Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Crus Around The World (Mar. 16, 2019)

An interesting night. A fun night, great company and an interesting impromptu lineup that touched on old favorites as well as one wine that strays very far from my usual drinking holes. Half a world away, in fact.

Domaine de la Vougeraie, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru, Bel Air, 2010

Vougeraie reds are dependable and usually approachable early on, so no surprises that a Gavrey Premier Cru from such a beautifully classic vintage is already drinking so nicely after nine years. It's a solid, nuanced Premier Cru, with very good length, depth and complexity, but perhaps a bit too well-mannered (not boring, just more Ellington than Coltrane). It's more vegetative than suavage, with notes of forest floor, vegetable stew and espresso. 

John Duval Wines, Barossa, Entity, Shiraz, 2014

I obviously don't drink a lot of Australian wines. To be quite honest, when Ram invited me to choose a wine from his fridge, the only reason this stuck out is because I'd just been reading about Australia in one of Oz Clarke's books. It turned out to be a good choice. John Duval is the Penfolds former head winemaker and he sources the grapes for this wine from old vines in the Krondorf, Eden Valley and Marananga regions. As you might expect, this is quite hedonistic, although not a blockbuster, sporting blue fruit, pepper and dark chocolate, enough fruit to bury the elegant tannins and enough acidity to skirt around palate fatigue. To sum, this seems like the old guard catching up with the young Turks to make the classic style of the 80's and 90's more relevant. I think it works.

Chateau Ormes de Pez, St. Estephe, Cru Bourgeois, 2009

Classic St. Estephe: cigar box and tobacco, iron and violets, fresh black fruit, on a round, tannic, midweight frame so typical of the village. Again, a Bordeaux that makes me wish I'd stocked up on 250 NIS clarets from the last few vintages of the last decade, when you could still get solidly good stuff for 250 NIS.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

My Favorite Things (Elena, Mar. 14, 2019)

Take it, take another little piece of my heart
Except for Hamas missiles in the sky of Tel Aviv as we were about to sit down - and worse, a corky Beaucastel 2001 - this was a perfect night. Substitute a Champagne or a Barolo for the Mont-Redon - and every single one of my top favorite wine regions would have been represented. 

Weingut Reinhold Haart, Mosel, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Grosses Gewaches, 2013

If you're any kind of fan of German Riesling, then you probably are aware of the decades-old debate about 'classic' German off-dry style vs full-dry style. So you might have a preferences for Spatleses and Ausleses over Grosses Gewaches, or vice versa. Me, I'm totally a classic guy, at least in the Mosel, where I feel the balance of sugar and acidity serves to highlight every last bit of flavor and nuances in the wines. This, however, is amazingly delicious, even though the flavors don't carry the same complexity as do the aromas, and marries the dryness of a GG with the sexy sweetness and steely minerality of the Mosel and the creaminess of an Auslese. 

Chateau Mont-Redon, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2014

This surprised me, because I dislike Chateauneufs so much I would probably be branded an enemy of the church  in Avignon. But this is really tasty and fun, a juicy CdP bursting with aromas of tar and garrigue. Not even close to being as overblown  as its peers, it seems totally oblivious to the rest of Châteauneuf getting bogged down in extract, alcohol and Parker scores and just chomps happily along as an almost lightweight bistro wine.

Meo-Camuzet, Nuits-St.-Georges Premier Cru, Les Perrieres, 2006

I would make an educated guess that  few diehard Burgundy lovers would care to scare up any cash flow for Meo-Camuzet or even have it touch their spit. I actually did start out as a fan (I guess I wasn't much of a diehard in the beginning) and bought two or three bottles. Then, my appreciation for Camuzet set out on a long downslope, which has now come to a temporary pause with this terrific, memorable wine, which I find irresistible and very deep and stirring in a roguish way. It’s a legitimate depiction of Bourgogne, at least after spending so many years in bottle, with aromas of spices, black pepper, saddle leather and black fruit, the body more linear than the other Camuzet's in my backlog.

Francois Villard, Côte Rotie, Le Gallet Blanc, 2012

Syrah is a really sexy grape and it only gets sexier as you near the epicenter of its homeland in the Northern Rhone. Which should be right about the slopes of the Côte Rotie appellation on the west bank of the river. I had this same wine with this same group almost two years ago and this bottle is no less of a sensory and emotional delight: the bacon and violets and black pepper of an adolescent Syrah always get me.

