Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My First 2006 Red Burgundies.

They're calling 2006 a "classic" vintage in Burgundy, which means that it was a normal year. In a normal year good wine makers make good wine. If their better plots are not hit with hail, rot, late rains, extended dry spells, or other challenges that growers typically face, they might make great wine. In other words, a classic years brings normal successes and difficulties, which then brings some great wines, some bad wines, and everything in between. For example, although Michel Lafarge's Volnay 1er Cru Caillerets might be wonderful, his Volnay 1er Cru Château des Ducs might be a bit of a mess. I discovered this in 2001 when hail ravaged that vineyard - something I didn't bother to read about until after buying the wine.

If you're a fan but like me, don't have the cash or the time to do the research yourself, luckily there are a few others who do it for us. Most notably Allen Meadows in Burghound , the wonderfully detailed and completely down to earth publication that describes everything you need to help make buying decisions. There are also loads of tasting notes and scores, but it's up to you to determine whether or not his 93 point score translates to your personal 93, whatever that may be. But that's part of the fun.

Meadows in Burghound Issue #29 says, among other things, about the 2006's: "At their best, the ‘06s are indeed classic Burgundies that are exceptionally aromatic and elegant with the best transparency to the underlying terroir since the 2001's." He goes on to say that "At their worst, the ‘06s are under ripe, over extracted and dry as wine makers tried to compensate for the lack of mid-palate density by amping up the tannin component, which hides, for a period anyway, the absence of concentration but at the cost of ultimately unbalancing the wine."

"Classic," or normal vintages in Burgundy can often present good value (although prices haven't really dropped much from the astronomical 2005's), but can require lots of splashing around in order to identify the wines you like enough to buy multiple bottles. I don't get to do that kind of extensive tasting, but I got a good start at the Polaner tasting a few weeks ago.

Domaine Lignier-Michelot, Morey-St Denis - I am a huge fan of the '05s from this estate. On the whole, I found most of the village level 06's to be pretty much closed, and except for the highest level wines, the tannins were drying to a point that felt under-ripe. But I am not experienced enough to understand these wines in the context of their long life - maybe they'll be wonderful down the road. I liked the perfumed and clean 2006 Morey-St Denis en la Rue de Vergy. And I really liked the 2006 Morey-St Denis 1er Cru Faconnières, which was more dense in aroma and flavor, but still elegant and pretty. An excellent wine to be sure.

But it was the 2006 Grand Cru Clos de la Roche that made me cry tears of joy. Honestly, I was almost crying. Tasting 6 wines, from village level to Grand Cru, its impossible to miss the pedigree, the incredible bone structure, the depth of character of a Grand Cru. This one felt more like a solid in my mouth than a liquid, if you know what I mean. It had that much texture, between the fine grained but firm tannins and the clean ripe fruit. This is what luxury wine should feel like in the mouth, to me. Oh, and it tasted great too, with well defined red berry and earth flavors, and maybe black tea. There plenty going on in this wine, and I'm sure it has much to reveal with time. I doubt I will buy any, as I'm sure it will cost $150 or more per bottle, but it was a great experience to taste it.

Catherine & Claude Maréchal, Bligny-les-Beaune - These naturally made wines are popular here and in France right now, as they offer high quality and good value. I've enjoyed Maréchal's wines since 2002, always finding a particular wine that I like enough to buy a few bottles. On the whole, I was not loving the 2006 lineup. They were tough in general, with somewhat green and astringent tannins. Again, I don't have the expertise to say what will happen with these wines, but based on my initial tasting, the only wine that I really liked was the Pommard La Chânière, a wine I also loved in 2005.

Anyone out there care to share their experiences thus far with 2006 Burgundy? We'd all appreciate the group think, to be sure.

Monday, April 28, 2008

What Would You Pour?

The other night Alice Feiring stopped by for a glass of wine. That's right, Alice Feiring! She was en route to an Olde English Ball (another story entirely), and she stepped out on the deck with BrooklynLady and me for a glass.

What do you pour for Alice Feiring?

It wasn't until after I suggested that she stop by that I realized this decision might destroy my already feeble mind. Should I pull out the best bottle of Champagne and call it a day? Maybe something not as obvious, like this Crémant du Jura that I really like. Or maybe instead open one of my daily drinking wines, like the beautiful Domaine de Cassagnoles Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. That would show her how cool I am - she comes over and I shrub my shoulders and open a $10 VdP...but it's delicious!

I waffled back and forth on this as if I were Hillary Clinton: this is what I'll do, no THAT is what I'll do, on second thought THIS is what I'll do. In the end I decided that the VdP type of pour is better for a return visit. I tried to think of something naturally made that Alice wouldn't often drink, something special and uncommon. And something that would make a good prelude for dancing. Maybe something a little sweet, in the hopes that there might be a gentleman of that same character awaiting Alice at said Olde English Ball.

I went with the 2002 Domaine des Baumaurd Coteaux du Layon Clos du Sainte Catherine, $28 on release, imported by Ex Cellars Wine Agency. Baumard is a top tier producer of dry wines from Savennières, and off-dry and sweet wines from Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume. I figured that Alice would certainly have had many a Baumard wine before, but even so, the off-dry but elegant and complex Coteaux du Layon wines are somewhat less common. And the 2002, a great year in this part of the Loire Valley, should still have plenty of ripe fruit to go along with complexity and some sweetness.

Was I really shaking as I poured the wine? I think so. But very soon the nerves went away, as it was a gorgeous evening and within 5 minutes Alice was giving BrooklynLady and me dancing lessons.

