Thursday, April 29, 2004

All About Fred...Hanging with Frederic Blanck at the Montréal Salon des Vins

It’s been a week since the salon ended and I feel as though I was a 10 year old, shit, I have to wait 364 more days until Christmas? With an easy 5000 bottles uncorked and waiting to be sipped, there is almost an understood obligation to go hard, give all the producers their due. Be Zorba the Dègustateur. This year I resisted. To taste a wine with the person who made it is a privilege, an opportunity for insight that can’t be had from a technical sheet. So I found my man Fred, from the great Alsace House of Blanck ( . Having drunk a couple of millésimes of both his Furstentum Reisling and Gewurztraminer, I already had a decent background with respect to his wines. Consider also that I am the only person to have ordered his Chasselas in North America, I had his curiosity piqued, a good thing to do if you want the vigneron to show you what he’s got (and what bottles are hidden under the table).
He is a passionate winemaker and a great winemaker. With a great respect for the terroir and his environment, Fred showed me with pride a number of his favorite vintages, and some of his most beloved wines. Here are some of my favorites.

Riesling Furstentum 2000 ($36) …. According to Fred it was a challenging year with respect to weather, ie. reduced crop size, and for me the complexity of the wines. Compared to the 1999, this Grand cru, while still in it’s youth is a very acceptable drink. None of that over the top petrol nose, just a delicious and balanced Reisling, though softer than the 99, less mineral and lacking a bit of cut. For the intellectual Reisling crowd, it’s definitely not the 99.

Gewurztraminer Furstentum Vieilles Vignes 2000 ($36)…. Fred loves his gewurz, and so do I. A wonderful combination of roses, citrus peel, and any number of exotic fruits all wrapped up in rich luscious coat. A mere baby, the incredible length finishes with a little too much zest, but with a little age and some food, it will do just fine.

Gewurztraminer Furstentum Vieilles Vignes1997 …. So I found the 2000 a little young, and had recently drunk a 1998, so Fred uncorked the 1997. A big year, a big wine, and a big difference. I confided that I preferred the Cuvée Theo from Weinbach, but that was pretty close. Almost too much flavour, with a density and softness that made you want to flop on a couch and drink it with someone equally soft and elegant.

Pinot Gris Furstentum Selection de Grains Nobles 1996… This was my favorite of the bunch. A super pretty Pinot Gris, still with enough acidity to keep it fresh without taking anything away from it’s honey-like texture. The botrytis is hidden away, acting like a ground wire to the explosion of fruit. Yep.

Riesling Furstentum sélection de grains nobles 1995...Incredible density. If I had a complaint, it was that it wasn’t a 1985. Fred agreed that the pieces were still coming together. It was at this point that I hiked across the convention hall to snag a taster of Tissot’s Vin de Paille for Fred…so there we were Alsace contre Jura…Boy do I love my job.

Next Blog, Salon favorites.

Friday, April 23, 2004

2 Cahors and Some Sweet Stuff

I’ve never really understood the wines of Cahors, Madiran and other tannin beasts of their ilk. Everytime I try to drink one, it reminds of a tasting of France’s south west where I guess I got my prejudice. I left with my teeth aching and purple, my mouth dry as Gobi. ‘They mellow with age,’ the vignerons assured me. Well, as we are in spring cleaning mode, and with some quality sausages on the grill, I decided to see how tame were the beasts, how they would deal with some spicey fair, and can you really drink this stuff when it’s hot outside?

Vin Rouge

Cahors 1997, Chateau Les Bouysses ($22)
7 years old, is this long enough? It has been 3 years since I had last tasted this bottle and from what I remember the tannins have certainly mellowed, to the point where it no longer feels like sandpaper in your mouth. Hints of black licorice, earthy and slightly iodine, and a most incredible shade of purple, it was less heavy than expected and while it had a certain length, it lacked depth. Karl and I both agreed that it tasted a bit watery. It did ok with the sausage, perhaps just a little too somber… I would rather have drunk a spicey wine from the Roussillon, or even better, an nice, old Duoro.

