Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Summer Is Only The Unfulfilled Promise of Spring (July, 2019)


Domaine Arlaud, Bourgogne, Oka, 2017

This is hardly your run of the mill generic Bourgogne, nor a simple declassified village wine. It's blend, half of it village wine from Morey St Denis, Chambolle-Musigny and Vougeot, the other half from Hautes Côtes de Nuits and Côtes de Nuits. Although this is actually from the house's negociant arm, it's sourced from biodynamic growers with close working relationship with the domaine, from 40+ year old vines and the Arlaud team is in charge of everything from the harvest on. I've drunk enough quality grower AOC Bourgognes to recognize this belongs to the high end of the class, quality and style-wise. It's more about roses and strawberries than earth, leaves or spices. It's silky, yet gripping, and the purity and depth make up for anything it lacks in length or complexity. (July 7, 2019)

Wine Route, 140 NIS.

Domaine Verget, Pouilly-Fuissé, Terroirs de F. - Les Vernays, 2017

Speaking of the folks who brought you Blue Nun, sometimes - this usually happens about once a year - Wine Route decide to think out of the box, and then they leap out of the box. Say in this case, where they brought in a boutique domaine from the Macon who don't even have a working site in English. The portfolio is priced like a mid-tier Chassagne house and the quality, if not the style, is on par, judging by the Terroirs de F. The nose has the same tempting aromas of flint and dry grass and is about as complex as any two year old Bourgogne ever gets. It's made of silkier cloth than Chassagne, but lighter as well, I'd judge. Best of all is the savory finish, the kind that has made white Burgundies such a delight. Expensive, but worth a try. (July 8, 2019)

259 NIS.

Ortal, Red, 2017

Is this the herald of a new revolution in the local industry? Moreish, food friendly reds made of Cabernet? Nicely priced, too, for a boutique. (July 2, 2019)

70 NIS.

Markus Molitor, Mosel, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Kabinett (Green Capsule), 2016

Out of a couple of dozens (and more) of the wines in the Molitor portfolio, Wine Route import just one classic (i.e., off-dry) kabinett, the Bernkasteler Badstube. At least they chose one that tweaks the formula a bit. In 2015, the quintessential granny apples and slate were accompanied by notes of guayavas. This time, it's martzipan and pears. (July 11, 2019)

Wine Route, 150 NIS.

Markus Molitor, Mosel, Alte Reben, 2016

Wow. Lose any preconceptions about vintages. This is so much better than the 2015. It's racy and pure, taut as a drum skin, with a flinty veneer atop the typical granny apples. The filigree structure highlighting great finesse and complexity, this is one dry Mosel that is just as graceful as a classic Kabinett or Spatlese. (July 12, 2019)

Wine Route, 160 NIS.

Tzora, Or, 2017

The most concentrated version of this pseudo icewine Gewurztraminer I can recall comes off almost TBA-like, the acidity barely coming to surface, some mustard and white pepper providing varietal identity.. (July 12, 2019)

Chateau Grand Village, Bordeaux Superieur, 2014

The chateau lies just outside of the Fronsac appellation and is the home of Jacques and Sylvie Guinaudeau, owners of the famous Pomerol property, Lafleur. The name drives the price upwards (Wine Route lists it at 200 NIS, but it really is the kind of wine quickly marked down at every chance), but at least the price gets you a wine made by the Lafleur winemaking team. The craftsmanship is obvious even in the initial sniffs, a precise nose, nothing especially clever or complex about the aromas, but you get a sense of great care in the field and cellar without any overt unfurling of technological flash. (July 13, 2019)

Chateau Golan, Geshem, Rose, 2018

A rose with enough nuances and intellectual appeal to rise confidently above the maddening crowd. Those nuances recall both earth and oven, bread and spices, and come to fore in the finish in a very food complimentary way. (July 14, 2019)

About 100 NIS.

Feldstein, Sauvignon Blanc, 2016

An interesting comparison with the 2015, which at three years of age was a wine of mineral nuances, while this jabs with grapefruit aromas and flavors, before unfolding notes of chalk, never letting down its energetic verve. Unlike the 2016 Semillon-Sauvignon blend, here the fruit is the starring lead. (July 15, 2019)

Jacquesson & Fils, Cuvée n° 741, Extra-Brut, n.v.

The house stopped aiming for a consistent style in their non-vintage cuvée over a decade ago, making instead the best of the base year's grapes, which is 2013 in the case of the n° 741 (the number in the name of the cuvée advances each year). The reserve wines provide mellowness rather than forcing a house style. It's the common blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier - the Pinots, I suppose, providing the brothy flavors and aromas of mushrooms, the Chardonnay the dry, chalky texture. Jacquesson  is not a small house and at a quarter of a million bottles, this cuvée is virtually the entire production of the house (the premium wines make up for about 20,000 bottles), yet this is as complex, dry and wry as a very, very good grower's non-vintage. (July 19, 2019)

About 50 GBP.

