Monday, March 31, 2008

By The Glass - Oregon Pinot Edition

In the past month or so I've tasted a few 2005's, some old familiar faces and some from producers that are pretty much new to me. Although there are problems with the wines in general (too sweet to my palate), on the whole I much prefer them to the 2004's we tasted during our recent Five Nights of Oregon Pinot festivities. And one of them was excellent by any standard.

They're calling 2005 a "classic" vintage in Oregon. If you haven't tried Oregon wine because you're a Burgundy lover, you might try something from 2005. Alcohol levels are on par with Burgundy at about 13%, there is very good acidity, and the wines are pretty well balanced. This is an Oregon vintage that can please Burgundy lovers. Fine - the wines are still very sweet, but it is what it is.

2005 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Quarter Mile Lane Vineyard, $44. The finest wine of this group, by a few lengths. This is why I got into Adelsheim in the first place. Unmistakably Oregon in the wild cherry cough syrup department, but there is much more going on here too. There is a great earthy mushroomy note on the nose, and the sweet wild cherry aspect is quite lovely. The flavors echo the nose, and the mid-palate expands to include slightly rusty minerals, the sweet cherries ride the acids all the way through to the finish, which is complex with herbal notes, and very persistent. This is delicious wine, no doubt about it. And at 13% alcohol, you can actually taste your food while drinking it. It improved on day 2, gaining both smoothness and complexity. This is the same price as an 05 village-level Burgundy and it offers at least that level of pleasure.

2005 St Innocent Pinot Noir White Rose Vineyard, $41. White Rose Vineyard is St Innocent's smallest lot. It's at an elevation of 820', pretty high up there for Oregon Pinot vineyards. This vineyard generally does well in hot years - St Innocent's White Rose Pinot was my favorite Oregon wine from the incredibly hot 2003 vintage. In 2005, not a terrible hot year, there were only 234 cases made of this wine. I didn't enjoy it as much as I did either the 2003 or the 04, this one was more simple. Certainly very pleasant - sweet red fruit flavors, lots of cherry cola, pretty good balance too and not too high in alcohol - 13.5%. It's just that there was little complexity, nothing to think about. Maybe it needed more time in the bottle, although I always drink White Rose a year or two from release and enjoy it.

2005 Cameron Pinot Noir Arley's Leap Vineyard, $28. I've tasted Cameron's wines before, but only once at home with dinner, and that was a solid four years ago. This is from a parcel of younger vines, and the wine is not meant for extended cellaring. On the nose this is brimming with dark cherries and there are also herbal hints, but there is some cherry cough syrup too, and it's a bit cloying. Beautifully ripe fruit though, and nicely balanced with acidity. Hard to put my finger on what, but there is something missing here, something preventing me from really sinking my teeth into this wine. It's kind of a one-hit-wonder. At only 12.5% alcohol, though, they've made a sweet and enjoyable young drinking Pinot that will not make you fail your breathalyser on the trip home.

2005 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir en Dessous Seven Springs, $26. Not sure why they don't just call this "Anden," as Anden is the vineyard that is en dessous (underneath) Seven Springs, but anyway...I like Evesham Wood so far, and I've tasted five or six wines, but never at home with dinner, so this was a first. Lots of cherry cola on the nose, verging on cough syrup, with hints of earth underneath. There is alcohol too on the nose, although it's only 13% according to the label. The palate is blueberry skins, vanilla, and a bit of prune. How do they make wine this sweet in an only moderately hot year, picking in early October? It's magic, I tell you. This is simple and pleasant, but it is not a style of Pinot that I prefer.

2002 Bethel Heights Flat Block Reserve, price unknown. Just for kicks, a more mature wine from Deetrane's cellar. My first ever taste of a Bethel Heights wine, and this is supposed to be their top cuvee. I thought this was in a great place for drinking, as some of the primary cherry fruit had receded and been joined by silky wet soil and iron minerality - a well balanced and elegant wine that left lovely mouth aromas of cherry and earth.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

2006 Zucchi Lambrusco di Sorbara Rosato, $13, Selected Estates of Europe. I'm a Lambrusco fan, without question. I love cracking open a chilled bottle in warm weather, serving it with a plate of cured meats and cheese, surprising people with red sparkling wine. This one, sadly, was not so great.

We've had the regular Zucchi Lambrusco before and we really liked it - we enjoyed some on Thanksgiving last year. But this bottle, the Rosato version, was not as satisfying. A beautiful light purple color to be sure, but the nose was full of bubblegum candy (no like) and medicine (like). The overall effect was just odd, like drinking herbal grape BubbleYum. And the palate exactly echoed the nose, with no further nuance to lift it up. We saved half the bottle for day 2 (a dead give away that we weren't crazy about it), and nothing changed. I'm ready to hear that I got a bad bottle, because I know that many people love this wine. But I think it's just not my style.

It just didn't feel right to leave you with a so-so bottle on a Friday. So we opened another sparkling wine during the week.

Guy Bossard is an esteemed producer of still wines in the Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine appellation in the Loire Valley. Certified by Demeter, Bossard's vineyards are farmed biodynamically. I was psyched to see that he makes a sparkling wine too, although to be honest I haven't heard much about sparklers from Muscadet. Cider - yes. Bubblies made from Melon de to me. Do the other big-name Muscadet producers, like Olivier, Landron, or Luneau-Papin make sparkling wine also, but wine that is not exported?

