Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hospices de Beaune Auction and a "Special Tasting"

We woke up to thick fog each morning, really thick. Eerily beautiful, and not easy for walking around or driving. We made our way slowly, nervous husband driving 6 months pregnant wife in tiny stick-shift car on narrow and windy roads through thick fog to Beaune for the Hospices de Beaune wine auction. The Hospices de Beaune (pictured below) has served the poor and sick in Burgundy for over 500 years now. The Hospices has inherited various vineyards and parcels of vineyards over the years, and puts out an enormous amount of wine that is auctioned off every November to great fanfare. The actual auction is impossible to sit in on unless you work in the industry, but Beaune turns into one large street festival for the weekend, with stall after stall offering delicacies like frog's legs, oysters, crepes, sausages and pates, cheeses, escargots, and of course wine.

BrooklynLady and I wandered around the festival munching on almost everything in sight. We were meeting Jean Marie, a woman who runs an export business and who would later take us to several Domaines for tasting, but she also scored a couple of tickets for us to the Sunday afternoon portion of the auction, sitting right in the middle of the front section! We sat behind Louis Latour, who was gray haired and dashing at about 80 years old in a pin striped suit. The Mayor of Beaune stopped by to say hello to Jean Marie and we were of course introduced. The auction was exciting, a real buzz in the air. Big shots competing to buy bigger barrels. Alliteration, anyone?

They use an interesting system in the auction, one that in my opinion probably leads to all kinds of gaming. Most wines are offered in several lots of varying numbers of barrels (about 24 cases in one barrel, they say). When you bid, you are bidding on the right to purchase any portion of the lot at that price. The winning bidder decides how many barrels they want at that price, and then the remaining barrels in that lot are auctioned - but ALL remaining barrels in that lot must be purchased at the winning bid. For example, the first wine was the 2006 Beaunes Dames Hospitalieres and there were 4 lots; two of 7 barrels and two of eight barrels. The winning bid on the first lot was 5,400 Euro and the bidder took 2 barrels, spending E10,800. Next, the remaining 5 barrels were auctioned, and the winning bid was something like E4,800 per barrel. Best strategy seemed to be to wait until the 3rd or 4th lot and hope that the winning bidder takes a few barrels, and then snap up the remaining barrels at a lower price, assuming most buyers already got the amount they wanted and could afford. But you risk getting nothing that way too...

It was fun to watch and follow the prices. The picture above is blurry in part because simply moving one's arm to scratch one's ear could easily result in the unplanned and unwanted ownership of 3,000 bottles of wine. Early on I pointed to the electronic board (visible, sort of, in the upper left of the picture) and started to ask Jean Marie something. BrooklynLady grabbed my arm and yanked it back, the usher in the aisle glared at me with an eyebrow arched, and Jean Marie said "You tell your 'usband don't move eef you don't want a lot of wine."

So I stopped moving. We witnessed the super exciting one barrel auction won for E200,000 by the man who owns the company that produces Gray Goose Vodka, all to benefit two charities, "Enfants et Santé" and "Princesse Margarita de Roumanie." It's funny - I found that watching the act of bidding on wine to be just as inspiring as looking at wine or thinking about wine, and after 2 hours, 15 wines with 46 lots (BrooklynLady = Patience), we wanted to taste wine more than we wanted to continue to watch people bid on wine. We said goodbye for the day to Jean Marie and left in search of a tasting.

There are amazing wine shops in Beaune, any of which carries loads of great Burgundy bottles, not to mention the Champagne and Cremant. Honestly, you would salivate walking into any of them, and if one were to move to your neighborhood you would need to work a second or third job to keep up with the bills. We saw a sign in the window of one shop near the big beautiful church (called Notre Dame, perhaps, but I am bad with church names) that promised a "Special Tasting" in honor of the auction, offering 6 wines including a Robert Groffier, a Lambrays, and an Armand Rousseau. I tasted and loved Rousseau wines once before, heard that Domaine des Lambrays is the bomb, and have been looking for a way to try Groffier wines. The price tag of E45, or $58 for the tasting seemed like nothing to me. I mean look, I just watched many people from all over the world spend thousands of Euros to buy wine. I can't spend $58? Louis Latour wipes the tannins off his teeth with $58. It was absolutely worth it. The staff in the store were very friendly and they poured 6 almost full glasses of wine for us, smiled, told us to call them over with questions, and left us alone with a spit bucket. It turned out that the Groffier wine was gone (sniff), but was replaced with another superstar, an Amiot. We had a ball comparing the smells and flavors of this impressive array of wine:

2004 S. Javouhey Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru. Reserved nose, green smells. Pronounced minerality with tart citrus flavors. Seems very young.

2003 P. Chavy Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru. Open and fun nose of tropical fruit and flowers. A little fat in the mouth, with flavors that are far more austere than the nose would suggest.

2003 S. Javouhey Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru Les Beaumonts. Sweet smells of flowers. Jammy fruit, sappy, reflecting the heat of the vintage perhaps. Maybe with steak sandwiches at a picnic on a really hot day?

2001 Armand Rousseau Ruchottes-Chambertin Grand Cru Clos du Ruchottes. I tasted the 1997 vintage a while ago at the Sotheby's pre-auction tasting. This wine was darker and more lively, spicier. I am turning out to be a big fan of the 2001 vintage for red Burgundy. Smells of red fruit and earthy spices. Velvety mouthfeel with flavors of fresh and stewed cherries, and a cranberry bitter edge. Well balanced. I would keep this in my cellar if I could afford to. I may anyway...