Vietti, Barolo, Castiglione, 2009

This is imported by Wine Route, but a long time ago, it used to be carried by Anavim. Or Zamir. A long time ago, importers used to go for the venerable names, the household names, producers with a long history that buyers may have encountered in the Johnson and Robinson books. Which is kind of like investing in General Motors stocks in the early 90's based on their track record in the 50's. I kept meaning to buy Vietti back in the day, but movement was slow in the shops that carried the wines and I found out the hard way to make sure about how my sources ship and store their wines (my social peers probably remember decrepit bottles of Chapoutier Sizeranne). But I digress. Castiglione is Vietti's blended Barolo and 2009 was no more than a fair vintage, a very warm vintage one, from what I've read and heard. My expectations were for a fun wine, inasmuch as you can ever call Barolo fun. Maybe the word I'm looking for is approachable, but man it's great when Barolo cracks a smile. Anyway, approachable - that's pretty much what I got, but in a very high quality wine, despite being a multi-cru blend,  lovely complete and nuanced aromatics and flavors - tar and dried rose petals, tea and cherries marinated in olive oil - robust tannins with that kiss of rusticity that lends grit and muscles even to the most regal of Barolos. (July 25, 2019)

Blankbottle, Master Of None, 2017

The various articles (sample) and site make Pieter H. Walser sound like the world's most pretentious hipster. Which belies the facile purity, freshness, moreishness and solid craft shown by this unlikely blend (Syrah, Cinsault, Pinot Noir, Grenache and Rousanne). Young Syrah, Pinot and Grenache often show the floral elements I find here, so I'd guess they're the dominant varieties at this stage. I'm not sure I'd follow Waiser's consciously haphazard approach to wine production, and I'm even less enamored of "punk' winemakers who "break every rule in the book", but this is a lean and focused, charming wine. (July 27, 2019)

Domaine Pierre Amiot, Morey St. Denis, 2014

Still seriously underage and oblique, this is still at the stage where the potential quality and structure are clear even though the flavors and aromas are still mute. As they slowly unfold, the wine shows fresh fruit and moist flower, with just a touch of eastern spices. Probably a half notch above village level, if the dusty tannins integrate. (July 27, 2019)

Wine Route, about 300.

Hugel, Grossi Laue, 2011

A chiseled, spicy powerhouse of smokey petroleum, apples, and spices. A grand nose with a long, complex palate to match. (July 30, 2019)

Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint Aubin Premier Cru, Derrière chez Edouard, Vieilles Vignes, 2010

A Pinto from a Chardonnay specialist, this is a true Premier Cru in both weight and complexity, with that slightly pungent earthiness I find typical of the Côte de Beaune. The nose is blend of forest floor, black cherries and flowers, with more presence than delicacy The palate mixes mellow sweetness and a fine, focused tannic bite and is a perfect meal wine, as the introduction of food highlights the  gorgeous purity of the flavors. (July 30, 2019)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Sketches of Spain - An Evening At The Norman (July 16, 2019)


If you cleared the Spanish wine map of the famous names (say Rioja, Ribera, Navarra, Priorat and Toro for a start), you'd be left with a huge piece of the country and a long list of barely recognizable regions that, whatever their potential, had been making various grades of plonk for decades and needed to be stirred up, because if you left them to their centuries old tradition in the name of Old World mystique, you'd be left with plonk.

This post is the third in a largely unplanned series about Spanish wines Eldad Levy has been importing to Israel. You could say the producers in the portfolio are some of those that got stirred up. Except for Heredia, a Rioja producer you want to leave alone to continue their proud heritage.

R. Lopez de Heredia (Rioja)

Heredia is one of the last true bastions of old school Riojas. Even the entry level Crianza (from the Cubillo vineyard, whose output is always destined for Crianzas) is aged long enough to legally qualify for a Gran Reserva designation. High scores by Neal Martin have driven prices up (and availability down)  but thankfully, these reds are still very sanely priced.

Cubillo, Crianza, 2010

Typical Rioja nose, at least the way it used to be. Slightly earthy, spicy, old wood, slightly meaty. Mellow palate, elegant. 139 NIS.

Tondonia, Reserva, 2006

I've learned the hard way how long these need in the fridge. The nose is a little muted now, and it's still rough on nose and palate. Would need 5 years at least and keep much longer. 220 NIS.

Bosconia, Reserva, 2007

The nose is full of Rioja magic that defies an easy breakdown into descriptors. The wood is almost fully integrated. Will keep as long as the Tondonia but readier for drinking now. At any rate, the contrast in texture is obvious, this is feminine without loss of structure (the fruit and bright acidity make sure the tannins are unobtrusive, thus the structure is deceptively soft) , whereas the Tondonia is rough and still oaky. 175 NIS.

Zarate (Rias Baixas)

Actually, the ordinary plonk Rias Baixas had been making was always very good plonk. It's just that I never drank anything that broke through a certain glass ceiling of good bistro wines until I drank the Zarate Palomar 2016. I thought then, and I think now, that it's the Grand Cru of Albariño.

Albariño, 2018

Fruity, summer fruits, excellent bistro fare. 99 NIS.

Balado, 2017

Similarly styled to the regular Albariño, but lightly tinged with minerals and fuller, yet more nuanced. 175 NIS.

Palomar, 2017

Still needs time, with great potential for a showcase of minerals to make us swoon. Let me put it this way, the Balado is a candidate for the best Albariño ever, while the Palomar, with some age, is beyond such pigeon holes. 185 NIS.

Guimaro (Ribeira Sacra)

Yes, I never heard of Ribeira Sacra before 2018, either. And I still don't know a lot about the place, except their grape of choice is Mencia, another trendy grape sommeliers and writers like to compare to Pinot Noir.

Maixeman, 2017

I always liked this winery but already this is the most enjoyable wine I’ve had from them so far. Only fair complexity but great character. Spicy, no overt wood. 149 NIS.

Pombeiras, 2017

Capelinos, 2017

Both are dry and austere. They’re good and interest me, for their abundant display of minerals, but I can’t quite read them yet or really tell them apart. I would just like to say that here, Mencia comes off more like Cabernet Franc than Pinot. 235 NIS.

Veronica Ortega (Bierzo)

Bierzo has actually been trendy for about five years, mostly for, again, Mencia. I tried Bierzos a few times, liked them well enough, but never swooned. Until I tried the Cobrana.



