Monday, October 14, 2019

Portugal (Oct. 8, 2019)

Montage courtesy of the one and only Lee Hoffmann Agiv
Welcome to 2GrandCru, the only Israeli wine blog with regular coverage of Portuguese wines. This post reports on one of the monthly meetings of Itay Gleitman's "Sunday Wine Club', which he dedicated to the wine country we both love dearly (Itay probably wrote as much as I did about Portugal in his newspaper column and on his site). The tasting covered 18 wines across all the major table wine regions of the country. Some are available locally, some were purchased by Itay abroad. 

Anselmo Mendes, Vinho Verde, Moncao and Melgaco, Expressoes, 2017

The consensus is that Moncao and Melgaco is the best appellation for Vinho Verde (and the region doesn't have enough of a history to have generated any contenders), where Albarinho is the star white grape. Mendes is considered one of the best of the lot. This will be available in Israel shortly, at the Tchernichovsky restaurant and the import arm managed by Eyal Mermelstein. And I have every reason to look forward to that. This is much more focused than even the best of Vinho Verde I’ve tasted, both palate and nose showing the slightly herbal greenness I find typical of the appellation, as well as persistent minerals.It's not very complex, except for the textured finish, but very pure and crisp. The acidity and that texture I mentioned are the kind that generate both excitement and optimism for the cellar.

Azores Wine Company, Pico, Arinto des Acores, 2017

I'll try to be brief, although the story here is interesting. The topography of the Azores limits vinegrowing to a coastal strip before the steep mountain terrain creates a perpetual fog that won't allow the grapes to ripen. The growers plant the the vines in pits and rock cracks, which serves as protection from the sea breezes. The Azores Wine Company is a joint venture of two locals, Filipe Rocha and Paulo Machado, and mainlander António Maçanita who made the wine. This wine is made from the Arinto des Acores grape on the Pico island. The main features here are low alcohol, strong but not overwhelming acidity and flavors and aromas very big on minerals. I get smoked salt and some talc, but except for strong flavors of lime on the finish, the fruit aromas and flavors are too reserved on the attack for me to make out what they are. An interesting wine for sure.

Casal Sta Maria, Colares, Ramisco, 2009

Colares happens to be the westernmost wine region in Europe and the vineyards there are as exposed to wind as the ones in the Azores, forcing similar growing techniques. Their red grape, Ramisco, is famed for its tannins and longevity (personally, I'm wary of grapes where the key to longevity is big, harsh tannins). The old producers used to release the wines after many years in the cellar, in 640 cl bottles. When the EU banned those idiosyncratic bottles, the good folks of Colares chose to release their wines in 500 cl bottles and charge the same as for regular bottles. Casa Sta Maria is a newcomer and the 2009 is a recent release. The wine is interesting enough that I'd buy a bottle in the unlikely chance that it were imported, or buy it off a restaurant list, but I would save my luggage space for other purchases. It's tanninc but not harsh, with a soft core and a spicy finish, delineated by fine acidity and earth and leather aromas and flavors.

Viuva Gomes, Colares, Reserva Tinto, 1969

This is one of the old time producers and it comes in the old 640 cl bottle. it reminds me of a mature Rioja. Because I've never tasted the grape before, I have no sense whether it's showing a generic sort of maturity or whether this is how it expresses itself. Perhaps it would have been better drunk at 20 or 30 years of age, even 40, but I have no idea. The nose evokes the romantic beauty of those old Riojas, the way the aromas are still vibrant but are sauteed in balsamic vinegar. The palate is still tannic, but the flavors of balsam are very prominent and that's one reason the question of the wine's maturity curve worries me.

And now on to more familiar grounds. But before we continue, I want to repeat what I've written in previous posts about Portugal: the secret weapon of Portugal is their whites grapes - Malvasia, Viosinho and Rabigato in the Duoro, Ecruzado in Dao, Bical and Cercial in Bairrada. My big regret is that I've only tasted a handful of producers so it's hard to generalize, but I'll try. The Duoro whites are the most robust and smoky, Dao the most elegant and Bairrada the most exotic.

The reds are also good to excellent, they just don't have the same wow factor as the whites, that exotic, alien allure that makes you want to open another bottle right away. It's like the first encounter with Thai vegetable dishes. You almost recognize the flavors, they almost remind you of western vegetables, but you just can't wrap your senses around them and sort out what you're smelling and tasting.

