Sunday, November 29, 2009

Does my Favorite Thanksgiving Wine make me a Bad Person?

Of all of the wines I drank over the long Thanksgiving weekend, my favorite was, without question, a wine from Tuscany. My friend Mike most generously opened and shared his only bottle of 1990 Tignanello. Yes, I drank a Super-Tuscan, and I loved it. And I love the fact that I loved it.

Tignanello is not hipster wine. The card-carrying Natural Wine crown probably has little or no interest in Tignanello. Some of them would probably wave their hand at Tignanello, brush it aside. This is part of something that I find rather silly in the wine world right now - it can be clique-y and shallow, like high school. People identify with a group (think Goths, punks, hippies, jocks, etc.) and give themselves fully unto that group, ceasing to think for themselves. It becomes easy when you're a punk to assume that whatever the hippie or the jock said is lame. But did you really listen? Of course not.

Well, I listened to 1990 Tignanello, and I'm so happy that I did. As President Obama likes to say, "Let me be absolutely clear about this." The 1990 Tignanello I drank was a gorgeous wine. Mike decanted it an hour before we drank it, and I was worried that all that oxygen would deaden the wine. Not so. It was very much alive, and in my Burgundy glass it smelled like the fluffy underside of a well-worn very fine leather belt. There were tobacco notes too, and the mellowest of stewed red and orange fruits. This wine continued to blossom in the glass, so full of character and charm, such a complete and beautiful expression of mature red wine. Its fragrance stayed with me for quite a while after the last sip.

The new release of this wine, 2006 I think, costs about $80, and it seems that it will run you over $200 if you want to buy the 1990. So I'm not going to start filling my cellar with this stuff. But that wasn't my point anyway. What interests me here, outside of the beautiful moments of actually drinking this wine with friends and talking about it, is the idea that some people think there is something intrinsically wrong with Tignanello.

The Antinori growers and wine makers were amongst the very first to blend Tuscan Sangiovese with the non-native grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Tignanello contains about 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot. Antinori's Tignanello was a big part of the beginning of the Super-Tuscan craze that ultimately ended with the huge Brunello scandal. Jeremy Parzen of Do Bianchi is an expert on the whole Brunello scandal, so check out his writings on the subject if it interests you.

Tignanello, by the way, is a vineyard of 47 hectares. Think about how big that is - 47 hectares. Imagine how many bottles they produce every year, bottles that retail for upwards of $75. We're talking about Bordeaux-type revenues, here.

Is this wine partly to blame for the bastardization of Tuscan wine? Is Tignanello bad? And if it is bad, can it still taste good? The 1990 tasted great, that much I can tell you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Trip Cut Short, a Red Wine from Chablis, and a lot to be Thankful for.

About a year ago I went to France to meet my friends Peter and Tista. The plan was to spend a few days in Burgundy and then a few more in Champagne. My wife was 8 months pregnant with our second child. It was a bold move to go overseas at that point, but BrooklynLady was fine with it – she actually encouraged it, once our doctor cleared it. She was entirely healthy and not expected in any way to deliver early, so why should it be a problem? Off I went.

Several days into the trip, while still in Burgundy, my wife had contractions that were more real than the 'Braxton Hicks' contractions that typically happen a month or so before birth. I took the next flight home, and thankfully nothing happened – our daughter arrived a month later, as expected.

The night before I left Burgundy and returned to NYC, Peter, Tista, and I stayed up late talking and drinking Dujac Malconsorts and Clos de la Roche until something like 2:00 AM. The next morning Peter and Tista also left Burgundy, returning to their homes in Champagne. They stopped en route for lunch at one of Tista’s favorite restaurants in the Chablis area, a place called Le Soufflot in the village of Irancy. Although they were certainly as tired and probably as hungover as I was, Peter and Tista valiantly agreed to sample one of the local wines alongside their lunch. They drank a red wine from Irancy, a wine made by one of the finest producers in Chablis, Vincent Dauvissat.

A red wine from Chablis! What could that possibly taste like, I wondered. “Does it taste like Pinot Noir, or does it taste like Chablis,” I later asked Tista. “Both,” he said, “you’ll come back one day and drink it yourself.”

A month or so ago Tista was in New York representing Salon/Delamotte at a large tasting event. He came to my house for brunch one morning and he brought a gift with him, something he wanted me to have the opportunity to drink - a bottle of that same Dauvissat red wine from Irancy. As far as I know, the wine is not imported. I let it recover from its journey for about a month and drank it with BrooklynLady the other night, with the beautiful birthday dinner that she made for me - rosemary scented rack of lamb and butternut squash.