Quite, 2016

Fun wine. More expressive right now than the Guimaros. A more direct and floral style, slightly earthy. 106 NIS.

Roc, 2016

A varietal Mencia, Slightly heady yet restrained at the same time, with notes of meat and spices. 189 NIS.

Cobrana, 2017

A whole cluster field blend (Mencia and red and white grapes). It has the same complexity, firm-yet-mellow structure and autumnal forest floor nuances of a fine Burgundy. The flavors and velvety mouthfeel are especially a treat, even at a tasting where every wine was delicious. Just about the best red of the tasting. Also the best Mencia or Mencia blend I have ever tasted. 159 NIS.

Cal, 2017

Pure Godello. The salt and minerals make me think of cross between Chablis and Muscadet, with brighter fruit than either, more tropical. I’d drink it now as is. 169 NIS.

Borja Perez (Tenerife)

I wrote about Perez a few weeks ago, so I won't avoid the repetition. All you need to know is that even though the Canary Islands' have the most unlikely geographical coordinates for vine growing, the heights of the vineyards, some cloud coverage and volcanic soil make for the biggest surprise I experienced this year. I posted detailed notes about the Listran Blanco, 2017, the Viduanos, 2017 and the Tinto, 2017 so I'll skip them here and go straight for the one wine I hadn't drunk before.

Babaso Negro, 2016

Floral, very nubile the fruit is so luscious and sexy it almost feels unformed. Think of a young Chambolle, where all you get is roses and can’t really get a sense of structure, but you just know it will stab your heart in five-ten years. Same thing here, except that when it peaks, it will be hard to compare it to anything else. 285 NIS.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Four Decades of Bordeaux (July 18, 2019)



This year's birthday party did have a theme for a change: four decades of Bordeaux! A bottle or more from each decade since the 70's.

And Champagne and Mosel to make sure our hearts were filled to the brim.

Vilmart, Grand Cellier Rubis, 2011

A wine that I always wanted to drink turned out to be too young still, even after eight years. Even in an unpromising vintage. Surprisingly young and backward at first, showing very fresh strawberries and not much more, it starts to hint at mineral aspects after fifteen minutes or so. It never loses that reserve but its depth is very impressive.

Chateau Montrose, Saint Estephe 2me Cru, 1974

1974 is considered one of the worst vintages in Bordeaux, but this has held up very well, and has not only survived but has retained loads of freshness and finesse. It has the mellow friendliness of deep maturity but has not fallen into the sink of generic old age. It's not very long nor complex but is rather tasty in a lean, mouth cleansing style, with aromas of cedar and tobacco leaves, and actually continues to develop aromatically. 

Chateau Montrose, Saint Estephe 2me Cru, 1995

This is more typical of Saint Estephe, a muscular, complex, deep wine, with notes of iron, leather and minerals. Sweet, soft tannins that provide structure and definition without impinging on the fruit. An hour later, it evolves into a wine to swoon for, with additional facets and nuances. This, and the Chevalier, is the reason we love Bordeaux.

Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Leognan, 2000

A great wine, initially outplaying the higher ranked Montrose (until the second glass of the Montrose and even then it’s a close shave). Complex and deep, black fruit infused with mint, smoke and minerals. 

Chateau Haut-Bages-Averous, Pauillac 5me Cru, 1989

This is the second wine of Lynch-Bages. It's in no way a great wine, just a good, foursquare luncheon claret (muscular black fruit with notes of olives, tannins that will continue to dry the palate until the fruit runs out), yet the wonder of Bordeaux is that this is the only wine tonight, except for the Montrose 74, which is obviously in an iffy spot, that couldn’t thrive and improve for another ten years.

Chateau Trotanoy, Pomerol, 2008

A good runner up to the Chevalier and Montrose (the difference in age makes such comparisons problematic, but what the hell), this was opened at least ten years too early but is nonetheless a great showcase for Merlot. Another wine defined by smoke and minerals and elegant muscularity -  or should that be muscular elegance? - it seems we picked the perfect wines for the terrific slabs of steaks served at Hudson.

Willi Schaefer, Mosel, Domprobst, Spatlese #7, 2005

Barely halfway through its life voyage, this is still as young and fresh a Mosel as you can imagine and the purest essence of  the freshest apples you can dream of. What the fourteen years in bottle have done is mold the fruit, sugar and acidity into a very precise, crystalline form. Of course, you have to start with a great vineyard and inspired craftsmanship.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

June Bugs (June, 2019)


First evening of June was the Champions League Finals and a simply brilliant wine to accompany it.

Zarate, Rías Baixas, Albariño,  El Palomar, 2016

The Grand Cru of Albariños, with aromas of shells and flint superimposed over flavors of lime, closer to the vibrancy, precision and power of a young Blanc de Blancs champagne than it is to any Rías Baixas or Vinho Verde that I've ever had. An amazing wine with an extremely vibrant backbone of acidity and a very long, saline finish. (June 1, 2019)

Eldad Levy, 155 NIS. 150 year old vines! That's almost a shekel a year!

Domaine Blain-Gagnard, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, Clos St. Jean, Rouge, 2014

This has always been one of my favorite 'value' red Bourgognes, a relatively lightweight Premier Cru that embodies that Burgundy ideal of fragrant, nuanced Pinot. The nose and palate both show sour cherries, wet forest leaves (you're just at the border of the forest, you can smell the leaves but you're not in the woods yet so you're not overwhelmed by the scent of the undergrowth) and hints of exotic spices .The saline finish makes for a versatile food match for just about anything with a bit of umami that's not too oily or too chewy. (June 30, 2019)

Bourgogne Crown, about 200 NIS.