Of course I'm being a bit facetious, as hanging out with Alice was the fun part and what wine we drank was secondary, although I did spend too much time worrying about what to pour. Just to prevent this from happening again, I decided to prepare a list of what to pour in case certain people visit my home. Now, I will share some of it with you:

Barack Obama - Françoise Bedel Champagne "Entre Ciel et Terre." Naturally made, straight from the earth and expresses that very clearly, strong and floral, stands the test of time.

GW Bush - 2000 Yellow Tail Merlot. A lovely remembrance of the year he became President.

Struggling but very talented Yankees' rookie pitcher Phil Hughes - 2005 Blandine Chauchat Pic St Loup les Tonillières. Trust your stuff, you can be powerful and be elegant and honest at the same time.

Penelope Cruz - 1996 Fleury Rosé of Champagne. Enough said.

Julie Christie - 1996 Fleury Rosé of Champagne. Enough said.

Woody Allen
- 2002 Carillon Puligny Montrachet. Reds are too acidic for him.

Thom Yorke - 1986 Terrebrune Bandol Rouge. He would get it - it would make him cry.

Alice Feiring
- Not sure yet. I need to ask her how she liked the 02 Baumard CdL first.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

Last time I was in Paris I really enjoyed the way the cafés serve sugar cubes with your espresso. It's little things like this, for me, that help to define a place. Anyway, I noticed that each café seemed to have its own brand of sugar cubes, and as a somewhat obsessive and strange person, I decided that these would make a nice souvenir. I started walking out of cafes with sugar cubes in my pockets, figuring that I'd enjoy using them someday. Preview of me at 74 years old.

But recently they did come in handy. Hello, Champagne Cocktails!

The classic Champagne Cocktail is a classic for a reason - it's festive and delicious. You can make 12 of them just as quickly and easily as you can make 2 of them - they're that easy to make. And the best part is, it's not necessary to use real Champagne for this cocktail. You can use whatever inexpensive sparkling wine you have. Better to use something decent, of course, because bad wine makes a bad cocktail (as you'll see soon).

Here is the recipe: put a few drops of bitters (Angostura is fine, but something like Regan's Orange Bitters is even better) on a sugar cube and let it soak in. Place the sugar cube at the bottom of a Champagne flute and slowly fill with sparkling wine. The sweet, spicy, herbal, bitter mixes well with clean sparkling wine and it's a very nice drink. Casual on the deck but you can definitely put on a black tie for this one.

I used something called Trocadero this time, rather gross, sadly. It's a sparkling wine from the Savoie region and I got for about $9. At 11.5% alcohol I figured it wouldn't get us all whacked out, anyway. But it was too sweet and and way too toasty. I should have known, as the back label boasts "Jean-Paul Trocadero moved his family from Paris to the region known as Savoie after the Napoleonic wars. Upon arriving he discovered the favorite local beverage to be a special blend of grapes forming a truly unique and magnificent sparkling wine. He enhanced the flavors making the wine fruitier with a fuller bouquet, and created Trocadero!"

I still cannot believe that after reading the back label, I actually bought this wine. I mean, how did Jean-Paul enhance the flavors? By dumping in lots of sugar? What if I told you that the Champagne cocktails were still pretty good? They were. Next time we'll use Prosecco. Give this a try though, guests love it, it's fun and easy, and it made me feel more sophisticated than I actually am.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Diamond in the Rough

There's this wine store in my neighborhood whose selection is pretty boring, on the whole. But I go in there because amidst the uninteresting wines, it's possible to stumble on a total anomaly, something brilliant and unexpected. Like the 4 bottles of 2004 Puzelat Touraine Pineau D'Aunis I found the other day. Sitting there sandwiched between the J Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon and the Jacob's Creek Shiraz. Well, not exactly, but you get my point.

I was cautious, actually. Why would they have this wine? The 2006 is on retail shelves now. Was the '04 stored properly? And even if it was, does Pineau D'Aunis improve or decline with three plus years in the bottle?

Turns out Pineau D'Aunis can be delicious if it has a couple of years in the bottle to think things over and if Thierry Puzelat, natural wine maker extraordinaire made it.

2004 Thierry Puzelat Touraine La Tesnière Pineau D'Aunis, $18, Louis/Dressner Selections. Gorgeous rose petal color. Clean and fresh strawberry and cracked black pepper aromas, with a hint of caramel running underneath. The wine is lively in the mouth, with strawberry juice, something herbal, and black pepper, all floating in a pool in of pure spring water. Everything is integrated nicely at this point - it might be the perfect time to drink this wine. Well balanced with good acidity and 12.5% alcohol. What a gem!

Sorry, I went back and grabbed the last three bottles. But you can find the 2006 and maybe lay down a bottle or two.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Few Mature Wines

I only began cellaring wine a few years ago, so if I drink a mature wine at home it means that I bought a wine that some one else cellared for me. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to taste a mature wine at a tasting, which can be a special experience also, especially if the wine is very expensive or difficult to find at stores. Here are a few recent experiences with mature wine:

2001 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Quarter Mile Lane Vineyard, $40. BrooklynLady and I loved this wine when we visited Adelsheim Winery. We toured the estate, wandered through the sleeping oak barrels, smelled the fermenting grapes in the big steel tanks. We brought home two bottles of this, their top wine (in my opinion). BrooklynLady had a birthday recently and we opened this to compliment our marjoram-crusted rack of lamb. When you see 2001 you might not think of this as mature wine, but '01 was a "classic" vintage in Oregon, a normal year in which some great wines were made, some bad ones, and everything in between. Because in most micro climates the weather never really got hot enough for long enough, the wines do not typically have the stuffing that requires long term cellaring in order to tame. Not that they're sub-par, they are not. But they are different from the same wine in 2002, for example, in that they might mature more quickly. Just like in Burgundy - they say you should drink your 2001's and 2004's while waiting for your 2002s to mature. I might compare 2001 in Oregon to 2001 in Burgundy. Many of the reds from both places are mature and drinking beautifully right now.