2001 Pierre Amiot Clos St Denis Grand Cru. Sweet smells of red fruit. Clean and pure red cherry flavors, very fresh tasting. Vibrant mouthfeel. This one will continue to improve for quite a while, I would bet.

1999 Domaine de Lambrays Clos des Lambrays Grand Cru. Without any doubt the best of the tasting. Wine Journal has a complete description of the Domaine - worth reading. Bright and fresh smells bursting from the glass, red fruits and black, earth and spice. Interesting creamy stewed cherries and orange peel flavors with a distinctly savory layer of earth underneath. All I can say is WOW. And I imagine that this wine will not peak for another 5+ years.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Our First Dinner in Burgundy

We had at least 5 restaurants on our eat-here list, but the only one with a table open on Saturday night, our first night in France and the eve of the Hospices de Beaune auction, was Le Gourmandin. Wine people from all over the world were in the area for the auction and it's amazing that we were able to get in anywhere on short notice. Located in the Place Carnot, a large open square in the middle of Beaune, it was easy to find even for jet lagged people who were just starting to remember some of their French.

While walking to Place Carnot we had to pass through the street festival and could not prevent ourselves from stopping at the lively huiles (oysters) and vin chaud (hot wine) stand. Cheerful men shucked oysters like champs and arranged them temptingly amongst lemon slices on dishes with broken ice. Another man stirred a large vat of red wine with orange sections, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and other spices bobbing about. As raw oysters and intense jet lag just didn't seem like a good combination, we got a glass of the vin chaud - delicious! And warm in your hands on a chilly, rainy evening.

The set menus are the way to go, offering an entree (what we know in the States as an appetizer), a plat (main dish), and a cheese course or dessert, sometimes both. This menu is always far less expensive than ordering a la carte, and sometimes, very strangely, less expensive than just ordering an entree and a plat. I also came to love the French tradition, expectation really, that you will enjoy an aperitif before your meal. I ordered a glass of Cremant, the sparkling wine of Burgundy. Cremant can be made with any and all Burgundy grapes, and is creamy in texture and fruitier than Champagne, without the chalky sensation. It is far less expensive than Champagne, and can be a lively and tasty aperitif, especially if combined with a splash of Creme de Cassis to make a Kir Royale, or with Framboise to make a yummy and as far as I know, unnamed raspberry sparkling drink.

Now, what to eat? Pregnant BrooklynLady could not east most cheeses, cured meats, and raw vegetables or shellfish. She is not supposed to eat rare meat either. Her choices were somewhat limited at times, and I think that it was tougher for her than she let on to watch me eat all of those things. But before you say that I'm an insensitive oaf for enjoying in front of her what she could not partake of herself, she insisted that I eat and drink whatever I wanted. As the article in today's NYTimes reiterates, pregnant women are probably allowed a little more leeway than you would think in eating and drinking. She tasted lots of wine, although almost always in minute amounts. She decided to allow herself one real glass of wine on our trip, one glass to drink "like a normal person," as she put it. And what a glass it turned out to be...but that's another post.

She enjoyed her taste of my Cremant (and that's not some sort of sex euphemism - get your mind out of the gutter people). We both chose as an entree the cepes (a local mushroom) ravioli with wild champignon mushrooms in a light mushroom jus/cream sauce. I know, why not order different dishes and share, but there was only one other entree BrooklynLady could eat and this one just sounded sooo good. And it was good - better than good. A melange of textures; smooth ravioli filling, springy and woody slices of wild mushrooms, foamy broth. Warm earthy flavors and soothing jus, neither of which relied too heavily on salt or garlic - common problems in mushroom dishes, in my opinion. This dish encouraged the mushrooms to be the star, their earthiness taking its time to work its way through the mouth and throat, into the sinuses so you breathed mushroom air long after finishing.

I had a glass of 2004 Jean Boillot Savigny-Les-Beaunes Les Vergelesses 1er Cru, $13, with the mushroom ravioli. This wine was somewhat reserved in aroma (after 4 days of tasting I now understand that it might be too young for more in the nose), full bodied with some citrus and some vanilla flavors that are probably associated with oak. It paired well with the mushroom dish, but a more acidic white might have been better - an "opposite" kind of a pairing - the acidity serving as a counterpoint to the rich and savory food. Or a lighter Pinot Noir would be a good choice.

BrooklynLady had duck leg and thigh that turned out to be too rare (basically raw) for her to eat. So she had a little of the venison I ordered, perfectly grilled and served with caramelized onions and some kind of venison jus. Shame on me, but I didn't note the specifics on the Chorey-Les-Beaune red I had with the venison. BrooklynLady then enjoyed some fresh cheese, the texture of yogurt, while I had my first Burgundy cheese plate, including the intimidating Epoisses, a creamy and very strong cow's milk cheese. Dessert was an apple custard tart (not so good) and creme brulee (YUM). By that point, both of us were only half awake, as is probably clear from the lack of detail I am providing here.

A first dinner that left us excited and eager to experience more Burgundy food and wine. A sleepy walk through the closed down street fair booths back to the car, and off to bed. Tomorrow we go to the Hospices de Beaune auction.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Louise Perrin in Aloxe-Corton

We arrived in France at Charles de Gaulle airport on a red eye flight early on a Saturday morning and immediately headed for the Gare de Lyon to take the high speed train, called the TGV, to Dijon. This was almost two hours of half-asleep-trying-to-look-out-the-window-at-the-passing-countryside-but-too-tired-to-keep-your-eyes-open. After arriving in Dijon we walked a few blocks to Hertz, somewhat comically pronounced "airltz" in French. In that dazed state I drove my 6 and a half months pregnant wife and myself out of town towards Aloxe-Corton.