Anyway, this wine was quite unusual, and we liked it. As you might imagine, this wine is all about minerals. NV Bossard-Thuaud Vin Mousseaux, $18. The nose was very chalky and airy, a very nice nose. But it didn't gain anything in complexity after the first three minutes open, even on day 2 (again, dead giveaway). The palate is intensely mineral, with bitter preserved lemon and green apple skin hints, and lingering mouth aromas of salty wet rocks.

Okay, not every bottle can be great. That's part of the fun. I hope your Friday night bubbles are a bit more satisfying than these were.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Two Great Values from the Loire Valley

Even though the Euro commands more than one and a half dollars, there are serious and beautiful wines to be had from the Loire Valley for under $20. Cellar-worthy wines too.

Here are two very fine examples :

2005 Château d'Epiré Savennières Cuvée Spéciale, $18. Sort of sad that as a lover of Savennières, I've never tried an Epiré wine until this one. This wine really blew me away. But not in a hedonistic this-is-so-delicious-right-now kind of way. Deeper than that. An amazingly focused nose of woolly minerals, like standing in a wet limestone cave, with hints of lime pith, and green apple. The structure and concentration are apparent even on the nose. Completely transparent palate with tight flavors of wet rocks, citrus oils, quinine. Incredibly persistent, the finish really lingers. This is a thinker of a wine, and I imagine that it has many years ahead of it. I'm putting a few bottles of this down to sleep. If you like Savennières you might consider giving this one a try. And I remind you, it's under $20.

2006 Puzelat Touraine PN, $18, Louis/Dressner Imports. That's right, this is Pinot Noir, and it's delicious, AND it's $18. No, I'm not trying to trick you, I am absolutely serious. The o6 vintage says "PN" on the label, not Pinot Noir, by the way. This has a slightly funky nose of mushrooms and dried leaves, but also of red fruits and violets. A lovely palate of ripe fruit and earth with a bit of rusticity. The tannins have not been polished out of this wine, they are right there and gently providing all the structure you could want. There is a buzz of energy to this wine that makes it great on its own, but even better with food. You could do roast duck, any kind of game, and mushroom soup or risotto would be great too. If you can find this just buy whatever they have, you will not be disappointed. I would enjoy drinking this one over the next year.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bridge Urban Winery & Tasting Room

There is a winery located in Brooklyn. No kidding, there really is. They don't grow the grapes here, which I have to think is a good thing. They don't actually make the wine here either - they do that at a contract wine making facility in Mattituck, Long Island. But Bridge Urban Winery does have barrels and a steel tank and plans to make small lots of wine at their Brooklyn facility beginning in 2008.

Right now Bridge Winery is more of a wine bar, and it's a very good one. Owners Greg Sandor and Paul Wegimont have been in the Long Island wine world for some time now, and they've selected their favorites from the various New York wine regions to feature at the bar. In fact, it's only New York wine at this place. And since they're licensed as a winery, they can both serve wine and sell it retail. So you can pick up a bottle to bring home if you like what you taste.

Is it a stretch to serve only New York State wines at a wine bar? Definitely not. No one would say that these wines are all better than their counterparts from other places in the world. But they are interesting and well selected wines, and they're local. And a few of them are excellent by any standard. The wine geek will enjoy a visit to Bridge, and so will a couple on a date, or a group of friends out for the evening, whether or not they are wine people. It's just a nice place - plain and simple. I would happily take the BrooklynLady there on a date.

You can choose from at least 15 wines by the glass, and the most expensive will run you about $6. That's right - $6 gets you a glass of sparkling wine by The Lenz or Wolffer or Wiemer, amongst the finest examples of New York sparkling wine. Or a glass of 2001 Old Vines Cabernet or Merlot, also by The Lenz. And those are the most expensive glasses. More fun, I think, is to get a flight of wines, three tastes for about $12. Not tiny little tastes either, but generous pours (4 oz, I think). There are many things to order if you feel like grazing while drinking your wine, from cheese plates (local) to charcuterie (imported from Italy) to panini.

I stopped by early on a Thursday afternoon and Greg and Paul were almost done tasting a lineup of Peconic Bay wines with wine maker Greg Gove. I horned in on that action, and I have to tell you - the 2001 Merlot (a blend really, including 25% Cabernet Sauvignon) was just delicious and interesting and completely graceful. Not sure which wines Greg and Paul eventually decided were right for Bridge's tasting room, but I hope that's one of them.

After that I was treated to a tasting of Bridge Vineyards wines. My favorite was the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, $19, with a great nose of slightly pruney cassis and loads of bright red currents. And since we're talking about Long Island, not California - this is 13% alcohol.

I really like this place - it's modern and it's got a great vibe, in a completely romantic setting a block away from the river in the shadows of the Williamsburg Bridge. And I like the owners Greg and Paul. They are passionate about local wine and food, but they're not dogmatic or preachy. They want you to enjoy yourself, and if you're interested, to learn something. If you live in NYC or if you're visiting and you're into wine, go hang out at Bridge for an evening - it's a sure thing, people.

Bridge Urban Winery & Tasting Room
20 Broadway
Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Friday, March 21, 2008

Brooklynguy is a Finalist in the 2008 American Wine Blog Awards !

Tom Wark at Fermentation hosts the 2008 American Wine Blog Awards. I, Brooklynguy am nominated for an award as Best Wine Review Blog!