Markus Molitor, Mosel, Riesling Alte Reben, 2015

Ideally, I would have more to write about this, but it's only a good dry Mosel, not the outstanding wine I'd hoped it would become, with only fair complexity and depth. (June 2, 2019)

Wine Route, 160 NIS.

Feldstein, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, 2016

The blend has been dominated by Semillon every year since the inaugural 2014, but its presence was never as dominating as it is this year, which espouses the French principle: "the fruit is the frame, not the picture". So the fruit is there, but the gist of the wine is nut oil and herbs and flint, apricot and melon providing the groundwork and walls. Drinking great now, with a more refined form than its predecessors. (June 4, 2019)

Lewinsohn, Vendage Entière, 2016

The clean purity of the black and red fruit, adorned as it is by black pepper, is still obscured by a bitterness that is half espresso and half stems. It’s a really fine wine that is only going to get better but it still needs time to develop the intriguing meaty/herbal note I already enjoy in the finish. (June 8, 2019)

The 'regular' Lewinsohn, Rouge, 2017 is, as usual, a tasty early drinker. The cliche is that a red wine as 'serious' as this shouldn't be this tasty in the flush of youth, but this feels like someone sauteed red grapes in olive oil and marinade. It's a treat. (June 15, 2019)

Chateau Golan, Sauvignon Blanc, 2017

A classic, serious wine starting to hit its stride, coming out of the shell it was in half a year ago, to show a youthful, fruity aspect, as well as hints of nuts and minerals. (June 10, 2019)

149 NIS.

Château Montlabert, St. Émilion Grand Cru, 2012

Seems like a dependable Right Bank for people who like oaky Merlot, decently priced, basically spicy fruitcake with too much oak. Not for me, though. Definitely not for me. (June 22, 2019)

Israco, 190 NIS.

Prunotto, Barbaresco, 2015

Piedmont, the only place where a glass of light, muddy red wine makes you optimistic about the outcome. The recent Produttori dei Barbaresco tasting sparked an itch I needed to scratch. This needs coaxing. The start is very mute, red cherries and flowers - the tar so closely identified with Nebbiolo starts to show after two hours. I very rarely run into a truly dumb wine, but this nails the definition. I suspect it will turn into a lovely, elegant, yet grippy\ing, feminine beauty in three-five years. (June 29, 2019)

Hakerem, 155 NIS.



Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Yaacov Oryah


I've been following Yaacov Oryah's career through his various stints at Assif, Midbar, Psagot and now his namesake label*. Actually, you could say I've been paying attention to the guy since he walked into one of Tomer Gal's Burgundy tasting about ten years ago. A religious Jew in a tasting of non-kosher Burgundy  wines is always an unusual sight.

* I didn't forget Ella Valley - I just never tasted any of the wines he made there.

I was fortuitous enough to taste through a wide lineup of his recent releases over the course of May and June. These included a red wine, a rose, a blanc de noirs, a trio of orange wines and quite a few whites. 

Yaacov has always taken pride in his white wines. When I first tasted his Midbar whites about seven years ago, I was quite taken with their refreshing leanness. Drinking through the his latter-day whites now, I find the theme a little redundant. I enjoyed each wine on its own, but it feels as though every blend winds up showing the same lean figure, the strive towards freshness almost formulaic. I found the rose and blanc de noirs much more captivating. 

I'm not a great fan of orange wines, but drinking the Alpha Omega series, Yaccov's orange wines, I felt that the extended skin contact gave the wines a little more stuffing while preserving the lean figure of the regular whites. In fact, I mostly wished they were a little fuller and more intense, which isn't something I'd imagined I'd feel about orange wines.

I tasted three wines from the 2016 vintage (I skipped the Chardonnay, which was corky, a very strange experience: a corky orange wine).

Chenin Blanc

One of arguments against orange wines is that they allegedly obscure varietal character. Or terroir. Well, I say, how do you know? Just because we're used to drinking white wines without skin contact doesn't mean it's the best way to capture the essence of grape or place, just that it's arguably the best way to make wine out of white grapes. The safest, anyway.  The technique we're the most familiar with. The extended skin contact can take them to places you couldn't readily extrapolate from experience with 'normal' white wines. Take this. Granted, Chenin can be taken to almost outre expressions of minerality even without skin contact, but the slightly deranged nose here surprised me, recalling Nicolas Joly's Savennières, The ripe apricots, pickled mango, ashy earth and roasted cashews are fascinating, but the fruit at the core is soft and I wish Yaacov had coaxed a little more intensity on the palate to match the pungent intensity of the aromas. 

Rousanne/Viognier/Semillon

With a blend, varietal authenticity is a non-issue, and, considering I like/hate/love the varieties in the blend, extended skin contact might even be a blessing in disguise. The nose has a rocky/earthy sheen that's almost claret-like. Unlike the Chenin Blanc, here the intensity of the flavors are a match for the intricate pungency of the aromas. Whatever picture Yaacov was trying to paint here, it's a great success.

Gewurztraminer

Gewurtz is so deeply tinted and intense to begin with that the skin contact merely intensifies the character of the grape, rather than transforming it too radically. Of all Yaacov's wines, this is the one I was most eager to taste. That's because I have a love/hate relationship with Gewurztraminer, leaning towards hate actually, and I keep getting drawn back a couple of times a year. The nose highlights the rose petals and litchi aspect of the grape (rather than the ginger and white pepper, which I usually prefer) and suggests a sweet wine. However, the palate is very dry, not quite as deep and complex as the nose, and the contrast is interesting. At the end of the day, it's my least favorite of the three.