I felt as if I were dreaming as we passed through the towns of Moray St Denis, Gevrey Chembertin, Chambolle Musigny, Vosne Romanee, and Nuits St Georges...sometimes driving alongside famous vinyards like Clos Vougeot and Clos Marechale. I was a kid in a candy store.

BrooklynLady is great at researching hotels and restaurants, picking the best places for us to go and the yummiest places to eat. She selected the Hotel Villa-Louise for our stay in Burgundy, and it was perfect, really. I unconditionally and without hesitation recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Burgundy. The rooms were spotlessly clean, the beds comfortable, the rooms spacious, bright, and quiet, the surroundings lovely, and the staff friendly and helpful.

To my taste, the location is perfect also. Just a 10 minute drive from Beaune, the "largest" city in the immediate area, you can easily access restaurants and wineries in the Cotes de Beaune and the Cotes de Nuits. But staying at Villa Louise, you are in a tiny town with 2 quiet little streets, several shockingly lovely houses, vineyards everywhere, and the smell of wood buring in fireplaces wafting all around. Below: view of the Villa Louise garden and Corton vineyards from the backdoor of our room

BrooklynLady didn't even open her bags - the moment we we in our room she hit the bed to relax a bit. I was chomping at the bit though, and would have tasted through a vertical of Prestone antifreeze if that were all that was available. I made a beeline for the cave and tasted the wines. Veronique Perrin runs the Hotel Villa-Louise and she is the winemaker for the Louise Perrin portfolio. She is quite charming and clearly loves her work - she describes the wines with feeling. Her first year making the wines was 1986.
Aloxe-Corton is famous for the whie Grand Cru wines of Corton Charlemagne and the red Grand Crus of Corton. Parker says that Aloxe-Corton Premier Cru and Village wines usually offer good values because they are overlooked by consumers who clamor for the Grand Crus. The village sits in the hills just west off Route 74, the main road to use when driving around Burgundy. Pernand Vergelesses, Corey-Les-Beaunes, and Ladoix are right nearby, and many vignerons who make Aloxe-Corton wines also make wines from the nearby villages. Right: the narrow road leading through the houses of Aloxe-Corton.

I experienced the reds of Aloxe-Corton to be very powerful and structured wines, masculine in character, very tannic with lots of dark fruit. I read that with age, the better wines become silky and seductive. I tasted one 1991 Corton Grand Cru and it was all tobacco, still tannic, no finesse. Just not my style maybe.

Tasting notes follow (but are more brief than normal because I tasted through many wines somewhat quickly). Prices are conversions to dollars, but are clearly lower than if the wines were purchased outside of France.


2004 Bourgogne, $9. Bright and pleasant flavors, well balanced. Good value.
2004 Pernand Vergelesses, $17. Richer, with a thicker mouthfeel. Smells of vanilla and maybe some banana.

2005 Aloxe-Corton, $25. Green. Young and primary, but with nice smells of cherries. Palate isn't revealing much yet.
2004 Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru Les Vercots, $27. More complex and drinkable, but still reserved. Some earth on the palate.
2004 Corton Grand Cru Les Bressandes, $40. Opened for my tasting, and way too young to drink. Deep ruby colored, tightly wound smells and flavors, dark fruits, spicey and tannic. Some minerals on the finish. I couldn't really tell what was going on with this wine - too soon. Seems promising though.
1986 Cote de Beaune Village, $28. This wine was sitting on the counter already open, but I had to ask for a taste - I guess they figure people are not interested in wines of this "lower class," made from grapes from all over the place. Yet this wine was EXCELLENT. Rusty colored with smells of cooked fruit. Flavors of stewed cherries and caramel, with a light but mouth-filling texture. Veronique said this wine should not be held any longer, "it is your holiday wine," she said. She recommended pairing with strong cheeses.

This exerience hammered home the idea that wine can be beautiful if it is well made and aged properly, regardless of its classification. Sure, maybe that Grand Cru Les Bressandes, it aged properly for 20 years, would eclipse the 1986 cotes de Beaune Village, but for me the point was simply that for immediate drinking, the "lowest level" wine was by far the best. Right: view of Villa Louise and Chateau de Corton-Andre from the vineyards.

More to come...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Back from Burgundy

What a trip! We had an amazing time - saw beautiful country, shared the kinds of experiences that happen only while on vacation and that help to nourish a relationship, learned a great deal about the wines of Burgundy, pounded the pavement in Paris for four days, and more. I am simply too tired to write much more now (no thanks to Air France - more on that debacle some other time), but I cannot resist posting a few pictures now. And I wanted to stop this string of days without a post... This is the house next to our little hotel in Aloxe Corton.

We stayed at the hotel Villa Louise (picture below with orange leaves) in Aloxe-Corton, a small town just north of Beaune. And I mean small. There are no restaurants, no Tabacs (the little shops where people buy cigarettes and cigars, sometimes coffee and sometimes newspapers and magazines), no stores period in Aloxe-Corton. But a lot of wine is made from grapes classified as belonging to this tiny town. In fact, the only Grand Cru red wines that come from the southern part of Burgundy, the Cotes de Beaune, come from Aloxe-Corton.