Niepoort, Duoro, Redoma Branco, 2018

Niepoort is the most familiar name tonight, with an empire that spans a Port lodge and dry wines across every wine region in Portugal. I'm serious, just check out their site. This is a blend of Rabigato, Códega, Donzelinho, Viosinho and Arinto sourced from high altitude vineyards. Still young, it does show the smoky, mineral tint of the Douro whites, less so the exotic fruit flavors. I know from experience that it needs to be drunk at least four years post-vintage. It's imported by the Tchernichovsky restaurant  and it's not cheap, but I recommend it.

Niepoort, Duoro, Redoma Tinto, 2014

Port is made of dozens of red grapes, including a strain of Tempranillo called Tinta Roriz. Touriga Nacional is the only that's a household name outside of the Duoro. When the Port houses decided to start making quality table reds, they steered towards hearty wines as big as their vintage Ports. The trend these days is towards lither wines, like this one, but once again I'm informed by limited personal experience, just a lot of reading. Made from Tinta Amarela, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca. grapes from old vineyards, Niepoort describes the wine as "extreme, with a rigorous character". I hardly get that at all, I find it clean and communicative. Granted, it's still young, so I believe its spicy, tarry side will add complexity in time, but I don't think it will ever become rigorous. Maybe Niepoort was making generalizations across different vintages. Another Eyal Mermelstein import.

Luis Seabra, Duoro, Xisto Cru, 2016

Luis Seabra worked as a winemaker for Niepoort before branching out. Now, this is more "extreme, with a rigorous character". At least, it's more Old World in character. Maybe that's how the Redoma turned out while Seabra was still with the firm. Anyway, tasting note: I get friendly muskiness, like old coats preserved in a closet free of mildew and other hazards of dampness. I get a funkiness, not dirty brett, though. Good acidity. Definitely more interesting. I look forward to buying some when Dani Galil starts importing.

Quinta de Pellada (Alvaro Castro), Dao, Encruzado Reserva, 2017

Encruzado, the crown jewel of the Dao. The aromas don’t show full potential of the grape, but the palate is more expressive and very moreish, with a lime-tinged finish. Again, I recommend waiting until it's at least four years old.

Alvaro Castro has two upscale labels, Quinta de Pellada and Quinta de Saes. They used to be imported to Israel by the TEyal Mermelstein when he part of an importer called Gin Proof. They parted ways and now Eyal Mermelstein carries the Quinta de Saes and Dani Galil carries Quinta de Pellada under the Gin Proof umbrella. There are good wines in each label. If you want to explore Castro further - and you should, he's arguably the best face of Dao - buy from both.

Quinta de Pellada, Dao, Casa, 2014

The best thing about this is the blueberry fruit that retains amazing freshness and prickles the nose with spices and black pepper, which are echoed on the long, spicy finish. Very classy, with bags of potential.

Niepoort, Dao, Conciso, 2015

I'm not sure what grapes went into the Casa, but I know what's in this: Baga and Jaen. This is a very unusual blend, as Baga is the signature red grape of Bairrada. What is a usual blend for Dao? You'll find the common grapes of the Duoro, mostly Touriga Nacional, and also Jaen, known as Mencia in Spain. This is a grape with flavors and aromas that remind me of Pinot Noir and Gamay. It's dominant enough here to again remind me of a Beaujolais Cru, with it's own individual nuances. Very expressive nose and palate. I’m impressed again. 

Luis Pato, Bairrada, Vinha Barrosa, 2015

The Barrosa vineyard  is arguably the best expression of Bairrada's claim to fame in the world of red wine: the Baga grape. And Luis Pato is Baga's banner man. I've read of Baga being compared to Nebbiolo. I''m not surprised, Pato's single vineyard versions are usually loaded with tar and iron. Besides, no one ever compares a grape to Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Filipa Pato, Bairrada, Nossa Calcario, 2018

Luis' daughter makes a very Pinot-like Baga, which is an aspect of the grape makers are starting to explore. This, however, is an example of one of Bairrada's signature white grapes, Bical. Too bad Itay didn't open one of Luis' white wines. This is either too young, or the father makes better whites. While the nose does show the exotic character of the grape, the palate is short and imbalanced. 