This wine from the Quarter Mile Lane Vineyard was excellent. Some rusty orange color was showing near the rim. The nose was mostly secondary with earthy damp wood and leaves, cinnamon, and a hint of red cherry to remind you of youthful days gone by. Lovely flavors including stewed cherries, lively spices, and something like the smell of moist potting soil. A lingering juicy finish with fleeting floral mouth aromas - this was complex and delicious wine, and it made me resolve to hold onto some of my newer Oregon Pinots, as they clearly become quite graceful with a few years of age.

2000 Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny La Marginale, $12 (secondary market). Deetrane bought some of this a few years ago in an internet auction and I graciously took a few bottles off his hands. This is wine maker Thierry Germain's top wine in the sense that it takes a longer fermentation and ages in oak. I always enjoy his entry level Saumur-Champigny, by the way, a good value, and much easier drinking. This wine was a monster, incredibly taut muscles, everything still flexed. The nose was secondary, with lots of tobacco and a bit of funk at first too. The palate is still fairly ripe, with mushy black plums and lots of tobacco again, some leather too. This was nice wine, but lacking in dimension. It certainly went well with steak, but it was not memorable, didn't inspire me to buy the 2005 version ($35) and lay it down.

1987 Domaine Terrebrune Bandol Rouge - IPO Trade Tasting. Now THIS, this is mature wine. Heartbreakingly beautiful, this wine. And this is just from a few swirls and sniffs at a trade tasting. This wine was perfectly translucent deep purple still. Wine maker Reynald Delille said that 1987 was "nothing special" as a vintage, which makes this all the more exciting. He smiled when he saw my face after sticking my nose in the glass - the nose is so beautiful! It's not only the tobacco, the resin, the soil that is so beautiful on the nose, but the clarity of those smells, the harmony they create together. And the palate - these aromas followed through in a simple and elegant way, still absolutely transparent and clear, still working well together, absolutely harmonious. I was completely taken by this wine, and the IPO guide says it will arrive in September and should cost just over $100 a bottle retail. This honestly is a very good deal, in that a bottle of perfectly mature wine from a top producer from other wine regions usually costs much more. You can read more about Terrebrune in Bert's excellent profile. Not sure yet if I will buy a bottle of the 1987 (assuming a retail outlet in NYC buys it first) or instead buy a few of the 2004's at about $30, and lay them down myself.

1947 Domaine du Viking Vouvray - IPO Trade Tasting. After tasting through and thoroughly enjoying Lionel Gauthier's off-dry and sweet wines from the 2002 and 2005 vintages, the woman whose name I have forgotten but who also makes and lives these wines asked me in her beautifully accented English "Would you like to taste something a bit older?" Yes, yes I would. She pulled a bottle from under the table, a bottle of chestnut honey colored wine. The label said 1947 but there was no other identifying information regarding the designation. She said it was most probably sec-tendre (the name "Viking" is new, only since the late '80s). Whatever it was, it was stunning. Still very fresh and alive, even though there were some sherry notes mixed in with the petrol, tar, caramel, and honey. This was an amazing experience, and clearly speaks to the value of a well regulated cellar. Inspiring.

I wonder...does my wine fridge have the right humidity to perform this kind of alchemy on a bottle of the newly released 2005 Sec Tendre? Is it better to simply purchase an old bottle like this, as opposed to risking the time, space, and money attempting this at home?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

NV Cedric Bouchard Blanc de Noir Inflorescence, about $55, Polaner Selections. This great bottle of wine was a present for my birthday in November from the BrooklynLady. Not sure why we waited so long to open it, not sure why we opened it on Friday. I'm so glad we did - we both loved it. I don't think that a celebration is necessarily required in order to open a bottle of top quality Champagne. It becomes the celebration, sharing it with someone you love.

Bouchard is an infant of a Champagne house, created in 2000
and located in the Côte des Bar, the southern part of Champagne where the climate resembles that of Burgundy, and where Pinot Noir is the most common grape. Bouchard farms organically, uses only natural yeasts, carefully controls yields by debudding, and adds little sugar in the dosage. He does not mix vintages in his wines, although they are called non-vintage wines presumably because they don not age for the required 3 years before release. He is focused on making the highest quality wine possible and in creating a clear expression of terroir.

makes two wines that I've seen in New York. Roses de Jeanne is a Blanc de Noirs made entirely from Pinot Noir grapes from a vineyard called Les Ursules (something to do with bears?). This wine is made in tiny quantities - only 300 cases in last year's release. I know Chambers Street got some of it, but it's now long gone. Inflorescence is also made in small quantities, about 740 cases in this release. It's also a Blanc de Noirs made from 100% Pinot Noir, in this case from a vineyard called Val Vilaine. Although Chambers Street is sold out, there are a few bottles still at Astor Wines. If you're a fan of Blanc de Noirs, this is a versy special bottle, and by the time the end of the year holidays roll around it might be even better. Not that you'd need to wait until then. Any day can be a celebration...

The nose on this wine is so deep and rich with brioche, red fruits, and orange blossoms that it's almost intoxicating just to smell. The nose gained complexity over the evening too, filling out. Spreads out and coats the palate with a silky soft but very powerful feeling, with drippy red fruit, acacia honey, and a slightly spicy undertone. This is a wine you can really feel in your mouth, it stimulates the inside of the cheeks, the back of the throat, everything buzzes. After swallowing the sweet red fruit aromas linger for quite a while. This was a very special treat, and one that I hope to drink again.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

More Dressner / Polaner Highlights - Reds

More notes from the great Polaner Spring Tasting, this time red wines from the Dressner producers.

