Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It's Hard to Say Goodbye

This has not been easy.

Back in February, I guess, I realized that I would stop writing this blog. And I've been meaning to write a goodbye post, but it turns out that goodbye posts are difficult. I wrote this thing for over seven years! It's been an integral part of my life. I've learned so much and experienced so much because of writing this blog. Much has changed in my life while doing this - my job, my marriage, friends, my whole self...

How do I say goodbye? What can I write that conveys how grateful I am for having had this experience? Every time I feel like I want to sit down and write goodbye to you all, in the end I cannot pick up the pen. It feels too daunting. Part of me hasn't wanted to say goodby.

But it's been a long time, and I'm too busy to give this blog the kind of attention it needs - other things take priority now. It no longer feels like I do it for myself - if I write it's because it feels like I should. So it's time to stop.

Because I haven't been able to think of the right subject for a final post, because I can't come up with the right goodbye to you all, instead I will close out the Brooklynguy thing with what feels fitting to me - a simple dish and a humble but lovely wine to go with it.

I found a new farmer at my market (Bill Maxwell retired last season, to my sadness). Her asparagus are pretty darn good. I roasted a handful with a little olive oil and a bit of sea salt - that's it. Served next to a piece of blackfish, the sweet moderately-firm fish that eats shellfish. Barely dredged in flour, seared in butter, finished in the oven, topped with a mixture of green garlic, parsley, mint, a small pinch of red pepper flake, and black olives.

This was a nice weekend lunch. It was elevated by this very lovely Chablis.

I like Gilbert Picq's wines. This is a humble villages wine from 2012, a pretty good vintage, it would seem. I spent less than $20 for this bottle. Okay, it was best about 8 hours later, and so maybe would benefit from a couple years in the cellar. But who cares. I loved it with my weekend lunch. It has fresh and airy aromas that provide a glimpse into the briny, stony, floral splendor that a great Chablis offers. The palate is lively and balanced, and surprisingly long and pungent for a humble villages wine. Not every day is a 1er or Grand cru day. Most days aren't, actually. A good villages wine is a wonderful thing, if you can find a good one.

Thank you again for being here with me. I truly enjoyed it and I hope you did too. I'm not going to take the site down because I still enjoy poking through the old posts from time to time.

And now I will say goodbye, and wish you all the best.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

More Thoughts on Quality.

First class seats on an airplane are better than the seats in coach. There is no question that this is true. They are more comfortable to sit in, they offer more space, they come with better food and drink, and also with the privilege of getting on and off of the plane before everyone else. They are the best seat on an airplane. They also cost a lot more than any other seat. Whether or not they are worth the expense is a decision that is our own, made according to our own individual calculus. That we have this decision and can opt not to buy first class seats does not imply, though, that there is some question about whether first class are best.

Wine is like this too - some are better than others. But it's much more complicated of a thing to appreciate this in wine and I think that there are three major reasons for this:

1) It's easy to for anyone, even a person who has never been on an airplane before, to understand why first class seats are better. Appreciating why one wine is better than another wine is not as straightforward.

2) We develop personal preferences, we find styles of wine that we like, prefer one kind of wine over another. It is easy and self-serving, even, especially as we gather more wine drinking experience, to assume that our personal preferences are in line with an objective truth about quality.

3) We get confused by price. We buy coach seats when we fly because, well, who can afford to fly first class? And no one wants to waste their lives wishing for what they cannot have. The $12 bottle of Château Peybonhomme les Tours Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux is delicious, terroir expressive, and entirely worthy of our attention. It might be among the best red wines at $12 in NYC today. But it is not better than first class, no matter how many bottles I can buy for the same price. It's more fun (or less unsettling, anyway) to think that we've struck gold in the high quality $12 bottle than it is to think about how much better Léoville-las-Cases is.
If it sounds like I'm saying this from somewhere on high, I don't mean it that way at all. It's the opposite, actually. I've been trying to learn as much as I can about wine (while also enjoying drinking it) for the past ten years, and the point is, I'm still scratching the surface when it comes to any real knowledge of what is great wine and what is not. I simply am not exposed to enough wine, I cannot build the necessary context. I have come far enough, though, to know how much there is that I don't know.

Occasionally I do get to have an experience where I learn something real about quality. Here are two such recent experiences.

