Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Ends

I'd have this any time
Larmandier-Bernier, Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs, Longitude,  Extra Brut n.v. (2012 based)

This is a wine designed to compile a picture of the Côte des Blancs from the family's holdings in Vertus, Oger, Avize and Cramant, with the finesse and elegance of a vintage Champagne. It has developed, by now, compelling nuances of chalk, pears and a hint of baking powder. The actual descriptors are less important than the way the nuances create both depth and breadth. The savory finish, rocky and saline, doesn't hurt, either. 

Even if you truly love Champagne Pinot - and I do - this is the kind of Blanc de Blancs that would firmly entrench you in the Chardonnay camp.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Volnay, an Argaman Vertical and More! (Dec. 13, 2018)

Our monthly get-togethers rarely have a theme. I can't even say we make overt efforts to impress each other. When and if we get lucky, it's really a stroke of fate. This time, fate struck twice, with two highly enjoyable highlights.

The first highlight was actually thought out. It'd been a while since I'd drunk a (relatively) mature Bourgogne and I'd been eyeing my wine of choice for a while and moved it to the "to drink shelf" in my fridge. 2006 is hardly an impressive vintage, but like I said, we're usually not out to impress each other...

Domaine de Montille, Volnay Premier Cru, Les Chapmans, 2006

Montille is an empire and I'm not totally happy with how they've expanded the family's original Cote de Beaune holdings across the entire Bourgogne region, to the point where they even have a stake at the highly regarded Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Malconsorts. I can appreciate, even admire, the enterprise, but t has zero romantic appeal for me. Having said that, the winemaking is often thrilling and there have been few Montille reds from their Cote de Beaune holdings that I didn't love. This is no exception. In fact, I may have finally found a 2006 with the Burgundian sex appeal I love so much. The perfume is very intense, a shot of pure red fruit and forest floor, delicate and feminine on the palate, very detailed and nuanced.

The second highlight was an impromptu Argaman vertical tasting. While there may have been other Argaman verticals, I doubt anyone else had the chance to taste anything with the historical import of the four wines we drank. 

Argaman: a crossing of Souzão and Carignan, it was created in Israel and tailored for intense color, it was viewed for decades as "jug wine" quality, until Avi Feldstein in his Barkan heydays crafted the first single varietal Argaman. In those days, he fermented the Argaman grapes with the pomace of leftover grape skins and seeds from his Merlot wines, ripasso style. Always quick (perhaps even eager) to adapt, when he again picked up the Argaman mantle in his namesake winery, Feldstein started using another Valpolicella technique, appassimento, wherein he dries half his Argaman grapes before fermentation. Either way, Avi was looking for ways to extract the most character and flavors out of Argaman while avoiding a long hang time in the field.

So what's Argaman like, then? Think black cherries spiced with white and black pepper. Regardless of age and technique, the wines we drank had wonderfully fresh acidity. The Segal, Rechasim, Dolev, 2006 and the younger 2008 were almost breathtakingly youthful, yet sauteed with the complexity of encroaching maturity. I really don't have it in me to be adamantly patriotic, but with gems like these, I should be. I slightly preferred the 2008, as it struck me as more expressive and powerful. As for the latterday Feldstein versions, it's too early yet to tell how much they're an improvement on the achievements of the 'forefathers', but I think both the 2015, which I don't recall drinking in the past, and the barrel sample of the 2018 may both be slightly more personable and peppery.

Other than that, drank solid wines of some distinction and one spectacularly disappointing wine. Let's get that out of the way, shall we?

Chapoutier, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Barbe Rac, 1998

This blue chip confection is a single vineyard bottling of 100%, 90 year old Grenache wines. And what powerful, monolithic juice those vines produced. Twenty years later, it remains sweet and slightly fizzy, as though it was still fermenting. 

Domaine de Villeneuve, Cotes du Rhône, La Griffe, 2016

This is a bio-dynamic Chateauneuf estate I'd never heard of. And, while it's not really my cup of tea, this humble, single vineyard CdR, priced at about 30 pounds, just kills the much higher priced (and regarded) Barbe Rac. The sexy nose is full of pepper notes and seems to herald the Syrah in the blend, while the liquerish, kirsch palate is all Grenache.