Delas, Hermitage, Domaine des Tourettes, 2013

This is a relatively lithe Hermitage. Still, it’s Hermitage, so it’s darker and weightier than the Cote Rotie. It's a less sexy wine, which might be due to its youth, although I'm not too sure, I'm afraid. Although Hermitage is less sexy, more muscular, than Côte Rotie, nonetheless it is sexy and should be sexier than this. Looking through my old notes, it seems I enjoyed Delas wines from the 90's and less since, but it's a small set of data points, so I can't really offer too many conclusions.

Chateau Rauzan-Segla, Margaux 2me Cru, 2000

And now we come to this, as convincing proof as any that, centuries after the Dutch drained the swamps of the Gironde, Bordeaux still got game! The perfection of a Bordeaux from a great vintage, no less: the fine silky texture, the sexy cedar-tinged spicing, the subtle shading of the fruit that gave up the essential beauty at its core at harvest time at just the right moment. 2000 Bordeaux is Elvis in a gold suit, and this is the King singing 'Mystery Train" with fluid, carefree ease. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Great Grey Beast February (Feb. 2018)

The first weekend of February 2019 started off with a re-acquaintance with two neglected favorites. Shvo, Red, 2015 is a lovely, post-GSM blend (Grenache and Mourvedre augmented by Barbera from what I picked up on the net). I don't have a good explanation why I don't drink more of it. I can usually find it for less than 80 NIS, which is a silly price, given it's quality. It has excellent aromatic complexity and a restrained richness of flavors which still needs time to unfold. I think it has as much aging potential as local wines at twice the price, even in a crappy vintage like 2015.

I'd almost forgotten how tasty the wines made chez Lapierre makes are. I used to drink lots of them. My blog shows 18 tasting notes, yet I haven't drunk the regular Morgon in almost 5 years. Marcel Lapierre, Morgon, 2016 shows what an oversight that was. It is such a moreish wine, sappy red fruit with a touch of spices, soft tannins that are totally unobtrusive. Unadulterated pleasure, really.

Oddero, Barolo, 2014

I think that basic Barolo bottlings are more approachable at a young age than they used to be, even when made by an Old School producer like Oddero. Or maybe I just don't mind a little tannic grunge when the complexity of the Nebbiolo fruit shines through anyway. Here, the nose already shows the tar/dust/spices/tea leaves personality that makes Nebbiolo so evocative when it hails from its homeland, while the rusty tannins serve as flavor complements to the red fruit without blocking it. Lovely. (Feb. 2, 2019)

I've always been able to score this for less than 30 pounds at Waitrose. In Israel, this would cost you about 200 NIS. Makes you want to relocate, doesn't it?

Markus Molitor, Mosel, Bernkasteler Badstube, Riesling Kabinett (Green Capsule), 2015 

When I drank this last year, I thought it almost a cross between a kabinett and a Grosse Gewache, with a touch of guayavas. The evolution in the ensuing year has been rather minor. There is not much additional complexity (but absolutely no signs of wear, either - these 2015's are going to live forever, through the entire range of pradikats), but rather a focusing of the Mosel character. Molitor is really great, and what a shame, what a great shame, that his ausleses are so expensive in Israel.  (Apr. 12, 2018)

Wine Route, 130 NIS.

Descendientes de J. Palacios, Bierzo, Villa de Corullón, 2016

This is a side venture of Priorat's Alvaro Palacios. The Villa de Corullón is made from old Mencia vines (I read 100 year old vines when I was googling the wine earlier, but I can't find the source now). The tart, earthy red fruit, with hints of baking spices, plays out like a Latin Beaujolais Cru. The soft tannins and gentle acidity make for a very tasty wine, but I don't get any old vines depth, complexity or tension. (Feb. 15, 2019)

Lahat, Red, 2016

This, too, plays out like a Beaujolais Crus, but on a higher playing field than the Bierzo. Yeah, despite it being a Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon blend. I say that because it has the same vivid freshness of a young Beaujolais Cru, the same earthiness, and it has the restraint and feel of a cool climate red. Surprisingly for Lahat, there's a touch of brett, but it's subtle enough to add complexity without distracting, and the Syrah adds some touches of black pepper for good measure. The tannins are firm, yet in harmony with the fruit and acidity, and provide not just the backbone but a spicy, roasted meat finish. Although it should age well for at least 3-5 years, I suspect most people will take its immediacy and relatively lean form as signs of an early drinking red. They'd be both wrong and right, because it will develop, but it's very tasty now. (Feb. 15, 2019)

