Saturday, July 28, 2012

A lesson in Burgundy terroir, as great a pairing as I've had all year, and the best wine I've ever had.

There was a dinner I enjoyed not long ago with a few of the guys from my Burgundy Wine Club. One of our group, a brain surgeon who lives in Rhode Island, came to NYC specifically to enjoy this dinner with us and he brought a slew of absolute gems from his cellar to share. I'm talking about well preserved white Burgundy from the late 1980's. And not just any old Burgundy, great terroirs were represented. Drinking them together was really a breathtaking experience and offered several profound lessons.

We were lucky to be able to bring these wines to one of the hidden gems of Brooklyn dining, my friend Albano's restaurant called Aliseo in Prospect Heights. I've known Albano for 10 years now, I see him at the market early on Saturday mornings, I've eaten his food many times. There is no need to order anything in this situation, and that's my favorite way to do things. I said "Albano, there will be 4 of us and we will be drinking some very special old wines. We are in your hands." He said "Okay."

Let me start the rest of the story by talking about terroir. We began with two bottles of Meursault by François Jobard, the 1986 and 1988 Meursault 1er Cru Genevrières. I don't know a whole lot here, but I know that François Jobard made great wines back then. I've very much enjoyed the few bottles I've had from this period. There is a certain style to the wines, austere, old school, perhaps a little rustic. And Genevrières is a great vineyard, with Charmes it's considered to be right below Perrières in potential. The 1986 showed some botrytis and it took an hour or more for it to harmonize. The 1988, however, that wine was gorgeous from the moment we opened it until it was gone perhaps two hours later. So very mineral. Yes, there were hazelnuts and other things too, but they blended seamlessly and were secondary to the floor they danced upon - the stone. A balanced and complex wine that made all of us very happy - "this is all you can hope you when you drink old Meursault," some one said. It was without question one of the best Meursaults I have ever had.

That wine could be the centerpiece of an evening for me and I would be thrilled. The thing is, after the Meursaults we drank 1989 Dauvissat Les Clos. It was utterly glorious wine. Strikingly fresh, vivid and harmoniously expressive, such focused aromas and flavors, such complexity and detail, and it grew and improved in the glass over a few hours. Without question the best Chablis I've ever had. And it made the Meursault seem a lot less grand. I commented on this and someone said something like "It's true, and that's the difference in terroir - Les Clos is a true Grand Cru."

Had the evening ended there it would have been memorable. But it didn't. We then drank a wine that I am convinced is the best wine I've ever had.

Perhaps I've experienced equal pleasure while drinking other wines. But I've never had a wine as good as this one. 1989 Marquis de Laguiche Drouhin Montrachet. I've never had a Montrachet before. Okay, I had a taste from a barrel in 2008 while visiting the cellars of Lucien Le Moine. but that just doesn't count. It's a big thing to say - "the best wine I've ever had." But it's true, and I knew it almost immediately. I've never smelled or tasted a wine that is so pungent and also so perfectly detailed, controlled, and complete. It glowed with energy and permeated every crevice in my nose, mouth, and throat. Some one used the word "spherical" and that's absolutely true. The wine was a perfect circle, a perfect thing, and it actually moved me to shed a tear or two, but don't worry, none of the guys at the table saw this. 

So, among the best Meursaults that I've had, the best Chablis that I've had, and then the best wine that I've ever had. Nice. And the thing is, the Montrachet made the Les Clos seem less grand. And 1989 Dauvissat Les Clos is a very grand wine. But this is Montrachet we're talking about. One of the very finest vineyards on the planet. I've read that a lot of the Montrachet out there does not justify the very high prices, that a great bottle of Batard, Chevaliers, or Merusault Perrières can be more thrilling than a sub-par Montrachet. I've also heard that a great Montrachet is among the ultimate experiences in wine. This bottle was great, and I've never had a better wine.

Another thing: Albano served crudo of scallops when we drank the Dauvissat Les Clos. In Albano's dish the scallops were coarsely sliced, drizzled with a fruity olive oil, topped with cracked pink peppercorns, and served with braised leeks. Olive oil, pink peppercorns and Les Clos? On paper this might not be the ideal pairing, but there is more than one way to skin a cat. It was honestly the best pairing I've had all year. One of the rare cases in which the wine and food elevated each other in true synergy, and it was astoundingly delicious.