Right before Thanksgiving a friend and I drank the 2004 Éric Texier Côtes du Rhône-Brézème Domaine de Pergault. I bought three bottles on release in 2007 and this was my last bottle. Three years ago I drank a bottle and was not thrilled, but SF Joe, a guy who knows the wines pretty well suggested in the comments that I should give it a bit more time, perhaps three years more, in the cellar. He was absolutely right.

The wine was so much better three years later. Here is my note on drinking this wine in late November:
Just lovely, glad I waited for this. I caught the previous bottle too soon, as someone else suggested. Now this is mellow and alluring, with a rusty hue to the color, peppery, bloody, and floral aromas that are soft and gentle. Balanced and lovely on the palate too. The wine shows its class, but it also shows the limitations of the terroir - this is gorgeous wine, but it doesn't achieve the complexity or grandeur of great Syrah from a more illustrious site.
You can probably see where I'm going with this. Although the wine showed better three years later, and although it was delicious and I loved drinking it, it was not great wine. I was reminded of this the other night when I had dinner with a few friends that I haven't seen in a while and we drank a great Syrah by the culty Rhône producer Noël Verset. It was a wine made in what I understand is the worst modern vintage for northern Rhöne wines - 2002. It was lighter and perhaps even more rustic than Verset wines are in more typical vintages. But it was undeniably great wine. Two months later it became clear to me, this idea that Verset Cornas is better than Texier Côtes du Rhône. Really, is that such big news? No. I wonder though, what it means, to know this. If I were a rich person, would I buy and drink only Verset Cornas and the few other Syrahs of similar quality? If money were no object, would I make room for Texier Côtes du Rhône also, even if I could afford first class any time I wanted it? 

Recently a very generous friend opened a few mature first and second growth Bordeaux wines for a group of friends at dinner. He decanted them and we actually drank them without knowing which was which. We all thought that the same two wines were the best of the group, and that one of the two was better than the other. They turned out to be 1979 Latour and 1979 Pichon-Lalande, and the Latour was the better of the two. It's "supposed" to be better - it's a first growth wine and Pichon-Lalande is a second growth. But these wine classifications are not always accurate. In this case, if these wines are representative, the classification is spot on. Both wines were wonderfully aromatic and complex, and both were delicious and classic in their Bordeaux character, even if they came from an off vintage. But the Latour just was a more complete wine on the palate, it maintained a better presence through the midpalate and showed more complexity and depth on the finish. 

I read in Alexis Lichine's Guide to the Wines and Vineyards of France that Latour's vineyards literally abut those of Pichon-Lalande in Pauillac, and that Pichon-Lalande's vines spill over into St. Julien. The map in the book makes it look as though Latour's vines are closer to the river. As in many other places in France, and throughout the wine world, the distance of a stone's throw separates vineyards that are truly different in their potential. It's one thing to "know" this because others tell me so, or because the producers are classified as one thing or another. But to drink these wines side by side, with friends and over dinner - differences in quality become immutable, even to a relatively untrained eye like my own.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Back in the Saddle

I haven't written anything in a long time. It's hard to get started again. I've wanted to, but the longer it gets, the more inertia sets in. Perhaps the best way is simply to write something  - anything. Even just a list of recent wines I've loved. If it's fun, I'll write again another time.

The best red wine I've had in some time? A bottle of Beaujolais, but a special bottle - the 2011 Yvon Métras Moulin-à-Vent. This is not so easy to find here in the US, but whoa, it's worth looking for. Here's my note on the bottle: "Honestly, the finest red wine I've tasted in a while. A perfect bottle. Fragrant with fruit, flowers, stones, leaves. Beautifully expressive on the palate with complex fruit and mineral flavors, a structural firmness under the fruit that smacks of Moulin-à-Vent, texturally perfect, long on the finish - I'm trying to mention everything that's great about this wine which starts to feel silly. It really was just a wonderful bottle with a depth and expression of aroma and flavor that is fantastic." Métras is a cultish producer and that might turn some folks off. It turned me off, to be honest. But this bottle converted me. 

Then there's also this bottle, the 2008 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barbera d'Alba. Another one that is not easy to find here in the US. This bottle kind of blew me away. Pure and fresh, absolutely transparent in feel and the earthy minerality is pungent. The wine is so complex too - the finish is a melange of the herbal, the acidic, and the ripe but not overripe fruit (which itself is a melange of bright red raspberry and deep dark cherry). If you drink it now, save half for ay 2 - way better on day 2. I've not had too many Barberas, and I've had none that I loved except for a bottle a few years back by G. Conterno. This one, I loved, LOVED. Is this is what Barbera grown on great soils by a great wine maker is like?