Château Golan, Syrah, 2014

I'll use the North Rhone as a reference point, not a yardstick, because that's my preferred style of Syrah: floral, lithe enough so that the fruit can show subtlety - savory fruit that's soaked up enough sun to be svelte and sweet, but not too ripe - enough black pepper to make you crave for a few pounds of flesh. There's a muscular side to Syrah, a deep dark, black, muscular side, which this also shows, given enough air, and which takes me to California as well. This is really, really excellent, the best Israeli Syrah I've ever had. (Feb. 28, 2019)

About 150 NIS.

Tulip, Syrah Reserve, 2016

Oh my god, it's been over ten years since the last time I tried the Tulip Syrah. The 2005 way back in 2008. I know Tulip has changed a lot since then. A different winemaker, a different set of marching orders from management. The 2005 was very big and ripe, and not in a complementary way, whereas this is much more nuanced and well formed. This is not a very complex wine and it sure ain't no Saint Joseph, but it smells of violets, which is something I really love about young Syrahs. It also smells of black pepper and blueberries. What can I say, the nose is a charmer. The palate is tasty, but at this stage, too broad and sweet to be be anything but plain good. I think it will remain a broad and sweet wine but will gain some savory elements and complexity. (Feb. 18, 2019)

About 100 NIS.

Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin, Blanc de Blancs, 2007

My impression of the bottle I had in October was that this was a fine sparkler with rough edges in need of time. I felt confident letting it age for a year or two. Now, I think this is as good as it will get. It's no longer rough, but no longer quite as vital as it had been. There's a decent umami complexity kindled in baked apples and nuts, and it is quite delicious, but the aromatics are mute and the form is not very inspirational. (Feb. 14, 2019)

250 NIS.

Domaine Bernard Baudry, Chinon, 2016

Going over my old Bernard Baudry notes, I realize two things. One, I drank my first Baudry 7 years ago and two, Wine Route used to charge about 30% less for this. Baudry is not a producer who goes to a lot of trouble to reign in brett in the winery, but it's held to a very bare minimum here. The red fruit is supple and juicy, good acidity of course, with hints of olives, pepper and violets, intermarried to pungent nuances halfway between wet earth drying in the noon sun and tobacco leaves. It's the tastiest, friendliest young Cabernet Franc I've had in years. Now I really can't wait for my bottles of the flagship La Croix Boissée to reach maturity. (Feb. 17, 2019)

About 120 NIS.

Emrich-Schönleber, Nahe, Monzinger Halenberg, Riesling Spätlese, 2013

Halenberg is always a winner at Emrich-Schonleber and it always reflects the vintage. Where the 2012 was ethereal fruit on a gossamer frame, the 2013 is an enigma, mixing the tingling acidity of green apples and underripe peaches with the creamy texture of freshly baked pastry. (Feb. 19, 2019)

Joseph Drouhin, Gevrey-Chambertin, 2012

Savory, autumnal Burgundy, Burgundy as umami partner to delicate fare, forest leaves and strawberries sauteed in balsamic vinegar. (Feb. 20, 2019)

Finally, Netofa has improved this year. The Domaine Netofa, Red, 2017, a GSM blend, is fresher than ever. A good wine, far from being great or complex, but tasty and moreish. The Tel Qassar, White, 2017 is a reserved, understated Rousanne, lightly earthy, lightly nutty. The Latour, Red, 2016 is a tasty, fruity blend of Syrah and Mourvedre, with pleasant spiciness and a touch of pungent tobacco leaves. It's not very deep, intense or complex, and its soft tannins won't carry it for too many years, but its small scale charms are carried out cleanly and with good precision.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Wrong Side of History and the Adriatic Sea - Saro Imports Tasting (Feb. 9. 2019)

There are some 50 countries in Europe and just about each one produces wine. Wine lovers are reluctant to venture much beyond the Big Four (France, Germany, Italy, Spain), although some of us do fund shopping forays into Portugal, Austria and Hungary (the last just for Tokay, but still). But what about the rest of the continent? Bulgaria had its day in the 80's, until interest in cheap alternatives to Cabernet Sauvignon petered out. Switzerland, Greece and Cyprus seem to be perennial "next big thing" candidates. If you browse through Hugh Johnson's Wine Pocket Book, stuck between the chapters for these last three you'll find the chapter on former Yugoslavia nations.