Last thing: I remember maybe 5 years ago reading something on a blog in which the writer asked "Can a person be a credible wine critic if they have never tasted the world's best wines? Can a person critique Burgundy if one has never tasted La Tâche?" I used to think that the answer to that question is "yes." I can drink a Simon Bize Savigny-Les-Beaune Aux Vergelesses, for example, and I might be able to compare it to other wines from Savigny. Or to other red Burgundy wines that I have drunk. I might be able to tell you whether or not I liked it, and why. Maybe there is some value in that. But if I haven't experienced the heights that Burgundy can achieve, I cannot truly place the Bize wine in the proper context. I'm not saying that I don't trust myself or know what I like, and so on. But I drank a great Montrachet - I have some understanding of what white Burgundy can be now. It expands context in a vast way for me and changes my understanding of other wines. 

I'm telling you...this one was a night to remember.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Macharnudo Alto - Exploring the Terroir Stamp of a Vineyard in Sherry.

When I think of terroir, I invariably think within the Burgundian model where each vineyard produces wines that are different from those of its neighboring vineyards. I'm willing to bet that most of us think of terroir in approximately those terms. There are several places in the wine world that do not adhere to this model, though, and the Sherry Triangle is one of them.

When I think of terroir in Sherry I think of the white chalky soils called albariza, I think of the peculiar and wonderful smell and taste of flor, I think of the salty air in Sanlucar's Manzanillas and of the yeasty tang of Jerez's Finos. I think of intense heat and winds. Especially now that I have visited the region, I think of the beautiful old buildings, or bodegas, where barrels of wine age in elaborate soleras. Each bodega is unique in terms of airflow, temperature, humidity, and many other variables, and I've heard people say that the Bodega itself is a unique terroir. I do not for a moment doubt the truth in this idea.

Where is the vineyard in all of this? There is little or no emphasis placed on the vineyard in Sherry. This was not always the case, and Peter Liem, America's foremost Sherry expert, has often spoken about how the best vineyards in the area have long been recognized as such, and how they once played a prominent role in the understanding of Sherry wines. As I am sure he will discuss in his forthcoming book called Sherry, Manzanilla and Montilla, a collective decision was made a long time ago in the region to focus on producing high quantities of decent wine for the mass market, as opposed to making wines of the highest quality. Even today, although we are in the middle of a huge resurgence of interest in Sherry wines, much of what is available is mass market wine that is decent but not special. The market still has a long and winding road to recovery.

Is there a terroir stamp of the vineyard in the Sherry region? As Peter would say, there is little empirical evidence for this. Almost no one in the region is making single vineyard wines, and comparing vineyards is therefore almost impossible. "Since no one has cared for 60 years, Miraflores for example has not been vinified and aged in solera in the same place as Macharnudo Alto," Peter said. "It would take quite a while to do this, even if the investment were made."

Although there is no way to compare vineyard terroirs right now, it is possible to very deeply explore at least one vineyard, the site called Macharnudo Alto. Macharnudo Alto is a parcel within Marcharnudo, one of the four great pagos of the region. A pago is something like a vineyard district - an area containing several named parcels. I recently had the great pleasure to attend a dinner featuring a slew of wines made from Macharnudo Alto. Peter Liem conceived of this dinner and put it on with the support of Rosemary Gray of RS Productions NYC.

 Peter explained the idea behind the dinner:
I have been wanting to do a specific sherry tasting for over a year now, involving an in-depth examination of the vineyard of Macharnudo Alto. Macharnudo is one of the four great pagos, or vineyard districts, that lie to the north and west of Jerez, and while it is composed of many individual vineyard sites, the most celebrated is that of Macharnudo Alto, which is the highest in altitude and the one considered to have the purest albariza soils.

We are fortunate in that not only is Macharnudo Alto one of the great historical sites of the sherry region, it also belongs, in part, to one of the greatest sherry bodegas currently in existence, Valdespino, who has been making single-vineyard sherries from Macharnudo Alto since at least the middle of the nineteenth century. The result is an array of wines that offer a multi-faceted expression of a legendary terroir...
The Macharnudo pago is perhaps 800 hectares, the Marcharnudo Alto parcel much smaller than that, and of that Valdespino owns 56 hectares. From these vines come excellent wines that you really should get to know if you are interested in Sherry (if you haven't tried them already). I'm talking about Inocente, the very fine Fino, Tio Diego, the unique and wonderful Amontillado, Viejo CP, the great Palo Cortado, and finally Cardenal, the rare and regal very old Palo Cortado that is surely one of the finest wines in all of the region. On a recent hot and muggy night a group of Sherry lovers congregated at Terroir TriBeCa to drink these and other wines from Macharnudo Alto, and although I cannot say that I came from this with a clear understanding of the terroir of Macharnudo Alto as it relates to other parcels in Jerez, I can tell you that the wines are reliably excellent. Here are some notes and thoughts:

Valdespino Fino Inocente. We drank two versions of this great wine; one recent bottling from October of 2011, and one that was bottled in January of 2006 and aged in a cellar since then. That's right, aged Inocente. Well made biologically-aged wines are capable of improving in the cellar and drinking these two wines next to one another was a startling experience. I very much like the young wine and would happily drink it at any hour of the day, but the version that spent 6.5 years in bottle...that wine was amazing. This is not the first time I've had this experience, and it reminds me to put bottles of this great wine in the cellar. What's odd about the wine with some bottle age is that it seems to follow an aging curve that is the inverse of what we see in most wines. The older wine shows a more prominent fruit character! Who can explain these things. Anyway, Inocente is a fabulous wine and I am excited to hear that Valdespino's new importer Polaner will offer 750 ml bottles in addition to the 375's that we've seen here. Inocente out of a 750 is a very delicious thing.

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino Macharnudo Alto Nº 15, 18, and 27. These wines are created by selecting from barrels in the Inocente solera at Valdespino. Although the idea is to make a different wine each time, these wines are similar in that they tend to be richer and fuller in body than Inocente.

I like each of them, but on this night Nº 18 was the one I preferred. It had an energy and a linear focus that I enjoyed. You can almost see this when comparing the appearance of the three wines in the above photo. I must say that of all of the Equipo Navazos wines that I have tasted, this series is the one that I am least enamored of and I think it's because I cannot help myself but to compare them with Inocente as I drink them.

Amontillado Tio Diego. Tio Diego is unique as an Amontillado because it is so recently removed from flor. It is essentially a biologically aged wine that has spent only 5 or 6 years aging oxidatively. I always thought that Tio Diego is a continuation of the Inocente solera, that Tio Diego is what happens to the wines in the solera level of Inocente if they continue to age for a few years. But on this night I learned something new about this lovely wine. Tio Diego is its own solera, and Inocente does not feed it. The young wines that replenish the youngest barrels in the Inocente solera - they are the same young wines that replenish the youngest barrels in the Tio Diego solera. But after that they follow their on course. In any case, Tio Diego is a delicious Amontillado, one in which the lactic and tangy echo of flor is still quite evident. It is a wine that like all of the brown Sherries I know, shows best a few days after opening.
Palo Cortado Viejo C.P. This Palo Cortado solera is fed with barrels from the Inocente and Tio Diego soleras, barrels that the cellar master deems unusual in some way, not well-suited for making Fino or Amontillado. I tasted a version of this wine at the bodega from a barrel but had never had this wine from a bottle with a meal. It showed beautifully, I think more perfectly than any other on this evening. I loved the orange oil I was getting on the nose and the compelling depth and complexity of the palate. It was incredibly delicious with a well-prepared plate of thinly sliced roast pork and rosemary. C.P. stands for Calle Ponce, by the way, the name of a street where the Valdespino bodega that houses this solera was once located.

Palo Cortado Cardenal VORS. The wines here average 60-70 years of age at bottling and the Viejo C.P. solera feeds this solera. I find it hard to describe the aromas and flavors of Cardenal. It is so intense and complex and it develops over many days after the bottle is open. It is a combination of great richness and complexity from the concentrated old wines, and also of great finesse and detail, characteristics that just might be the best way to think of the terroir stamp of Macharnudo Alto.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Emmanuel Houillon / Pierre Overnoy Dinner.

 Dinner at Boulud Sud with the Arbois wines of Emmanuel Houillon / Pierre Overnoy.
2010 and 2009 Poulsard.

The two vintages are quite different in character and this shows clearly in color. The 2010 was like drinking liquid roses.

Both Chardonnays were excellent. The 2010 is as mineral of a wine as I can remember drinking.

Proud roast chickens and their mushroom and herb friends.

Chicken, morels, spinach, sauce au vin jaune with tarragon. An embarrassment of riches.

Savagnin Vieux, an ouillé, or topped-up Savagnin.