Pretty As The Moon, 2018

A Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Syrah blend is a witty variant on the GSM theme even as a red,, let alone as a rose. The result here is a reserved wine that need time to open up, eventually showing more than decent plus aromatic complexity, minerals and herbs taking on a prominent role. The palate is lithe and focused, with a very saline finish. The pleasures of a rose, even an excellent one, are fleeting at best, and the Pretty As The Moon is a very ephemeral rose by Israeli standards - yet it manages to leave a surprisingly lingering impression.

Light From Darkness, 2018

This is a blanc de noirs made of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Syrah. I haven't tasted enough BdR's to form any opinion other than that they're never really white and arguably not as interesting as a rose.This, however, is a surprise. The aromatics are charmingly embossed by chalk and flint with a faint echo of red cherries and flowers. If you only sniff it, you really might think it's a white wine. Tasting it blind, though, it's sweeter and rounder than the nose suggests and you'd think it a rose. Either way, I'm engaged. 

Eye Of The Storm, 2016

A GSM blend, heavily dominated by Grenache, judging by the aromas and flavors, closer to a Cotes du Rhone than a Chateauneuf. (May 2, 2019)

The Silent Hunter, 2018

Yaacov's signature wines in his days at Midbar Winery were the Semillon and the Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend. This is a variation on a theme, Chenin Blanc taking the Sauvignon's place. The name is a homage to Australia's Hunter Valley, which was the first (and only?) appellation famous for varietal Semillon. This is a successful variation, summer fruits adorned by flint and oyster shells. the palate tautly juicy and well delineated by acidity and a saline tang. Quite lovely in its youth. 

The Silent Hunter, 2017 is more of the same, not much further evolved. Both are fresh and vibrant, but not especially complex.

The Soulmate, 2018 is a another unexpected blend, Chardonnay (55%) and Chenin Blanc (45%) this time. Like the Silent Hunter, the nose is a mix of summer fruits, flint and shell, while the palate is lithe and tautly fruity, without great length, intensity or complexity, just tasty and charming. 

To find out how Yaacov's whites evolve, I turned to the Valley of the Hunters, 2009, a library bottle of his first Semillon from the Midbar days and paired it with the latter day 2018. The 2018 is, again, a very lean wine, almost slender thin, without a lot to set it to apart from the other Semillon variations. The 2017, on the other hand, is starting to come together and show a personal character, lime and minerals, like Muscadet and oysters. Yaacov has always felt the Semillons needed a few years after release to play, if I recall, but if he had expected it to bloom after ten years, then he'd set the bar a little too high. The 2009 is still alive, which is quite an achievement for a first vintage of an Israeli white, but it's past its best, the fruit withered back to a skeletal frame its best and there's not a lot going on beyond an interesting sea water funk on the nose. I'd tasted it quite a few times over the years and it was quite lovely at three-five years post vintage. So I'd recommend cellaring any young vintages you buy for a couple of years. Admittedly, I've read better reports about the 2009, but you know how it is with mature bottles.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Produttori Dei Barbaresco 2014 Cru Tasting (June 25, 2019)



Loving Piedmont did not come easy to me. I always appreciated Barolo and Barbaresco, but it took a few years until I was able to really get the wines and connect emotionally, sensually, and intellectually. What I finally learned to love about Nebbiolo is the specific texture and flavors of its fruit and tannins, that unique combination of earthy cherries, tea, tar and spices no other grape can match. I suspect a lot of that comes from the tannins, which explains why I do enjoy the tannic punch of a young Nebbiolo.

Looking back, I definitely remember the 'straight' Barbaresco from Produttori (circa the 2006/7 vintages) being one of the significant steeping stone in my Piedmont romance. It was the first wine that made me long for the flavors of Nebbiolo and I became a fairly regular (if not very extensive) collector of the Produttori's cru bottlings shortly afterwards.

Produttori Dei Barbareco is a cooperative with a venerable history. Despite being a cooperative, it has always been highly regarded, not just for the quality of the wines but for allowing the aficionados something no other house in Piedmont can: a side by side comparison of nine different crus, all vinified the same way. With so many growers in the cooperative, the Produttori can source enough quality grapes from each of the sites owned by the separate growers for a Riserva bottling from each vineyard, and still have enough quality grapes left over for a very fine Barbaresco bottling.

Which explains why I was looking forward so much to the Cru tasting hosted at importer Wine Route - even though I knew it would be tough going. I usually don’t care if young Barolos and Barbarescos are tough to drink as long as they’re expressive, but these really were a challenge. Not that each wine on its own was that difficult to read, but making out comparative differences was a struggle, when the wines are still so young and opaque.

You can’t really go wrong with any of these, but my favorites are, in more or less ascending order: Muncagota, Montestefano, Pora, Rabaja and Asili. The Produttori's site reviews the different crus, but don't expect it to describe any cru as less than classic, complex and expressive. Well, that they certainly are, but the descriptions don't really provide an easy way of understanding the qualitative and stylistic differences between the vineyards. Perhaps no one can encapsulate them and it's probably something that requires a few years tasting through them, anyway, so I'm not exactly criticizing their web site here.

The Barbaresco is from the 2015 vintage and costs 249 NIS. The Crus are all 2014 and all cost 349 NIS.

Barbaresco, 2015

The nose is very raw and young, with hints of leather, menthol and tar. Palate is readier, very balanced. Despite the tautness and restraint, the potential for complexity is there, even for this quality level. 2015 is reported to be a great vintage and the entry-level Barbaresco is always a good buy at this house.