Finally, we had a trio of wines from Alentejano, Portugal's largest wine region, whose signature red grape is the Alicante Bouschet, basically a cross between Grenache and an older local red, Petit Bouschet. Two were by Susan Estaban, a white, Alentejano, Procura, Vinhas Velhas, 2016 and a red, Tricot, Alentejano, 2015. Both left me underwhelmed. The Mouchao, Alentejano, 2013 was better, but too young. Apparently, it's 100% Alicante Bouschet and has received high scores from Wine Enthusiast and the Cellar Tracker community. Wine Enthusiast called it out for its "dense tannins and powerfully rich texture". I did not get a sense of that description nor of anything deserving of high scores, but it may have needed more time in glass or cellar and maybe a fresher palate on my part.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Sphera 2018

Although I’ve been drinking Sphera since just about the inaugural vintage, and have written a few dozen tasting notes,this is the first post I've dedicated solely to Sphera since that first vintage. Doron Rav-Hon style is rather easy for me to encapsulate. The wines are more about clarity and depth, less overtly structured or opulent than his peers in the top tier of local white winemaking, where he obviously belongs. They always make me think of a Japanese rock garden. You have to concentrate and ease yourself into the nuances.

2018 was a great success for Sphera. I always love his Sauvignon Blanc, always my first choice in the lineup, but damn if the 2018 (tasted a few months ago) wasn't the best yet, a wine that speaks of terroir even as its vivacity and vivid tang transport you to a lush and green landscape that might not exist in our corner of the world, a wine that, true to the house style, is at once both taut and broad.

First Page, 2018

I never bought a lot of the First Page. It was always tasty, but there was always a touch of obeisance about it. I blame the Pinot Gris in the blend, but it’s been gone for a while and now the blend is Semillon, Rousanne and Chenin Blanc. Now the acidic backbone is more pronounced, and while it's not yet completely in balance with the fruit, it is just integrated enough to allow the fruit to show subtle nuances. This is no longer a second or third wine but an equal to its peers that will actually demand a couple of years to really shine. (Aug. 18, 2019)

Riesling, 2018

As much as I adore Doron's wines, I'd always approached the Riesling with a highly critical eye, as I always do local Rieslings. But the 2016 really stopped me in my tracks at three years of age, and ever since I've been looking for signs of a followup. Doron has been so consistent with his other wines, that I admit I've lost some of my critical reserve. But I'm willing to testify to my objectivity when I say that I'm sure this will turn out very amazingly well, as it already shows lovely aromatics, white peaches with a touch of wet rock, echoed on a palate that marries sweetness and salinity, culminating in a long finish driven by taut acidity. As good as my first impression was, I'm amazed by how it develops in glass, more more handily than the First Page did.(Aug. 22, 2019)

Chardonay, 2018

This isn't an obvious Israeli Chardonnay. The acidity is surprisingly high, although not enough to obscure the lithe shape, like lime juice dripping from oyster shells, which is wh the finish is so flavorsome. It doesn't have the slight pear bitterness that young Israeli Chardonnay sometimes show. Meanwhile, the nose is complex and nuanced, showing an array of fruit and mineral aromas than range through apples, pears, oranges and chalk. (Oct. 2, 2019)

White Signature, 2018

The blend of the flagship wine varies from year to year and there are no rules. It had been a varietal Chardonnay, a varietal Semillon, a blend of the two and this year it's 80% Chenin Blanc, supplemented by Chardonnay. There's a focused lushness to the fruit aromas and flavors, with nuances of cantaloupe, flowers and flint, a lithe form to the structure. Its status in the portfolio isn't due to greater complexity or weight, at least not at present, but for a greater sense of depth and presence. The formal anonymity of the blend, plus the inclusion of Chardonnay, obscures the fact that this is potentially a magnificent Chenin. (Aug. 29, 2019)

A couple from 2017:

Sauvignon Blanc, 2017

I think at this point, it's a rush of adrenaline that doesn't give you pause to note any nuances, just tropical fruit enveloped by chalk and salt, powerful and focused for all that, with a tasty aftertaste. (Sept. 30, 2019)

White Signature, 2017

Despite being a Semillon-Chardonnay blend (predominantly Semillon), this comes off quite similar to a Sauvignon Blanc, I'd even go so far as to suggest a New Zealand one, being a more exotic and opulent, nicely wrapped in chalk. Both 2017's are classy wines that make a case for a few years in the fridge. (Oct. 1, 2019)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Insight (Sept. 17, 2019)

Vitkin, Insight, Macabeo, 2017

Some background. Macabeo is a white grape famous in Spain for its role in white Rioja and Cava, also widely grown in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. My own first hand experience with the grape is limited to whatever white Rioja made use of the grape. 