That brings up something that I learned while tasting and learning about the wines that is really valuable to me: a humble Bourgogne or Haut-Cotes-de-Beaune wine made from grapes from all over Beaune, can offer the same degree of pleasure and satisfaction, the same ability to fascinate the taster with complex aromas and flavors, the same depth of experience as the most rare and expensive Grand Cru wine. To chase after Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines simply because they are so titled is to miss out on many great wines, and is sometimes to spend too much money on wines that are only okay, or that need to be aged for 10 years in order to exhibit the qualities that distinguish them as Grand or Premier Crus.
Whoah...I had to re-read that sentence three times to get it...and I knew what I meant before I wrote it! Time for bed. I am excited to share some experiences and tasting notes from our trip, and I will get right on that tomorrow.

Above: on the road from Aloxe-Corton to Pernand Vergelesses. Typical of the old brick walls that line many small roads, and that often surround vinyards of higher reputation. Vinyards surrounded by walls are called "Clos." Hard to tell because the resolution is not great in the background, but the entire hillside is covered with vines. The area in Burgundy that is not paved is essentially one huge grapevine.
Above: vinyards of Aloxe-Corton. We woke up to intense mist every morning in Burgundy. This typicaly burned off by noon. Right: rainbow off the road between Beaune and Aloxe-Corton.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

My Birthday Present

Today I turned 35 years old. Kind of amazing to me, as I can so clearly remember, and still sometimes feel like the person who watched the older kids in the playground and thought "when will I ever be 12...I wish I was as old as those kids." I'm halfway to 70 now. But I'm having a baby in 3 months, I'm trying to start my own business, I quit smoking 3 years ago, and I feel great. So there.

We just returned from dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Al Di La, on Brooklyn's 5th Avenue. BrooklynLady is in the shower so I will steal this moment on the computer. I had 2 wine presents today. My 2004 Adelsheim single vinyard wines and 2005 Elizabeth's reserve wines arrived in the mail.

Adelsheim and St Innocent are the two Oregon producers whose wines I will buy no matter the weather conditions of the vintage, no matter how paltry my wine budget might be in that year. I just love their wines - so skillfully made, so delicious with food and on their own. I was pretty excited to see the big bog come in the mail, and to find 2 bottles each of Calkins Lane and Bryan Creek Pinot Noir, and also 3 bottles of 2005 Elizabeth's Reserve. Now that's a birthday present! Although I should wait a couple of years, there is no way I will have that kind of patience, so expect tasting notes on one of the 04 single vinyard wines soon.
Tonight we opened a bottle of NV Duval-Leroy Champagne Brut to help celebrate my b-day. I am somewhat suspicious of huge Champagne houses, sort of the way I am suspicious of restaurants like Chili's or the Olive Garden. They might have some good dishes, and can offer a pleasant evening, but they don't seem to be trying to achieve any individual character. Instead they please the masses. And there is value to that. But for minimum 30 bucks a bottle, as NV Brut Champagne, seems to be, I want to find something special.
I don't have enough experience to know how it stacks up in the NV Brut pantheon, but this is some very tasty and interesting juice. Mike and Jess gave it to me for my birthday, so thanks to them. It has a pretty line of large bubbles springing up from the bottom of the glass, and a nice yeasty and lemony smell. There are toasted bread, chalk, and some citrus fruit tastes, and some acidity that I feel on the sides of the tongue and in the cheeks. After I swallow the wine I can taste the chalk very clearly. All in all, a super enjoyable treat on my birthday - some bubbles always make the evening special.
Wife is out of shower and packing now - we leave for France tomorrow night. We have been hooked up with someone in Burgundy who will take us to a few Domaines to taste wine and show us around a bit. I will most likely not make any posts until we return on November 27th.
But then I will be back with a vengeance! Tasting stories and notes galore, restaurants...Burgundy and Paris! Fughedabadit - I hope I can keep notes on everything wine related that we experience.
Happy Thanksgiving to you, and see you in about a week.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Some Thanksgiving Wines

I wasn't going to get on the "Thanksgiving Wines" bandwagon, but it seems to be some sort of initiation rite for wine bloggers. Who am I to buck the trend? I try to stay hip and to be relevant, but what are you gonna do? So I might as well try to be helpful. Here are a few things that I keep in mind regarding Thanksgiving wine planning:

A) For many of us, Thanksgiving can be an emotionally loaded time. People may not have seen each other in a while, and they may have had plenty of time stuck in traffic or at the airport to get nervous. Keep the alcohol level in your wines as low as possible. Don't throw extra wood on the fire.

B) You know more about wine than anyone else in your family. Stick to wines with flavors and smells that are easy to access and identify. Don't challenge grandma's senses.

C) This is a celebration - its supposed to be fun. Don't spend too much money, because its no fun to watch your uncle fill his glass to the rim with pricey premier cru Burgundy and then spill half on the table.

Some specific suggestions for wines that meet the above criteria and that are also readily available at most large wine stores:

Sparkling Wine - sure, help folks loosen up a bit over an aperitif. Let's open a fun bubbly with bright and fresh flavors, and in this case, with a lovely raspberry color. And at only 7.5% alcohol...fill that flute up to the rim! NV Renardat-Fache Vin de Bugey-Cerdon Methode Ancestrale, $16 is a bubbly winner. This might be a tiny bit tougher to find than the other wines in this post, but you can do it. Get any Bugey rose bubbly if you can't find this one. The wine is made from the Poulsard grape, one of the classic varietals used in the wines of Jura and Bugey. I know - it sounds like I'm breaking rule B because no one will have heard of these places, but the wine is beautiful to look at, full of fresh berry flavors, and it won't get them drunk before dinner.