This is a great honor for me. It is bloggers and readers - you, who selected this blog to be nominated, and that means a lot to me - I sincerely thank you for it.

I think Vegas has the betting line right now at about 9 to 1 on me to win. Why such a long shot? Look who else is nominated - Bigger Than Your Head, 750 ML, and Good Wine Under $20, all great blogs with serious followings. And I've never been one to win a popularity contest. But like Ellen Page and Hal Holbrook did at the Oscars this year, I'm going to put on my best outfit and enjoy my strut down the red carpet, my time mingling with the stars. And who knows, maybe the big shots will split the vote and I'll pull off an upset, like Tilda Swinton did as Best Supporting Actress.

Thanks again for your participation in this blog, and for nominating me. Click here to vote.

Okay...back to wine. Scroll down for this week's Friday Night Bubbles.

Friday Night Bubbles

It's easy to think that a non-vintage Champagne is going to taste just as you remember it. Especially if you spent your formative wine years drinking big-house wines like Perrier-Jouët and Veuve Cliquot. Those wines are built to taste the same year after year. Not the case with grower Champagne. As vintage quality and perhaps wine making practices vary, so does the wine.

I tasted Jean Lallement's Champagne for the first time in January of 2007 and I loved it. So I grabbed two bottles, one of which BrooklynLady and I greatly enjoyed at home sometime that February. I got another bottle a few months later when I saw it at a good price, but this last bottle was part of a more recent shipment - same label, but a new combination of grapes. Lallement sadly does not include the disgorgement date on the back label, and I didn't bother marking which wine was which. So when I opened one of them in May, and when we were disappointed with the wine, I figured it was the bottle from the new shipment.

Hard to know for sure, as it could have been bottle variation among the older wines that speaks for the lesser second bottle, and bottle age on the new shipment that accounts for the great wine on Friday. Why don't they just include the disgorgement dates, for crying out loud? Especially on these grower bottles - they're not going to be so old and stale in these small quantities. Anyway, we opened our last bottle on Friday night and we were really excited about the wine. Definitely the best of the three bottles, and so good that I have to take another shot at the current shipment and see what's what.

NV Jean Lallement Brut Grand Cru, $36 (new price is about $42) Terry Theise/Skurnik Imports. This Champagne is about 80% Pinot Noir, and 20% Chardonnay. The nose is so clean and fresh, with apple skins, sweet ginger cake, flowers, and chalky minerals. And it got better and better, really beautiful after an hour. The texture is silky smooth, very fine, with focused red fruits pushing all the way through to the finish, which is very persistent and leaves nuanced mouth aromas of orange peel, ginger, herbs, and bread. Great acidity and very pleasant underlying minerality. Just beautiful wine. I wish I knew whether or not I should buy this again, or wait for the next release. But I guess that's part of the fun with grower Champagne - things don't stay the same.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jura Tasting

Chambers Street Wines held a Jura tasting in the beginning of March. They poured a sparkling wine, four reds, five whites, and a dessert wine. What a perfect way to explore these unique wines without having to shell out the $18 - 75 it would cost to try the bottles myself.

I've had very little experience drinking these wines at home. My past includes exactly one Jura red (2002 Pierre Overnoy Arbois Pupillin - my notes say that I didn't like it) and a couple of Crémants - love 'em. But clearly you agree with me when I say that I am a newborn baby when it comes to these wines. And it's time for me to grow up.

So I will now reveal myself as an uncool wine person among the wine-geek set: as much as I wanted to like them, I just didn't like the reds, none of them. Not even a little bit. Alright, maybe the 2004 Puffeney Arbois Pinot Noir, $27, was okay, but I just don't see what all the fuss is about.

But the whites, now those were tasty and compelling. I liked them enough to bring two of them home to meet my family, and I will definitely explore them further.

You probably know this already, but there are a few particularly interesting things about Jura whites. For one, some of the most famous wines are made from a grape called Savagnin, found almost nowhere else. And the prevailing style of wine is known as sous -voile, or under the veil. Wine makers allow a layer of yeast to form on the surface of the wine and then do not top up the barrels as the wine evaporates. The aromas and flavors are oxidized, and are quite unusual. Eric Asimov's recent post on the Jura eloquently describes all of this, if you want more context.

Here are the wines we tasted:
NV Tissot Crémant du Jura, $19 - still delish, a former Friday Night Bubbles contestant.

2005 Puffeney Arbois Trousseau, $30.
2004 Tissot Arbois Poulsard, $18.
2004 Puffeney Arbois Pinot Noir, $27.
2005 Ganevat Pinot Noir, $30.

Whites 2004 Montbourgeau L'Etoile Blanc, $21 - tastes like sherry, but better than any sherry I've had. This one came home with us. This is Chardonnay, actually.
2006 Houillon Pupillon Chardonnay, $28 - nice, but didn't move me.
2002 Puffeney Arbois Savagnin, $29 - deeply nutty.
2002 Tissot Arbois Savagnin, $32 - this one moved me - old and oxidized and fresh and young and just delicious. We took a bottle home.
1998 Puffeney Arbois Vin Jaune, $75 - I wish I could tell you that this was mind-blowing, but it wasn't. Maybe that's because conventional wisdom says that Vin Jaune needs 15-20 years in the bottle to strut its stuff. Why couldn't they have opened a 1978 Puffeney Vin Jaune? A joke, people, a joke. If you had that bottle in your cellar, would you honestly open it for a bunch of nincompoops like me who have never even tasted a Vin Jaune? Pearls before swine. The 98 was certainly very good, but it was hard for me to imagine what happens in 20 years.

