Monday, April 29, 2019

Flirting with the New World at Yaffo-Tel Aviv (Apr. 4, 2019)

Larmandier-Bernier, Vieille Vigne du Levant, 2008

Just about everyone I know who's into grower Champagne says Larmandier is their favorite house. It sure is mine. The wines are always gloriously ripe and deep without the slightest excess of sweetness, low dosage without a hint of evisceration. This is the flagship wine, all Cramant Grand Cru fruit, a masterpiece that knocks me out every time I'm lucky enough to drink it. If Larmandier had ever joined the Club de Viticultures Champenois, this would have been their Special Club. With a year like 2008, the glass and a half I had was barely enough to scratch the surface. Eleven years into its journey, the fruit just barely unfolds a cloak of toast and mushrooms.

Grosset, Clare Valley, Polish Hill, Riesling, 2010

It's been years. I had a couple of bottles of the 2008, which I'd drunk up by 2012. I don't think time can ever actually touch the steely heart of this ice queen. The nose is a knockout, what with its petrol, rock, lemon, frozen apples, but the sting of the acidic backbone never lets up. There's greatness in it, and that full-throttle dryness works better here in any other Riesling I can remember, but in many ways its more fascinating than it is appetizing.

Arnot-Roberts, Santa Cruz Vineyards, Peter Martin Vineyard, Pinot Noir, 2013

Admittedly, this is only the second single vineyard I've had from Arnot-Roberts, but both have been disappointing. Like the 2007 Alder Springs Vineyard, Syrah I drank a couple of years ago, this isn't going anywhere. Floral, simple and short, it tastes more like an minor league Beaujolais than a class act Syrah.

Segal, Rehasim, Dovev, Merlot, 2006

A 13 year old Merlot - not really a signature grape here in Israel, from a year when growers in Northern Israel, where the Dovev vineyard is located, could barely tend the vines in summer due to the second Lebanese war - this has held up remarkably well. I wouldn't have cellared it for this long, but only because it feels as though it had reached this maturity plateau about five years ago and I never gamble against time. I'm guessing few bottles remain, so acting as history's scribe, this displays fruit pie and dried fruit served with a sprinkling of black pepper, held together with rusty tannins. The fruit might have suffered in the war, but Avi Feldstein should be proud of what he did with it.

Ata Rangi, Martinborough, Celebre, 2014

My bottle. I thought I was buying a Pinot when I ordered it online and only found out this was a Bordeaux blend (and heavy on Merlot), when I entered the wine into CellarTracker. Any wine geek knows the feeling: you want everyone to love the wine you brought, even though you weren't the one who made. So I noted the majority of the party liked it, but not all. Still, it's a savory, well made claret, not very complex or intense, but fun. And most importantly, fresh.

Betz, Washington, Walla Walla, Yakima Valley, La Sernne, Syrah, 2016

Washington (and Oregon, too, for that matter), are states I should explore more. Even though my knowledge of California is perfunctory at best, it seems encyclopedic in comparison. Anyway, this is an interesting warm climate Syrah, smoky, ripe fruit, arguably too far along its aging curve. 

Wolf-Blass, Grey Label, Robe Mount Benson, Shiraz-Cabernet, 2008

Glaymond, Barossa Valley, Distinction, Shiraz, 2005

I didn't take detailed notes at this point, but I believe sometimes first impressions tell the story. The Glaymond, despite an appealing layer of minerals, is a big, New World red from the period when Australian reds became too big and New for their own good and anyone else's. How big? 16+% ABV big. The Wolf-Blass, on the other hand, seemed to have benefited either from a shift to saner proportions in Australia or from some inherent, unexplained complacence, if not outright resistance, towards bloated proportions in the first place.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

HD Drinkability - New Wines From Segal

Ido Lewinsohn has been heading the Barkan/Segal winemaking team for about two years, and now a batch of interesting wines made during his's tenure is seeing the light of day. 

Look, the big change that Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate and all those British wine television shows brought to the world of wine is they made wine a household beverage. And after that, it was only a matter of time before it became susceptible to trends. The latest is drinkability. Which is a good trend. Wines that lure you with moreish vivacity while not necessarily forfeiting depth and complexity.

The interesting thing about the three series Segal has released is that each approaches the concept of drinkability with different techniques. Because I'm lazy - and you probably are, too - there's a short overview of the techniques at the bottom. All are lithe, vital, fun wines, a fun that comes from aesthetic intent, not merely a sensual one. When I got pulled in this wonderful world, seventeen years ago, no one made wines like this in Israel. You can argue comparative quality, but, at least among their red peers, I struggle to think of many wines that match the freshness here.