Domaine Filliatreau, Saumur-Champigny
- the 2005 Saumur-Champigny Grande-Vignolle was one of my favorite Loire Valley everyday reds, when it was around. I think there may be a few more bottles at Garnet in Manhattan, but I'm not sure. The 2006 isn't showing as well now, but then again, 06 was a much tougher year for growers. And it probably needs a bit more time in the bottle. The 2007 Saumur Chateau Foquet (separate estate, same wine maker) was quite nice, a wine made from certified organic vines just outside of the Saumur-Champigny appellation (thus the Saumur appellation) and it should be very reasonably priced. But the superstar in the portfolio on this day was the 2005 Saumur-Champigny Vieille Vignes. This wine was deep and complex on the nose with brilliant ripe fruit, and all sorts of earthy minerality lurking beneath the surface. This, to me, is a wine to go deep on, the first bottle to be enjoyed this year, and then spread them out over the next 8-10 years. And at what should be about $30 a bottle, it's a very fair price to pay for wine of this caliber.

Domaine Bernard Baudry, Chinon - if I could swap lives with another person for a year, it would be with Matthieu Baudry, son of Bernard. He is about my age with two kids and lives in a cute house in Chinon, and he makes wine at a celebrated estate in the gorgeous area of Cravant Les Coteaux near Chinon. Matthieu poured three wines, beginning with the 2006 Chinon les Granges, from 15 year old vines on gravel soils. This is the estate's easy drinking wine, always fruity and approachable when young. This version was very tasty. The bad dollar makes it no longer seem like such a bargain, but what can you do? Baudry's top wines, Les Grezeaux, Clos Guillot, and La Croix Boisée typically require a lot of time to unwind and display their pleasures, but 2006 seems to be different. The 2006 Clos Guillot was working right now, with plenty of dark fruit and earth. The 2006 La Croix Boisée was shockingly delicious too, completely drinkable right now and a wonderful wine. I've never found this cuvée so approachable at this young of an age. Matthieu agreed that it will not need as much time as in previous years, and offered the heavy rains before the harvest as a possible explanation. As always, Baudry's wines are worth exploring.

Domaine Catherine & Pierre Breton, Bourgueil - I will admit it, I've not spent so much time with these wines in the past couple of years, after feeling very ho-hum about wines like Trinch!, Les Galichets, and Beaumont in 02 and 03. I like the higher end wines, particularly the Chinon les Picasses, but I gravitate towards producers whose entire lineup excites me. I was quite pleased to find that although they didn't blow me away, I liked the entry level wines again. Particularly the Bourgueil 2007 Trinch!, with its lovely berry nose and raspy tannins. I cannot say, though, that Breton's wines excite me at the $20 and under price point the way other wines do, like Baudry or Hureau or Filliatreau, for example. The higher end wines though, these are very exciting. The 2005 Bourgueil Clos Sénéchal was captivating, with its translucent purple color and powerful deep dark nose. Although clearly this will improve with age, I would gladly drink it tonight with dinner. The 2004 Chinon les Picasses and the 2005 Bourgueil les Perrières were both dense wines, full of fruit and earth. The potential was evident, but they are both wines that I couldn't really experience at this tasting - they require more focus and time.

And now, onto some of the superstars of Beaujolais. I did a dumb thing - it was stupid of me to taste through the darker wines of Pierre Breton right before tasting all of the Beaujolais. How are you supposed to organize yourself at a tasting of this size, anyway?!? I need to spend more time with the program before tasting anything next time.

Jean-Paul Brun's wines were very good, as usual. Although some people loved his '05s for their complexity and ageability, I actually prefer his '06s on the whole. What I love about Beaujolais is its absolute drinkability - charming fresh fruit, nice acidity, a softness and lightness to the texture, with real interest in the flavor and aroma. The perfect food wine, when done well. Brun of Terres Dorées usually does this for me, although I'm not sure yet what I think about the '07s. I loved the 2007 Côte de Brouilly with its deeply pitched flavors and humming energy. But nothing else wowed me, although the 2007 Fleurie showed well too. Maybe 6 months in the bottle will do these wines some good. I didn't love the 2006 Beaujolais l'Ancien Vielle Vignes 6 months ago either, but when I drank it with dinner the other night we both LOVED it. I was also surprised to find a Pinot in this lineup, the 2006 Pinot Noir, and it was good!

Georges Descombes poured four of his wines, and all were quite good. The 2006 Régnié was just as I remembered, very lively and elegant fruit, and crackling with energy and acidity. The standout for me was the 2006 Brouilly Vieille Vignes, which had beautiful floral mouth aromas. Very long and intense. I still have trouble wrapping my head around $30 bottles of Beaujolais, but this is America, where the dollar is worthless and we eat $7 fast food meal combos with super-sized sodas.

Michel Tête's wines were both very good. The 2006 Juliénas had such a pretty nose, and the 2005 Juliénas Cuvée Préstige is just an excellent and beautiful wine, and you're crazy not to buy it if you see it. It was great last summer upon release, it was great at this tasting, and I bet it will be great for quite a long time. Domaine Desvignes Morgons were both exciting, buzzing with fruit and energy in a dark and brooding way. Although tasty, I would prefer to allow them to develop a bit in the bottle than to drink them now, particularly the 2006 Morgon Javernières, which Louis-Benoit Desvignes says is the wine to age. He says that the Côte du Py is usually better young, and I could see that in the 2006 Morgon Côte du Py, but it seemed like it could use 6 months too.