Mullineux, Swartland, Syrah, 2013

This is the entry level wine from a family estate specializing in single-vineyard Syrahs. Most liked it more than I did. While the dusty/peppery nose did not lack charm, I found the flavors a little flat and mute. 

Pahlmeyer, Napa Valley, Merlot, 1997

This is a very distinguished name in Napa and this wine gets the Parker scores you'd expect. And is priced accordingly. Me, I found it foursquare and workmanlike, like a Medoc from a cold, dreary vintage, without a lot of flash or sexiness.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Garage de Papa Retrospective (Dec. 7, 2018)

Time waits for no one. It’s almost a shock to realize Garage de Pape has gone through eleven vintages already - and that I’ve known Ido Lewinsohn through about seven of them.

When Ido invited me (along with a couple dozen chefs, sommeliers and other wine writers and bloggers) to a retrospective tasting, I figured I'd just file any notes away as corollary data points. I didn't think I could find something new to say about Garage de Papa after all these years. The plan was just go to the event, have a fun time with people I like. It would be an educational event, not a blogger/pseudo-journalist gig.

But the thing is, if you do learn something new, you should be able to write something new.

Basically, I learned a few things about Ido’s philosophy that I probably knew to begin with, but a retrospective tends to re-conceptualize things you already knew.

I think the basic thing I learned is that while Ido has grown, learned and developed, his basic approach is the same today as it was when he started out. In addition, I picked up a few interesting technical details I had not been aware of.

Ido's goal is to craft tasty, complex, food friendly wines that Ido himself would enjoy drinking. Most wineries advocate similar rules of engagement, but Ido laid out to us a very practical, no-nonsense approach that, by his own admission, hasn’t changed much in the eleven vintages he has worked. He's on the lookout for combinations of terroir and varieties that encourage early phenolic ripening, as that is way of dealing with the hot Israeli summers. He utilizes as many used barrels as he can manage. All that in order to avoid over-tannic reds and overripe whites and maker lithe, peppery reds and flinty whites.

The major change is the gradual move to larger barrels. Besides the obvious reduction in exposure to oak aromas and flavors, it allows the winery to improve the quality of the staves at a lesser expense than had they upgraded the smaller barrels. The eventual aim is retain the current ratio of 10-20% new barrels.

The Whites


The nose is remarkably flinty. This wine is consistently the flintiest of any Israeli Chardonnay I taste. The fruit is ripe, laid out on a very structured frame with good acidity - which is what Ido looks for in Chardonnay and he gets it by blocking malolactic fermentation. The blend is sourced from vineyards in Galilee, which Ido finds to be strong on a mineral character and lemons flavors. 


The first Garage de Papa Chardonnay ever was sourced from Karmei Yosef, which isn't an area Ido particularly likes for Chardonnay, but that's what he able to get for his freshman vintage. Of course, his tenure at Recanati and the current one at Barkan* have opened up better sources since. I'm guessing it must have been a good wine, although I never tasted it (I probably started following the winery with the 2010 vintage or so). It's alive, no doubt about it, but past its best, the way I see it, an old man facing dementia in years to come. Both the nose and color are very mature, the nose a potpurri of cheese and chocolate, while retaining hints of flint. It's surprisingly lively on the palate, where there’s breadth and complexity, but the focus of the young 2016 is so utterly convincing and gorgeous it swats the 2007 away without a second thought.

2018 barrel

This is an educational exercise, but one I admit I am not able to get a lot out of. Though I suppose I could node my head sagely and tell you how excellent the acidity is.

The Reds

Initially made of Bordeaux varieties, Ido quickly moved to the  so called Mediterranean grapes (Petite Sirah, Syrah, Carignan, Marsellan).


Sweetish fruit and black pepper on the nose. Full, long, laced with acidity, sensual with supporting structure.