Cahors 2000, Clos la Coutale ($16)
A little bit younger, a little more tannic, but with similar gustative traits. Again, alright but lacking anything even remotely resembling ‘fruitiness.’ I think I preferred it to the Bouysses as it didn’t have that diluted feel. In fact, after around an hour in carafe it drank quite reasonably. Not spectacular, but maybe in the winter with deer or some other gamey beast in a stew, after a day of lumberjacking, when you have that aaargh! feeling.

The Sweeties

Domaine du Tariquet 2002, Les Premières Grives, Vin de Pays de Cotes de Gascogne ($20)
Our balcony wine during dinner prep, the Premières Grives once again proved it's consistent excellence. Made entirely with Gros Manseng and harvested as the first Thrushes arrive, this sort of sweet, sort of late harvest has been a staple at our house for years. The sugar is a perfect foil for the raging acidity, keeping it fresh and youthful, a power pack of fruit in every glass.

Brigantino 2003, Casorzo D.o.c., Accornero ($23)
The surprise from last years Italian tasting, my 4 cases finally arrived. Hailing from Piedmont, the Casorzo is made almost entirely from Malvasia Nero. Slightly fizzy, 5% alchohol, an abundance of sugar, strawberries, cassis, roses, you name it, this could be my rosé of choice for the summer (even though it is not technically a rosé). I cracked a bottle for Robert Monday at lunch, and by the time I left that evening, 2 more bottles were empty. Enough said.

Spirale 1999, Vin de Paille, Stephane Tissot ($57…375ml)
Very serious stuff. And while I believe the 98 had a touch more complexity, this is one of the greatest deals in the world of sweet wines. 300 g of residual sugar, 8% alcohol, I would put this up against many of the best sweeties that Sauterne has to offer. The best bunches are harvested when perfectly ripe (not late harvested) and then dried on straw mats. What little juice left ferments for up to a year and then is aged in small barrels for a couple of years. The result is a tropical fruit cocktail combined with over the top richness that is kept in line with a certain mineral, oxidative freshness. Stéphane was nice enough to pour me a glass of his PMG (pour ma gueulle), a kind of super spirale. Here we are talking about 450 g of residual sugar… 1 ounce is enough, 2 makes you think too much.

Friday, April 16, 2004

A SnowCrab in Burgundy

The Food

The first, and I what hope to be of many, crab des neiges festivals took place last Monday at Fonduementale. Cheers to all who partook in the festivities and in particular, Fred for hauling 24 live crabs all the way from the Gaspé. While I didn’t expect to be ripping the legs of live crabs (apparently, unlike lobster, snowcrab emit a distasteful ink when cooked whole, sullying the alabaster meat of the legs), what was done was done. The key is to get the right salt content in the boiling water, so as not to either add or remove the salt content in the meat. Scowcrab, fresh Matane shrimp and smoked Sturgeon were on the menu and of course a solid of evening of white wine…

The Wine

Reisling 1999, Muenchberg, Ostertag ($50)
Our aperitif whilst we were removing the legs, it was not at all what I had expected. I am a big fan of both his Gewurztraminer and Sylvaner and expected a Reisling with the same delicate, almost ethereal aromatic and gustative traits. Instead it was what I call ‘Full Beyer,” solid and mineral with an almost desert like dryness. It didn’t have that characteristic petrol nose, but it’s richness was almost too much for that hint of flowers and tropical fruits that tried to escape. Interesting, maybe in a couple more years, but I think I have become accustomed to German styling.

Marsannay 2002, Saint-Jacques, Pinot Blanc, Fougeray de Beauclair ($32)
Our wine to accompany the crab feast. An oddity in that while the appellation of Marsannay allows for up to 10% Pinot Blanc in it’s Chardonnay, I have never seen or tasted a 100% Pinot from anywhere in Burgundy. Big thanks to Jean-Phillipe for importing it for me. The wine was perfect for the crab… the delicate balance of peaches, rosehips, minerality and sweetness was a perfect support for the richness of the crab, cleansing the palette while not losing a single iota of it’s character. A sure bet.