Muncagota

This is the highest, coolest cru Produttori has. Compared to the Barbaresco, this immediately impresses as a riper, bolder wine with a pronouced earthy character. The palate is a closed fist of power, while the nose is already expressive.

Rio Sordo

Rio Sordo has the lowest elevation of the crus, so the contrast between the Muncagota is quite marked The nose is more expressive and delicate, a little tarrier with redder fruit and the palate is softer. While I'd never turn it down, if you have access to all nine crus and are not buying all nine, this probably will get the least attention. It will need less years in the cellar, but I doubt that the difference between laying a wine down for three years or five will be a very big influence on purchasing strategy.  

Ovello

The aromas are deeper here, compared to the Rio Sordo, yet somehow the fragrance is what I usually I associate with a lighter hue of fruit. Abundant fruit on the palate makes the wine approachable despite the tannins.

Montefico

A direct and fruity nose, almost chocolatey but not quite. Both nose and palate are damn expressive with a most savory finish. The Produttori's site says Montefico is austere in youth but it plays a very friendly game right now.

Paje

Reserved yet expressive, which is a good combination, and my first impression was of a sauvage character reminiscent of Gevrey. In time, I find it less captivating than its peers.

From here on, we're entering a stretch of what came off at the tasting as the grand crus of the house. Nothing less than outstanding.

Montestefano

A nose to fall in love with, really the most expressive and complex nose so far, already tarry and floral. Concentrated and long and never loses refinement.

Pora

Both the Pora and Montestefano are concentrated and complex and show the liberal expressiveness framed by fine reserve that is the hallmark of a great wine, but there are stylistic differences that make life interesting. The Pora shows a greater abundance of minerals. Since it's always popular to compare Piedmont to Burgundy, I'd suggest the Pora plays Pommard to Montestefano's Volnay.

Rabajà

This is one of the most famed and highly regarded of Barbaresco's crus so it's quite apt that the Produttori's offering stands firmly on the same high ground as its three peers. Stylistically, it combines the floral and mineral aspects of the preceding pair.

Asili

Descriptors are beside the point here. It's simply a seriously grand and intense wine, almost virtuously so. Alas, I was a little slow to get to the cashier at the end of the tasting and all the bottles had been grabbed. Which makes tasting it one of the greatest and saddest experiences of the year.




Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Borja Perez - Canary Islands

I tawt I taw a putty tat
I think Eldad Levy's manifest requires him to carry a quota of wines from volcanic soil in his portfolio. When Etna's Terre Nere reduced allocation, he looked for an alternative. And found one in Tenerife, where Borja Perez has been making wine from indigenous grapes since he took over his family winery is 2011.

I found a great quote by Borja himself that tells everything about how this great winemaker wound up busting tradition while making wines that are fresh and uncontrived, moreish with a backdrop of serious depth, exotic yet as cozy as your own backyard.
Although Tenerife boasts a long wine history, it is pretty worthless because we have been making things badly for 20 years.
And here's one that nails his approach to sustainable wine growing and biodnyamics, an approach that maintains a level, empirical head about the whole thing.
I’m not a Taliban. If the vines need to be treated, I’ll do it. And if I can clear weeds with a tractor, why would I do it by hand?”
The Artifice range is the entry level, grapes purchased from growers who maintain a small production from old vines

Ycoden Daute Isora, Artífice Tinto, 2017

Listán Negro, Baboso and Vijariego Negro

Believe me, you've never tasted anything this vibrantly tasty since the last time you drank your first ever really good Beaujolais Cru. If anything, the acidity is even finer and more joyous. The Tinto sports gorgeous red fruit that is accompanied by aromas and aftertaste of fresh meat (If you think I mean brett, then you should apologize. I believe the meaty character comes from the grapes. If I'm wrong, though, then the strain of brettanomyces in the Canary Islands is a particularity hygienic yeast because there's nothing malodorous here at all). Best of all is an intoxicating floral note which will make you think of Chambolle and a bong. (June 20, 2019)

120 NIS.

Two whites, more complex and interesting than you'd expect from islanders.

Ycoden Daute Isora, Artífice, Listán Blanco, 2017

Listan Blanco is actually Jerez' Palomino Fino, but there's no way of making a comparison with sherry. The closest parallel I can think of are Portuguese whites. It has a similar crazed bouquet of exotic minerals and fruit. But the palate is even spicier and more herbal than those Iberian counterparts, with a long, intense, salty finish. A jaw dropper, one that may prove too extreme for some, but sometimes you just need to get away from the day to day. (June 21, 2019)

120 NIS.

Ycoden Daute Isora, Artífice, Vidueños, 2017

A blend of white varieties Marmajuelo (30%), Gual (30%), Albillo Criollo (30%) and Listán Blanco (10%) vinified separately and blended in foudre.

This, too, is a very extreme white wine. The minerals are almost sulfurous, so much so that a mind with a poetic bent might think of brimstone, before noticing the apple peel and lime beneath the surface (as well as a leafy greenness - think young Gruner Veltliner). While the fruit profile is less exotic than the varietal Listán Blanco, it also is not a wine for a conservative drinker, but because it's a little more focused than the Listán Blanco, it's easier to come to terms with. (June 23, 2019)

130 NOS.

Eldad also brings in a varietal Babosa Negro (cute name for a grape, and none of us are going to be quizzed about this, no worries) from Perez' premium series, Ignios Orígenes. I'll hold off on that and wait for Eldad to hold a tasting. It's not a cheap wine and, regardless of the price, I really want to hang on to the magic a bit longer.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Sherry Darling - Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla

The wine sparkled in his eyes
Jerez was the first wine region I came to terms with on my own. Not many people in Israel were into it so I didn't feel insecure about my lack of knowledge and experience  And there were two other factors. It was convenient that an open bottle could endure for a very long time, so I didn’t have to look for drinking partners. And it was cheap for its quality. The greatest sherry I ever drank, the Domecq, Capuchino Palo Cortado, the Montrachet of sherries, cost 50 euros in 2006.