Overnoy Vin Jaune. Are you kidding me?

And that wasn't the end.

A wonderful evening in every way, and an amazing act of generosity. Thank you!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Levi Dalton's Latest Podcast is up - our Conversation.

Whoa! Levi Dalton's podcast series continues and today's installment features our conversation. We talk about blogging and what motivates me, and all sorts of things. If nothing else, this offers proof that I am in fact a person who is capable of speaking.

Thank you Levi for including me in this ambitious and interesting project.

Here's how you can listen to the interview:

The I'll Drink to That website (for a few days).

The ITunes site, along with Levi's whole podcast series.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tasting Note Sources

Here are the sources of the tasting notes I reproduced on Friday:

1) Richard Jennings describing 1996 Chapoutier St Joseph Blanc Les Granits. All of Jennings' notes are in a style that is not my personal favorite, but this one with its meniscus measurement strikes me as particularly strange. By the way, I say "personal favorite" for a reason. Richard Jennings is by far the favorite author of the CellarTracker community, where as of today 1,407 members have tagged him as a favorite author. Second favorite is Eric LeVine, the founder of the site, with 1,142. Third is Keith Levenberg with 603. CellarTracker is the most widely used cellar management and tasting note board on the internet (all statistics made up, yet true). Clearly Jennings' notes speak to many people.

2) Alder Yarrow of Vinography describing 2010 Fred Loimer "Seeberg Erste Lage Reserve" Riesling, Langenlois, Kamptal. The "electric cool aid explosion" and the "jet boat ride" got me. Nothing wrong with that though, as it comes across as genuine to me, and you could argue, quite descriptive. 

3) This is me getting all exuberant and emotive after drinking Selosse Substance for the first time. An over-the-top tasting note for an over-the-top wine. I liked the note at the time but I think it's clear now that it has not aged well. Reading it out of context it can come off as downright strange.

4) Frederic Koeppel of Bigger Than Your Head describing 2009 Michel Lafarge Volnay Vendanges Sélectionées. I quite like this note, as for me it captures the feeling of drinking good red Burgundy. What I found odd is how the soulful character of the note juxtaposes with the scientific-sounding (and in my opinion, more misleading than helpful) recommendation on a drinking window: "now through 2018 to '20."

5) Robert Parker describing 2006 Ausone ($1,495!), via Sherry-Lehmann's website. I am not a subscriber to the Wine Advocate so I had to get this note from a retailer's reprint. Okay, this is a Parker note and it's bombastic, as I'm sure the wine is. But I was struck by this part: "...but what makes it so special is its precision, focus, and almost ethereal lightness despite substantial flavor intensity and depth. It is a ballerina with density and power." Sounds like something that Asimov or any of the "Post-Parker generation" of influential wine writers would say about a red wine they appreciate. Is this Parker imitating that new type of compliment for red wine, or has he always said such things about the big reds that he loves?
Anyway, thanks for indulging me in this exercise. As is evidenced in the comments to the previous post, tasting notes for some reason provoke a lot of outrage in people. I think that there's no point in hating the note, it's a part of selling wine and that's that. Everyone who writes about wine is responsible for some strange notes. But tasting notes should be useful other than as shelf talkers with point scores attached. I think the trick is to not expect too much. After all, how can a few sentences describe a full sensory experience? Keep it simple - find a voice(s) that you relate to most of the time, and trust yourself as much as you trust that voice.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Writing Tasting Notes is not Easy.

It's hard to write a valuable tasting note. By valuable I mean a note that might help a reader actually understand something about the wine. I certainly haven't figured out how to do it. I used to try to include descriptors, and sometimes they still make it into my notes. But now instead I try to describe the style of the wine and offer something of an evaluation of its parts: is it light, medium, or full bodied? Is it balanced or not? Is there depth on the midpalate? But I read back over my notes sometimes and I feel embarrassed. "This isn't going to help anyone," I'll think to myself, "and I sound like an idiot."

So the other day I looked around the interweb to see what other folks are doing with their tasting notes. You know what - everyone has some doozies. Sure, some writers create notes that speak to me more often than others, but everyone has some that make me raise an eyebrow. I don't mean that as a criticism, but as a recognition of how hard it is to write a valuable tasting note.

