Tuesday, January 04, 2011

December Wines - a Laundry List

December tends to be a good month for wine drinking. Everyone reaches into the cellar for the good bottles to help celebrate the passing of another year. Here are the wines I drank in December that have not, even in passing, appeared recently on this blog. Usually I put them into groups - excellent, very good, and so on, but I had so many great wines in December that I will simply list my favorites without any qualification.

1993 Chateau Laville Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan Blanc, price unknown, Chateau & Estate Wines. My generous friend Adam shared this treasure with me over his tasty braised veal shanks. First of all, I've had maybe two or three white Bordeaux wines in my life before this one, and none of them were terribly exciting. This one, however, was thrilling. The Wine Doctor profiles the estate here, so you can read up on the details if you like. In short, Laville Haut-Brion is owned by the same people who own Haut-Brion, but the Laville vineyards and wines are distinct. They are made from old vines, mostly Semillon and the balance Sauvignon Blanc. Pungent and still very graceful aromas of orange peel, wax, menthol, and honey. A mesmerizing nose, and one that grew in detail and breadth over the hour or so in which we drank it. Youthful acidity on the palate and perfectly balanced at only 12% alcohol (!), with a dazzling combination of richness and delicacy to the flavors. Memorable wine, and I suspect that it is a wine that might not exist in this style these days.

(2000) Tarlant Champagne La Vigne d'Antan Extra Brut Non-Grefée Chardonnay, $65, was imported by Jon-David Headrick Selections, not sure who imports it now. As described by Peter Liem on ChampagneGuide.net, this wine comes from un-grafted French rootstock in the sandy phylloxera-resistant soils of a vineyard called Les Sables. This is just the second release of this wine (Benoit Tarlant began making it in 1999) and already it is one of my favorite Champagnes. It expresses with incredible clarity the sandy brown tones of the soil. The fruit is piercingly clear, although the fruit plays a secondary role. The fruit and the soil work together so harmoniously, and the wine is both fascinating to think about while drinking, and also just plain delicious.Well worth seeking out.

2002 Domaine Huet Vouvray Demi-Sec Clos du Bourg, $33, Imported by Robert Chadderdon Selections. Such an incredibly beautiful wine, and so accessibly priced. Crystalline purity, elegance and energy, rocks, herbs, honey, and stone fruit are all in perfect balance. The wine is delicious now although it is probably showing only a little of itself. It started to show a spearmint kind of herbal complexity on the finish only after an hour open, and the texture became more energetic and almost grippy after that hour. I'm sure this will last forever but it will be delicious at any point between now and forever.

1981 López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Bosconia, price unknown (but you'd have to pay over $100 in NYC to buy this now), imported by Polaner Selections. A very generous host at a holiday party opened this and also the 1985 and 1991 Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia. They were all great wines and it was interesting to drink them next to one another. The 1991 was just too young, I thought. The 1985 was utterly lovely, but the star of the show was this wine, and it was all class and grace, with deeply complex aromas and flavors, an incredibly elegant mouth feel, and a finish that just didn't quit. Awesome wine, and it's the same price as a newly released 1er cru red Burgundy from a good terroir. One of the best ways to spend $100 on wine, in my opinion.

2004 Henri Prudhon Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chenevottes, $47, Imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. White Burgundy is tough to buy, I think. I want to buy good bottles, but there have been oxidation problems so it's a dicey proposition to cellar them. But the really good bottles take time to fully express themselves. Prudhon's wines are a safe bet, I would say. The range includes some very good terroirs and the wines are made in a classic understated style. Perhaps not the very finest that Burgundy has to offer in white wine, but delicious and expressive of place, and accessibly priced. This bottle was very good when we opened it, but it was day two when it really shined. Slightly smokey and marine inflected aromas that mostly feature stones and rocks. The palate is all elegance and finesse, with good intensity and a grippy finish that smacks of the ripe raw material. And the thing is, this wine is completely light in texture and weight, almost sheer - you have to pay attention to get it. Very impressive.

2007 Bernard Baudry Chinon Cuvée Domaine, $18, Louis/Dressner Selections. This is one of baudry's two "entry level" wines, and it can be simply fantastic. I love it in 2007, and it's drinking better than ever. Showing a mineral pungency and lovely floral tones that weren't there earlier in its life, a bit musky too on the nose. The fruit is a bit less pronounced and the dry leathery earth components are more prominent. Well balanced and great wine and year in, year out, one of the finest red wines that can be purchased for under $20. Yup, I said that.