I thought it was much more about Chablis than about Pinot Noir. And yes, Irancy is not Chablis, it is 20 kilometers away, but the soils are similar. There was a seaweed, brothy, salt air, savory tone to the nose, and this carried through on the palate. There were little hints of dark fruit, but the fruit in this wine was really just a vehicle for the transmission of terroir. When drinking it on its own, there seemed to be a green edge to the tannins, something that has plagued many 2004 red wines. But this wine is from Chablis, not the Cote d’Or – should that hold true here? I really don’t know. With food, that green edge was gone. This was a challenging and very rewarding wine.

We thoroughly enjoyed this wine, as much for how good it was with our dinner as for what it represented to us: a reminder of the times just before and after our second daughter was born. Those were times of great anticipation and uncertainty, and also very wonderful times that a person is lucky to experience. I am lucky enough to have experienced them twice now - I have two truly amazing little daughters, and a very happy and healthy wife. And for those things above all else, I am thankful. Isn’t it nice that a savory little red wine, from an off vintage in Chablis, given to me by a good friend, can remind me of that?

Happy holidays to you and yours.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Perfect Friday Night Dinner for One

My wife, a clear-thinking woman in her mid 30's, somehow found herself going to see that new vampire movie on a recent Friday night. The one with the cute couple - British guy and American girl, all over the cover of People magazine. You know the movie I'm talking about.

When the wife goes out and I'm home alone with the two sleeping kids, I tend not to drink anything fancy. After all, one of the things that makes a wine great, is drinking with some one else and talking about it. But it can be a real pleasure to open a special bottle when I'm on my own, a wine that perhaps BrooklynLady doesn't enjoy as much as I do.

On this recent Friday night, as my wife watched cute and vicious teenage vampires do their thing, I warmed up the last of my French green lentil stew studded with baby white turnips, said turnips' tender greens, and bits of thick cut bacon. And I opened a bottle of wine that I was excited to hoard all for myself, the 2006 Jacques Puffeney Trousseau Cuvée les Bérangères, $30, Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant.

Actually, I opened it as BrooklynLady was getting dressed to go out, and I poured her a skimpy little glass. I asked her how she liked it as she put a clip in her hair - "Not so much," she said. "It tastes tomato-ey."

Perfect. This one is all mine, baby! And I don't get anything tomato-ey. I get a lot of warm dry soil, some sweet/tart red currant type of fruit, and something most definitely gamy. This is such a delicious wine, beautifully perfumed, perfectly balanced, but not at all polished - the tannins jut out a bit, the acid is the tiniest bit volatile, and there is a vivacious energy running through this wine. It was at its best after two hours in the decanter - intensely perfumed, but graceful and clear as a bell. It was perfect with my earthy lentil dish, providing a lot of lift.

It's things like this, this simple bowl of lentils with this vibrantly interesting wine, that remind me how staying home alone on a Friday night can delicious in its own way. Trust me - this wine is so much better than cute vampires.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

By the Glass - Domestic Cheese Edition

We've been delving further into domestic cheeses lately with some very good results, mostly. It continues to fascinate me, the challenge of pairing wine with cheese. In my opinion, which in this case is even less well informed than most of my other opinions, red wine is just too difficult to pair with cheese. They both tend to have such powerful aspirations, how can they avoid doing battle with one another? I find myself wanting to drink whites with cheese, the only question being whether or not the wine should have residual sugar. We've tried the cheeses I mention below several times, with various wines. Here are a few recent pairings that worked. Please feel free to chime in with any suggestions of your own.

Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese, paired with 2002 Domaine du Closel Savennières Moëlleux Les Coteaux, $28, Louis/Dressner Selections. Jasper Hill Farm might be the last great hope for artisanal cheese in Vermont. Mateo and Andy Kehler raise their own cows and make their own cheeses, but they also cellar small-batch cheeses made by other dairy farmers, including the famous Cabot's Cloth Bound Cheddar. Their Bayley Hazen Blue is a raw milk cheese that's aged for at least four months, and it is distinguished by its great balance. Not too salty, not too sweet, this cheese tastes of fresh butter, with herbs and roast nuts. It is crumbly and dense, not creamy like St. Agur. There are many wines that would be great with this cheese, but after one nibble, I knew that I wanted something sweet. The wines of the Savennières appellation are typically dry, but in 2002 the Domaine du Closel made a sweet wine. It was a great match, the herbal flavors of the wine enhancing the same flavors in the cheese. The rich, somewhat viscous texture of the wine enhancing the cheese's lean and sprightly characteristics. I've had this wine as an apértif in the past year, and it was far better with cheese than it was on its own.