We drank the 2002 Tissot Arbois Savagnin the other night in classic fashion - with a good Comté cheese. And this time we had plenty of time to linger, to allow the wine to change in the glass, to feel it interacting with food, to enjoy it over the course of a few hours. It was just excellent. Unusual, not something I would want every week, but excellent and memorable. At the same time funky-sherry-nutty-oxidized and old smelling, but also completely fresh, pure, and youthful. Very bright energetic in the mouth. There some caramel type flavors that develop with time in the glass, and they complement the slightly bitter nuts. The acidity is definitely there, it tingles the sides of the tongue.

I'm not sure how to move forward in the Jura, but if it's going to involve Vin Jaune, I'm going to need a benefactor. Anyone want to be my Vin Jaune sugar daddy? And don't yell at me about the reds, I'll try again at some point.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Clear Creek Douglas Fir Eau de Vie

This is Eau de Vie (water of life) made by infusing clear brandy with the springtime buds of the Douglas Fir pine tree. I heard of this for the first time on Eric Asimov's blog last summer. I had tried Clear Creek Eaux de Vie before, but I'd never even heard of Douglas fir.

Stephen McCarthy runs Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, Oregon. He makes labor-intensive brandies and liquors (and one whiskey) in the old-world style. He avoids adding sugar, colors, or flavors. If there is a problem with the crop of raspberries one year, for example, then there is no Raspberry Eau de Vie that year. McCarthy is an artisan and from what I've tasted, his brandies are delicious and worth every penny.

I'd been kind of passively looking for a bottle of Douglas Fir Eau de Vie (photo courtesy of Clear Creek's website) since reading about it in The Pour, but no one seemed to carry it. The other flavors, sure, but Douglas Fir - no dice. I was quite a happy Brooklynguy back in December when I saw a few bottles on the top of the very top shelf behind the register at Slope Cellars in Brooklyn. I've been enjoying it slowly, keeping it hidden in the secret compartment of our wooden bar (visible in the second photo in the link, the area between the two open compartments) so that only those who I deem worthy will get a taste. I keep other good stuff in there too - homemade raspberry and ginger vodkas, an original signed copy of the Declaration of Independence, stuff like that. Anyway...

The Douglas Fir Eau de Vie just so good that it's hard to explain. The color is a gorgeous bright green, much easier to appreciate after reading on the website that no colors are added. The nose is the essence of the forest, but even more concentrated. Fresh pine, very bright and clean smelling. Strong, no doubt - this is 47.73% alcohol, but also smooth and delicate on the palate, with springtime freshness and green pine goodness, and something just a tiny bit soapy in the back. A small portion of this in a wine glass after a heavy meal - I cannot imagine a better digestif.

Sorry for the rather weak descriptions, but I have not other way to describe this to you - this stuff is Pacific coast spring in a bottle, and for only about $50 for 375 ml. And it lasts a long time, provided that you enjoy it every two weeks or so and hide it from your friends. Does your bar have a secret compartment?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Gambero Rosso Tasting

I wasn't going to write about this because I don't have much of anything nice to say. But I've been persuaded to just do it anyway, to tell you what I thought.

First, though, I must remind you that I rarely, if ever, drink Italian wine. So it's not like I can place what I tasted amidst my many other tasting experiences and say something meaningful. And I've never even heard of most of the producers I tasted. That said, I know my palate well enough to be confident when I smell and taste wine, to be able to say whether or not I like it. And in the overwhelming majority of the cases at this tasting, Brooklynguy no like.

Also, the place was a total zoo. It's hard for me to imagine an environment that is less congruous with tasting wine. No room to stand at a table, clatter and racket that never stopped, all the senses distracted.

Here is what I did like:
2001 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva - in my tasting guide the only notes next to the wine say "Holy S%*}!" That's right, I still refuse to cuss on this blog even if I write cusswords in my wine notes. Anyway, this wine was light and delicate looking, but so very powerful. Nose of roses and road tar.

The other Barolos were too astringent to me, impossible to understand. Some one with experience tasting young Barolo and then again with age might have something to say about them, but I do not.

The only other reds that I really liked at the whole tasting were the 2004 Poliziano Nobile de Montepulciano Asinone and the 2003 Terre degli Svevi Aglianico del Vulture Serpara. The Montipulciani had a lovely nose of dark cherries and funky earth and seemed energetic in the mouth too, something thta I didn't find in these wines - to me they were heavy and dull, suffering under their own weight.

The whites were more to my liking, on the whole. I liked the 2006 Dario Raccaro Colio Tocai Friulano Vigna del Rolat. It had serious structure and nice flavors. I preferred the 2006 Eugenio Collavini Collio Bianco Broy and the same producer's 2006Sauvignon Blanc Fumat Doc Collio. I also liked the 2005 Cantina Terlano Sauvignon Quartz, a lively and energetic wine with good acidity and length, and pretty good balance for a wine of 14% alcohol.