Reisling 2001, Cuvée Ste-Catherine, Weinbach ($47)
One more bottle to round out the evening. Probably my favorite producer in Alsace, the Cuvée Ste-Catherine, while less complex that the Ostertag, it had a beautiful focus. That touch of residual sugar is just enough the cut the minerality which often leads to that bitter aftertaste I find disagreeable with young Reisling.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

A tasting of the latest releases from Southcorp

After last weeks Californian debacle, I approached this tasting with fear and hesitancy. It was not so much that I would be let down by the wines, but maybe, just maybe, the problem is me and more precisely that I just don't like these kind of wines anymore. I' ve always liked Taltarni Cabernet, most of Coldstream's output (again the french oak gang) and Penfold's Grange is great. Well... in the end...g'day!

White Wine
I ran into alot of the expected woody, watery chardonnay... including an awful Chardonnay-Viogner mix from Talomas ($22) (a Mondavi-Rosemount Sonoma effort). Viogner is tough, and to boisé it up, you must be a master (see Yves Cuilleron or Francois Villard in Condrieu). And then to dull it up even more by adding Chardonnay... it just doesn't work. I don't understand. I was beginning to believe after the first ten wines or so that I was spiralling.

Red Wine

Pinot Noir 2002, Coldstream Hills ($30)
A perennial favorite, I found the 2002 a little too fruit driven. A touch more acidity to freshen it up would have been nice, but a fine drink nonetheless.

Shiraz-Mourvedre 2001, Bin 2, Penfolds ($19)
A 60-40 mix, nothing too complex but with nice spice and herb notes, and a touch of that barnyard stink that only Mourvèdre can deliver. All at a very reasonable price.

GSM 2001, Rosemount ($35)
An excellent mix of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Again, not complex, but with a ton of fruit, slightly jammy, loads of pepper and just a hint of chocolate. A nice level of acidity cuts right through it's chewy texture.

Shiraz 2000, Show Reserve, McLaren Vale, Rosemount ($30)
My favorite of the tasting. Shiraz as only Australia can do it. Classic pepper with hints of cassis and a touch of rhubarb jam. Rich and fruity but with just enough tanin and wood to create a nice, fat but elegant big wine.

Fifth Leg Red 2001, Margaret River, Devil's Lair ($24)
Cab, Merlot, Shiraz and Cab Franc all packaged into a wonderfully light, spicy, fruit driven wine. Can you say Bar-b-Q.

Balmoral Syrah 2000, McLaren Vale, Rosemount Estate ($60)
A monster of a Shiraz, uncomfortable to drink and probably will be fantastic in a decade or so. Elusive fruit but you can sense that it will give more with time. My tastebuds were a bit blown out by this point.

Sorry, no Grange to taste. If they had a bottle hidden somewhere I didn't find it. We'll see at the Salon des Vins next week.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Touch Wood
if i were a beaver and went to a californian wine tasting, i would be a happy beaver

I went in to this trying to be positive. I tried. But I'm sorry I just don't get it. And I don't think they really get it. Just look at my tasting notes. For the whites, too much wood, not enough acidity. Which one to buy? The cheapest cuz they all taste kinda the same. Wood with pear, wood with apple, wood with caramel, wood with water.... get it? For the reds, too sweet, too chewy, too vanillalee. Big fat woody viogners with little or no acidity.... over-ripe, gunky sauvignons and don't even start me on chardonnay. As I said to the lovely and voluptuously charming Connie at the Esser table.. you are cursed with good weather. But here are the ones that shone, sort of.

White Wine (all quick sips)

Monterey Chardonnay 2001, Morgan Winery Nice touch of exotic fruits followed by a bit of toffee. French Oak, so you can maybe see where I am headed here.

Chardonnay 2002, Markham Very fresh, classic entry level chardonnay... green apples, slightly florale, probably really old barrels so the wood just rounds out the corners.

Chardonnay 2002, Arroyo seco, Riverstone Estates, J. Lhor This one surprised me. A nice mix of green apples, melon and exotic fruits, florale and reasonably oaked.

Chardonnay 2001, Cuvée Sauvage, Carneros, Franciscan Oakville Estate My favorite white of the day... could it be the cooler micro-climate? Burgundy-esque but with that caramelly richness that kills so many Cali Chards. Here it works because of the acidity, it stays fresh despite the richness.

Dolce, Far Niente Winery I can't tell you the year because the guy pouring the wine was to quick to through it back under the table. At $125 the 375ml, i can understand, but at least let me see the bottle. Dude. Enobled by botrytis, it has the classic semillon exotic twang, rich and sweet mixed with that wonderful odor of decay that botrytis adds to the best dessert wines. Not Yquem, but pretty impresssive.