Wow - such a long post, again. I'll have to tell you about the red Burgundies next week.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Polaner Spring Portfolio Tasting, 2008

I went to the Polaner Spring Portfolio Tasting today at Gotham Hall in Manhattan. My plan was to taste through the Dressner producers, as I cannot make it to the big Real Wine Attack tasting at Chambers Street this year - that they scheduled it on Passover is a clear affront to wine-loving Jews all over the world.

In three and a half hours I made it through most of Dressner and some other interesting wines too. But of course I missed some great stuff. Too many great people to meet with and interesting wines to linger over, growers/wine makers to talk with.

Here are some highlights:

Domaine François Pinon, Vouvray - loved the entire lineup. I definitely have not spent enough time at home with dinner and M. Pinon's wines. The Vouvray Brut was tasty as usual, but my goodness, the 2004 Vouvray Brut (only in magnum for some reason) was just fantastic. Should retail for about $60 and well worth it. I may have to grab one for Thanksgiving this year. It's richer, more profound than its non-vintage cousin, and just felt beautiful in the mouth. I also really liked the 2007 Vouvray Tradition, a forward and balanced wine that smacks of flowers and ripe fruit. And the new wine, the 2007 Vouvray Silex Noir (from vineyards with black silex streaks under the soil) was very nice too - more mineral than the Tradition. Even the 2006 Vouvray Tradition, with its oddly funky nose, was quite nice to taste. Most impressive (said in Darth Vader voice), François Pinon, most impressive.

Thierry Puzelat / Clos du Tue-Boeuf, Cheverny - a bit of a thrill to hang out with Thierry Puzelat, even if only for 10 minutes. It was so easy to picture him in a black leather jacket holding court at some hip Paris wine bar, groups of attractive young women whispering about him to each other. Heck, I'm a deeply committed heterosexual, and I found the guy kind of attractive. Did I just say that? On to the wines...The whites were a revelation, honestly. My first time tasting a wine of 100% Menu Pineau, one of those old Loire grapes that has mostly faded from memory. Not with M. Puzelat. His 2006 Touraine Blanc Brin de Chèvre Menu Pineau smelled of citrus oils, smoke, and shoe polish, and tasted great! Clean and pure, a set of flavors that I cannot describe, but totally different from what I'm used to, and wholly delicious. If you're into Loire whites, this is one to try. Puzelat recommended smoked fish as an accompaniment, or sashimi, both of which sound perfect. The 06 Cheverny Frileuse VDT (Vin de Table, what happens when the French wine authorities say the wine is not typical of Cheverny, and therefore cannot be called Cheverny) is a blend of equal parts Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sauvignon Rosé (I've never heard of that grape either). Just gorgeous - such clean and pure fruit, so well balanced, such great aromas left in the mouth. And the 06 Touraine Blanc Buisson Pouilleux Sauvignon Vielle Vignes smelled like the Menu Pineau, but tasted like Sauvignon Blanc, in a way. Puzelat explained that when you work naturally and add nothing to the grapes, the soil actually can be more important in the final flavors than the variety of grape. This wine is living proof. I liked all of the reds too, but I won't write about them here, except to say that the 2006 Touraine Gamay "Pouille" is aged in neutral barrels for a year before bottling and it achieves a complexity and lusciousness that you'd expect from the finest Cru Beaujolais. Very impressive indeed M. Puzelat!

Domaine de Roally, Mâconnais - This is Gauthier Thévenet, son of groundbreaking Jean Thévenet of Domaine de la Bongran in Viré Clessé. I continue to find that I love any wine that any member of the Thévenet clan has anything to do with. The 2005 Domaine de Roally Viré Clessé has an intoxicating nose that screams "pure Chardonnay!" The grapes fermented very slowly for a year in the cold cellar. The nose shifts back and forth between white flowers, ripe yellow fruit, and stony minerals. And it's just delicious, too. I assumed that because of the firm structure, the wine should be aged for a while, but Gauthier Thévenet the owner of the Domaine said that it actually is better for young drinking - from now and over 5 years or so. The Bongran wines are better for long aging, he said.

Marc Ollivier's Muscadet's at Domaine de la Pépière were great, as expected. The 2007s were very new and tough to evaluate, although the "regular" 2007 Muscadet sur Lie de Sevre-et-Maine displayed its flowery and mineral charms even at this tender age. The 07 Clos des Briords was not as giving on this day, but all of the parts seem to be in place. The 2006 Cuvée Eden was just beautiful, perfect for drinking right now. And the 2005 Granite de Clisson is still the same deliciously fascinating mineral fortress that it was when I tasted it a few months ago. That wine has YEARS to go.

I would write about all of the amazing reds I tasted, but if you're reading this at work you're about to get fired. Back to work, pal. Bernard Baudry, Domaine Filliatreau, Catherine et Pierre Breton, Michel Tête, Georges Descombes, Desvignes, Brun, Maréchal, and Lignier-Michelot, and more tomorrow.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Familiar Places, New Friends

Sometimes I can hang out in a familiar place and never look in a certain corner of the room. And then it becomes a habit not to look in that direction. Even if there were a chest full of gold coins in the corner, I'd miss it. Maybe it's just me. Probably is. But anyway, recently while in two of my favorite hangouts, Savennières and Champagne, I finally glanced over in that corner of the room and made some new friends.

The first is from a producer that I've heard about for a while now, a young guy who apparently was not welcomed into the fold in the small community that is Savennières. He ended up throwing caution to the wind, making wine his own way. I always meant to taste the wines, but never did. And then by habit, never did. But then Peter Liem in his truly excellent blog Besotted Ramblings and Other Drivel wrote about Damien Laureau's Savennières in his February 9, 2008 post (to which I cannot seem to create a link), calling it the finest example of Savennières from 2005. This is a serious thing to say. 2005 was a very good year in Savennières, as it was in most of France. So I scoured the NYC shops until I found one selling Laureau's wine - Vestry Wines in TriBeCa. The '05 is not around yet, but Vestry had the 2002, which was also a fine year in the Loire Valley.