Here are some tasting notes from my recent browsing. But in what I hope will be a fun twist, I am going to reproduce the note, and you can try to guess the wine and the writer of the note. I included notes written only by writers who have a visible presence on the internet (so none of these are written by my cousin Biff, they are all written by professional writers or mopes like me who crowd the web with our drivel for reasons that have nothing to do with earning money).

So, without further ado...

1) Light medium golden yellow color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; intense, citronella, almond, safflower honey, lavender honey, white truffle nose; tasty, rich, lemon oil, white truffle oil, safflower oil, lemon oil palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points

2) Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle, wet stones and cold cream. In the mouth, flinty/stony flavors mix with what can only be described as an electric-kool-aid-lemon explosion, as racy acidity takes the wine on a jet boat ride through the mouth. Stony undercurrents can't stop the neon quality of the acidity and the lemon flavor that lingers for minutes in the mouth. Average vine age is about 60 years. Utterly kick-ass.

3) The wine is a strikingly deep amber color. The nose is expressive and intense, full of ginger and exotic fruit. Broad and rich but finely focused, and with incredible detail on the palate, this is a complete wine. And after about 90 minutes it was truly amazing - the things that stuck out previously, the intensity, the ginger, the richness - those things had blended so seamlessly with each other by this time that none of them on its own was evident. The wine had become a real thing of beauty, the kind of wine that can ruin you. Evocative of old libraries filled with leather-bound books and half-drunk glasses of sherry, and of attractive young couples riding motorcycles, rushing past you in a fleeting glimpse of what you wish you could be.

4) The color ranges from mild cherry at the rim to a slightly darker ruby-cherry in the center; the bouquet is a subtle weaving of dried spice and flowers with red currants and black cherries and a touch of plum and, at the heart, an almost ethereal gamy, slightly earthy aspect. The texture feels like the most delicate and ineffable of satin draperies, yet you sense, also, the structure of stones and bones and the clean acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. There is fruit, of course, red and black, a little spiced, macerated and stewed, yet nothing forward or blatant. The wine is elegant and graceful but very dry and draws out a line of spareness and austerity through the finish. Now through 2018 to ’20.

5) Boasting an inky/blue/purple color as well as an extraordinary, precise bouquet of minerals, flowers, blueberry liqueur, and black currants, this wine possesses fabulous fruit and great intensity, but what makes it so special is its precision, focus, and almost ethereal lightness despite substantial flavor intensity and depth. It is a ballerina with density and power. The abundant noticeable tannin is sweet and, not surprisingly, very finely grained. It should be cellared for a decade, and consumed over the following half century. 98 Points.

Okay, see what you think of those, and please feel free to leave any guesses in the comment section. I'll write back soon with the wines and authors.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A Dinner Featuring the Wines of Bernhard Ott

A few years ago on my buddy Peter's recommendation I bought one of Bernhard Ott's wines, a Grüner Veltliner called Am Berg. I thought the wine was great, and at under $15, a great value too. But when I went to buy more it was gone. Years went by and I continued not to see this wine in stores until a few months ago when all of the sudden some of the 2010's started showing up on the shelves. Finally - the wines are excellent and well priced. Why are they showing up now? There has been a change of importers - Winebow used to handle Ott's wine, but now it will be Terry Theise/Michael Skurnik. Word is the wines will be easier to find going forward and we should be glad for this.

Bernhard Ott's vineyards are almost all located in the towns of Feuersbrunn and Engabrunn in the northwest corner of the Wagram, the region to the east of the more renowned Wachau, Kamptal, and Kremstal regions. I think of the Wagram as the Wachau's less talented sibling. There certainly are some good wines, but the overall potential is less than that of the Wachau and the Kamptal That said, Bernhard took over farming and wine making duties in 1995 and now is to be considered one of the finest, if not the finest producer in the Wagram.

 Photo courtesy of Der Feinschmecker German wine award website.

Bernhard Ott changed the methods of farming at the estate, encouraging cover crops, avoiding pesticides, and now is almost fully certified by Respekt, a new alternative to Demeter in biodynamic certification. He also changed some aspects of wine making, fully embracing the very reductive style that is more and more common among Austria's great dry wines. All closures are Stelvin, the wines are all raised in stainless steel tanks (except for a new amphora wine that I've never tasted), and there is little or no stirring of the lees.