The 2012 vintage of Tissot Poulsard is here and it's really good. For me, this is the Poulsard to buy and drink with impunity these days, as Overnoy is a unicorn and Ganevat costs $50. This wine needs a good decant to deal with the reduction, but it is absolutely delicious. It comes from very old vines and it has no added sulfur (which should raise alarms more than act as a selling point, in my book, but this one does it beautifully). It will greatly please Poulsard lovers but also I think would be a nice way to introduce a friend to the charms of light and weird red wine - it's accessible like that. Cranberries, blood oranges, hard spices, flowers, harmonious and beautifully textured, this wine packs a lot of interest into a very light frame. It costs about $25.

I'm still not entirely sure where I am with this wine. 2010 Weingut Günther Steinmetz Mülheimer Sonnenlay Pinot Noir Unfiltriert, as it is deftly named, might be an intense wine that offers way more complexity, terroir expression, and overall quality than its $23 price tag suggests is possible. Or it might just be an incredibly delicious and balanced Pinot from Germany. I can't tell yet. But I will tell you that I am vigorously enjoying the act of drinking the wine and further exploring this important question.

I still drink white wine. Way more than red, actually. Here are some recent whites that also wowed me:

2007 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese. You know, I look back at my notes from drinking this wine and it's not as though I loved it on paper. But the thing is, I loved it. I've thought about it a lot since drinking it. Maybe it sounds obvious to you if you drink these wines, but the purity, the delicacy, the impeccable really got to me and I must have more.

2012 Bernard Ott Grüner Veltliner Am Berg. I think this is a great vintage for this wine. It's subtle and quiet, but absolutely delicious and entirely expressive of place and of Grüner. I like to decant this wine, and then there are clean and cooling aromas of sour cream, lemongrass, and green herbs. Quiet, but arresting. And versatile at the table. And about $18.

I dipped into my small stash of the very fine La Bota de Fino Nº 35, and whoa, is it drinking beautifully. This is a Fino selected from barrels in the Valdespino Inocente solera system. The overtly powerful personality of the wine has been tempered a bit and it now thrives on this amazing harmony of aroma and flavor. Complex, savory,  and shockingly delicious.

Just to see what's what, I opened a bottle of 2008 Gilbert Picq Chablis 1er Cru Vogros. It reminded me that it's possible to drink real Chablis, truly satisfying Chablis, elegant and bantam weight Chablis that really smacks of seashells, iodine, and white flowers, for under $30. I like this wine in every vintage I've tasted. This one drinks very well right now, but takes 90 minutes to get there and seems like it will improve with another few years in the cellar. But whoa, when it got there it was rewarding.

That was kind of fun, writing this. For me, anyway.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

An Evening with the Champagnes of Benoît Lahaye

Benoît Lahaye is probably the best grower/producer in Bouzy right now. I use "probably" because I haven't sat down recently with a bottle of Champagne by Camille Savés or Paul Bara. But I feel pretty confident on this one. Lahaye is making excellent wines, mostly of Pinot Noir from Bouzy.

Lahaye is a smart winemaker, strategically varying in his use of wood for fermentation, using naturally occurring versus selected yeasts, cork or crown capsules for secondary fermentation, presence or absence of malolactic fermentation, and deftly blending wines. There are 8 cuvées, I think, which sounds like a lot for a guy who owns fewer than 5 hectares of land. There's just not a large supply of any of the wines. He is also ultra-conscientious as a grape farmer. The first paragraph of Peter Liem's profile of Lahaye on describes this:

A passionate advocate of natural winegrowing, Benoît Lahaye took over his family’s estate in 1993 and has been bottling wine under his own label since 1996. He became interested in natural viticulture early on, and inspired by Patrick Meyer in Alsace, Lahaye completely stopped using systemic herbicides in 1994. By 1996 he had begun to work organically, in addition to using cover crops in the vineyards and experimenting with biodynamic treatments; the estate was fully converted to organic viticulture in 2003, and certified organic in 2007. Lahaye has noticed a pronounced difference in his wines since the transition to organic farming. “It’s not really a question of being better,” he says, “but my wines attain higher levels of ripeness now, while retaining the same level of acidity.”
I first tasted a Lahaye wine on the same day that I first met my good friend Peter - he brought a bottle of the 2002 vintage wine back from France and shared it over dinner in Portland. Since that day I drink the wines at every opportunity. Bottles are not easy to find, but there were always a few places. I used to drink the rosé off the list at Vinegar Hill House when it was something like $55. I could find a bottle here and there at places like Chambers Street and Crush. Peter always told me that a decade from now there are a few Champagne producers who will be widely recognized as superstars, and Lahaye is one of them. buy the wines now, while you can, he said.