The first commercial release of the grape in Israel is interesting not only for its intrinsic quality but for its context in the evolution of the Vitkin style and philosophy. You all know Vitkin's banner: Mediterranean grapes. Well, they said it, not me. I don't like using that term even for Carignan and Grenache, let alone Riesling, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, which are also in Vitkin's portfolio and originate in climates so far removed from the Mediterranean basin that they are prone to summer hailstorms. Let's just say Vitkin has always shunned the more obviously commercial grapes for grapes arguably more suitable to Israel; or, in the case of Pinot Noir and Riesling, grapes Assaf Paz wanted to pursue out of love.

This wine has been twenty years in the making. Assaf Paz encountered the grape during his studies in Bordeaux in the late 90's. In the short essay he wrote for the launch he says Macabeo-based wines he had tasted from Spain and Languedoc-Roussillon were an inspiration for his professional and stylistic direction. In 2009, Vitkin were finally able to plant Macabeo vines in Israel and the first vintages after the vines reached maturity were dedicated to searching for the best growing and making techniques. With the 2017 vintage, Assaf felt ready for a small commercial release from a single barrel.

It's a good first effort. If you're familiar with the Vitkin Grenache Blanc, or even the White Journey, you'll recognize the same mineral texture and saline flavors. It's a light wine that manages to show more complexity and depth than the initial attack would suggest. It's lean without feeling under-ripe and the oak is totally sublimated. Which isn't easy to pull off with a single barrel, where you can't fix any defects by way of blending. It's not as distinctive as the Grenache Blanc, but it's good enough to warrant release. I'm not sure it warrants the tag price of 160 NIS, but return on investment is not really going to be a consideration for anyone hunting it down.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Bordeaux Vs. The World (Sept. 19, 2019)

Sometimes, you just strike gold. Not only was this an an amazing evening with no bombs, so many people brought Bordeaux it inadvertently became a theme night, making it an easy write-up.

Mullineux, Swartland, Iron, 2015

I'd tasted the entry level Syrah from this South African producer, but this is the first time I've had a look at one of the Mullineux single vineyards. It's very well made, the fruit obviously sourced from excellent terroir and nothing appears to have been forced or over-extracted. The fruit is ripe, masking the tannins to an extent, but no more so than any young Syrah from a big, warm vintage or a sun drenched vineyard. There are faint nuances of black pepper, but other than that, it's still at a very juvenile stage.

Chateau Kirwan, Margaux 3me Cru, 2000

This is a very classic claret and I hope I'm not being too vain when I say it would have been very easy to recognize it as a Margaux in a blind tasting. The bouquet is very elegant, black currants and flowers with just a touch of iron. The form of the palate is very graceful, even though the tannins leave a slightly rusty impression on the finish. It would have been the absolute wine of the night had it been the only Bordeaux, but here it had to contend with two mature peers at their peak, and vintage mate that overshadowed it.

Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac 5me Cru, 2000

Riper than the Kirwan and even more powerful, as befits Pauilliac. While the Kirwan seemed ready to go, this still feels like it needs another five years and could easily last a couple of decades. Like the Kirwan, it shows a fine balance of elegance and power, it simply has more of both.

Chateau Pichon-Lalande, Pauillac 2me Cru, 1975

1975 is considered a brutally tannic vintage, irregular at best. I don't have first hand experience, I've been reading up. Considering the fact that Pichon-Lalande had no second wine at the time and that sorting was almost unheard of, the final stop in the 44 year journey this bottle has made is a minor miracle. I found the palate, at first, to be slightly frayed, with plenty of flavors, though. In the glass, the tannins started to assert themselves, yet without overwhelming the mellow sweet fruit. Short finish, though. But before I got that far with the palate, I was already taken with the delicate nose, which showed a depth of character and nuances, requiring, and worthy of, much concentration and appreciation.

Chateau Gruaud-Larose, Saint Julien 2me Cru, 1986

Easily the wine of the night, showing the power and elegance and magic of a Bordeaux at the top of its game, at the peak of its form and aromatic complexity.

Cantina Del Glicine, Barbaresco, Currà , 2010

With the Bordeaux out of the way, but not forgotten, we moved on to an enlightening Piedmont mini-flight, a pair of wines that demonstrated with great clarity the differences between Barbaresco and Barolo. From what I've read, Currà is considered one of the best cru in the Barbaresco commune of Neive, but this reputation has been recently earned, thanks in part to the work done at Glicine. This is complex, nuanced and delicate on both nose and palate, one instance where the comparisons to Burgundy make sense - a rendition of Piedmont very close to my heart, both soft and powerful, with the classic notes of tar, roses and spices.