2002 Damien Laureau Savennières Les Bel Ouvrage, $29.50, JD Headrick Imports. Here is the story behind the producer and some technical information on the wine. I'm not expert enough to be able to tell you how this wine is so different from the rest of Savennières. The contrast between the nose and the palate is striking. The nose is boisterous with orange fruit and flowers, clementines become clear with some aeration, and honeyed pure water. But the palate is all about the minerals, like clean water filtered through rock. Almost salty minerals, very intense, and the wine feels huge in the mouth, by the way. This is not some light minerally wine. This thing is a monster. Later on some fruit pokes its head out of the rock, some lime, hints of apricot, the finish lingers on with citrus and more minerals. Delicious wine, and fascinating too, I can see that there will be more Damien Laureau in my future. I must say, I feel confused about what food would pair well with this. Rabbit? Cheese? Somebody, help me.

I met my other new friend at a restaurant, of all places. Because of the high markups, I don't often try new wine at restaurants. If I'm paying top dollar I'd prefer to stick with whatever I know is good. But it was BrooklynLady's birthday weekend, we were out with the little daughter at one of our favorite neighborhood places, Al Di La Trattoria. We wanted a half bottle of bubbly to start and they had NV Guy Larmandier Brut Cramant Grand Cru. I'm such a sucker for ignoring this producer. I figured, 'I like Larmandier-Bernier, one Larmandier is enough.' Nope, not enough. And I should have known that a Rosenthal Champagne would be right up my alley. This Blanc de Blancs from the village of Cramant in the Côtes des Blancs was very elegant and delicate, and also very firm and powerful, very focused. Such a delicious and satisfying Champagne, its good genes so obvious in the overall harmony of the drink. We're going to have to invite our new friend over to our house for dinner one of these nights.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

NV Fabrice Gasnier La Cravantine, $19, Fleet Street Imports. I missed Wine Blogging Wednesday this month, silly me, and the theme was French Cabernet Franc. Many people reviewed wines by Fabrice Gasnier, a producer I am not familiar with. Good ol' David McDuff changed that right quick with an excellent three part profile of the estate and the wines.

I try to alternate each week between Champagne and other wines for Friday Night Bubbles. This ensures that I taste various sparkling wines from all over the place, and also that I don't spend Champagne bucks each week. I was looking for a non-Champagne sparkler last week and stumbled upon Gasnier's La Cravantine - score!

We haven't had a Blanc de Noirs (sparkling wine made with only black grapes, usually Pinot Noir) in quite a while, and this was unabashedly a Blanc de Noirs. All Cabernet Franc from Cravant Les Coteaux, right outside of Chinon. McDuff can fill you in on the particulars of the estate and the wine making, I'll just tell you about how good this wine is. The version David tasted was made from a different vintage, this one is 2005 grapes, I believe. And the ripeness really shows. The nose is very toasty and a bit earthy, with loads of red fruit juice, completely unrestrained. The palate is more balanced than you'd think though, clean and energetic with sappy juicy sweet red fruit and a bitter mineral and floral finish. Nothing terribly complicated, but pure pleasure. And you know what - I don't think there is any sugar in the dosage - the wine is called "Brut Nature," after all. Any sweetness is all fruit, baby!

We enjoyed this as an aperitif and it was great with steak sandwiches and mustard greens, a really good food wine. I'm guessing that I paid more than you will if you see this wine, as I found it in a store that always charges a bit more per bottle than other places. But even at $19, this is a good value in high quality Blanc de Noirs.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wine for Later on, for my Mid-Life Crisis

You may have seen this already if you are rich and maybe having a mid-life crisis, or if you read Keith Levenberg's recent post on The Picky Eater.If you haven't yet, take a peek at his Top Ten Tackiest Wines of All Time, where the number 1 wine is something called Ghost Horse World.

Honestly, I've never seen anything like this before. Is it possible this is satire? Can Ghost Horse World be real? Turn the sound on when viewing, by the way. If this is real, and it probably is, I think it speaks to how desperate some of us become when we feel our youth, our potency slipping away. And when we have thousands of dollars to burn. Promise that you'll euthanize me if you EVER catch me drinking with Todd, or going downhill racing with Todd.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Checking my Stats

When I was thinking about splurging on wine, I also started wondering about my overall drinking habits. I know what I've been drinking lately, but what about over the past two years? I understand that the stats can be misleading - if I went through a case of one particular wine because I got a great deal, well that will skew things. But if I look at the top 10 producers, red and white, it should be interesting to see the trends and a random case should be seen for what it is.

White Wine:

Domaine du Closel, Savennieres - 20 bottles
Domaine de la Pepiere, Muscadet - 14 bottles
François Cazin, Cheverny & Cour-Cheverny - 10 bottles
Domaine des Cassagnoles,
Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne - 9 bottles
Domaine des Aubuisieres, Vouvray - 7 bottles
Le Bourcier,
Mâconnais - 6 bottles
François Chidaine, Montlouis sur Loire - 6 bottles
i Clivi, Friuli - 6 bottles
Jean Manciat,
Mâconnais - 6 bottles
Domaine du Salvard, Cheverny - 6 bottles

As expected, mostly Loire Valley wines. Nothing too random here, except for maybe the Cassagnoles. That was last summer's value special, and I drank a lot of it. I like the fact that I drink almost a bottle a month of Closel Savennieres. And I didn't realize that I've gone through a half case of i Clivi wine - I grabbed a few of the 1999's a while ago and have been drinking them steadily. Aside from Baumard and Foreau, this is actually somewhat representative of what I have sleeping in the cellar too.