I am not an expert with Lahaye wines. But here is my take: like many Champagnes, they show better when they are opened well ahead of drinking them. I've never had a mature bottle, so I have no idea how they age. But the young bottles - open them a few hours before you want to drink them, if you can. And if you cannot, consider decanting, although that can change the texture of the wine. Lahaye's wines generally show great intensity of character, as opposed to opulence or overt richness. The best bottles show vivid and detailed aromas and flavors, and provide hours of interest and deliciousness. I find these to be particularly food-friendly Champagnes, too, working well with a good variety of dishes.

All of that said, I've never tasted the lineup of wines in one sitting. I've never opened more than one Lahaye bottle at a time - I've never done anything with Lahaye wines other than to enjoy them bottle by bottle. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But I was excited, then, when a few friends agreed that it would be good fun to find as many bottles as we could and to drink them all together, over dinner.

We did this on a recent night and it happened that the weather turned entirely weird, reaching over 60 degrees on a December day, and poured rain in buckets. There are some evenings when the wines show beautifully. This was not one of them, my friends. The wines were fine, but did not show much of the intrigue and beauty that made us fans in the first place. There were things to appreciate and I very much enjoyed them. But some of the folks at the table who had not previously had a lot of Lahaye wine - those folks perhaps think that the rest of us are weird for loving this producer.

Here are the wines we drank, along with some notes (we found everything except for the Brut Nature and the Blanc de Noirs):

Benoît Lahaye Champagne Brut Essential (I'm not sure of the base year here, but I believe it was 2009) - as one might expect, this turned out to the the most accessible of the wines on the table, but hours later as we revisited the wines, it was the one that held up the best on this evening of strange fluctuations in humidity and air pressure. This is a blend of mostly Pinot Noir (85%) and Chardonnay and it is overtly delicious, although less complicated than the other wines on the table. But it is a good example of what Lahaye wines tend to be - ripe but entirely focused, vinous and intense and with a certain purity of expression.

Benoît Lahaye Champagne Naturessense Brut - this is made of equal parts old vines Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, from a blend of vintages. It is unusual in that it is vinified entirely in wood, and on this night the immediate impression of the wine reflected this. It was distinctly woody in the first half an hour, and although there were nice aromas of creamy lemon and stone in there somewhere, I found the wood to be distracting. But then 90 minutes later when I came back to the wine, the wood was much better integrated and the wine showed much better. I enjoyed the merging of the influences of red berry and lemony fruit, creamy richness, and focused minerality here, and I would like to drink this again on another night soon. I'm not convinced that our experience was representative of the wine.

Benoît Lahaye Champagne 2007 Brut - One of the great values in Champagne right now, Lahaye's vintage wine showed well even on this poor night. This wine is also vinified in barrel, although I find no real wood influence in the wine. It took a while to unfold on this night, and I doubt we experienced it at its best, but I love this wine in general for its deep darkly intense Bouzy fruit, its elegant balance, and its almost vicious minerality. There is a lot of material here and this seems like something to forget about for a while in the cellar.
Benoît Lahaye Champagne (2009) Violane Brut Nature - This is the newest of the Lahaye wines,  and this one based on 2009 is the second release. This is a Champagne made without the addition of sulfur. Okay, I'm not a fan of "natural wines" just because they are "natural." This one, however, is compellingly delicious. It was immediately and entirely apart from the other wines on the table in its fruitiness. Grapey, almost. In a good way. Clean and pure dark fruit really vibrates here, and underneath that, chalk. But on this evening, it didn't hold up well, and the thread that held the wine together began to come undone. But I know this to be a great wine and I think it just showed very poorly on this night.

Benoît Lahaye Champagne Brut Rosé de Macération (2009, I think) - Lahaye's rosé has been available here in NYC for longer than many of his other wines. It seems to be a polarizing wine. I've drunk bottles with wine lovers who simply do not enjoy it, and on this recent evening I heard one person say that it has an unpleasant yeasty sense to it. I love the wine, unabashedly. It is made using whole clusters in fermentation. Yup, like some Burgundy producers do, including Dujac and Chandon de Briailles. It is dosed at a very low level - 3 grams here, if this was in fact based on 2009. The wine just doesn't play like a typical rosé of Champagne. It takes hours to open up after pulling the cork (what would it be like if I left a bottle in the cellar for 10 years?). It is vinous and intense, and I think sometimes it drinks more like a light red wine than a rosé. After an hour or two, I thought our bottle was drinking beautifully. Other folks did not love it the way I did.