Red Wines

Merlot 2001, Napa Valley, Franciscan Oakville Estates Another great effort, nice concentration of blue and blackberry, just slightly jammy, and slightly spicey on the finish.

Merlot 2001, Napa Valley, Duckhorn Vineyards Must admit that i have a penchant for cali Merlot, but only if the jam is counterbalanced with a bit of tannin.The Duckhorn had a ton of fruit (plums, strawberry, blackberry), a hint of chocolate, a touch of herbs with a finale of roasted caramel.

Profile 1999, Merryvale Expensive at $160 a bottle but with length and elegance. Another of the under the table bottles, but most of my buds that i shared with all thought i had snuck a bottle of Bordeaux into the tasting. It had a bit too much warmth for Bordaeux, but the tanins are real... I bought a couple to see how they'll age.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, Napa Valley, carneros, Shafer The best true Cali cab that i tasted, loads of vanilla, blackberry jam with a beautifully spicey finish. Cool.

IO 2000, Rhone Blend, Santa Barbara County, Byron Vineyard This type of wine makes sense for California... the assemblage of Syrah, grenach and Mourvèdre bring loads of pepper, a hint of fennel and rich, integrated tanins. One whiff and you can feel the Mouvèdre ripening.

Pinot Noir... no one really got it right, either too much wood for the meager acidity or just way too much fruit for the meager amount of acidity. The Schug Carneros 2002 or La Crema Russian River 2002 were probably the best.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Loire to Loire

White Wine

Sancerre 1999, Pascal Jolivet
I recently stumbled upon a 99 from Jolivet and as the 2002 was one of my favorite wines from the past year, i was intrigued as to how it held up. The 02 is classic, toe curling acidity, grassy and mineral. Consumately rich and ripe. Manon and i drank the 99 with a grilled halibut steak served with a pineapple, melon and cucumber salsa. The verdict... would have preferred the 02 with it's aromatique punch. What to do with the 99... mussels.
rating: getting tired

Quick sips
La Segreta 2002, Planeta: A $17 sicilian cocktail of Greccanico, Viogner and Semillon offer consistently one of the better bargains in the domaine of white wine. While the red dissappoints, the white shines.

Vouvray 2002, Riche, Marc Brédif consistently one of my low price faves. The 02 has 17g of residual sugar and already has that mushroomy aromatique quality of aged chenin.Great for cheese and a complicated seafood dish

Red Wines

Sancerre 2001, Domaine Vacheron
An incredible pinot noir from the Loire. This isn't the limpid little pinot that i have usually encountered outside of Burgundy. A mass of fruit, a phenomenal amplitude and a caressing texture culminate in a joyful wow... only great Pinot can do this. I can't wait to try La Belle Dame, his grand cuvée.
rating: grand

Quick sips
Gevrey-Chambertin 2000, Clos St-Jacques, Sylvie Esmonin: The Vacheron Pinot brought back memories of Miss Esmonins Vieille Vignes,, a fantastic bargain. The Clos is it's antithesis, tightly wound, a mass of acidity, a couple of hours in a caraffe is recommended... we'll see in a few years

New World Treats

White Wine

Gewurztraminer-Reisling Fusion 2002, Pillitteri Estates
Something new and exciting from Ontario, Canada. An cocktail of Gewurz, Reisling and the juice of Late harvest Gewurz is perhaps the juiciest little wine that I have tasted in awhile. Layers and layers of tropical fruits with just enough sweetness to render the whole thing irresistable. Works well with cheese and of course as an aperitif... lacks a touch of acidity but that is the price to pay for super-ripe gewurtz.
rating: superb

Red Wine

Shiraz 1999, Reserve, Greg Norman Estates
A monster from the land down under. It is rare that i enjoy drinking this style of wine, but this is so over the top, it merits notice. Up front fruit is an understatement, a jammy mix of blackberry, cassis and raspberry and vanilla is followed by spices that would put some curries to shame. I don't know if I could do the whole bottle, but with a nice blade roast in a sweet marinade (bring on a touch of curry)... could be the bomb.
rating: daunting