So what do these wines taste like - why do I like them so much? Grüner Veltliner from these vineyards and in Ott's hands tastes fresh and pure, with focused and detailed articulation of aroma and flavor, and with great resonance on the finish. They are balanced and elegant, and yet offer a lot of potency and depth. They are delicious wines and they are flexible with food, and here I'm talking about wines that all cost less than $25 - I had never tasted the top wines when forming this opinion.

As with all Austrian white wines that I can think of, Ott's wines benefit from decanting because they are quite reductive. I decanted the Grüners at 4:30 and we began drinking them at 8:00, and decanted the Rieslings about an hour before drinking them. I made a five-course dinner to pair with the wines, which was a lot of fun in itself. Here is what we ate and drank:

Savory ginger custard with:
Grüner Veltliner Am Berg 2010 and 2011

Yellow squash, cucumber, and mint salad with:
Grüner Veltliner Fass 4 2010 and 2011

Raw Fluke with sour cream, white pepper, and dill oil with:
Grüner Veltliner Stein 2011 and Grüner Veltliner Spiegel 2011

Poached squid, fava beans, garlic, and red chili flake with:
Riesling von Rotem Schotter 2010 and 2011

Vietnamese-style summer rolls with shrimp, pork, and herbs with:
Rhein Riesling 2011

Three of Bernhard Ott's wines were not represented in this dinner. Der Ott is a blend of grapes from young vines in Ott's parcels of Rosenberg, Stein, and Spiegel. And the Grüner Veltliner Rosenberg, probably Ott's flagship wine, was not available, neither was the amphora wine.

The results were quite interesting. The 2010 wines showed beautifully, particularly Am Berg and the Riesling von Rotem Schotter. There was disagreement, however, about the 2011's. No one thought they were as good at this point as the 2010's. Some tasters, myself included, found things to like about the 2011's, while others felt that the qualities of the 2011 vintage were not flattering for this highly reductive style of wine.

I thought Bernhard Ott's wines were delicious and intriguing before this dinner, and I am unchanged in that opinion. I think that Am Berg is among the better white wines at its price point and if you've not had an Ott wine but are curious to try, Am Berg is an excellent wine to begin with. As to Ott's 2011's in general, I withhold judgment. They did not show terribly well on this night, but as one very experienced taster said during the dinner, "Who knows where these will be in a year. Had we been drinking the 2010' a year ago, would we be having the same experience? If Am Berg 2011 is tasting good now, wouldn't you believe that the other 2011's will show better in a year?"

Here are the wines and some notes:

2010 Grüner Veltliner Am Berg, $16. At 11.5% alcohol this is perfectly balanced and expressive, with lovely herbal, citrus rind, and stone flavors. At times I get hints of something like sour cream in this wine. It is in a wonderful spot for drinking right now, harmonious and feathery in texture and just delicious. Friends, as a public service to you, I will tell you the few places where I know you can still buy this excellent wine, in NYC anyway: Sherry-Lehmann and Appellation Wine & Spirits in Manhattan, and Picada y Vino in Brooklyn. There may be others, who knows, but this wine is worth looking for.
2011 Grüner Veltliner Am Berg, $18. A bigger riper wine than the 2010, but still balanced and expressive with lemongrass and citrus notes, and a mineral pungency to the finish. This wine is still coming together, and although I prefer the style of the 2010, I think this is an excellent Am Berg with lots of pleasure to offer.

2010 Grüner Veltliner Fass 4, $22. Fass 4 grapes come from several parcels near the Rosenberg vineyard. It is a richer wine than Am Berg with a rounder feel to it. This one has floral notes to complement the fruit, and is balanced at 12.5% alcohol.
2011 Grüner Veltliner Fass 4, $26 (This wine was donated by Michael Skurnik Wines). Also 12.5% alcohol, but this felt disjointed. One taster asked if the wine had been acidified. I doubt that Bernhard Ott acidifies his wines even in a very warm vintage like 2011, but I don't know.

2011 Grüner Veltliner Stein, $55 (This wine was donated by Michael Skurnik Wines). This is an unusual wine within the Ott lineup. The Stein vineyard is in a part of Engebrunn that technically is in the Kamptal, and the soils are gneiss and chalk in addition to the more typical loess of the Wagram. Ott's vines in Stein are over 50 years old. Several tasters found the same disjointed problems here as they did with the other 2011's, but I really liked this wine and thought it was still improving as we finished it. At 13.5% it felt balanced to me. The nose was rather lean at this stage, but I liked the intensity of the flavors and the wine felt linear to me, not overripe. I would like to taste it again in 5 years to see if it can achieve a better sense of harmony with time.