Benoît Lahaye 2007 Coteaux Champenois Bouzy Rouge - One of the great names in wine, Bouzy Rouge. Lahaye's is considered to be one of the great red wines of Champagne. On this night, this bottle also was somewhat controversial. I am a fan of red wine from Champagne. When well made, it is a special and delicious thing that is uniquely expressive. This bottle was fascinating to me, with aromas that were darkly mineral and savory, and with a sort of primal forest-y sense. The palate, however, felt constricted and a bit simple, and the wine probably needs more time in the cellar in order to show its best, as might be expected with Pinot Noir from good terroir. Five or six is probably not a good age for a wine like this. Go younger or older, I would think. Still, I liked the wine and would be curious to drink it again in another 5 years. Others felt that they would have liked it more if it cost $25. Fair enough, although I think that part of the point of the wine is lost when thinking about it in those terms.

So, that's it - our evening with Benoît Lahaye's Champagnes. Although this was not a great night for the wines, I heartily recommend them if you like soil-expressive red grape heavy Champagne.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thank You Bill Maxwell

Bill Maxwell, the New Jersey farmer is retiring at the conclusion of his market season this year. I've been buying his vegetables and fruit for about 10 years now and in that time I've come to see his as the finest and most consistent produce that I can buy. And it's not just me - in the peak spring and summer months it's necessary to get to Maxwell's stand before 8:00 AM if you want baby artichokes, asparagus, okra, and other wonderful things that he has in short supply. And let me tell you that at 7:30 AM on a summer Saturday you are jostling over a small bin of fava beans with the owner of Franny's and several other Brooklyn restaurants.

Over the years I've developed a little bit of a friendship with Bill. We don't go out for beers or anything. It's the kind of friendship you develop with someone when you do personal business with them for a long time. I look forward to Saturday mornings. We always chat a bit - baseball, the weather at his farm, the state of our lives post-divorce, whatever. His hands are rough like a coral bed and his weathered face is beautiful. His smile is warm and he's nice to children. He's a genuinely good man.

A few summers ago I took my young daughters to visit him at his farm in new Jersey. He helped them pick ears of sweet corn in the field, and we shucked and ate them right there. Every time I post photos of vegetables on this blog, from baby artichokes to shell beans to tomatoes, they are things that Bill grew. I can't begrudge him for retiring, but I do wonder how I will replace his food in my family's life.

Happy retirement Bill Maxwell! I will miss your wonderful food, and I will miss you!

I will miss your carrots.

I will miss your pole beans.

I will miss your cauliflower.

I will miss your limas.

I will miss your garlic - I got 20 stalks last week and will figure out how to preserve them.

I will miss your bell peppers.

I will miss your cucumbers.

And lord above, will I miss your tomatoes. I cannot tell you how much.

May your new post-retirement life bring you the same contentment that you brought to all of us through your work as a farmer.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Thanksgiving Wines, yet again.

This time of year I always feel like staying out of the internet chatter on what wine to drink with the Thanksgiving meal. But I just looked back and in almost every year that I've written this blog, I do in fact make some Thanksgiving recommendations. I first did this in 2006 and nothing about the way I approach this has changed. Although I got funnier in 2010, I would say.

Wines for Thanksgiving? In sum, keep it refreshing and lively, try to keep the alcohol to a minimum, and as a good friend of mine says, "You don't want your clients to remember you because of your fancy suit." Point being, it's not about flash. Quality speaks for itself and the wine isn't the point of your family meal anyway. But you do want to drink good wine, right?

Here's what I'm bringing this year, because I know that you cannot enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday without this vital information:

Cyril Zangs Sparkling Cider - 6% alcohol, dry, refreshing, made from apples. About $15. Delicious.

2010 Günther Steinmetz Wintricher Geierslay Riesling Sur Lie - 10% alcohol, almost dry, creamy and refreshing, made from grapes, about $23.

Emilio Hidalgo Fino Sherry - 15% alcohol, bone dry, refreshing, about $12 for a 750ml bottle. Okay, this one is not guaranteed to go over with the family, but wow it seems like it would make everything on the table taste better.