Red Wine:

St Innocent, Oregon - 20 bottles
Adelsheim, Oregon - 14 bottles
Bernard Baudry, Chinon - 11 bottles
Clos de Tue-Boeuf - 11 bottles
Domaine du Vissoux, Beaujolais - 11 bottles
Montevertine, Tuscany - 11 bottles
Domaine des Roches Neuves, Saumur-Champigny - 11 bottles
âteau du Hureau, Saumur-Champigny - 10 bottles
Domaine Voillot, Volnay - 10 bottles
Terres Dor
ées, Beaujolais - 9 bottles

The high numbers on St Innocent and Adelsheim represent me "cleaning out" my cellar. Not that I don't enjoy the wines, because I definitely do. But I decided that I wanted to devote my limited space to aging other wines. I still have wines by these producers sleeping, but not as many as I used to.

Montevertine - who knew? I didn't realize I drank so much Pian del Ciampolo over the past few years, but the wine is always so tasty. And the Voillot was mostly the 2004 Vielle Vignes, a delicious wine. I went through a half case of that alone. The rest makes sense, Loire reds and Beaujolais all the way.

It will be interesting to do this again in two years. What about you, have you checked your stats like this? What is your modal drinking wine over the past two years?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Jenny & Francois Follow Up

I was very much impressed with the Jenny & Francois portfolio, so much so that I decided to buy a few and taste them at home with dinner. I'm happy to tell you that these wines are even better with a meal than they were at the tasting.

You know what this means? This means that there's a whole new crop of under $20 wines that I am confident about buying. This is important, as the dollar buys less and less wine these days. And by the way, all of these wines (and many other Jenny & Francois wines) are available at Astor Wines in Manhattan.

We don't drink a whole lot of wine from southern France, as those we've tasted are too big and roasted, a bit hot, and they don't drink easily with food (or at all). But these wines are graceful and perfumed, elegant sometimes. Here are the wines we sampled at home:

2006 Domaine Rimbert St Chinian Les Travers de Marceau, $14. This wine is from St Chinian, an appellation in the western part of the Languedoc. The blend is Mourvedre, Carignan, and Grenache. We enjoyed this wine with a simple meal of skirt steak and baked potatoes. Nicely perfumed, very fruity and floral, good acidity, very lively, and definitely had the muscle to stand up to the steak. A great value for everyday drinking.

2005 Clos Siguier Cahors, $12. Maybe this excellent wine is so inexpensive because Cahors is not a fashionable wine region. Whatever the reason, if I had to choose right now I would select this wine as the value red of 2008. This wine is just so good, so interestingly and enticingly perfumed, so nicely balanced, so lively in the mouth, and such a great compliment to food. And this is Malbec we're talking about, with a little bit (5%) of Tannat thrown in. We had this with a cuisine grandmère dish of French green lentils stewed with russet potatoes, pork shoulder, and thick-cut bacon. Ladle it right into a bowl, a green salad with a bright vinegary dressing, and YUM. Anyway...This wine benefits from 30 minutes of airtime. You can decant it too, no shame in that. Aromas of raspberries, flowers, and something herbal initially, then with air comes lots of black licorice and bit of cocoa. This is a bright and airy nose, very pure and enticing. The flavors echo the nose, and although the tannins are a bit coarse, the wine has nice texture and is just delicious. It is surprisingly light in body, but also quite deep in aroma and flavor.

2005 Blandine Chauchat Coteaux de Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup Les Tonillières, $17. But I got it on sale for $13 at Astor, which makes it all the more absurd. Blandine Chauchat has a plot in Les Tonillieres, a vineyard owned by her husband Pierre Jequier's family, the family behind the Mas Foulaquier estate. This is a blend of Carignan, Syrah, and Grenache. Lovely nose of rich dark fruit and soil, some black licorice with air time. BrooklynLady picked out sea water too, which I understood in the context of the mineral streak running underneath the fruit. The palate is well balanced with ripe earthy dark fruit and good acidity, and there are lingering licorice and soil mouth aromas. Sounds heavy maybe, but it's not - medium bodied and easy to drink. This wine has nice structure too, with fine dusty tannins. Worth the $17, a steal at $13.

2005 Comptoirs de Magdala Côtes de Provence Escapade, $16. I loved the 2006 vintage at the tasting. Both the 05 and 06 were available at Astor so I figured why not try the more mature wine, especially when it's a bit cheaper? It was very good, but it was less ripe and much lighter than the busty, dense, and spicy 2006. Very enjoyable, but not what I'd hoped for. It almost didn't stand up to our beefy grass-fed hangar steaks. Don't get me wrong, it was good, but not I'll-have-to-taste-this-importer's-other-wines good. So I'll try the 06 at home next.

If they're available in your area I really encourage you to try one of these wines. Jenny & Francois are bringing in wines that reflect a sense of place, and the craftsmanship of the wine maker. And the prices make it pretty easy, too. If you do try, please let me know what you think.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

Here is a Champagne I've seen on the shelves for months now, but at about $45 a bottle, not tasted. I mean, I can't taste evey Champagne that interests me, can I?

Over time, maybe I can (assuming I continue to do well in my poker game). The real limiting factor, actually, is whether or not the wines are imported to New York. Vazart-Coquart, for example, is available here and there, but I've only seen the entry level wine, the Brut Réserve Blanc de Blancs. What happens if you taste the entry level wine and love it, as I did, and might want to taste the vintage wines, or their Tête de Cuvée (top wine)?