The real surprise for me, though, was the sparkling wine. My favorite was the 1999 Cavalleri Franciacorta Collezione Esclusiva Brut, aged for 8 years on the lees. If you can't make rich and satisfying wine after 8 years on the lees, I don't know what to tell you. But this one had a really delicate floral nose that belied the richness. I would be very happy drinking this wine at home, no doubt. I have no idea about the retail price. I enjoyed the Ca' del Bosco sparklers too, but they were not anywhere near as profound. The 2003 Franciacorta Dosage Zero was lovely, and quite dry as you might expect, and the 2002 Franciacorta Saten was also very nice, both of them based on Chardonnay.

Here are some of the wines I tasted that I didn't like, so those of you who actually know something about Italian wine will get a sense of where I'm coming from:

2003 Lorenzo Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. - unrelenting.
2003 Monfalletto Barolo Enrico VI - like eating dry dust.
2003 Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra V. Casa Maté - made me thirsty.
2005 Vistorta Friuli Grave Merlot Vistorta - should have a blank white lable with one word on it in black letters -"Red Wine." Fine, that's two words.
2000 Cav. G. B. Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. - Are all Amarones like this, impossibly heavy and pruny, and impossible to imagine as an accompaniment to food?

You get the idea - this stuff didn't make me want to toss my Chinon and delve into the Italian bottles. I imagine that the wines at this tasting represent a "Parkerized" view of Italian wine. Please feel free to weigh in here - I don't know what I'm talking about.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

A few weeks ago in their comments on a Friday Night Bubbles post about Pinon Vouvray Brut, the distinguished triumvirate Marco, Marcus, and Michael recommended Crémant de Limoux. Limoux is in the Roussillon, inland and northwest of Corbières and Fitou. Laurens and Maison Guinot were the producers mentioned. I was able to find a bottle from Guinot.

They've been making sparkling wine in Limoux using essentially the Methode Champenoise since the mid 16th century, well in advance of the rise of Champagne as superstar. Apparently there are three types of sparkling wine made in Limoux - Blanquette de Limoux, Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale, and Crémant de Limoux. Mauzac is the grape traditionally used to make sparkling wine in Limoux, but Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc have become standard too. Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale is a wine made only using Mauzac and it supposedly resembles very good apple cider. Crémant de Limoux is less than 20 years old, and according to Jancis Robinson' s Oxford Companion, it's an appellation created to connote a more international style of wine. I guess that Blanquette de Limoux is somewhat rustic - I've never tried it.

BrooklynLady and I had a few friends over on Friday night and opened a bottle of N.V. Maison Guinot Crémant de Limoux Brut Tendre, $20, Pacific Estates Importers. There is no information on the label regarding disgorgement date or time on the lees.

I figured that the wine would be better with food - the blend of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc and the Tendre designation (between dry and off-dry) just said
"hors d'oeuvre" to me. We went with pheasant pâté and pumpernickel toast with cream cheese and smoked salmon. I felt kind of like a smarty-pants because chenin blanc is a classic pairing with game bird pâté, chardonnay goes well with smoked salmon, and pumpernickel bread pairs perfectly with my Jewishness.

Everyone dug the wine, it was ripe and tasty with great texture, and it went very well with the food. I liked the complexity of the nose, with apple, slightly honeyed spring water, and hints of yeasty bread with air time. The palate was less complex, and with none of the precision and cut of a Blanc de Blancs from Champagne, but this is not Champagne. It's good in its own way - fleshy and ripe, not as sweet as I was afraid it would be, given the Tendre designation, and eminently drinkable.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Jenny & Francois Portfolio Tasting

In case you're not familiar with Jenny & Francois, they import natural wines from all over France, from heavy hitters like Burgundy to unsung heroes like the Côtes de Duras (just northeast of Bordeaux, and considered Southwest France).

Here are a few things that struck me during the tasting:

  • If I had tasted blind, I would have guessed wrong on the grape varieties in many of these wines. Is that because the natural versions exhibit the true flavors and aromas of carignan, for example? Maybe it's just odd wine making. Maybe a bit of both.
  • I've never considered myself to be a real fan of wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon, or the other hot southern climes. Too dense and hot and clunky for me, like a bull in the china shop that is my mouth (wow - am I that much of a priss?). But I liked these wines at this tasting. They were perfumed and at times, elegant, and very much balanced and expressive.
  • Some of the wines I particularly enjoyed are incredibly cheap (Cahors, Duras white).
  • Some of the wines were seriously funky, smelling literally of animal poop. Of those, some tasted good, others did not. Some of these wines were too natural for their own good.
  • I need to stop assuming that everyone in the wine business knows what they're doing. At least one wine buyer with whom I spoke and tasted with clearly should not have been making decisions about wine for anyone.
Write down the names of a few of these wines and give them a try. If I'm wrong, you never have to listen to me again. Here are some notes (including some I didn't like):

NV Lassaigne Brut Blanc de Blancs - yup, still delicious. Chalky, elegant, and powerful.
NV Cousin-Leduc Brut Saumur - gorgeous nose of honeyed nuts.

2004 Vergé Viré-Clessé Vieille Vignes - barnyard funk is overpowering on the nose. This one might be too natural for me.
2007 Haut la Vigne Côtes de Duras - 50-50 chardonnay and semillon. Crisp, dry, floral, just lovely. And this should cost less than $15. Should be great springtime wine.
2006 Sebastien Riffault Sancerre Akméniné - huh? This can't be sauvignon blanc. More like rousanne or viogner or something like that. And it's too round and just weird. If I wanted Sancerre and got this I would return the bottle.
Binner - I liked everything I tasted - pinot gris, riesling, gewurtztraminer, even the pinot noir. Binner is a winner, baby!