Jasper Hill Constant Bliss, paired with 2007 Paul Pernot Bourgogne Blanc, $18, Jean-Marie de Champs Selections. This is a Chaource-style (in the Champagne region) cow's milk cheese. It is aged longer than Chaource cheeses (thank you, flavorful bacteria-averse FDA regulations), and the Jasper Hills folks say that it doesn't really resemble the cheeses of Chaource. This is delicious cheese, plain and simple. The best wine pairing I've found so far is the fabulously over-achieving everyday Bourgogne by Paul Pernot, which in the classic vintage of 2007 manages to be both lighthearted and serious. It shows hints of everything that makes white Burgundy wine so great - ripe fruit, delicate floral and stony aromas, and inner layers of texture that fade in and out.

Scholten Family Farms Weybridge, paired with 2007 Agnès et René Mosse Anjou Blanc, $18, Louis/Dressner Selections. This cheese is aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill. It is a pasteurized cow's milk cheese with a bloomy rind, aged for 20-30 days. It quite sensibly ripens from the outside in, offering a lovely contrast between the creamy outer layer and the more chalky inner paste. I found the texture to be the most interesting thing about this cheese. The flavors are nice too, but more simple. The Mosse Anjou Blanc was nice here, its earthy and woolly notes adding complexity that I found the cheese to lack. Somehow, though, the wine showed almost no acidity when paired with the cheese. Strange...

Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson, paried with 2006 Pierre Frick Sylvaner Cuvée Classique, $13, Fruit of the Vines Imports. This is a raw milk washed rind cheese from the mountains of south-western Virginia, made somewhat in the style of the classic Italian Taleggio. Meadow Creek Dairy practices an earth-friendly form of cattle farming and cheese making. I have no data to back this up, but I hereby assert that Meadow Creek dairy is partially responsible for the fact that in the recent Presidential election, the great state of Virginia voted Democratic for the first time since 1964. In any case, this is delicious cheese. It is not a runny washed rind cheese, it retains its bouncy form even after several hours at room temperature. It is pungent, but not at all overpowering, with grassy and fruity flavors. Better to cut around the rind though, in my opinion, as it offers little to no flavor, and it adds an unpleasant brittle, waxy texture. Frick's bone-dry Sylvaner is great with this cheese. The floral aromas bookend the pungent, buttery cheese perfectly, and the almost startlingly dry wine accentuates the cheese's clean grassy flavors.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What to Eat and Drink when you Cannot Drink Wine

Last week, for the first time in several years, I was really sick. I didn't have a drop of wine for five days. Sounds crazy, but it's true. Imagine not drinking wine for five whole days! You'd have to be in prison, or shipwrecked, or completely knocked out with the flu.

My cold was bad enough so that I didn't even miss wine, actually. But one must eat and drink, even when sick. So what does a guy like me think about ingesting when he's on the sick-wagon?

Phở. Chicken soup might be more traditional for us Americans, but when I'm sick I immediately think of Phở, the traditional beef noodle soup of Vietnam, and the most comforting food that I know of. It warms the body and soul, and if you garnish with the right amount of chili paste, it clears the sinuses too. My favorite bowl can be found at Cong Ly in Manhattan, at 124 Hester Street between Chrystie and Bowery. Great Phở is distinguished by the quality of the broth and the toppings. There is no better Phở broth in NYC than at Cong Ly, I assure you. There are many toppings to choose from, some better than others. When I'm sick, I just want the simplest version, Phở Tai, topped with thin slices of eye-of-round, a medley of herbs, charred onion slices, bean sprouts, and fresh lemon juice. Just look at that bowl in the picture above, as of yet untouched by my waiting chop sticks.

McVitie's Digestives. I cannot stop thinking about these things. Nothing more than round wheatmeal biscuits, but they taste so good. If they're bad for me, I can't figure out how from reading the ingredients. A good hot cuppa, a few of these, who wouldn't feel better? My daughters seem to like them too, and now they bum-rush me whenever they see the brightly colored package. But I don't see why I should share, I'm the one who is sick.