Elio Grasso Barolo Gavarini Chiniera, 2001

And then there's the ironclad, muscle bound side of Nebbiolo. The fruit is darker in tone, the tannins powerful and drying. Despite that, at its core, this is lovely, but if I had another bottle, I'd leave it alone for another decade and enjoy the likes of Glicine in the meantime.

Thierry Allemande, Cornas, Reynard, 2011

And now we've come full circle back to Syrah. And what a Syrah! One of the legendary wines of Cornas, if not the whole of the Northern Rhone. A big, incredibly young wine (even eight years post harvest in a vintage regarded as mediocre), yet deft and elegant at the same time.  While many wines of Cornas have tamed the wildling character of the appellation, as elegant as it is, Reynard always expresses itself with aromas and flavors of iron and raw meat. Just one of those contradictions great wines throw at you.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Balkans Revisited (Sept. 7, 2019)

I still find it hard to reconcile the notion of someone importing wines from the Balkans to Israel. It's like, they're a niche wine producing country and we're a niche wine producing countries, and niche players shouldn't be trading with each other. Well, I'm wrong on a few counts and I know it. Wine lovers and producers in niche countries can learn as much from other niche players as from the mainstream wine producing countries - to a certain extent, even more, like how to mix heritage and modernism and how to market your country. Anyway, I no longer think of the Balkans as a niche, but rather a landscape with a very rich history of winemaking, albeit one that was iced by Communist regimes and then civil war. To paraphrase what I've said in the past, their wine culture is as deep and valid as that of their neighbors across the Adriatic Sea.

(Also, it's pretty provincial to label one's own country a niche.)

The only thing that is a "niche" about Balkan wines is the fact that their whites see a lot of skin contact. But that technique is part of their heritage and my guess is made sense to do that in the past, when wine storage was a shaky proposition.

My second tasting at Saro Imports as enjoyable and educational as any I've been to in recent years. Probably more, because everything is still so new to me, but I now have enough background knowledge to actively participate in conversation with co-owners Eran Elhalal and Ido Levran. Plus I can make more sense of the wines, their flavors and aromas, their structure, and how they relate to styles of wine I'm more familiar with.

Kobal, Slovenia, Šipon, 2017

Hailing from Podravje, a relatively cool-climate region in northeast Slovenia, Kobal is a star producer who is quite successful in exporting his ware. Šipon is the same grape as the Hungarian Furmint and the wine sees 36 hours of skin contact. It was a wine I liked at the last tasting as a light, summer drink. It's still a lovely summer drink, only it's fuller and more persistent now, with grapefruit, white flowers and a light pungency on both nose and palate. 75 NIS.

Jeruzalem Ormoz, Slovenia, Sipon, 2017

The only true quaffer in the lineup, nothing long or complex here, just a fun summer wine, with tart, white fruit and lively acidity. 65 NIS.

Scurek, Slovenia, Jakot, Gredic, 2016

This is made of Sauvignonasse, a grape formerly known as Tocai Friulano. Scurek calls the wine Jakot - a private joke targeting the European Union ordnance that forced the Slovenians to change the name of the grape. Gredic is the name of vineyard (in the north western wine district of Primorskawhere the vines average a very respectable 50 years of age. The wine undergoes 12 hours of skin contact. As always, there is a contrast here between ripeness and a very dry body with loads of exotic minerals and spices. There’s an unresolved interaction of ripe and bitter flavors on the finish. 95 NIS.

Scurek, Slovenia, Sauvignon Blanc, 2016

From the same area of Solvenia, sourced from 40 year old vines, this undergoes a week of skin contact. The result is a captivating and challenging display of funky minerals. Think of the smoky exterior of Pouilly-Fume combined with the stony reserve of a Graves white. Then dial down any trace of overt fruitiness and thrown in a hint of cured meats. That gets you within a timezone or two of how Sauvignon behaves with skin contact. New Zealand is a planet that doesn’t exist in the same universe. 100 NIS.

Kobal, Slovenia, White Reserve, 2015

Half Chardonnay, half Gewurtztraminer, going through 3-5 days of skin contact and fermentation with indigenous yeast,. What you get is the fragrance of Gewurtz, ie rose petals and a touch of ginger, while the Chardonnay tempers the grape's usual blunt attack in mid-palate. 135 NIS.