2004 Peyra Côtes d'Auvergnes - somewhere between the south-eastern edge of the Loire and the north-western Rhône is Côtes d'Auvergnes. This is 100% gamay and it looks like fresh pressed grape juice, cloudy and pink. Gorgeous spicy nose, delicious fresh apples. Totally weird and wonderful wine.
2004 Derain Mercurey "la Plante Chassey" - smells like cured meat and sandalwood, kind of chalky too. When I smelled it I immediately thought "this is what Mercurey smells like - I've smelled this before." I would love to taste this in 5 years. But I might not buy a bottle at almost $30 - too much else happening in Burgundy.
2003 Courois Racine VdP de Sologne (Loire) - barnyard poop all the way, and expensive.
2002 Mazel Cuvée Planet VdP de L'Ardeche (Rhône) - light, floral, perfume in the mouth, well balanced and absolutely delicious. And this wine is made from CABERNET SAUVIGNON. What the heck is going on here?!? I've never tasted a cabernet like this one.
2005 Clos Siguier Cahors - I never would have guessed. Light, perfumed, almost delicate in a way. No merlot in this one, maybe some tannat. None of the bulkiness I associate with malbec. Yes, there's dusty dirt, but there are raspberries and flowers and good acidity. And this wine costs $11 or so. This for me is the best value of the tasting, and you should buy it if you see it. Have it with duck or lamb or cheese or on its own.
2005 Haut la Vigne Côtes de Duras - the first time I've ever smelled cat piss on the nose of a red wine. As bad as this producer's white wine was good.
2005 Romaneux-Destezet Souteronne VdP (Rhône) - gamay from 50-100 year old vines. Beautiful musty perfume, just delicious.
2007 Comptoirs de Magdala La Chance Côtes de Provence - made by Antoine Pouponneau who makes wine at Tour du Bon in Bandol. This is gorgeous drink now deliciousness. Flowers, perfume, a deep nose and a gulp-able and balanced mouth. Should be under $20.
2007 Comptoirs de Magdala Escapade Côtes de Provence - even better, but may need a year or so to unfold. 45% mourvedre in this one. Deep and spicy nose, dense, but floral and lovely. I want to buy 3 bottles of this now for next winter, and it should also be about $20 a bottle.
2005 Les Tonnillières Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint Loup - Raspberry syrup, perfume, licorice. Enticing and delicious.
2005 Deux Anes Corbieres L'Enclos - much better than the other two from this estate, although I loved the Fontanilles when I drank it at home. These natural wines show differently on different days, I guess.
2006 Domaine Rimbert Saint Chinian Mas au Schiste - at under $20, another best value of the tasting. Not at all masochistic, as the name might suggest. This is delicious, complex, well balanced, gorgeously perfumed wine. I want some for my house, just to lay out in bowls so the aromas will diffuse.
2005 Clos des Camuzeilles VdP (Languedoc) - 100% carignan from 70 year old vines. Spicy plums, smoky, just delicious. Priorat has nothing on this wine, and unlike good Priorat, this wine will cost about $25 a bottle.

You're a champ if you made it through this. But I meant it to be helpful reference, not fun easy reading. And I'm drinking the Clos Siguier Cahors right now with the last of the lentil stew with pork, and it's sooo good. there's some dark chocolate in there too on the nose. Took over an hour to open up, but very rewarding. And it's $11 at Chambers Street....

Monday, March 10, 2008

Oysters Chez Brooklynguy

Have you ever tried to open an oyster? Not a simple task, my friend. This I learned the other night when my pal Adam came over for dinner and brought a dozen Malpeques in tow.

The problem is, there is no clear lip along the side of the animal's shell, no place to put the blade of a knife. Instead, you use the tip of the knife to pry into the point on the shell where the top meets
the bottom. Once you get the knife tip in there, it no more force is necessary. You rotate your wrist, jiggling the knife from side to side, and the shell opens.

If you can do this cleanly, then I bet you've done it many times already. By cleanly, I mean preserving the oyster's liquor (the flavorful seawater/oyster juice liquid inside of the shell), even after using the knife to separate the oyster from the inside of the shell. I mean without gouging your own hands with either the knife or the shell.

As you might have guessed, Adam and I experienced only measured success in this department. But succeed we did, and by oyster number four I was getting into a rhythm. The half-inch gash on the knuckle of my right index finger is not infected and healing properly, and I can promise you this: as soon as the fish boat comes back to my farmer's market, and as soon as they sell oysters, I will host some sort of mini-festival featuring oysters and various wines. And the fish boat carries Peconic bay oysters, which are half the size of a Malpeque, and hopefully easier to deal with.

So...what did we drink with our oysters? Well, it was a special occasion. Not a birthday or anything like that, but special because it's a pleasure to hang out with a good friend in the kitchen, sipping good wine and cooking together. You already know what type of wine I reached for, I bet.

I wanted a Blanc de Blancs Champagne, something fresh and vibrant enough to work well with the fresh briny-ness of the oysters. And delicate too, nothing overpowering. I decided to try the NV Guy Charlemagne Blanc de Blancs Reserve Brut, $32, imported by Willette Wines. This one came highly recommended - I remember reading that Craig at Wine Camp enjoyed this one, and Charlemagne is on Alice Feiring's list too.

