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)


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.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Mostly Cult Wines At L28 (May 6, 2019)

Martin Mullen, Mosel, Krover Steffensberg, Riesling Spatlese** Trocken, 2017

Not only have I never heard of Martin Mullen, I've never even heard of the village of Krov. I understand he's somewhat of a cult favorite, although his fame is still small and young enough to keep prices sane. It also helps that I'm not the only one who's never heard of the Krov vineyards. This is dry enough to deserve the trocken label, but not enough to lose the Mosel balance and edgy, tasty raciness, and it shows flowers, apples and generous minerals.

00 Wines, VGR, Oregon, Williamette Valley, Pinot Noir, 2015

Another cult producer, an expensive one this time, specializing in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, quelle surprise. The VGR (Very Good Red, I shit you not) shows ripeness and sweetness that you can't get in Burgundy without loss of form and focus. I mention that because the wonder here is how well form and focus are preserved. A clean, clear wine, the aromatics are quite complex, showing exotic spices.

Leo Alzinger, Wachau, Loibenberg, Smaragd, 2012

And now, for the first time in about eight years, I'm out of Austrian wines. I wish the (hopefully temporary) swan song was more auspicious, because despite complex, mineral-tinged aromatics and a tasty sweet-spicy finish, the form and mid-palate lack the convincing depth and easy finesse of the other Alzinger wines I've had.

Shvo, Chenin Blanc, 2011

Gaby Sadan's red and Sauvignon Blancs are consistently excellent, the 'Greshon' cuvee even inspirational, but I rarely enjoy his Chenin when I drink a young bottle and this is so middle aged and flat that I wouldn't risk aging it, either.

Adelsheim, Williamette Valley, Pinot Noir, 2013

The 2015 I drank last  month was tasty and very good, but this is a decrepit bottle that I hope is not indicative of, well, anything.

J. L. Chave, Saint Joseph, 2012

A sexy wine, not profound, though, the plump fruit obscuring the savoriness I look for in North Rhone Syrah. The nose, though, black and blue fruit with splashes of black pepper and coffee grains, is lovely and, its worth repeating myself, sexy.