And I adored the the background details: the expatriate British colony in Jerez, the venerable houses, decades old soleras hidden away in warehouses and private houses, a dying craft, grapes no one has ever, or will ever grow elsewhere. And such evocative names for the grapes and styles: Fino Palomino, Pedro Ximinez, Amontillado, Palo Cortado. 

Jerez even came with a wealth of literary references dating back centuries: Shakespeare’s Falstaff and Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Cask of Amontillado”, to quote the most well known.

None of the really good stuff was ever imported to Israel. The most venerable name to make the journey was Humbert and Williams, but I think provenance was always a bit dubious, here and abroad. For a few years, I explored the range whenever I traveled abroad (the premium bottlings from Lustau, Domeq, Gonzalez-Byass for the most part). I never thought anyone would ever import anything interesting.

Rey Fernando de Castilla certainly qualifies as interesting. The bodegas's site is in Spanish, but I found an excellent write up here, in what looks like a good source for sherry notes and information in general. The bodega is a 50+ year old house - a newcomer, in other words - that was taken over in 1999, along with neighboring almacenista José Bustamente, by a group of investors lead by Norwegian-born Jan Pettersen, who had been working in the Spanish alcohol industry for decades.

Jan Pettersen recently visited Israel, guest of his brand new local importers Eldad Levy and Uri Caftori, participating in marketing events for restaurateurs and private clients. I paid my shekels for an evening at Habasta, where the staff managed, quite successfully to go for food pairings beyond the almost compulsory jamon and gazpacho.

We tasted through two series of dry sherries. The grapes for both are sourced mostly the from the renowned (in Jerez, at least) Pago Balbaina vineyard, but the wines in the Antique series are aged for longer periods in smaller, soleras, with a older reserve stocks, so they're deeper, more concentrated. In most cases, I'd pay the extra price for the Antiques, except in the case of the Finos, where the style is a greater differentiator than quality and I'd recommend that both styles be experienced .

I'll touch on the basic sherry terms as I go along, but if you're new to sherry, you might want to google the basic terms and styles - or try the link I mentioned earlier.

Fino Classic

Finos are the lightest of the sherries, as close as you can get to an unfortified white wine. The Classic is aged for a few years in a solera with reserves 2-9 years old. It combines fresh fruit flavors - I thought apples jam - with nutty and pungent (iodine and brine) aromas and flavors. 15% ABV.

Fino Antique

Finos evolve into Amontillados as the flor covering the wine dies in time, so it's not very surprising that the Antique, which remains in the solera for a few years longer than the Classic, feels halfway to Amontillado on the palate. It's deeper, more apple pie than apple jam, the aromas and flavors of nuts and cured meat more complex. 17% ABV. 

Amontillado Classic

If the Fino Antique is halfway to Amontillado, this seems to be just past the metamorphosis. An adolescent Amontillado, if you will, with an added layer of complexity compared to Fino, yet light and fresh. 18% ABV.

Amontillado Antique

A truly excellent wine that was aged in a 20 year old solera, angular and pungent, yet silky at the same time, with a fine finish, carrying a complex array of briny flavors that beg to be sipped slowly. 18 ABV%.

Oloroso Classic

There's a common misconception that all sherries mature under flor. As I mentioned, Finos evolve into Amontillados once the flor dies, while Olorosos either never develop flor or else the flor is killed by the winemakers. It's a richer style of sherry, which makes it suitable for sweet sherries, which has created a sort of a backlash, due to the negative image of English grannies sipping a thimble of sweet sherry at Yuletide: if sweet sherry is a more plebeian style and Oloroso is the base of sweet sherries, then Oloroso is an inferior wine. Personally, while I prefer the edgy angularity and pungent kick of the other styles, I appreciate the richness of a good Oloroso and, man, I'd drunk some lovely sweet sherries back in the day. Having said that, the Classic is a little tame after the Finos and Amontillados: there's brine and nuts, melded into a very mellow piece, and what pungency is there to be found flares up on the finish. Good complexity, though. 17% ABV, from a 9 year old solera.

Oloroso Antique

This is aged in a smaller solera, with stocks aged 20-30 years. It's earthier than the Classic, yet finer at the same time, fuller and deeper, longer too. While it's still a dry wine, the richness creates a pastry-like effect. 17% ABV.

Palo Cortado Antique

Google it if you don't believe me: no one really knows what Palo Cortado is, except that it's very fine and rare. Even Pettersen laughed about it, before offering the first halfway understandable explanation I ever heard: sometimes the flor just doesn't settle right and you either get vinegar or something combining the pungency of Amontillado and the richness of Oloroso. In short, Palo Cortado happens. This is aged in the house's oldest solera, 30+ years old. It's very reserved, forcing you to concentrate and contemplate, but it's well worth the effort because this reserved beauty is complex, ethereally nuanced and expressive, the ultimate figure of refinement. It’s also the tastiest wine of the tasting.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

May Days (May 2019)

This month rocked. Looking back, the wines we drank covered almost all my loves and almost each deserved a solo post.