Toreta, Croatia, Posip sur lie, 2016

And we jump to the Dalmatian islands in Croatia, for a wine made of the local Posip grape, which sees 24 hours of skin contact followed by 14 months of aging sur lieThe is the kind of wine that rewards the search for new areas. First, the nose. Simply wonderful, with a set of aromas so new to me that I don't have the vocabulary for them. The palate is concentrated and full of verve due to the acidity, which is the result of the high difference in temperature during the day. Absolutely captivating and magical. 160 NIS.

Guerila, Slovenia, Retro, 2017

From a high, steep vineyard in Vipava in western Slovenia, this is a field blend of Rebula, Zelen, Pinela and Malvasia, undergoing 5 days of skin contact and aging on lees in a 2000 liter foudre. Just as weird as the Posic, its magic arguably less convincing, for me, anyway. Others liked more - I totally understand that and it has the potential to turn out to be just as exotic as the Posic. 200 NIS

Stekar, Slovenia, Morus, Alba, 2016

An orange wine from the Slovenia-Friuli border. Morus is a daughter label of the Stekar winery. Alba is made of 50 year old Sivi Pinot (Pinot Grigio) and goes through 30 days of skin contact. This is a wine that combines funky, nigh-dirty aromatics with a clear and focused structure. 140 NIS.

Scurek, Slovenia, Dugo, 2013

Depending on your inclination, this stretch of orange wines might be the highlight or the nadir of the evening. I'm not a great fan of orange wines, but I adore the Dugo, a blend of Rebula, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc that is kept on the skins for 14 days. 180 NIS.

Scurek, Slovenia, Kontra, 2016

The Kontra is a blend of Chardonnay and Rebula that is kept on its own skins and the remnants of the Dugo for ten months - an orange Ripasso, if you will. The result, surprisingly, is actually more refined than the Dugo, even lyrical. It’s as though someone took the basic character of an orange wine, dialed it down and added more fresh juice. 220 NIS.

Santomas, Slovenia, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017

This is an unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon from northwest corner of Slovenia and it feels more a Beaujolais Cru than a Cabernet. 95 NIS.

Benmosche Family, Croatia, Plavac Mali, 2014

From a very steep vineyard in the Dalmatian peninsula, and made of the Plavac Mali grape, this definitely feels like a warm weather red, sturdy yet soft. 220 NIS.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Heat Goes On (Aug. 2019)

Almost as much a Hermitage as a Crozes
Alain Graillot, Crozes-Hermitage, 2011

Gaillot makes a set of Crozes that are on the same playing field as the class of Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Cornas. The best Graillot I’ve had yet, the 2011 starts out deceptively soft at first, with the velvety texture of Cote Rotie and builds up both complexity and power as it evolves into a firmer muscularity a la Hermitage, with only an unresolved rusticity on the finish revealing its origins in the lowly appellation. The quilt work  of raspberries, violets, pepper, olives and bacon is both charming and text-book Northern Rhone. (Aug. 23, 2019)

Wine Route, about 200 NIS.

Gaston Chiquet, Dizy, Millésime Or, 2008

I sometimes like the Or a bit more than Chiquet’s Special Club. It’s not necessarily better, but if ever a Chablis Grand Cru made you swoon with its bone dry punch and its tapestry of minerals, imagine another layer or dimension, a little funky and brothy, that is the contribution of the Pinot Noir. (Aug. 9, 2019)

Weingut Keller, Rheinhesen, Dalsheimer Hubacker, Riesling Auslese ***, 2002

The color is deep bronze, which worried at first - and I don't drink enough aged triple star Ausleses to know what to expect. But the few tasting notes on Cellar Tracker mention its deep golden color so I guess it's to be expected. Anyway it's still lively and flavorsome, and the color wouldn't be out of place in its peers in the dessert wine niche: Sauternes, Tokays, whatnot. The flavors run deep and treacly but the huge weight of the sweet fruit and the spicy punch that the botrytis lends are redeemed by the delineation and length provided by its marvelous acidity provides. The weight seems to dissolve with air and the wine unfolds more nuances, that would surely be lost if more than two shared the half bottle. (Aug. 9, 2019)

Chateau de Breuil, Haut Médoc Bourgeois Cru, 2015

Wine Route lists this as 130 NIS but has been selling this on discount from the start: 70 NIS at the annual Grand Sale and then the remnants for 90. It would’ve been a great  value even at 130, a well made claret that is still young, with grainy, drying tannins, with a character I would peg as minerals rather than earth. Unlike mediocre young Bordeaux, the hints of oak subside instead of growing more prominent. The price is misleading, and, like any good Bordeaux, it requires more time in the cellar, at least three-five years. (Aug. 2, 2019)