Excellent maturity, greater aromatic complexity than the 2013, sweeter on the finish but with a mitigating spiciness that adds complexity. I slightly prefer the 2013, especially after the 2011 recedes in glass.


There's a little brett here that shows as rubber and not poop. A nice wine but I think I prefer the reds at 4-5 years. 

Vendange Entière

Ido has always fermented part of the red cuvée whole cluster (that is, without de-stemming). In 2014, Daniel Lifshitz and Eldad Levy talked him into selling them a barrel of the whole cluster batch. Simply because they loved it - and it was an apt reaction. In 2016, Ido set aside two barrels for the cuvée. Both have the making by of iconic wines. The 2014 was aged in a new barrel because he had planned to blend it in the Garage de Papa Rouge and comes off as superficially more impressive. The 2016, I think, is the better wine, with a pre-planned barrel regime. The bottle I opened two months ago was alluring, almost feminine despite a firm backbone, but it has gone into a shell since and tastes very embryonic now.

* While I realize my admittedly narrow audience is probably aware of the details, I should at least briefly go over Ido's CV. After the requisite oenological education and stages abroad, Ido returned to Israel for a decade's tenure at Recanati winery. After eventually advancing to the co-head winemaker position, he moved to Barkan a couple of years ago to assume head winemaker duties. In parallel, he's been the winemaker at the family winery, which was actually located at his father's garage before the operation was moved to a proper boutique winery facility.

Monday, December 10, 2018

How sad would be November if we had no knowledge of the spring

Fourny et Fils, Vertus Premier Cru, Rose Vinotheque, Extra Brut, n.v. (2012 based)

This is made of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, a portion of the Pinot coming from still juice for color and flavor. It captures both the autumnal essence of Pinot Noir as well as the bracing chalkiness of Vertus. Ripe without flab or sweetness, complex and elegant but at the same time youthful and powerful, all freshness with not a hint of brioche or mushrooms. I like it as is. I’m sure it will age but it’s really a point for me. (Nov. 9, 2018)

Feldstein, Dabuki, 2017

Albarinho sauteed with mushrooms. (Nov. 5, 2018)

Feldstein, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, 2014

Discrete aromas of rainwater, gunpowder and roasted almonds, even more demure aromas and flavors of melons and peaches and a gentle sensation of sauteed herbs in the background. A wine of complexity and nigh regal finesse. (Nov. 13, 2018)

Feldstein, Shalem, 2016

Avi's legacy white grape blend is predominantly Viognier (35%), with Rousanne, Sauvignon Blanc and Dabuki making up the balance. This isn't a wine aiming at an expression of terroir or grape, but rather a wine where Avi maps his vision of what an Israeli wine should taste like, by piecing together components drawn from across the country. The result is as a refined and flinty as any other white he makes. (Nov. 17, 2018)

Pierre Gaillard, Côte-Rôtie, 2010

The 45 GBP I paid for this is almost a silly price. Sometimes a fine wine, like a fine dish, only needs 2-3 components handled with a deft hand. Here, nature offered violets and smoked bacon to complement the lithe fruit. The succulent depth and captivating finesse  showcase the feminine side of Côte-Rôtie. (Nov. 10, 2018)

Moccagatta, Barbaresco, Bric Balin, 2011

Moccagatta is a likable modernist. a moderate modernist judging by my limited experience, but I fear I opened this too soon, at a phase where the Nebbiolo's telltale aromas (roses, tar) are still overshadowed by a whiff of oak. The oak adds vanilla on the palate, too, softening, to some extent, the typical savoriness of the Nebbiolo. This showing saddens me, because I loved the 2008, and I'll have to live with the results of my haste. (Nov. 15, 2018)

40 euros in Rome, not a bad price.