Whites - You can be confident that the 2005 Clos Roche Blanc Touraine Sauvignon, $12 will be a tasty and fruity Loire Sauvignon Blanc. The price is right, any good wine shop will have it in stock, and it should go well with whatever is on the Thanksgiving table. It comes in at about 12% alcohol though, and you might want to keep it lower if possible. I would bring any white from Kurt Darting's portfolio. Darting is a newfangled producer of German wine, mostly Riesling. You will see his wines for as little as $15, and they weigh in at about 8% alcohol. If your wine shop has it, I recommend the Kabinett Gewurztraminer from either 2004 or 2005. Piercing flavors of lychee and peaches, with nice acidity and a floral freshness. These are definitely off dry wines, but they go well with food.

Reds - Bernard Baudry's wines are a good match with Thanksgiving dinner. You can be proud to open the 2004 or 2005 Chinon Les Granges, $14, or the 2003 Chinon Domaine, $16. I have written about Baudry before. The fruit forward style of these wines combined with the reasonable 12% alcohol level make them a good choice.
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends, whatever wine you drink.

Monday, November 13, 2006

November Wine Dinner

Jess and Mike hosted Wine Dinner last night in their lovely South Slope townhouse. It was somewhat of a last minute affair, as new babies and other commitments prevented much advance planning. But the food was spectacular - Jess really knocked it out of the park. Here is the menu:

Cured meat plate with sweet Sopressata and Imported Prociutto
Sweet Potato Crostini
Fresh Ricotta Cheese Crostini

Beef Goulash with home made spaetzle and braised escarole

Caramelized Apple Custard Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream

The prociutto and the sweet potato crostini were the highlights of the starters for me. The prociutto was rose colored and smelled quite funky, like the boys locker room after the big game. The flavor, though, was beautiful - sweet and salty and lightly musky. The sweet potato for the crostini had a little cottage cheese mixed in, and some chives - an interesting combination, and it was a nice counterpoint to the prociutto. Deetrane, by the way, baked the bread for the evening using some tips from the recent NY Times piece on bread. And the bread was wonderfully textured, fluffy on the inside with a crisp dark brown crust.

I was given the task of bringing wine to pair with the starters, and I chose a dry Vouvray made by Domaine Huet. I have mentioned Huet Vouvray before and I love their wines, all made from the chenin blanc grape. A little context this time - Domaine Huet is one of the most well respected producers in the Loire Valley, and probably is the biggest name in Vouvray. Victor Huet, the founder, and then his son Gaston Huet, now his son-in-law Noel Pinguet makes wines from 3 vineyards: Le Mont (Huet's lighter wines), Le Haut-Lieu, and Clos du Bourg (the vineyard whose grapes Huet uses to craft his biggest wines). In better vintages Huet produces sweet wines, labeled "moelleux," from those vineyards, and also an intensely expensive (about $130 for 500ml) dessert wine called Cuvee Constance. Curiously, there is no mention of Cuvee Constance on the Huet website right now. I imagine, but am not at all sure, that this wine represents the finest grapes taken from the premier trie, or first pass, in each vineyard.

The Wine Doctor posted a bunch of tasting notes and plenty of interesting information about Domaine Huet as part of his Loire Profiles series. If you have any interest at all in Loire wines, this series is worth checking out.
2005 Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec Le Haut-Lieu, $26. This wine is still very young, and the aromas and flavors display this quite clearly. There are clean smells of fresh stone fruits and pure but reserved flavors of pear and quince, with that mineral rainwater finish that defines quality dry Vouvrays for me. The wine paired well with the starters, but was not really ready for drinking. There is something hidden under the surface, and I imagine that checking back in on this wine in 10 years will reveal much more beauty and complexity.

Deetrane busted out a 1981 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Leognan to pair with the goulash. I know almost nothing about Bordeaux, but I do know that 1981 is one of those vintages that did not get great press attention, and therefore the wines can be somewhat reasonably priced. Again, The Wine Doctor has an informative profile and tasting notes on Chevalier. Mike, a Bordeaux lover who has tasted many wines at all maturity levels, said "this is everything you want in a mature Bordeaux." I was surprised to hear that, as I found some leather, like the fuzzy back of a belt, in the nose, but that's about it - no tobacco, cedar, cassis, or herbs - what I understand to be typical mature Bordeaux smells. And the palate was straightforward black fruits, and pretty flabby at that. No backbone of acidity or tannins to structure the wine. It was pleasant and fun to taste such an old wine, but ultimately not very satisfying.

The goulash was tremendous though, and the wine paired well. Without a doubt the best goulash I have ever tasted, and inspiring as a piece of home cooking. Perfectly textured, rich and light at the same time, beautifully colored and aromatic with ground caraway and caramelized onions. And the home made spaetzle...a tough act to follow for future wine dinners, I tell you.

Mike cracked open a 2002 Barton & Guestier Sauternes to serve with dessert. A large negociant house, apparently, I poked around on their website but have not been able to learn much about the wine. Light honey colored, the wine smelled of caramel and pineapples. Surprisingly light bodied and thin in texture, this wine was not at all sticky. Lovely and simple, there were flavors of sweet citrus fruit with some burnt sugar. It paired very well with the truly fabulous caramelized apple custard tart that Jess made. She served some leftover caramelized apples too, that were snatched up faster than 2005 Bordeaux futures.