Vitkin, Shorashim, 2010

An unusual blend of Carignan, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Colombard (a white grape!), this is Vitkin's flagship wine, that they really don't release every year - no lip service there. It's rich and very complex, but with enough acidity to ensure an elegance that Vitkin's reds don't always show. Whatever their other qualities - and I'm a big fan - elegant is not the first word that comes to my mind. The nose shows the iron and graphite typical of the Vitkin Petite Sirah and the suggestion of meat and spices typical of their Carignan. I think I spot some black pepper from the Syrah, but that's as far as I get breaking down the gestalt. At 300 NIS, I'm not sure it justifies the price, but it does justify its reputation and whatever hype it may already have generated. And 300 NIS has become the gold standard for Israeli flagship wines. (Aug. 16, 2019)

Domaine Dominique Gallois, Bourgogne, 2017

Another addition to the Wine Route portfolio, this is a small  grower (they make only 1800 bottles of the basic Bourgogne, more or less the same number for their Premier and Grand crus) with very good reputation and scores. It's sourced from two parcels around Fixin. This is earthy and austere with soft tannins and a very saline finish and while air lends it a muscular litheness I really enjoy, it's patently a Bourgogne-level wine, nothing more and nothing less, not an overachiever or a declassified village wine. (Aug. 17, 2019)

170 NIS.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Portugal Redux

Portugal is so under-represented in Israel that if I didn't include a couple of bottles I'd bought abroad, Portugal would come off like the niche that it really isn't. The sad fact is that as far as table wines are concerned, supply in Israel is limited to  a handful of Duoro producers, one Dão producer (two different labels of said producer carried by two different importers, but one producer nonetheless) and one Bairrada producer. I'm not saying the local market could support much more than that, but I do think there is room for one or two more marquee names from Dão and Bairrada. I simply recommend you search these wines out abroad, or take a trip to Portugal - it's a lovely vacation and you'll drink well and cheaply.


Quinta de Saes  (Alvaro Castro), Encruzado, Estagio Prologando, 2017

This is the reserva version of the regular Saes Encruzado - which I found very drinkable at three years of age, but on the young side, yet to develop the exotic fruit and alien minerals that blow my mind whenever I drink a decently mature Portugese white. So obviously, a younger wine from higher up the pecking order is going to hide its hand even more. Right now, it shows gunpowder and flint, an exotic version of the Chassagne aromas, but the barrels still show up as a bittersweet finish that masks the salinity and exoticism Dao whites can show. (July 19, 2019)

Casa da Passarella, O Oenologo, Encruzado, 2015

This is my first encounter with Casa da Passarella, but like the other mature Dao whites I've had, it tastes and smells as though the vines were planted in moon rock and raised on sea water. Utterly exotic in aromas and flavors, yet classically structured and molded - the finish long, racy and saline, which is what happens when you cellar these whites a few years. (July 20, 2019)

About 30 GBP in jolly old London. Not imported to Israel.


Niepoort, Redoma Branco Reserva, 2015

Niepoort is one of the highly regarded names in the Duoro, a producer of both Ports and table wines. What I loved the about the Duoro whites we drank in our holiday last year was their tasty, mineral-infused fieriness. We drank moreish, mouth-watering, wines showing the same gusty heft of a Chablis or a Muscadet, with even more piercing acidity, combined with small-town elegance. They cost about 10 euro retail, which in Israeli terms translates to about 80-100 NIS, when you factor in the importer's cost of shipping, storage and taxes. Which is what Niepoort's quite charming Dialogo, a terrific candidate for a house wine or a by-the-glass at a bistro, costs. This is much more upscale (about 250 NIS) and tones down the fieriness in exchange for focus and finesse that wouldn't be out of place in the Cote de Beaune. While not quite as complex as I'd have liked to have seen it evolve into at this point, it paints a pretty picture of shells and lime in admittedly broad strokes. The four years post vintage this bottle waited are definitely a pre-requisite. (July 31, 2019)