Louie Jadot, Bourgogne, Domaine Gagey, La Chapitre, 2015

La Chapitre is one of three vineyard in the Cote d'Or whose name may be legally mentioned on the label, despite being a lowly Bourgogne AOC. Apparently, the entire Chenove commune, where it resides, was left out of the Burgundy ranking because its vineyards were untended at the time the Burgundy appellations were given legal stature. However, La Chapitre had enough historical significance for the legal exemption and there are at least two single vineyard bottlings from the La Chapitre that take advantage of the law. The Bizot bottling from the vineyard would help make a case that it could have been a Premier Cru, Jadot's version is not quite as convincing as that, but damn if it isn't a fine wine and you might peg it as a village Marsannay in a blind tasting, what with its black cherries and autumnal, leafy aromas and flavors adorning a firm structure. It has much more depth and grip than a mere regional wine. Except for a slight astringency on the finish, it's the first Jadot I've had in ages that I like as much as the stuff coming in from the Young Turks small growers. (Nov. 17, 2018)

Wine Route, 170 NIS.

Bestheim, Marckrain Grand Cru, Gewurztraminer, 2015

I'm a guy who doesn't drink more than two or three Gewurztraminers a year, so my experience isn't very wide, but I have been drinking the stuff for 12 years and I have spent some time analyzing what I like and dislike about the grape. I think there's a sweet spot in Gewurztraminers where their elusive magic lies. The dry versions are the most aromatic, because they tend to show the full palate of the grape: litchi, rose petals, white pepper, ginger. But they dry versions can be aggressively spicy. The sweeter ones temper the spiciness but seem to highlight the exotic fruit and flowers. The middle ground between the two extremes is what I'm always looking for, but even the ones that hit that fulcrum point aren't necessarily great, they're just the half-tame, half-wildlings that I can appreciate and enjoy drinking. The Bestheim Mackrain , for example, isn't a great wine in the overall scheme of things, but it does balance sweet and spicy flavors, it's not aggressive or over the top and it's decently complex . It's well priced and can age 3-5 years. (Nov. 18, 2018)

TL;DR There's no need to drink more than two or three Gewurztraminers a year and the Bestheim Mackrain is a well priced candidate for being one of them.

Wine Route, 130 NIS.

Barbeito, Madeira, Malvasia Single Cask, 2005

A truly fine Madeira, whose filigree is evidenced by the subtle complexity of its aromas - a nuts, caramel and dried fruits - and the way pungent flavors and an angular frame are contained within a light, creamy envelope. The acidity is remarkable for a wine matured in warm and humid cellars.(Nov. 22, 2018)

About 40 euros for a 500 cc bottle (in Lisbon).

Tzora, Judean Hills, 2016

Surprisingly, this is less approachable than the 2016 Shoresh red, which is the greatest Shoresh Eran Pick has come up with so far (and which would be a flagship wine at any local  property that didn't have a Misty Hills to sell). Like just about every Tozra red, the fruit is amply red for my tastes, with an overlay that suggest to me pines and dusty earth. But you need to give it a very long airing. Or age it - and one day, I will. (Nov. 24, 2018)

Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre, 2017

One thing people don't often notice or comment on Sauvignon Blanc is its versatility. Depending on where and how it's grown, it can be leafy, tropical or mineral-ish. The Vacheron version manages to touch on all bases. Vacheron is a great house and  I wish the single vineyards were a little cheaper or at least easier to find, but even so, it's one of the stars in the Wine Route portfolio. (Nov. 24, 2018)

Guimaro, Ribeira Sacra, Finca Meixeman, 2015

Finally got what I was looking for in Guimaro: fresh, supple floral fruit that goes a long way to explain why Mencia isn't just another grape heralded as a would-be Pinot Noir. (Nov. 27, 2018)

Eldad Levy, about 190 NIS - your mileage may vary.

Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello, Barolo, Villero, 2009

When old timers talk about the delicacy of Nebbiolo, this is what they mean, I guess. Of course, they refer to mature Nebbiolo, not a ten year old youngster, but then 2009 is not considered a vintage for long cellaring. I get subtle, nuanced aromas of dried cherries, exotic spices and tea leaves, as well as hints of forest floor, and savory, chewy tannins that are balanced by an almost feline softness of fruit. Here is a Barolo with a Barbaresco, nigh Burgundian character. (Nov. 30, 2018)