All in all, a wonderful wine dinner, with good, but not great wine. But a GREAT time - little kids scooting around before bedtime, a warm kitchen and pots of yummy smelling food, good friends, my 6 months pregnant wife enjoying tiny sips of tiny glasses of wine...what more could you ask for on a Sunday night?

Friday, November 10, 2006

A "Masculine" Pinot

Some wine makers and wine writers describe Pinot Noir as "masculine" sometimes. I don't know how to interpret this, or how to recognize it when I taste it. Does that simply mean its a big wine? If so, then most Pinots that are indelicate are "masculine," and not my style, for that matter. But both Oregon and Burgundy wines that are called "masculine" can be lovingly reviewed - there must be something good doing on here.

I probably I have a bias toward delicacy and elegance in Pinot Noir, towards red fruit and earthy grace, perfume and light texture. I had a wine over the past two days though, that makes me understand the "masculine" descriptor. I have tasted many St Innocent wines, but never the Anden Vineyard bottling, which I read is a "masculine" wine. I was surprised by how much I thoroughly enjoyed this wine, and by how well it went with food (simple turkey burgers, broccoli rabe, roast russets with romano cheese).

Folks, if you like Pinot Noir and you have not yet tasted the wines of St Innocent, do yourself a favor. You can read about Mark Vlossak the winemaker on the site, but I will add that he was the winemaker at Panther Creek through the 1999 vintage, another Willamette Valley winery with a solid reputation. And that he has somewhat of an ornery reputation as a producer who doesn't jump through hoops to please the press (or the public). Kind of a legend in the Willamette Valley.

The thing that I respect the most about St Innocent though, is that even though his wines are as delicious, as well reviewed, and as rare as any Oregon producer, Mark Vlossak refuses to jack up his prices. He sells one of his single vineyard wines, Temperance Hill, for about $25, and White Rose, the most expensive one comes in at about $45. Mark says that his benchmark wine is from the Seven Springs vineyard. Anden vineyard used to be part of Seven Springs - it was the part at the lower elevation. This is probably why the wine can be darker and richer than other St Innocent Pinots - the grapes at lower elevation receive more heat.

The 2003 St Innocent Anden Vineyard Pinot Noir, $28, is a masculine wine. Unlike any other St Innocent wine I've tasted, this wine is dark purple and smells of black fruits, herbs, and musky earth. On the first day it tasted primarily of black fruit with some brambly and foresty tones. But on the second day with proper air time, the wine achieved a perfectly balanced state. There are tar and spice smells to round out the blackberry, sappy sweet cherries and brawny pine on the palate. This is the first time I have had a dark and powerful Pinot Noir and loved it.

The label says that the 382 cases of this wine complement rich foods such as prime rib or cassoulet. Makes sense. I thought of rainy nights, comfortable sweaters, and bowls of hot beef stew - things not known for their delicacy. This was an eye opener for me. And it probably would have improved for years with cellaring. 2003 was a hot year and I assumed that like many other wines from 03, this one would have low acid and high alcohol, and not be ageworthy. I was simply wrong. I am finding that the best producers craft good wines during tough vintages - that's one of the things that makes them great producers. So I guess I will hold onto my 3 bottles of St Innocent Shea Vineyard for a while...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

WBW 27 - Icewine

And now we continue the experiment that Lenn of Lenndevours began in 2004 - what happens when a bunch of bloggers form a tasting community once a month, sharing their experiences with a certain type of wine? So far, fun, "meeting" new folks and checking out their blogs, learning, and in my case, tasting wine I have never tried.

The Kitchen Chick is our host this month and she loves Icewine! I had never tasted a real ice wine (make sure to check out Kitchen Chick's great link that explains Icewine in detail), so I was pretty psyched to participate. And Kitchen Chick lives in or spends a lot or time in Ann Arbor, which is my college town, so I ahave an affinity for her even though we've never met...

First thing I learned is that Ice Wine is expensive! I’ve had my eyes open for the past few weeks and I saw nothing under about $30 for 375ml, and many of those were made from grapes frozen after they were picked. Dessert wine is costly in general, yes, but when sampling a new type of wine there are usually lower priced versions to begin with, for example, there are $12 half bottles of Sauternes or Barsac that allow the taster to decide whether or not to continue trying that type of wine.

I found only "freezer frozen" Ice Wines at entry level prices, and I just can’t bring myself to purchase 375ml of wine I have never tasted for $40. So I instead visited Vintage New York, a wine store that allows you to taste 5 wines for $10. They currently offer two real Ice Wines, and another wine that is Ice Wine style, all from the Finger Lakes region of New York. The dude pouring the wines agreed to help me to taste them blind so I could experience them without bias.

My notes:

Wine #1 - Honey gold color, lighter thatn the others. Appealing and mouth watering ripe pineapple smells. First impression on the palate is of vibrant acidity. Bright citrus fruit with some tropical notes of pineapple, and oddly, some cedar. A lingering finish of sweet pineapple. I liked this wine very much. I wanted to eat creme brulee with it.

Wine #2 - Golden caramel color with some orange hues. Completely different nose compares to wine #1 - no pineapple. Smells of flowers, orange peel, some vanilla, and rainwater. Great acidity, well balanced, thicker texture than wine #1, with floral and citrus flavors. This wine was powerfully flavored and textured, but somehow more delicate than the first wine. My favorite wine in the tasting. I wanted to eat a second creme brulee, possibly a pineapple creme brulee.