Good bread. Almondine bakery opened an outpost not too far from me and sells what I think is the best baguette in NYC. Crusty and a bit chewy on the outside, light and flavorful on the inside, irregular and lumpy, this is a beautiful thing. Eating one makes me understand the endurance and and ubiquity of the baguette - most are just terrible, but we keep buying them because we once had a great one, and we continue to search for that experience. In Brooklyn, here it is. More on the new Almondine spot soon.

Good reading. Dr. J's recent writings reminded me that I hadn't yet read Kermit Lynch's classic book, Adventures on the Wine Route. I tore through it during these five days and it was perfect - completely engaging but not terribly demanding, perfect for reading with a slight fever at 1:30 AM when you can't sleep. That sounds like a slight, and I don't mean it that way at all - this is a classic for a reason. The book is informative, inspiring, entertaining, and Lynch's passion is contagious. Kermit Lynch is definitely a pioneer. Do you remember when you first heard of Domaine Tempier? Of Charles Joguet? Of Vieux Télégraphe?

* * *

While I was sick I thought of many wines I wanted to drink, and the meals that I would enjoy with them. Yet what was the first wine I drank when I was able? A simple country wine, a Gamay from the Côte Roannaise, and it was delicious. I need to drink simple wine more often.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Corked Wine Etiquette - Poll Results and some Thoughts

Here is the question I initially asked: You and several other guests are at some one's house for dinner. The host serves a wine that is corked. What do you do? I put up a poll on the left sidebar of the blog offering various ways of handling the situation. The choices were:

1) Immediately inform everyone that the wine is corked.
2) Wait until everyone has had a chance to taste the wine, then inform the group.
3) Wait until everyone has had a chance to taste the wine, hope that some one else informs the group, if no one does, inform the group yourself.
4) Don't say anything unless the host notices the wine is corked.
5) Hey - I'm not positive that I would notice it myself.

Many readers agreed with Alex (whose comment contains an amusingly off-color typo - whoops, should I not have informed?) and Jack who said that the answer to the question depends on who is hosting and on the situation, and that the telling should be done in a discrete manner. The general sentiment seemed to be that the wine-geek host can take the news, but "civilians" might not be able to.

But 102 of you responded to the poll, and the most popular response (35%) was #1 - immediately inform everyone that the wine is corked. That's far from a majority, of course. But it is quite different from the sentiment expressed in the comments. Perhaps those who picked this answer assumed that it is a wine-savvy group at dinner.

The 2nd most common (26%) answer was #3 - wait until everyone has had a chance to taste the wine, hope that some one else informs the group, if no one does, inform the group yourself. This is the one that I personally believe in almost all of the time. Although I respect it, I do not subscribe to the "never say that the wine is corked, no matter what" philosophy.

Once I was a dinner guest at a highly knowledgeable wine maker's house, along with two of my friends who are incredibly knowledgeable wine professionals. The wine maker and one of my companions are friends. We began the evening with a vintage Champagne that I very much enjoyed. We ate wonderful food that night, and drank many wonderful wines. After leaving the wine maker's house we were discussing the night's wines and both of my friends agreed that the vintage Champagne was mildly corked, mildly enough so that it was difficult to discern, but mildly corked. I remember feeling surprised that they hadn't brought this up while we were drinking the wine - I assumed that the wine maker would have also noticed, or at least would have been interested to hear this opinion. I would have loved to taste the wine again, to learn about what it was my friends had noticed.

Several times I have served wine to fellow wine lovers who waited for me to point out that the wine is corked or otherwise flawed. I appreciate that because it is such a polite way of handling it. But it makes me wonder...what if I hadn't noticed? Would they have said nothing? Would they allow me to remain ignorant about that wine? I sincerely hope not. How many times have I served flawed wine to wine-savvy guests who noticed, but said nothing? If the wine-savvy host doesn't notice a flaw, saying nothing seems like a shame to me. There are delicate ways to say things, and clearly this is a person who wants wine knowledge. Help them, for goodness sake!

By the way, I try to find a delicate manner of informing even the non wine-savvy host too, and whichever of their non wine-savvy guests appear interested. It's not the same thing as telling the host that the cake they baked is too salty, or that the spaghetti they made is overcooked. The host made those things, and it obviously would be unacceptably impolite to criticize the host's cooking. But the host didn't make this wine - they purchased it and are not responsible for the flaw. And "too salty" and "overcooked" are matters of opinion. Cork taint is tangible, much more like spoiled milk than like "too salty." Perhaps the host would appreciate learning how to recognize this flaw.

