no high brow, second hand PR about identity and heritage and "Mediterranean Wines". No self-congratulatory Facebook posts, either.

I should really have been paying more attention to a winery that has done virtually nothing to make me zone out. I missed out on the Rose and Sauvignon Blanc, which are seriously lovely.

Geshem, Rose, 2017

This is mostly Grenache. It's probably the best Grenache based rose I've tasted, the nose streaked with clay and chalk for an evocative effect. I know it's excellent because I sniff it so much you'd think it was a Bourgogne. And it's not only tasty, it has a persistent enough presence to make the palate impact both long and memorable. Justifies the 100+ NIS price tag.

Sauvignon Blanc, 2017

I have to go really far back for a memory. Fifteen years ago, a local wine store organized a tasting of Israeli Sauvignon Blancs. Fifteen years ago is like Israeli Sauvignon Blanc: Year One, when everyone released their inaugural SB. The Chateau Golan probably cost about 100 NIS and was the most expensive wine in the tasting lineup by far, over twice the cost of the runner up. It was the only one aged in barrel and the elevage showed as yeastiness rather than overt oak. It costs about 140 NIS these days and the competition has caught up, price wise. As for quality, well, in one sense this is the most 'serious' Israeli white I've ever drunk, taking almost an hour to open up and then coalesce. Very mineral-laden, a cross between Sancerre and Puligny, this is a wine that yearns for a cellar where that bubbling spring of minerals, oak and fruit will have time to settle down.

Geshem, Red, 2015

I get that the name Geshem was a sort of hommage to the classic GSM blend (it only works in Hebrew, sort of), but I'd have gone full pun retard and called it Chateauneuf Golan - even though the 2015 reminds me more of Gigondas and carries its 15% ABV with greater ease than many CdPs carry a 14%.