Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Rock On
Two Hard Rockin’ Wines

The notion of ‘minerality’ is the most important non-climactic effect on terroir. At the core of the argument is wether or not the vine has the capacity to translate sub soil minerals into flavours and aromas. There is, however, no argument that the taste and smell of ‘minerality’ does exist in a vast majority of wines, and that there are subtle differences in it’s expression depending on grape and region. German Riesling, Chablis, Loire Chenin and a couple of Morgon’s I have tasted are in fact defined by this expression. Does it exist or is it simply due to a ‘lack of fruitiness?’ While I firmly believe that the climactic component of terroir is real and undeniable, the way a soil expresses itself via the vine is much less evident. However, I am way too tired to care these days so I will choose to follow my heart and believe. T’ is the season.

So if you want to taste the rock, here are two fantastic examples. Happy holidays everyone.

Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine 2003, Expression de Granite, Domaine de l’Ecu ($20...saq)
It was damp and dark, full of black stones with hints of pear and grapefruit on opening the bottle. But it was far from tough, it was almost soothing. The seeming incongruence between length and dryness threw me for a bit, but as the wine opened up, I was reminded of a pear tree in full flower in a field of clover on a cool spring day. Pure and delicious, it is the perfect accompaniment for a couple dozen raw oysters or a plate of mussels.

Chablis Grand Cru 1999, La Moutonne, Domaine Long Depaquit ($83...saq)
There was total confusion on the first sip, so much so that I opened a second bottle to be sure. A deep, soft, deafening and profound chalkiness harkened notions of white slate pounded into dust. There existed a bizarre tension between a honeyed richness and a dessert like dustiness, both which went on and on. But as the bottle warmed, white flowers and hints of apple showed themselves, a welcomed bit of brightness. There is no oak to smooth out the corners, just stone, richness and a steely acidity. It reminded me why mythic wines have so justly gained their reputation.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Holiday Mixed Bag
I put together an interesting tasting last week that revolved around the theme of holiday selections. The response was super positive so here it is for blogsterity (all wines are available at the saq).

Vin Mousseux, Chandon Blanc de Noirs, Carneros ($25...saq)

The classic mix of Pinot Noir and Meunier and Chardonnay, I was surprised by this fizzy Cali wine done by the folks at Chandon. Very toasty but with remarkable finesse and very fine ‘bullage.’ One of the better under $25 vin mousseux that I have tried.

Vin de Pays de Côtes-de-Gascogne 2004, Premières Grives, Dom. Tariquet ($18...saq)
I have reviewed this wine a number of time on this blog. Great on it’s own, fantastic with hors d’oeuvres and can handle the mixed cheese plate, the blend of sweetness and acidity make this a great holiday ‘go to’ wine. You should have a bottle in the fridge at all times.

Salmon Entrée
Tokay-pinot gris 2001, Steinert, Alsace grand cru, Pfaffenheim ($28…saq)
A very good Tokay with a hint of residual sugar, it worked wonders with a salmon-scallop tootsie roll mousse that used strips of seaweed to separate the layers. Too strong to be drunk as an aperitif, it would also work with sushi or strong, hard cheese.

Boeuf Wellington
Friuli 1999, Carantan, Marco Felluga ($53....saq)

Check the previous review.

The cheese
I did a little wine and cheese tasting in between the main course and dessert that attempted to debunk the port-cheese myth that ruins so many wine and cheese parties. Here’s three quebec cheeses with some classic, and not so classic, wine matches.

Fromage- Riopelle
Chardonnay 2002, Sonoma County, St-Francis ($22.30…saq)
A big buttery cheese requires a big buttery wine. The St. Francis still had enough of that oaky bitterness to handle the hazelnut notes of the cheese. Brie and Camembert could replace the Riopelle.

Fromage- Baluchon
Moulin-à-vent 2001, Château des Jacques, Louis Jadot ($27...saq)

While I tend towards white wine with cheese because of the salt factor, this match was interesting. The Baluchon was perhaps a touch too creamy for the Beaujolais, but it worked. Any semi-firm, not overly salty cheese could work here.