If you look at a map - and here is a map...

... it seems a bit unfair, doesn't it? They have more or less the same climate and terroir as the much more lucrative northern Italy. But then, the 20th century dealt the lands and their wine industry a bad hand, didn't it? The wrong kind of wars and Communism pushed them off the center stage, never mind that these countries never spawned anything like the duchies of Tuscany and Piedmont that put Italy in the limelight. Even the language doesn't trigger the same sense of familiarity as Italian.

What they do have are unique grapes and an even more unique wine-making history. Long before the rise of the trendy "Orange Wines", Balkan winemakers were making white wines with at least some skin contact. The whites taste different, exotic, but I can't really tell if that's due to the characters of the grapes or the effect of skin contact.

Actually, I shouldn't attempt to make any generalizations at all. My actual tasting experience with these wines is woefully limited. The only time I ever sat down to taste the wines seriously was this, my introductory tasting of the Saro Imports portfolio. 

Saro is the child of the friendship and partnership of two wine lovers. Eran Elhalal, a former Manhattanite chef originally from Jerusalem and of Bosnian origins (hence the connection to the Balkans), and Ido Levran, with over a decade of experience in Tel Aviv wine bars and stores. They carved a niche where nobody expected to find one - the kind of niche you'd have to be either super trendy or super cheap to sustain. They found a middle ground, good value wines with touches both of Balkan heritage and hipster appeal, and they've been doing very well.

Kobal, Sipon, 2017

From northeast Slovenia, Kobal makes a varietal Sipon, known in Hungary as their national treasure, Furmint. A lean, floral, summer porch wine, with pink grapefruit and pips - whatever it is that the 36 hours of skin contact contribute, it sure wasn't a heavy body or oxidized notes. 

Winery site.

Santomas, Malvazija, 2016

This is a Slovenian winery based near the port town of Koper, where I spent a very long summer week three years ago. I drank a lot of Malvasia that week, a wonderfully tasty quaffer. This is the serious version of those summer drinks, an attention grabber, with broad flavored summer fruits and a chalk and burnt matchstick kind of mineral funk (that recalls the best the world of white wines has to offer, without treading any overly familiar grounds). It does have a lot of alcohol, 14.5% ABV that's not noticeable as such, but I do know that it means I have to find a suitable wine evening atmosphere to enjoy the bottle I bought.

Winery site.

Scurek, Jakot, Gredic, 2016

This is another Slovenian property and is the first wine of the night that I find needs some bottle age. It's made of Sauvignonasse, a grape formerly known as Tocai Friulano, before the the European Union took umbrage with the similarity to more vaunted name Tokaj. Scurek calls the wine Jakot - to show what they think of the EU, I guess - and it comes from a vineyard called Gredic where the vines average a very respectable 50 years of age. The wine itself has a sweet attack, recalling apple cider, and a bitter finish tinged with steely minerals.

Winery site.

Sladic, Marastina, 2016

A Croatian wine this time, with a mineral funk that recalls the Santonas, although the overall effect is finer, more refined and nuanced. Think lemons, oysters and bread crust. Marastina is the name of the grape and the vines average a decent age of 35.

Scurek, Dugo, 2013

And here we have the orange wine of the tasting, which I find very alluring, a showcase of a different culture and wine-making personality, a very convincing one. The blend is 50% Ribolla Gialla, 30% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Blanc from vine with an average of 40 years. The fruit is sweetish without being heavy, the nose swathed by minerals and flecked by touches of red fruit. 

Steyer, Diseci Traminer, 2016

A Slovenian Gewurztraminer, one that sees 24 hours of skin contact - and if there's one white grape where skin contact is not going to make a huge difference, you can bet it's going to be Gewurtz. This is very typical for the variety: rose petals, ginger, white pepper - with good complexity, dead center between dryness and sweetness. 

Phillip Vina, Testudo, 2015

The only red of the tasting, this hails from the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. A marriage of different styles found in the neighbor across the Adriatic sea, I find it a cross between the dusty tar of Piedmont and the sweet cherries and chives of Tuscany. A sweetish attack and a tannic finish, it's nicely balanced and should age nicely in the near-medium term.

Money Changes Everything

The Testudo costs 120 NIS, the Dugo - 180. Everything else will cost between 75 NIS - 95 NIS. Silly prices compared to their peers.