2011 Grüner Veltliner Spiegel, $55 (This wine was donated by Michael Skurnik Wines). I really liked the pungency of the nose on this wine, with clear and classic flavors of lemongrass and white pepper. Coiled up and young, but seems to have a lot of potential. My sense was that the group preferred this to the Stein, but there were exceptions. And there were tasters who didn't like this wine as much as I did.

2010 Riesling von Rotten Schotter, $22. Most at the table thought this was the wine of the night, and it was indeed a very lovely wine. Clear as a bell, focused, and also ample in fruit and body, very delicious. I enjoyed the variety of flavors - brown spices, flowers, rock, orchard fruit, and all very fresh. Made from red (slate?) and gravel soils at higher elevation than the Grüner vineyards. As a public service to you, my friends, I will tell you that you can still find this wine at Prospect Wines and Fermented Grapes in Brooklyn.
2011 Riesling von Rotten Schotter, $29 (This wine was donated by Michael Skurnik Wines). Strange, because even though this wine comes from a higher elevation than the single vineyard Grüners and therefore might be less ripe, this one felt warmer and more disjointed initially. It improved with time in the decanter, but I don't feel like I understood the wine and I'm not ready to say anything yet.
2011 Rhein Riesling, $59 (This wine was donated by Michael Skurnik Wines). This is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the off-dry wines of Germany, where Bernhard Ott spent some time working at the Leitz estate and fell in love with the off-dry style of Riesling. I liked this wine very much and it was great with our summer rolls, with slightly earthy and airy aromas, and clean and bold flavors. I wanted to go back to this wine when we re-tasted everything, but it was gone, which I take as a good sign.

By the way, just to show that things are not always as they seem with vintage reports (and/or that I don't know what I'm talking about) 2010 was supposed to be a so-so year at best in Austria, while the reports on the 2011 vintage were quite good. Here are three reports on 2011:

From Julia Harding, via the Jancis Robinson website.

From Wine Spectator.

From James Wright via Wine Monger, a commercial site.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Artichokes - for a Few More Weeks Only

There are baby artichokes at the farmer's market right now (at Bill Maxwell's stand, anyway). There are never all that many so you have to get there pretty early if you want them. And you do, you want baby artichokes. They will be here for maybe another few weeks.

I love eating artichokes as much as the next guy but I've given up on cooking with the "adult" versions. Too much work for not enough gratification. I say this fully aware of the fact that I am not doing it right, but that's an issue for another day. The great thing about baby artichokes is that they require so much less prep work, and it feels like there is more to eat.

There is prep work, though. I trip the stems, but not all the way. I peel off the outer leaves that are pointy and tough and then I use kitchen shears to snip off the ends. Drop these in lemon water in order to prevent them from browning. Now there are choices to be made. You can slice them very thinly and eat them raw. You can slice them and cook them with any number of herbs or other vegetables. You can slice them coarsely and use them to top a pizza. For most preparations, I like to drop them in boiling water for a minute before cooking. This softens them a bit without robbing them of their fresh flavor (make sure to drop them in a cold water bath after the boiling water).

They look awfully cute at this point, don't they? You could slice them in half and fry them now, or put them in a jar with olive oil, vinegar, and salt. My favorite simple stand-by recipe involves slicing them somewhat thinly, cooking them with a bit of garlic, finishing with herbs like mint and rosemary, and then tossing this with spaghetti. Some grated Parmesan cheese for a bit of umami, and voila - delicious. And trust me on the rosemary here. It turns out that there is a wonderful synergy between rosemary and fresh artichokes.

What to drink with this dish? Some folks would have you believe that artichokes and good wine are mortal enemies, killing each other with reckless abandon. I've not had this problem, to be honest. Not that I'm opening my good Meursault here, but there are options. Acidic white wines work well. This time I went with rosé.

The 2011 Domaine les Fouques Côtes de Provence La Londe is a truly excellent rosé, and it costs $18 at Chambers Street Wines where it is imported directly by David Lillie. It's very tasty immediately, but it's sort of a shame to drink the whole bottle because the wine really comes to life on the second day with complex aromas, real depth of flavor, and a great texture that is both salty/grainy and silky at the same time. David Lillie, by the way, is a real wine pioneer, and he is interviewed by Levi Dalton on I'll Drink to That. Worth a listen.