I appreciate the premium placed on politeness and deference to the host's feelings, and clearly the social rhythm of the evening should not be risked over corked wine. But I also think that excessive politeness inadvertently advances the sad idea that wine and wine knowledge are for only the privileged few among us. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but bear with me a minute. When you don't take the opportunity to teach someone that a wine is flawed, you help them stay ignorant. You allow them and their guests to eat stale bread without explaining what stale means, without suggesting a taste of fresh bread for the sake of comparison. Why allow people to think that a flawed wine is an accurate representation of the wine? Why not seize the moment and empower people to understand and recognize the flaw themselves? I'm talking about civilians and wine-geeks. I'm talking about myself. Everyone has something to learn. Just don't be a didactic wine snob when you're the one teaching, be respectful and be helpful. People are going to drink a lot of wine in their lifetime, and maybe you'll be the one who helps them understand what corked wine is, or how to discern the faintest whiff of TCA in an old bottle of Champagne.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Brooklyn Blind Tasting Panel #2 - Poulsard

Jura wines are kind of obscure, outside of the wine-geek world. Finding them requires seeking them out, your local shoppe is unlikely to carry them. And because they are not wines of obvious and immediate pleasures, they take some time to get used to, a little patience even. This means they may never really catch on here in America, like foreign films or soccer, but that's fine with me. They tend to be small production wines, and they already have fans that show the same level of devotion you see at English football stadiums. Some of the wines are already very hard to find, and I don't need to be jousting elbows with every Tom, Dick, and Harry at the Overnoy/Houillon bin.

Obscure or not, lots of people seem to be talking about the Jura lately. Eric Asimov recently wrote about the wines in his column and on his blog, Guilhaume Gerard, a former partner at Terroir in San Francisco, and who blogs as The Wine Digger recently cleaned out the Houillon stock from French retailers, Alice Feiring just went to the Jura and wrote a bit about it on her blog, and even this Brooklynguy has written a few times about Jura wines. It seems as though Jura wines are the next hip thing.So it's good timing, then, that the Brooklyn Blind Tasting Panel's theme in its second meeting is Poulsard (or Ploussard if you are from Arbois), one of the red grapes of the Jura. Poulsard grapes are somewhat large, and the wines are typically very light in color, but they are intense in aroma and flavor. In general, I find their fruit character to include cranberry, pomegranate, and sometimes blood orange flavors. They often show gamy and woodsy flavors as well, veering into rusticity when things don't go well. In aroma and flavor, they are completely unlike other red wines. They are surprisingly tannic, and apparently they age very well, although I've never confirmed this for myself.

There are only 7 producers whose Poulsards are available in New York, as far as I can tell. Two of them were not included in this tasting - Ganevat's utterly delicious Poulsard is simply sold out, and Domaine de L'Octavin's Poulsard was also unavailable. I included everything else I could find - Overnoy/Houillon, Jacques Puffeney, Philippe Bornard, Domaine de la Tournelle, and Stéphane et Mireille Tissot. Bornard actually makes two Poulsards, so does Tournelle, but I included only one of each.

I was joined for this tasting by Levi Dalton, the much respected sommelier at the restaurant Convivio, Sophie Barrett, the Jura wine-buyer at Chambers Street Wines, and Clarke Boehling, who was the French Portfolio Manager at Michael Skurnik when I invited him, but who chose to complicate matters by taking a job at Rosenthal, the importer of Puffeney's wines. Although Clarke is a professional who will call it as he sees it, in an attempt to avoid even the slightest appearance of bias, I figured that we needed additional support from BrooklynLady, who also loves wine, and who is my wife.

I decanted the wines two hours before the tasting and kept them in cool water. We selected our two favorite wines, in order, identified the wine that we'd pick for long term cellaring, and also identified one outlier wine - a wine that is different from the others, if there should be one. Unlike the last time the Panel met, there was no clear winner this time. The wines changed tremendously in the glass, opening, closing, revealing hidden nuances, picking up or shedding weight and intensity. I personally didn't think that any of them showed all that well - could this have been a leaf or a root day? Here are the details:

2004 Domaine de la Tournelle Arbois Ploussard de Monteiller, $28, Jenny & François Selections, donated by Jenny & François for this tasting. During the tasting this wine received two 1st place votes and two 2nd place votes. Sophie loved the mature aromas and flavors of the wine, Clarke (and I hope he doesn't get fired for this) picked it 1st, calling it "subtle and elegant with a remarkable inner-mouth perfume." BrooklynLady liked it best during the tasting too. During dinner Levi proclaimed it to be "clearly the best of the wines." I was the one who didn't vote for it - during the tasting I found a weird quinine type minerality and something not entirely harmonious about the wine, but later as we ate, I thought that it was showing the best of all of the wines. Change, change, change.