And they're all decently priced for the quality.

The first two are reds made in the whole cluster fermentation technique. Each comes from a different vineyard in the Jerusalem Hills.

Whole Cluster, Pinot Noir, 2017

No, Burgundy does not equal Pinot (or Chardonnay), but its spirit is a notion that sensitive winemaking, taking advantage of grapes with the transparency and delicacy to reflect the place of origin, can capture that elusive idea, terroir. Which is something that the Segal team has done quite well here. It has the same autumnal, vegetative decay thing Pinot does so well in Burgundy going on around the fringes, yet that is just salad dressing to a combination of black cherries and shades of cranberries and chocolate that with any luck will prove to be a local Pinot signature. The quality and style are an almost shocking surprise. I never expected such lithe freshness in an Israeli Pinot Noir. It's not very complex, I admit, but I'm a fan of deceptively simple Pinots that go for purity, vibrancy and sheer pleasure.

Whole Cluster, Syrah, 2017

Another way to approach the concept of terroir is to say that the good vineyards foster the best expression of a grape variety (and I'll skip over the paradox that there is more than one way to best express a great grape variety). I don't claim that the hills of Jerusalem have vineyards the likes of those found in Cote-Rotie, Hermitage or Cornas (or the Alexander River, for that matter), but this is a good example of Crozes-Hermitage level Syrah: floral, balanced, comfortable level of fruit and tannins, some black pepper. Shorter and fatter than the Pinot, and a step or two behind it.

The prices are just fine. The Whole Cluster is priced at about 100 NIS, I believe.

Next are two wines fermented with the wild yeasts that are always present on the grapes themselves. They're priced at about 60 NIS.

Wild Fermentation, Chardonnay, 2018

I admit I can absolutely not discern the contribution of the wild yeasts here. Whatever, this is a nice young Chardonnay, showing the floral and citrus side of the grape. Not a phase of Chardonnay I'm too crazy about, which is why I rarely drink Chardonnay this young. But Ido - and teams working under his direction - has a good track record working with Chardonnay, and this shares the same purity and clarity of his more prestigious Garage de Papa Blanc. Judging by the development after a couple of hours (more aromas of flint, a broadening of the attack, more punch on the spicy finish), I would expect it to bloom after a couple of years in the fridge.

Wild Fermentation, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017

It sometimes seems like everyone in Israel, including Ido in his Recanati days and in his own boutique winery, favors the Rhone and Southern French varieties over the Bordeaux grapes. How ironic is it, then, that he coaxed so much drinkability and liveliness out of a grape I hardly ever enjoy much in its youth. The Cabernet traits are well presented, currants with a touch of pungent leafiness. Solid length and a lot of interest for the money.

Finally, the Free Run series, explanation at the bottom. These are also priced at about 60 NIS.

Free Run, Chardonnay, 2018

Describing this wine won't carry across the impression of how it's akin to, yet at the same different from, the Wild Fermentation sibling. It's floral and citrusy, too, yet there's a green herbal tint that would make me guess Sauvignon Blanc and it leans toward rainwater rather than flint. For me, it works better young than the Wild Fermentation, but both are wines I'd drink for the immediate pleasure they offer.

Free Run, Merlot, 2017

More immediate than the Wild Fermentation Cabernet, shorter too, with tart, earthy fruits. This isn't Merlot The Fruitcake. And it isn't Merlot masquerading as Cabernet Sauvignon, either. Cabernet Franc, maybe.

1. Whole cluster fermentation refers to the fermentation of intact clusters of grapes as they are picked from the vine with no intervention of machines leaving all berries and stems (the part of the stem which holds the grapes is called the rachis) intact.
2. Fermentation, by either wild or industrial yeasts, has become synonymous with the battle between all that is natural, and the convenience and consistency of man-made machination. ... Wine is a product of fermentation, the process by which yeasts turn sugar into alcohol in order to yield energy.
3. "Free Run” is the terminology used to describe the juice that flows freely from freshly picked grapes before they are pressed. When the bunches of grapes are stacked up on top of each other, the sheer weight of all the the fruit results in the release of some liquid.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Beware The Wines Of March (March, 2019)