Quinta do Crasto, Reserva Old Vines, 2014

This is the kind of wine you can find in both wine shops and supermarkets in Portugal. I bought it at a supermarket on a family vacation, because I recognized the name. What I didn't remember is it's imported to Israel, else I'd have utilized the baggage space for other purchases. Decently priced here, 170 NIS or so by Hakerem, it's a solid effort with plenty of aging potential. The 2014 is fairly inscrutable at the moment, with mute aromatics and flavors, but with enough presence and balance to inspire optimism. It's a field blend of god knows how many indigenous varieties - Touriga Nacional is probably the one you recognize. Air brings out a spiciness and faint kinship with the garrigue of Rhone and Provence. The tannins are firm without harassing the taste buds. (Aug. 8, 2019)


Luis Pato, Vinha Formal (sparkling), 2010

Portuguese wines are odd enough without throwing a sparkling rose make of Touriga Nacional into the fray, yet this funky screwball works. Like Pato's whites, the best of which come from the same Formal vineyard, the nose is a melange of exotic spices, alien bedrock and strange fruit, while the palate evokes the umami and faint sweetness of a lobster. (July 28, 2019)

Luis Pato, Vinha Barrosa, 2013

Pato's not-so-secret weapon is his Baga, a grape that can combine either the best or the worst of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir, depending on the producer's skills. Pato's skills ensure a wide exploration of the the grape's styles and potential, always he always crafts wines of very good to legendary quality. Barrosa is arguably his best vineyard and in 2013, the Baga was especially fine and velvety, the nose showing a mix of iron, tar, flowers and red fruit, the palate showing fine acidity, supple tannins and a clean, savory finish. (Aug. 5, 2019)

Luis Pato, Vinha Formal (red), 2011

This is the red wine Pato makes from relatively young Touriga Nacional vines from the Formal vineyard, which he prices significantly lower than the Baga wines from the Barrosa and Pan vineyards. In itself a strong enough statement about his Pato's priorities even before you consider that he's stopped producing the wine. Which is a shame. If you've ever looked for well priced, rustic clarets from Madiran, Iroulguy or any of the Bordeaux satellites, then the disappearance of the Vinha Formal red will dent your heart. It shows vibrantly muscular black fruit with plentiful helpings of minerals, iron and blood. Think of, say, old school Graves or Saint Estephe married to the warm, fiery depths and tobacco leaves pungency of Iberia. Very appealing and a lovely bottle at eight years of age. (Aug. 20, 2019)

Luis Pato, Vinha Formal, Parcel Candido, 2015

This is the third or fourth time I've drunk and written about this gem and I return to it here because I cannot think of any better example of how exotic, unique and excellent Portugal's white wines can be, so much so that they defy breaking down in terms of descriptors (try describing Thai eggplants in terms of their European cousins). This varietal Cercial is sourced from a single parcel of the Formal vineyard that had been previously owned by the Pato's family physician, one Doctor Candido. Even more than the Oenologo, it smells and tastes like a wine from another planet. the 2015 seems like it could age another decade. (Aug. 24, 2019)

Niepoort, Poeirinho, 2015

Dirk Niepoort has been expanding to Dão, Vinhos Verde and Bairrada. In each region, as well as in his native Douro, he has been experimenting with a multitude of varieties, blends and techniques. The Poeirinho, and the 'reserve' Poeirinho Garrafeira cuvee, are his most heartfelt forays into the Baga grape. This is a lithe, almost lightweight (11.5% ABV) wine, with smooth tannins, ripe acidity and a funky, autumnal character reminiscent of Beaujolais or Macon, much like Luis Pato's Baga Rebel (available in Israel) or daughter Filipa's Post Quercus (which isn't). A stylish, moreish wine, fresh and vibrant, and an excellent value abroad at 30 euros. (Aug. 11, 2019)


The range isn't deeper or wider where fortified wines are concerned, but at least Barbeito is well represented. Here's one of the best I found in Israel priced reasonably (vintage Madeiras are expensive all over the world, so I've yet to try, but Eyal Mermelstein sells a Bual, 1995 for, well, a barrelful of money).

Barbeito, Sercial, 10 Years Old Reserve

Excellent stuff and I really need to try a vintage Madeira, price be damned, This has the filigree finesse and rancio bite of a Palo Cortado, albeit without the iodine, brine and whatever other pungent flavors flor provides. Just the ten year in the humid solera that has transformed the Sercial grape into a confection of walnuts, orange jam, dark chocolate and jamon. (July 23, 2019) 

Barbeito, Quinta de Saes, Niepoort and Luis Pato are imported to Israel by Eyal Mermelstein (Tchernichovsky). Quinta do Crasto is imported by HaKarem. Casa da Passarella and the Poeirinho are not.

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.