2002 Louis Boillot et Fils Pommard 1er Cru Les Fremiers, $52, Imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. Louis Boillot is Ghislaine Barthod's husband and they will star together in a new MTV reality based mini-series on wine making spouses, their trials and tribulations. Keep an eye out for it. This wine is still young, but certainly showing good detail in aroma and flavor and the minerality is prominent. The fruit aromas are dark and brambly and with air, completely infused with wood smoke. Plenty of extraction here, but the palate is still balanced and lively and with air the minerality takes on a pungency that for me, defines the wine. Very lovely.

NV Jacques Lassaigne Champagne Cuvée Le Cotet Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs, $70, Jenny & François Selections. 45 year old vines planted in 10 centimeters of topsoil over chalk in an east-facing vineyard in Montgueux. This is a laser beam of chalky Chardonnay, and because it is farmed so well and grown in such a ripe climate, you'd never guess that it is dosed at merely 2 grams and is technically an extra brut wine. So good, and with an hour of air, terrific.

NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, $75, T. Edward Wines. So silky and refined, such finesse. This wine has earned its reputation as one of the finest NV rosés in Champagne.

1997 Chateau Pibarnon Bandol, about $25 on release, but $54 a few years ago, Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines. Absolutely classic Bandol, with lots of animale inflected tobacco and earth. Offers a lot of pleasure, and it is perhaps just approaching middle age. Very well balanced and the acidity is strong. The tannins are dusty and pretty fine, and the whole package is very attractive and typical of the place. Very strong wine.

2009 Immich-Batterieberg Riesling Kabinett, $23, Mosel Wine Merchant. I'm just beginning to start attempting to engage in trying to begin learning about Riesling. This is one of my favorites so far. I love how it is almost extreme in its focus, but its also so pretty and generous in its flavors. At first it's all orchard fruit but with air time the earthy notes emerge. There are fleeting sponti whiffs, the palate is very mineral, and the wine is well balanced and expressive. Hard to argue with that.

Thanks for indulging me in this very long laundry list post. December was a good month and I wanted to share...


Anonymous said...

"I'm just beginning to start attempting to engage in trying to begin learning about Riesling." That's a lot further along than all but maybe 6 people in the world, I think! Hope you continue starting and share that expertise with the rest of us. Happy New Year!

TWG said...

You're joking about the MTV miniseries?

Dan said...

I'm a bit late in sharing a thought here, but it's great to see Immich-Batterieberg on this list.

Just a quick thought on nomencalture: though BG is correct in saying that this wine is a Kabinett (you don't see it on this image of the label--one of the Mosel's best, I think--but it is printed, round the other side, in smaller, less bold font), neither Gernot Kollmann (who makes the wines) nor we (as importers) really refer to it as such. To us, the wine is called simply C.A.I., an homage to the estate's former complete name, Carl August Immich-Batterieberg.

I know, I know, German wine labels are confusing enough without my telling you that this is a Kabinett which we don't really refer to as a Kabinett. But Gernot is avoiding both Prädikat language (Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, etc.) and dryness/sweetness language (trocken, halbtrocken, feinherb, etc.) for several of his bottlings at Immich, preferring instead to label by either vineyard name (Ellergrub, Batterieberg, Steffensberg) or with fanciful names, like C.A.I. or Escheburg (named after the estate's old stone fortress), for those wines that come from diverse plots.

So why tack on Kabinett here rather than just leaving it as C.A.I.? Mostly it's because Gernot was afraid that customers would balk at the price of his introductory wine if it were "merely" a Qualitätswein, that is to say one without Prädikat. (There is--though the greatness of many a Qualitätswein should put the lie to this notion--still a strong link in many consumers' minds between Prädikat and quality.) So in some sense it is a (back-side of the label, smaller-fonted) concession to the market. But it's also stylistic--Gernot wants C.A.I. to always remain light and playful, those ideal, nowadays oftentimes elusive Kabinett qualities. (Though obviously the wine could maintain those qualities without being called Kabinett.)

I go into it all this only because, for German wine lovers (and makers!), these questions of how the wines are labeled, of the value of the Prädikat system, of the what one can expect from a given bottle, are obviously of some real importance. (Though I will confess that I often find these conversations tiresome. If you're feeling that way now, I am sorry.)

Anyway, this wine is C.A.I. And though I obviously have skin in the game, I think it's supremely delicious stuff.

Brooklynguy said...

TWG - yup, it was a joke. but you never know...

Dan - thank you for this explanation. German wine labels (and German wine) is confusing to most of us, and i appreciate the insight.

TWG said...

Damn and I thought it might be the first (only) reason to watch MTV in the past 20 years.