Good luck. Grower Champagne is still making headway in the US market and when it comes to the Têtes de Cuvée, they can be difficult if not impossible to find in stores. At least the At least the Vazart-Coquart Brut Réserve is available. It's delicious.

NV Vazart-Coquart Brut Réserve Blanc de Blancs, $43, Becky Wasserman Champagne et Villages. Vazart-Coquart is in Chouilly in the Côte de Blancs, and their vines, as such, are almost all Chardonnay. This wine has a very focused nose of chalk, lemon cream, fresh bread, and some sort of spice, maybe caraway seed. The nose is narrow but very deep and expressive. The palate is delicate and well balanced. It starts with almost sappy lemon oil, then fresh baked biscuits on the mid-palate, and then comes a very mineral chalky finish. This is very satisfying to drink, with great depth of aroma and flavor. It is elegant and powerful, and just delicious.

If you know where to buy Vazart-Coquart's vintage and Tête de Cuvée, lemme know. Happy Friday night.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Natural Yeasts and Terroir

Here is a quote from Philippe Pacalet, wine maker in Burgundy. Pacalet wrote an introduction to Jules Chauvet's "Etudes Scientifiques." Chauvet is thought of as the father of natural wine making in France, and Etudes Scientifiques is a collection of his studies and writings. This quote is lifted from an article on the Chambers Street Wines website. The whole essay is worth reading, but this quote particularly caught my attention:

The entire theme dedicated to indigenous yeasts is eloquent on this subject: to make a wine of terroir, one must utilize the biomass (yeasts, bacterias, funghi, microbial life) existing in this terroir. The quality of these native yeasts, that is to say their biodiversity, is essentially tied to this notion of terroir. The different types of yeasts which succeed each other in the course of the alcoholic fermentation are thus a “key” which reveals to us the vineyard’s unique characteristics and typicity.
Makes sense, right?

Mark Vlossak makes wine at St Innocent, one of my favorite Oregon producers. Three out of every four years, as conditions allow, Mark uses no sulfur dioxide during fermentation. Sulfur dioxide suppresses the natural yeast strains, and he doesn't want to do that. He likes "the things that grow" without sulfur dioxide during fermentation, what they add to aroma and flavor. But Mark says that the natural yeasts at his disposal cannot ferment past 5 or 6% alcohol and often produce "stinky" by-products. Here is what he said when I asked him whether or not using natural yeasts is important to him:
There are no unnatural yeasts. All yeasts used to make wine are derived from indigenous cells. Just like vines are propagated from cuttings, sometimes from other places, yeasts are derived from cells. The real question is, are the yeasts a good match for the terroir and the wine you are trying to make.
This also makes sense, right? If the natural yeasts cannot turn juice into wine, or do so but also contribute nasty aromas, then you have to supplement with other yeasts. The question is not whether or not the wines taste good, but do they express the terroir in the Dundee Hills or in whichever of St Innocent's plots we are talking about?

Greg Sandor of Bridge Urban Winery talks about how exciting it was for him to participate in an experiment at Cornell University in which 40 different yeasts were used to ferment the same grape juice, about tasting the results and determining which strain makes the best wine. I don't know if he brings that approach to making wines at Bridge, but if he did, would that render his North Fork of Long Island wines terroir-less?

Can wine express terroir without naturally occurring yeasts? Must you use only the naturally occurring yeasts, or can they be supplemented with industrial yeasts? There are people with very strong opinions on this issue. I am not one of them, as I just don't know enough about it.

But I will say this - insisting that nothing "unnatural" be added to wine might rule out a lot of wines in the terroir department, most Champagnes and many Burgundies, for example. Sugar, a human-made chemical no more or less natural than sulfur dioxide is added to Champagne in the dosage, and to some Burgundy wines if they are chaptalized. So do only non-dosage Champagnes and un-chaptalized Burgundies express terroir? I think you can shoot yourself in the foot trying to make hard and fast rules.

I gravitate towards the Pacalet way of thinking, which I see as akin to the Alice Waters way of cooking and eating. But I don't think of it as "correct" in a universal sense, something that everyone should do, like thou shalt not use unnatural yeasts or something.

For me wine is food, and I like to learn about the ingredients before buying it. Loading this information on a wine label is impractical, expensive, and unromantic. It would be great if there were some cost-effective way to gather and display this information so that interested consumers can go to one source before making purchases.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Wine Splurge Update

Back in January I lamented my past wine splurge results. Many of you commented with excellent suggestions, some of which I wound up using for Splurge 2007. Yeah, just like the NY State legislature, my budget comes out later than it's supposed to. But the good news is that I had a little more to spend than the $400 that I originally planned on. More like $550.

In the end I decided to go with what I love, what I know will make me incredibly excited and happy on the day I open it. So I bought one magnum of 1979 Veuve-Clicquot La Grande Dame for $525 and there you have it.

What, I can't play games with you on April Fool's Day?

C'mon folks, I didn't buy that wine. I stuck with Burgundy and grower Champagne. I couldn't bring myself to splurge yet on Syrah or on Italian or German wines. I have to spend more time understanding the everyday versions before jumping into the major leagues. Very few people can successfully go from single A ball right to the majors.

So here is what I got, in order of price (most expensive to least) and your comments praising or lambasting me are most welcome:

2005 Ghislaine Barthod Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Beaux Bruns
2005 Louis Boillot Pommard 1er Cru Les Fremiers
2005 Louis Boillot Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Champonnets

2002 Jose Dhont Champagne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Mes Vieille Vignes
2002 Diebolt-Vallois Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs
2000 Lassaigne Champagne Brut Nature Montgueux
1999 Billiot Champagne Grand Cru Brut

I'm pretty psyched, indeed. Now, who'd like to lay bets on how long I can keep my hands off of these beauties?