2007 Philippe Bornard Ploussard Arbois Pupillin Point Barre, $30, Savio Soares Selections, donated by Savio Soares for this tasting. This wine received two 1st place votes and one 2nd place vote. Levi and I both had this as 1st choice during the tasting. I thought it clearly stood out above the rest - it was completely harmonious, subtly quite intense, and very beautiful. The nose was spicy with pomegranate fruit, very elegant, there was good acidity, and great length - the floral finish really lingered in my nostrils. The funny thing is, everyone agreed that this wine fell off over the course of the evening, and was perhaps overshadowed rather than enhanced by our dinner (biryani-style rice with beef, watermelon radishes, green salad).

2008 Overnoy/Houillon Poulsard Arbois Pupillin, $36, Louis/Dressner Selections. This wine received one 1st place vote and one 2nd place vote. Even after two hours in a decanter, this wine still had an effervescent twang on the palate. I thought this might be because there is no sulfur used to protect the wine, and instead is bottled with plenty of carbon dioxide that can take a lot of time to work itself out. Clarke and Levi disagreed, suggesting that the delicacy of this wine requires the most careful of storage conditions, and that this bottle may not have been stored properly. Or that there may have been further fermentation in the bottle. Who knows? Sophie picked it 1st during the tasting, and I loved it too, picking it 2nd. It was more overtly fruity than the other wines, but I liked its depth and resonance. And this wine changed dramatically over the next few hours, picking up lots of intensity, and loosing all traces of carbon dioxide. By the end of the evening, everyone really liked it. This is one for the cellar, I would say.

2005 Jacques Puffeney Arbois Poulsard "M," $26, Neal Rosenthal Selections. This wine was a world apart from the others during the tasting, in a bad way. Oxidized, dried prunes, and lifeless. It received no votes. Levi thought it was simply undrinkable. When it was revealed to be this wine, I realized that it had to be a flawed bottle - what we had in the decanter was not representative of this wine. So I opened another bottle, which showed better, but still a shadow of what it was several months ago. Clarke (in an attempt to salvage his new job) blamed my decanter, the wine glass, the air in my apartment, the manner in which I held the bottle while pouring, and eventually, my karma for the wine's poor showing. In the end we guessed that it had entered a closed phase.

2006 Domaine Stéphane et Mireille Tissot Arbois Poulsard Vieilles Vignes, $18, Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons. This wine was corked, sadly, and I did not have another bottle.

So there you have it. Tournelle showed very well in a lineup including Houillon and Puffeney, and everyone agreed it was a wine worth buying. Bornard showed well too. Houillon was delicious, but provoked more disagreement than the other wines. Puffeney's Poulsard is great too, regardless of how the 2005 showed on this night. These wines don't stand still, they change a lot in the glass. I don't always decant two hours in advance of drinking them, and the changes are even more stark that way - they can start out pretty funky.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Action Required - Please Take the Corked Wine Etiquette Poll on the left.

I'm looking for your feedback on corked wine etiquette:

You and several other guests are at some one's house for dinner. The host serves a wine that is corked. What do you do?

Please use the poll on the left sidebar to give your answer. Poll closes on Wednesday of next week. I'll tell you why I'm asking after that. If you think I omitted something in the poll responses, please let me know in the comments.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Friday Night Bubbles - 2002 Diebolt-Vallois

Last night, after a night of many a Poulsard with friends (more on that soon), I wanted to open a bottle of good Champagne to close out the evening. But what to open? My companions included a guy who until recently worked at Michael Skurnik wines, so nothing from Terry Theise. A woman who works at Chambers Street Wines, so nothing that they sell. And a prominent Sommelier at a great NYC restaurant, so nothing off his list. I decided to open a bottle of 2002 Diebolt-Vallois Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs, $65, imported by Petit Pois Corp. Turns out that the Sommelier has the 1997 on his list. I did my best. I tried, okay? Why are you being so judgmental?