Domaine Du Jaugaret, 2011

The story is well known in trendy Manhattan wine circles: a small domaine in Saint Julien - you can't even call it a family domaine as it is run and maintained by childless octogenarian Jean-François Fillastre, hanging on to his family heritage for as long as his body will hold out - that was booted out of the appellation for lack of typicality. It's true that it's more masculine and earthy than what most would consider appropriate for the village, but no one ever kicked out Chateau Talbot for being foursquare and stodgy. When I first sniffed the graphite, iron and earth I thought of a cross between Haut-Medoc, Saint Estephe and Pessac-Leognan. And yet, the red fruits, velvety body and juicy acidity are classy and, indeed, very much in the Saint Julien mold. It's lovely, gorgeous, tasty, better than the 2012 we had a few months ago, and the world would be better off with more wines like this. A craving for claret coupled with news of 2011 mediocrity made me open it now, but this could have stayed in the fridge another decade and, at the very least, have held very well. (Mar. 30, 2019)

Selbach-Oster, Mosel, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Riesling Spätlese, 2012

In order to convey the beauty of Mosel Rieslings, I need to go a little Zen on you. It's all in the simplicity of their complexity, in the lightness of their depth. In the way they express so much more than the sum of their aromas and flavors. And this is a spectacularly expressive and tantalizing rendition, with a texture both gripping and nuanced, light yet lingering, limpid yet buoyed by a swath of electrifying acidity; all the while the bouquet (apples and green mint, flowers and mossy cold chalk) carries a stamp of place that will convert anyone to the lore of terroir. (Mar. 10, 2019)

Eldad Levy, 155 NIS.

Tulip, Winemaker Series, Chardonnay, Mata, 2017

David Bar-Ilan writes on the back label that it took him a few years to learn to love Chardonnay and then a few more to settle on his own approach to the variety. Formally, that turned to be a single vineyard bottling (Mata is the name of the vineyard) and a relatively light barrel regime, 6 months. It's a clean, focused, savory wine, not thin or scrawny, ripe pears rubbed with baking spices, minerals hidden deep beneath the surface. Cote Chalonnaise. rather than Cote d'Or, would be a good reference point. It's a good, promising debut, and although there's still a ways to go, I'm happy David opted for clarity rather than flash. (Mar. 15, 2019)

Joseph Drouhin, Pommard, 2011

The blood-and-iron beauty of Pommard, with just a hint of flowers, wonderful clarity of fruit and surprising freshness for a village wine of this vintage. Sometimes Burgundy gives your a surprise French kiss. Although, to be honest, one that ends somewhat abruptly, in this case. (Mar. 17, 2019)

Lahat, White, 2017

Rousanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc - must be an Israeli wine because few other countries can boast of blends like this. What it has is yellow summer fruits with a streak of earth and dust. If it evolves like the 2013 I had a few months ago, expect that earthiness to morph into flint. For now, enjoy the spicy finish. (Mar. 19, 2019)

Sphera, Sauvignon Blanc, 2018

This is a style I pigeonhole as New Zealand. Because of the guayavas and the other tropical fruits in the mix that I can't make out. And the green freshness that transports you to a postcard picture of grassy hills and bright skies. Because of the way it's both taut and broad at the same time. But a lot of that is because Sauvignon Blanc is just so vivid and tangy in its youth that it overwhelms the sense of terroir. Like most of its peers in the Israeli top class, this Sauvignon should expose layers of minerals in a year or two. Enjoyable at any age, really. (Mar. 20, 2019)

Sphera, Riesling, 2017

The book on Riesling is it shouldn't thrive in Israel's warm climate, yet, for the second straight vintage, Sphera virtually rewrites the book. Apples seared in tarragon and garrigue and a long, spicy finish. (May. 21, 2019)

J.L. Chave Sélection, St. Joseph, Offerus, 2015

Is it till late to submit a Winter of Syrah post? I only drink this lovely wine, that Chave make in their role as neogicant, once every few vintages, but it's always a sexy example of the appellation, succulent fruit that manages to be broad and focused at the same time, with tasty nuances of bacon, olives and pepper. 2015 is a bit on the fat, sweet side, due to the generous weather, but it's still a good wine. (Mar. 23, 2019)

Wine Route usually sells it at around the 150 NIS price point, in one of their various discount permutations.

Sea Horse Winery, Antoine, Tete de Cuvee, 2013

A lovely country wine, with fairly complex aromatics (herbs, iron, iodine), a sweet/savory finish and tons of personality. A craftsman's work. (May 25, 2019)