2010 Clos Siguier Cahors - 12.5% alcohol, fresh and fruity old vines Malbec that's easy to drink and of high quality. About $13.

2012 Domaine de Sablonnettes Le Bon P'tit Diable - 12.5% alcohol, fresh and fruity Cabernet Franc that's easy to drink and of high quality. About $15.

2011 Château La Grolet Cotes de Bourg - a soil expressive blend of mostly Merlot, a delicious and traditionally-styled Bordeaux wine that will give lots of pleasure at the table. About $14. If the first two red wines are "easier" to drink, this one offers greater soil expression and complexity. Consider decanting, unless it makes your family feel as though you are putting on airs.

There, now you can enjoy your holiday.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Drinking a Few Things from the Cellar

In 2005 I got into wine again, after a long time away. I bought some bottles and drank all of them. In 2006 I continued to buy wine to drink but I also bought some wines with the intention of cellaring them. According to my records I still have 18 of those bottles. I still have over 50 bottles of wine that I purchased in 2007.

There are bottles in that group that I hope to hold onto for a good while longer, and there are others that seem like great candidates for drinking over the next year or two. I think it was the VLM who once wrote that the beautiful thing about collecting wine is not necessarily the trophies you can open on a grand night with fellow wine lovers. It's that you get to a point when you can go into your own cellar and open a mature bottle, and you can do so on a Monday night, just because you feel like it.

For this to really work, though, I have to still like, or at least be interested in the wines I bought 6, 7, and 8 years ago. Have your tastes changed in the past 7 years? Mine have. But as I look through my cellar I see that there really aren't too many things that I am no longer interested in. That would be a great theme actually - a "bring-a-bottle-you-purchased-years-ago-but-no-longer-care-about" wine dinner.

As I look through my remaining purchases from 2006 and 2007, I see that the wines are mostly Loire Valley and Burgundy wines, and that I did better with the Loire selections. Huet, Chidaine, Clos Rougeard, Baudry, Foreau...hard to argue with that. The Burgundy wines are mostly villages and "lesser" 1er cru wines, and I bet they will be delicious. But they are not things I would buy today, for the most part. It's just a matter of price - there are many wines today I would prefer to buy with my  $45 than Voillot villages Volnay or Pommard, for example. That said, I am the proud owner of both wines and look forward to trying them.

So, I've started to dig in lately. In each of the past two weeks I've opened a bottle that I purchased a few years ago. Last Monday I made a simple dinner of skirt steak and vegetables and opened the 2005 Terrebrune Bandol. Yes, yes, I know, this sort of Bandol wine can take 20 years before it hits a true window of maturity. Here was my thinking - 2005 was a ripe year and the wine might be more generous than is typical. And before investing another 10 years in this wine (I have more than 1 bottle), why not check in to see how it's progressing?

I am a fan of Terrebrune - the wines can be great. I've had excellent examples from the '80s and early '90s. I love the rosé too. When they're good they are intensely powerful and sturdy wines but they're also graceful wines, not heavy. And they faithfully express the animale wildness of Mourvedre grown in this hot southern clime. This bottle was not so great, though. On the first night it was exuberant and pleasing in its ripe, deep, dark, and spicy fruit. But there was not a great deal of complexity and the finish tailed off in a rather drastic way, leaving not much more than an impression of tannins. On the second night the wine is more harmonious, the fruit and the tannins better integrated. But still, the wine did not speak so clearly of Bandol to me. Where is the musk, the leather, the soil? Maybe the wine is closed down, or maybe I'm just not going to be a fan of this sort of wine in the warm vintages.

I had much better luck this week. On Monday night the daughters helped me make a bunch of gray sole fillets for dinner. They seasoned some flour, dredged the fillets, kind of wiped their hands before touching everything else on the counter top, and we sauteed the fillets in butter. Ate them with a heap of rice and vegetables.

I opened a bottle of Muscadet, one of the great wines from that place - the 2004 Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet le Fief du Breil. I loved this particular wine when it was young and saved a bottle to see what would happen when it turned 10 years old. I made it past 9 years old, so that's close. The aromas were pure and clean, and pungent in that way that happens as wine ages. It smelled of preserved lemons and saltwater, and tasted predominantly of rocks, finished briny and long. If it sounds a bit austere, it was, but that can be a good thing, and this wine was compelling and delicious. And it seems as though it will continue to develop, and perhaps improve, for another decade. This is solid stuff. I spent $13.50 on it 6 years ago.

This is going to be fun, digging into some of the things I bought.