2002 was a great year in most of Champagne and the idea is to actually hold onto the wines to allow them to reach their true potential, not to drink them frivolously after many other bottles at the end of the evening. But I don't own any of the Diebolt-Vallois 1999's, which my good friend Peter Liem says is what we should be drinking now while we wait for the 02's and the '04's to develop. And I was in the company of people who deeply love and know wine - who better to drink this with? And I have one more bottle that I will use all of my powers to save for another 5 years. So I opened it, we drank it, and it was just excellent.

Even at the end of a night of many wines, it is immediately clear that this is a special drink. The nose is fresh and harmonious, the wine is quite full in body, silky in texture, the fruit is clean and ripe, the finish is chalky and refreshing. I loved the sheer class and elegance of this wine, its effortless depth, its resonant fragrance. What will happen with additional cellaring that could make this wine better than it is right now?

Although it is expensive in absolute terms, I now understand how huge of a bargain it is in relative terms - you can easily spend much more than this on many Champagnes that simply aren't as good.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

More from the Dressner Tasting

More thoughts and notes from the recent Dressner Portfolio Tasting:

The 2007 Domaine de la Pépière Granite de Clisson is here. I thought it was very tasty, although somewhat reserved in its expression. To be fair, this is not a wine that I can understand at a big tasting. It will be more expensive than the 2005 was, about $23, and I will happily buy it.

I loved the "entry-level" 2008 Muscadets by Luneau Papin, particularly the 2008 Luneau-Papin Clos des Allées, about $15. This typically racy and stony wine showed a bit more concentration and richness than I am used to, but in a good way. Lower yields perhaps?

All of the Larmandier-Bernier Champagnes showed very well. The 2004 Vieille Vigne de Cramant Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs, about $100 was well balanced and delicious, but my favorite on this day was the Terre de Vertus Brut Nature Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru, about $80 (based on 2006, but not a vintage wine). I thought this wine was simply fantastic, with pretty floral aromas layered atop the salty rocks. I want it.

I liked François Pinon's 2008's even more than I did the 2007's at this early stage. The 2008 Vouvray Cuvée Tradition, about $21, was sweet but well balanced and with good acidity, and the 2008 Vouvray Silex, about $26, was an awesome wine, very pure, with beautiful fruit, great structure and balance.

I think that I prefer François Chidaine's Montlouis wines to his Vouvrays. I'd love to test this little theory with many bottles, some friends, and dinner, but so far, I think I like the Montlouis wines better. They just seem more complete to me. The 2007 Chidaine Montlouis Clos du Breuil, about $30, a sec, or dry wine, is herbal and complex with woolly fruit. The 2007 Chidaine Montlouis Clos Habert, about $30, a demi-sec, or off-dry, and always a favorite of mine, was ripe and restrained and exuberant and about fruit and mineral and wool and soil. I loved it.

I really liked both of the Clos du Tue-Boeuf Pinot Noirs from Cheverny. Thierry Puzelat makes a load of different wines under his own label and also under this one, and it can be hard to keep track of what's what, but that's all part of the fun. The 2008 Clos du Tue-Boeuf Cheverny Gravotte, about $24, is 100% Pinot Noir from 30 year old wines on chalky soil. It smells of dried roses and is bright and elegant on the palate, with a definite chalky feel. The 2008 Clos du Tue-Boeuf Cheverny Caillère, about $28, is also 100% Pinot Noir from vines of about the same age, but from clay soils. The wine is darker and richer, very earthy and animale. Both are delicious wines, and very expressive of their place.

Many of you already know the late Baldo Cappellano's wines. I had never had one until this tasting. I appreciated all of them, but there are two that simply blew me away. The 2004 Cappellano Barolo Pie Franco (from un-grafted vines), about $165, is too absurdly brilliant of a wine to try to describe for you. A truly complete wine of incredible clarity, this left me speechless. And I also loved Cappellano's Barolo Chinato, about $100. The Cappellano family apparently was one of the first to produce this drink, a maceration of wine, quinine bark, and spices. There were five Chinatos poured, including a Roagna Barolo Chinato,and the Cappellano version was playing a whole different game. Floral and spicy, completely harmonious, and with a lingering sweet spicy quinine essence, this is an utterly delicious drink.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Tales from the Dressner Portfolio Tasting

It was more like a festival - think Cannes, Burning Man, or Fashion Week, perhaps the G8 Summit. People came from all over the world to participate. Deals were struck, friends and enemies gained, and the powerful giant that is Louis/Dressner Selections showed the world that there is no such thing as a recession when it comes to the world of fine wine. At least two heads of state showed up - President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada enjoyed light conversation while tasting through the Clos Roche Blanche wines. P-Diddy made an appearance, as did Martha Stewart. Wine bloggers, writers, and wine bulletin-board junkies from as far away as San Francisco, North Carolina, and Wall Street made the pilgrimage to this, the Mecca of industry tastings.