We both really enjoyed this wine, and it paired beautifully with the sweet and briny oysters. It took a lot of air time to really show itself, but when it did it was very lovely. Chalky minerals and a bit of yeasty bread, some citrus too on the nose. The palate was biscuits and minerals, and very sharply cut. Quite powerful, focused, not an obvious fruit-driven wine. I can't say that this is one of my favorite Blanc de Blancs, but it was definitely very good.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

NV Egly-Ouriet Brut "Les Vignes de Vrigny," $46, Michael Skurnik Wines. This wine is unusual in that it is 100% Pinot Meunier, a grape that is more often part of the blend in Champagne and only very rarely appears on its own. I've been meaning to try this wine for a while now.

Egly-Ouriet makes big and full bodied Champagnes, not for the faint of heart. I've tasted and enjoyed their Brut Tradition wine before, a blend of about 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay. Actually, in one of the very first posts on this blog I wrote about an experience with that wine.

I waited long enough before buying a bottle of "Vignes de Vrigny" that the price jumped. It now costs about $56, which puts it into splurge territory for me. So when I saw a few bottles at Prospect Wine Shop for $46, it felt like a deal and I grabbed one. Glad I did, too.

The wine in this bottle spent 3 years on the lees and was disgorged in July of 2006, according the very helpful back label. The nose is just gorgeous, dripping with red fruit, and loads of sweet creamy pastry dough. I get mouth aromas of ginger and celery upon swallowing. With air time I found clean pear aromas too. The palate is sweet and ripe with honeyed red fruit and loads of chalk, especially on the finish. The palate might not be all that broad, but it is very precise for such a rich and indulgent wine. Excellent, and a definite re-buy, especially if I can make it back to Prospect Wines and grab a bottle at their price.

Does that surprise you, $46 as a good value for this bottle? Well, it probably shouldn't. What would you expect to pay for a good bottle of Blanc de Noirs these days?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Tasting Other Blogger's Recommendations

Bloggers and blog readers recommend wines constantly and it's impossible to try all of them. But this is how I learn about new wines I want to try - your recommendations. Here are the very positive results of tasting four wines on blogger and reader recommendations over the past month or so. And now, I can recommend them to you:

The first of two were recommended back in November as part of Wine Blogging Wednesday's Silver Burgundy theme. David McDuff's discussion of André Bonhomme was very compelling. I'm always interested in finding excellent Burgundy at good prices so when I saw this at Moore Brothers in Manhattan, trying it one was a no-brainer. After all, $25 buys less than half a bottle of most 2005 village wines from Puligny or Meursault.

2005 André Bonhomme Viré-Clessé, $25, Fleet Street Imports. First thing I noticed was the unusual color - this wine had a distinct peach hue, very faint, but definitely there amidst the golden yellow. What that means, I have no idea, but seems like a good thing to me. Flowers, roast nuts, lots of minerals on the nose. Very pure and fresh. The palate is well balanced with great acidity. Apricots and citrus flavors in the mouth with lingering mineral and fleshy fruit after swallowing. There is also a hint of butterscotch in there, which makes sense in that the wine saw 25% new oak barrels. I was stunned to see 14% alcohol on the label, as I didn't sense any alcohol all. This wine improved on day 2, the flavors were richer and worked better together, the wine mouth coating and intense. This wine has great potential energy, like a coiled spring, and I bet it will age quite well. Don't feel like plunking down $80 for a bottle of 2005 Puligny-Montrachet? This could very well be your best bet.

Lyle Fass of Rockss and Fruit dipped his toe in the WBW pool for the first time that November, and highly recommended another reasonably priced wine from the Mâconnais. This bottle cost me all of $21 at Chambers Street, another no-brainer. That's about the same price as two tickets to a movie in Manhattan, and the wine is far more entertaining.

2005 Éric Texier Mâcon-Bussières Très Vieilles Vignes, $21, Louis/Dressner Selections. Rich and deep yellow color, and the aromas are jumping out of the glass. I got nuts, lemon oil, and minerals on the nose. What most impressed me about this wine is how pure and well defined the flavors are. The palate is vibrant and alive with great purity and length. Lots of fresh fruit layered on a mineral bed, and flowers and eucalyptus honey after swallowing. Lots of movement in the glass too, as one sip brought flowers, the next wet rocks, and the next ripe fruit. Another winner and another great value from the humble Mâconnais.

Alice Feiring listed some of her favorite Champagnes at the very end of 2007. I'm on a mission to try them all. So far I've located three of them and tasted two of them. First, I tasted a NV Raymond Boulard Brut Nature (non-dosage), and I wasn't crazy about it until there was merely one glass left, and then the wine blossomed into something beautiful. I sometimes forget that Champagne needs airtime too. On this, my second foray into Alice's list, I took better notes. And I loved the wine enough to buy both a second bottle AND a bottle of the 2000 vintage wine for the cellar.

N.V. Jacques Lassaigne Champagne Les Vignes de Montgueux Blanc de Blancs Montgueux, $38, Jenny & Francois Selections. This wine was so vibrant and fresh, sparkling with life. I got biscuits and citrus on the nose, all surrounded by pleasantly chalky minerals. And the palate combined elegance and grace with real power, something that continues to thrill me about good Blanc de Blancs. This one stays with you long after swallowing. We loved it as an aperitif but I can imagine it pairing beautifully with sushi or any kind of seafood, but when we were drinking it I wanted to be sitting in a meadow somewhere eating cold roast chicken and all kinds of picnic salads.