Wine #3 - Golden orange color. Nothing at all on the nose - I could not get anything even with vigorous swirling (tossing and flipping almost). Sweet dried fig flavors that are almost cloying and the thickest texture of the three wines. My least preferred of the three (and I guessed it was the only one that was opened right before my tasting - the others were opened the previous day).

Here are the wines:

Wine #1 - 2005 Hunt Country Vidal Ice Wine 375 ml, $40 (opened before the tasting)
Wine #2 - 2005 Casa Larga Fiori Delle Stelle Vidal Ice Wine 375 ml, $40
Wine #3 - 2004 Standing Stone Vidal Ice Wine 375ml, $27 (the "fake" Icewine)

I guess there is something to letting the grapes freeze on the vines. The Standing Stone wine is well regarded too, but it just didn't compare with the other two. Thanks again to Kitchen Chick for inspiring me to try these interesting wines, and go blue!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wine Blogging Wednesday # 27 is Tomorrow

Remember folks, today is your last day to taste Ice Wine and email the Kitchen Chick, our gracious host, with a description of your experience. She will then post a round-up of the results for our collective pleasure.

I had no experience whatsoever with Ice Wine before this WBW and I had an interesting experience that I will share tomorrow.

Get your entry to Kitchen Chick - I want to read your reviews!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Weekend Wines and Eats II

Some darn good eatin' and drinkin' this weekend, yeah. BrooklynLady and I shared meals with friends on both nights, and had our usual Sunday night cookfest too.

Friday night we made the trip to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to eat dinner with my oldest friend Nick and his wife Mavis and the kids. Mavis said she was making lamb, so we brought a bottle of 2003 Bernard Baudry Chinon Cuvee Domaine, $14. We visited the Domaine during our Loire trip a year ago - one of the highlights of the trip. Not just because the wines are delicious and Henri Baudry, the young and charming son of Bernard, took the time to explain each cuvee and vintage to us, but also because we toured the winery and the caves. I climbed a ladder and stuck my torso into a vat of fermenting juice!

The Cuvee Domaine is a remarkable value in red wine. Made from vines of at least 30 years old, this is an expressive wine full of fresh fruit and the sensation of terroir. Medium to full bodied and lusty, this wine should be placed on a long table on a sunny afternoon outside of your villa, and comsumed with great vigor before taking a siesta with your sweetheart. For $14, what more can you ask? The 2003 was a bit thicker and heavier than usual, but it was great with dinner.

On Saturday night we had a few friends over for dinner and I decided to try out a few new drinks from our bar. I mixed up a couple of French 75's - yum! Sort of like high quality lemonade with bubbles. Two of our friends decided that they wanted cocktails made without hard liquor, so we made them a simple combination of 2 parts fresh pear cider and 3 parts Prosecco with a twist of lemon. There is a name for this cocktail and I cannot find it right now.

We began the eating with a flourish by opening a dozen littlenecks with a few lemon wedges and a simple Mignonette of cider vinegar, Prosecco, a little fresh clam juice, and tabasco. BrooklynLady then served her silky and sweet butternut squash soup. Not the usual curried affair, her's uses ginger to add some spark and lets the sweetness of the fresh squash shine through. We opened the 2005 Dr. Stephan Reuter Findling Trocken Qualitatswein Riesling that our friends brought with the soup. I do not know the price on the wine. It was dry, pleasant, and food friendly.

Because one of our friends inexplicably and foolishly refuses to eat meat, we served fish as a main course (he's a "pescaterian"). I got up early on Saturday morning and went to the farmer's market in time to buy Blackfish fillets. They're usually gone by 8:15 am. I salted, peppered, and seared the fillets and then finished then in the oven. Deglazed the pan with a little of the Riesling and the juice of a lemon, added some finely chopped leeks and fresh sage, and cooked the mixture down until it thickened. A little butter because that's how I'm livin', and voila.

We opened a bottle of 2005 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling, $25 to serve with the Blackfish. This is a wine I tasted and described a little while ago at Vintage NY, a store where you can taste New York wines. The Riesling was delicious again, but I think I needed to leave it open longer before drinking. Only by the time my glass was almost empty could I sense the same floral aromas and flavors as before. The wine was a great compliment to the fish, though, and I will be more careful about how I serve it the next time.

BrooklynLady made an apple crostada for dessert (a lighter version of an apple pie, and without the top crust) and we opened a half bottle of 1998 Chapoutier Muscat de Rivesaltes, $16. I purchased this wine because 1) I know that Chapoutier is an excellent producer, and 2) I have this problem where I always buy something when I enter a good wineshop, even if I enter just to "browse." This wine was beautifully colored, deep gold with a bit of rustiness. The nose was all orange peels, and that followed through on the palate. Simple and straightforward orangey dessert wine. Certainly pleasurable, but not something to seek out.

Last night we made a whole load of food for the week, including braised beef with turnips and carrots, broccoli rabe with garlic, delicata squash puree, Japanese white sweet potatoes, and bone-in pork chops (fresh from the farmer's market, like the cutlets from a week ago) with sage and olive oil. While cooking, and then eating, we sipped a 2005 Domaine Chignard Fleurie Les Moriers, $19. I was warned by David, my wine guru at Chambers Street to open this a day before drinking, that it needs some air time to fully develop. I remembered David's warning Sunday morning, yet somehow failed to open the wine until 6pm. I can't wait to try the other half of the bottle tonight because last evening was fantastic. Great acidity, raspberries and spices, dusty tannins...just delicious. Note - on the second day the wine is indeed better - vibrant and spicey, very juicy. It is darker than most Beaujolais I've had.