Terre Nere, Etna, Il Quadro delle Rose Feudo di Mezzo, 2015

It's been seven years and odd days since I attended my first Terre Nere tasting. Wow. I should buy more. I always love the reds whenever I drink them. In fact, just about the only Italian wine I drink outside of Barolo and Barbaresco is this house in Sicily's Etna DOC. Which is appropriate since both Nebbiolo and Nerello Mascalese show tarry, earthy aromas and pack a dense, complex lattice of tannins and acidity into a deceptively lithe frame. In this case, this is especially true since the Feudo di Mezzo vineyard, which the winery classifies informally as a Premier Cru, is located relatively low with mild inclines, making for a friendlier wine than the other crus, lighter and superficially more elegant. (May 11, 2019)


Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre, Les Romains, 2016

Sauvignon Blanc as a geology seminar, this is foremost a wine geared towards intensity of expression, rather than complexity, extreme in its display of shells and chalk, with a touch of leafiness adding marginal additional nuances. I think this is an excellent Sancerre, but please excuse me if I prefer the house's Pinot Noirs. (May 3, 2019)

Wine Route, 280 NIS.

Pierre Gonon, Saint Joseph, 2014

This confirms Gonon's reputation as the king of Saint Joseph. A very complete, complex nose of olive tapenade, bacon and pepper heralds a mellow, yet persistent palate: silky tannins, balanced, lingering acidity and lovely, elegant fruit. Close to Cote Rotie in texture, depth, finesse and quality.  Also, in the way so many flavors are densely packed unto a deceptively light frame. (May 4, 2019)

50 GBP.

Domaine Joseph Drouhin, Nuits-St.-Georges, 2011

A long time ago, a 2003 Nuits convinced me that Drouhin was one negociant that deserved my money. Everything has to work perfectly to make wine work at the village level and although 2003 was from from a perfect vintage, the ripeness of the 2003 vintage actually provided more heft and depth than you'd expect from a village wine. Since many 2003's were flabby and/or over the top, I award all credit to team Drouhin. 2011, on the other hand, is one of those vintages where you feel that every aspect is somehow lacking: the wines are a little too light, the finish a little too short, the tannins a shade or two less than fine, the aromatics missing a bit of complexity and definition. The 2011 NSG illustrates all of the above, especially since 2011 was a vintage of suspect durability. Thus, although the aromatics are pleasant, forest floor and iron tinged with balsamic vinegar, the tannins and finish are stern and drying. On the plus side, the fruit is still clear and fine. Drink up and enjoy. (May 19, 2019)

Quinta da Pellada (Alvaro Castro), Dão, Jaen, 2011

Jaen (or Mencia as the grape is known in Spain, especially Bierzo where it is most famous), is another of those grapes often compared to Pinot Noir. And I can get that. It shares a similar silky texture and lightness of being. And this specific specimen also shows a distinctly floral character on the nose, almost as though the Chambolle rose petals had been hung out to dry among the bushes of the Iberian peninsula. The tannins are integrated and everything is in perfect balance, yet the Jaen still seems youthfully fresh and impresses as a wine that could easily develop for another seven-ten years. An excellent, lovely wine, one of the best Portuguese reds I've had - at the end of the day, one that doesn't need comparisons to Pinot to shine. (May 21, 2019)

Chateau Branaire-Ducru, Saint Julien 4me Cru, 2008

A tasty claret, well made, quite ready, a typical expression of Saint Julien finesse. Brainaire-Ducru is not a great house and 2008 is a classic Left Bank year with all the classic Left Bank drawbacks, so the cedar-tinged aromas, although very friendly and charming, are austere without a lot flair, while the tannins outlast the drying fruit on the finish. But it also has all the classic Left Bank charms, which used to be about drinkability years ago.(May 24, 2019)

Wine Route, a very good purchase at 250 NIS, prices we won't see again, even for a relatively modest chateau.

Domaine Pavelot (Jean-Marc et Hugues) Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru, La Dominode, 2011

Had I known Bourgogne Crown and Pavelot would eventually part ways, I'd have bought more. Even though it seemed, at the time, that I had bought quite a handful across the range, I did not buy enough of the house's crown jewels, the La Dominode. If you know your Burgundy, then you know 2011 is a vintage valued more for charm and approachability than for intrinsic qualities of complexity, heft and depth - and indeed, at a tasting a few years ago, the 2010 impressed as a dense, muscular wine with many years of cellaring potential, while the 2011 seemed more meandering and less focused. 

The Dominode 2011 has come into focus in the intervening years. The finish is now firm, fresh black cherries buttressed by rusty tannins, the fleshy texture and aromas and flavors of iron, rotting leaves and animal hide making for an impressive character that is a cross between Pommard and Gevrey, with the true weight of the excellent Premier Cru that Dominode is. I love it. (May 26, 2019)

About 290 NIS.

Gunderloch, Rheinhesse, Riesling Drei Sterne Auslese ***, 2007

As soon as I read the label, I knew the 13% ABV meant I wasn't going to get a classic Auslese. The nose is rich and laden with candied botrytis spices - if ever could a bouquet could be called unctuous, this is the one. The palate feels like a dessert wine with all the sugar leeched out of it. At first I thought it was awful, but as it found its footing, I found it oddly intriguing. I suppose a 52 year old Auslese would taste this way, but for a 12 year old it's a little too weird.  (May 25, 2019)

Giaconda.

Château Haut-Bergey, Pessdac-Leognan, 2008

This is a very dependable château. I've never tasted a bad wine or read any bad tasting note for any of their wines, but in the eight years or so since I first tasted its wines, this is the first bottle that went beyond the house's modern style to show any classic Pessac traits: food friendly acidity, savory tannins (still not fully integrated at this point), a form that has shed the impact of the barrel regime to show firm, yet mellow fruit with a touch of iron, earth and cedar. Much nicer than I expected. I guess it's a wine that needs 10-15 years. (May 31, 2019)

Wine Route, about 150 NIS in futures.