Last but not least, my pal Adam knows that I am hot and heavy with Champagne right now and he brought over a bottle for me to try. It is quite inexpensive as Champagne goes, and we were very impressed with it.

N.V. Moutard Champagne Brut Grande Cuvée, about $30, not sure who imports it. Fresh and clean nose of red fruit and pastry dough that follow through onto the palate. Crisp and precise flavors and very satisfying. Delicious as an aperitif but I could picture enjoying this with simple lean meats, like a roast beef sandwich. Call me crazy, I was thinking steak too, one of those cuts like skirt, or hangar, or flank. Yup, I think that Pinot-heavy Champs can go well with meat. So sue me.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Three Loire 05's for the Cellar

I've been checking in on my 2005 Loire wines lately, just to see how things are going. Loire-lovers have been touting 2005 as a great vintage, as good as 05 in Burgundy or Bordeaux. If my recent tastes mean anything, this is not hype - the wines are just excellent.

Here are three wines that I can recommend very highly, although two of them are pretty much impenetrable right now. Each of them should be quite easy to find, none of them will cost you more than about $30, and they each represent one of the very best of their kind. And if you're into cellaring wine, these will improve for at least a decade, probably longer.

2005 Foreau Vouvray Sec Clos Naudin, $29, Rosenthal Wine Merchant. This is beautiful wine, I've had it a couple of times now. But I think it's in a closed phase now and might be there for a while. Even so, the quality is so obvious. Tight and unyielding on day 1, all about wool on the nose. On day 2 there's more wool, but also some citrus and some flinty hints, still feels like I'm smelling only the outer layer of the wine. On day 3 the palate shows clean wet stones, citrus, lanolin, and some green fruit. This wine is like a prizefighter in training - no sweet or fatty foods, lots of sleep, and definitely no sex, but this is just training. It will whoop your ass when the time comes. I salivate at the thought of drinking this starting in maybe, 7 years.

2005 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos Habert, $27 (but costs about $30 now), Louis/Dressner Selections. With Les Bournais, this is my favorite of Chidaine's Montlouis-sur-Loire wines in 2005. It's just fantastic wine. I'm guessing that people will eventually look to this as a benchmark for 2005 Loire Valley Chenin Blanc. Not a sec, and not demi-sec either, this is what they call vin tendre. The nose is so pure and fresh, the wine absolutely transparent. A gorgeous and classy nose, no flash - almonds, minerals, wax, wool, and super clean fruit. The palate is balanced and persistent, with a great streak of acidity. Young quince, citrus, and melon fruits are the main thing on day 1, but on day 2 the palate includes almost salty minerals and woolly earth. Everything is so seamless that the sugar doesn't in any way stand out, the wine comes across to me, especially on day 2, as being in perfect balance. I'm not as good as some of you at seeing into the future of a wine, so if I were to buy only one of the three discussed here, it would be this one. It's showing best today.

2005 Yannick Amirault Bourgueil Les Quartiers, $25, David Bowler Wine. Here is a concentrated and intense Loire Cab Franc that will reward time in the cellar. It's drinkable now, but there is so much going on under the surface. Inky purple with a guarded nose of lead pencil. Aeration beings about some dark flowers and peppery fruit. The palate is super concentrated with layers of dark fruit, some funky earth, and a clean mineral core. And this is clearly just the tip of the iceberg. There is great energy to this wine, it is concentrated but nowhere near ponderous - there is very good acidity and it feels quite alive. BrooklynLady thought this was pretty much shut tight, but I loved it. Very serious wine, and I'm eager to see what happens to this one with time. I'm also eager to try Amirault's other wines, as this was my first taste.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

NV François Pinon Vouvray Brut, $21, Louis/Dressner Selections. I remember when this bottle cost about $16 about a year or two ago. It's still a good value - they've all gone up in price, not just this one. But still, I have this silly block about paying more than $20 for sparkling wine that is not Champagne...

Like all Vouvray, this wine is made using Chenin Blanc grapes. Unlike some of the other Loire Valley sparkling wine I've tasted recently, this one is actually quite elegant and very dry. For example, the Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Brut we had recently was distractingly tropical and full of bells and whistles on the nose, and was not to our liking.

I'm not trying to disrespect Loire Valley sparkling wines. I've enjoyed many of them - Foreau's Vouvray Brut, Huet's Brut, and Chidaine's Montlouis Brut in earlier bottlings. The more I drink sparkling wine, though, the more I learn about my palate, and these days I find that
I'm preferential to sparklers from the Jura if I'm not drinking Champagne. Probably because I don't find Chenin Blanc to be as satisfying as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir when acting as the base for a sparkling wine. But then again, maybe I would enjoy them more if I stopped comparing everything that sparkles to Champagne...

This sparkler from Pinon was a lovely surprise. Nothing fancy, just clean and fresh sparkling wine. An elegant nose of citrus with fleeting hints of flowers, although several hours later the floral component was more established. The palate was lean and almost completely dry, with clean and pure citrus flavors with bits of mineral and bread poking their heads in the door every now and then. The last glass featured some quince/apple flavors that are familiar to me from the still wines of Vouvray. A lovely aperitif, and a nice accompaniment to a simple earthy appetizer like red lentil soup with lemon and mint, for example.