Cheers to a good weekend, and a good week ahead.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Premier Cru from Oregon

Okay, so I've been going gaga for Burgundy lately. I'm going there soon, I'm allowed to get excited. I don't want to forget my wine roots though - its Oregon that taught me that wine = love and I will try to stay true to that, in the sense that I will always give Oregon a little extra consideration when thinking about wine.

Tonight I re-connected with a friend from elementary school (!) and when I got home BrooklynLady had prepared a yummy looking fresh ham roast with marjoram, some roasted potatoes, broccoli rabe, and some roast apples. She rubbed her pregnant belly while asking me if I would open some wine. I was prepared (honestly) to have mineral water with dinner - I already had a few beers with my old buddy - but if the wife insists...I obey.

There is no vineyard or climate classification system in Oregon. If there were, I bet that some of Adelsheim's vineyards would be highly classified. They make several single vineyard wines, and Elizabeth's Reserve is a blend of wines from their best barrels of Quarter Mile Lane, Calkins Lane, Ribbon Ridge, and other vineyards. Other vineyards that might achieve high status include Shea, Seven Springs, Brick House, and Arcus. There are others, but these are the ones I know best. And as in Burgundy, different producers can make vastly different wines using grapes from the same source...

I want to taste premier and grand cru level wines to learn more about Burgundy before our trip. I have a couple of bottles of premier cru wine in the "cellar" but they are too young to open. So I opened a 2004 Adelsheim Elizabeth's Reserve Pinot Noir, $43. This is a wine I would normally have to psyche myself up to actually open at 43 clams, but I want to taste the good juice, and Adelsheim is definitely one of the Oregon producers that I would say produce premier or grand cru level wine...every year, regardless of the quality of the vintage.

The verdict is not yet in on 2004 in Oregon. I haven't been crazy about the wines thusfar, but maybe they're just too young. This one though...WOW. Immediately upon opening you can smell the fresh cherries wafting up from the bottle. The same beautiful clear garnet as the Burgundy wines. A bit tight at first, in the nose and the mouth, not giving too much. Fine, set the table, put out some mineral water, plate the food, tell the wife about my old friend, put on some music, be patient...

An hour later this wine is positively singing. Smells of cooked and fresh ripe cherries, with faint vanilla oak and some alcohol heat in the background. At 14%, I'm not surprised to smell it. But compared to most Burgundies at 12% or 12.5%, that it significantly more alcohol. Bright cherry fruit, pepper and spices, and an undertone of earth are dominant in the mouth, with a bit of sharpness from the alcohol. There is a long finish that is pretty gamey.

Overall, this wine seems like an extremely talented teenager who if properly nurtured, will become a wonderful adult. I will save my two remaining bottles for at least a few years in the hopes that the various flavor and aroma components harmonize with each other. Still a bit disjointed now. But this is definitely top shelf wine.

This seals it - I am going to host a tasting of Pinot Noir, and guests can bring whichever Pinot they think will drink well right now. I will contribute an Oregon wine and a Burgundy, and we will all learn together. Let me know if you're in the area and interested...

Three from Burgundy

I always enjoy tasting wines side by side, learning by comparing them. Last night I had the distinct pleasure of tasting three Burgundies, one white and two red. I had to rely on my "tasting memory" to try to understand the white wine, but comparing the reds offered me some clear insights about red wine in Burgundy.

The 2001 JM Boillot Puligny Montrachet is the white that Deetrane served at his wedding. He still has a few bottles tucked away and he brought one by last night. He opened it the day before, and he felt it was better when he first opened it. I was amazed by spicy and heady aromas of pineapple and banana. The pleasure of the smells compares favorably to the various Montrachets I sampled at the Sotheby's tasting, and those were more mature wines. This wine had a rich and full bodied texture, very luxurious. Flavors were not as bright as the aromas suggested, but I got clean apples and pears with a little bit of citrus on the finish. The wine opened up some more in the glass - maybe it needs more time.

I had opened a bottle of 2004 Joseph Voillot Bourgogne Vieille Vignes, $21, the night before with dinner. So we had half of that bottle to compare with a 1999 J Confuron-Cotetiedot Vosne-Romanee, $38. I love the Voillot wine. Its fresh and light with raspberry flavors and some dustiness. A great value , and really food friendly. I have enjoyed this wine several times this summer and fall with meals and it always delivers. Deetrane liked this wine, saying that it was young and full of raspberries.

Tasting it next to the Vosne-Romanee gave me a much better sense of the depth that can be achieved in red Burgundies. The Vosne-Romanee was a little darker in color with smells of caramel, cooked fruit, and prunes with some alcohol heat underneath. I was not crazy about the nose actually, and I began to wonder if the wine was past its prime. But the palate was an entirely different story. Juicy and bursting with fresh cherries resting on a bed of pine needles. Nice acidity, no alcohol heat whatsoever, and some minerality on the finish. This wine was much more complex than the Bourgogne, more interesting.

I highly recommend the 2004 Voillot Bourgogne, and suggest leaving it open for 45 minutes to an hour before drinking. It's bright red berry flavors are sure to please, and it almost doesn't matter what you eat with it. But if you're in a more contemplative mood, maybe eating venison, lamb, or some other fall gamey food, the complexity of the village level wine makes sense.

Now if I just had a premier cru and a grand cru to compare...