Dressner did cut a few corners this year, for example by refusing to hire staff for the tables and thereby forcing wine makers from small villages scattered throughout the Loire Valley to travel all the way to NYC to pour the wines themselves. Speaking of the insatiable drive to maximize profits, I heard all sorts of juicy rumors, including this blockbuster, which I have not yet confirmed but is good enough to share anyway: Louis/Dressner, in what can only be described as a corporate attack, is attempting to buy controlling shares in Savio Soares Selections and Jenny & François Selections, thereby consolidating his control over the natural wine selecting industry. As a consumer, I hope this rumor proves false, as although I admire and respect Joe Dressner, even he cannot be trusted to wield such power generously.

I had a great time seeing everyone and being part of the spectacle. I tasted a load of wine, including new vintages from familiar producers and a few things that were brand new to me. I won't bore you with notes on everything I tasted, but here are some of the things that stood out for me:

I love the Saumur-Champignys from Domaine Filliatreau. The entry-level cuvée (I've seen it called Saumur-Champigny Cuvée Printemps, Chateau Fouquet, and simply, Fouquet) is an excellent wine that delivers the same quality as Bernard Baudry's entry level wine Les Granges, but in a different style. Filliatreau's is a lighter wine that emphasizes juicy freshness and fruit. The nose on the 2007 Fouquet, about $17, is very floral and the palate has an appetizing meatiness - it is delicious wine. If forced to choose, I would buy the 2008 Chateau Fouquet, with its bright nose of red fruit and a clean, energetic, and ripe palate. This is not complicated wine, nor does it seem to be a good candidate for the cellar, but it is perfect in its simplicity. And at about $17, it's money well spent. A few bucks more buys the 2008 La Grande Vignolle, price unknown but probably about $20, a wine made from old vines in the huge Grande Vignolle vineyard. This wine drinks well young but also does well with some bottle age. I loved the 2005, not as much the 2006, never saw the 2007, and now we have the 2008. I thought it was great, with a mineral imbued darkly fruited nose, very clean, and a deeply fruited palate with grainy texture and firm tannins that will support more than a few years in the cellar.

In other Saumur-Champigny news, the 2005 Clos Rougeard wines were very impressive. I was worried that they would be inky black and impenetrable, but they weren't. The 2005 Le Clos was wide open and ready to go, crystal clear and with beautiful fruit. I loved the dried roses I was getting on the back of the nose, and the wine had such good depth and length. I would have a hard time keeping my hands off of this, if I owned any. But that's the problem - these wines get tougher and tougher to own every year. This wine is now about $65 here on the east coast. I'm not saying that it isn't worth the money, but it has definitely crossed into a different zone, price-wise. The 2005 Les Poyeux was more dense, darker, very rich, much earthier, and clearly needs lots of time. But it was also very beautiful, and at about $85, is probably worth the extra $20 if you are forced to pick one. Le Bourg was not shown. How I wish I was buying these wines 8 years ago when they cost something like $30 a piece!

I've had the 2007's from Bernard Baudry before, and I still think they're fantastic. The 2007 Cuvée Domaine is maybe the finest red wine that I know of at $18. 2007 Clos Guillot at about $30 is so graceful and elegant, but with such deep fruit. The vines are young but the wine feels wise and centered, and it has the tannins and intensity to age well. This was my first time tasting the 2007 Croix Boissée, about $35, and I liked it very much. It is deeply perfumed, and the palate is rich and complex. It confused me, though, how much I noticed the oxidative style of the wine - it hasn't been so clear to me in the past. Perhaps the 2007 shows it more pronouncedly, or perhaps I am getting better at noticing it. But the wood influence shows itself here, not in an oaky aroma or flavor, but in the way the oxidization that happens in barrels makes the wine stands apart from the others in the lineup. It is excellent wine, but I think I need to open a bottle at home and see what's what. I might be some one who now prefers Les Grézeaux, we'll have to see.

Okay, this post is too long already, so more Tales from the Dressner Portfolio Tasting will come soon.