Fromage- Bleu Benedictin
Pacherenc-du-vic-bilh 1999, Novembre, Brumaire ($27.05...saq)

Once you’ve gone Pacherenc, it is hard to go back to port with blue. Save your port for the sofa in front of the fireplace, and go white on blue. Hailing from France’s Madiran region, the corbu, ruffiac and petit manseng are assembled into a wonderful sweet wine that has both the texture and taste to outlast the most nasty of blues.

Dessert- Chocolat
Banyuls 2002, Mise Tardive, Mas Cornet ($22.75...saq)
Another alternative to the overdone tawney port with chocolate match, Banyuls bring the torrefied chocolate to the table in a much more elegant fashion. 100% Grenache Noir, I find Banyuls less sweet and with a better acidity than the majority of tawneys. This one is muted directly through the lees and has thus and even richer flavor.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Holiday Italians

There is much more to Italy than super-tuscans. Last week, I had the opportunity to try a number of excellent wines from lesser known regions of the grand boot which were all (shockingly) ready to drink. Here are four of my favorites that are available at the SAQ.

Barbaresco 2000, Ceretto ($46..saq)
I have been looking for a classic Barbaresco for awhile now and this is it. The antithesis of ‘Rollandesque’ modernity, the texture is fluid, almost watery but what length, what persistence. Typical of a traditional treatment of Nebbiolo, it has a soft, almost orange tint, a spicy and mineral nose with hints of truffle and leather. Nebbiolo with a couple of years under it’s belt is by far the best food wine outside of Burgundy. Will do wonders with an Osso Bucco and everything a la fungi.

Venezia-Giullia 1999, Igt, Carantan, Marco Felluga ($53…saq)
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot harkened memories of great Pomerol but perhaps a touch riper. Soft and round with silky tannins, the Merlot seemed to dominate the mix with characteristic plum, hints of wet earth and a licorice, anise finish. Very ready to drink, it will shock the Bordeaux crowd by it’s finesse and elegance. Outstanding wine.

Colli-di-Salerno 2001, Igt, Montevetrano, Sylvia Imparato ($97…saq)
Considered one of the rising stars of the Campania, Ms. Imparato uses Cabernet, merlot and local grape Aglianico to unique perfection. More modern in style with dark fruits and oak as it’s centerpiece, the Montevetrano is a study in power and finesse. Underlying notes of moka and torrefaction add depth to the ripe fruit and vanilla notes. Got something wild planned, this would be deadly with lamb or deer.

Morellino-di-Scansano 1999, Igt, Riserva, Moris Farms ($41…saq)
This little known Tuscan winemaking region denotes itself with it’s use of Syrah alongside Sangiovese and Cabernet. With 90% Sangiovese, it reminded me more of a ripe Vino Nobile than Chianti, with ripe cherries and plums dominating the more typical leathery, tobacco notes. Exceptional length, a neat little twist were the rosemary and red peppercorn notes on the finish Completely integrated tannins and with a slight orange tint, this is a mature wine that is ready to compliment the Christmas turkey. Drink now and enjoy the rare opportunity to drink a wine at it’s apogee.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wineblog Wednesday #16
‘You look fabulous baby’

We buy wine for any number of reasons and usually it is NOT because we have tasted it before. Price, region, critical acclaim, etc, are all worthy motivators so why not beauty (it is often the first reason we choose our companions so why not our wine). My entry is from a little known region and from an unknown producer (it was their first bottling), but there was ‘something about the way ….’

Côtes de Duras 2000, Les Apprentis, Domaine Mouthes le Bihan ($30...importation)
Sandwiched between the Marmandais and Bergerac in France’s south west region, the Duras is very much an extension of Bordeaux in both grapes and style. A blend of Merlot, two Cabs and Malbec, it combined the elegant restraint of Bordeaux with the ripeness and rusticity characteristic of the south. At almost 6 years, the first taste was still massively tannic, however an hour in carafe was enough to smooth it right out. Rich, long and exploding with dark fruit and black licorice, it is still not for the faint of palette, but with duck or a piece of deer, it is heaven.

And of course, Bihan is organic in the vineyard and restrained in the chais (indigenous yeasts, little new wood, no filtration or collage). Just how we like

Thanks to derrick and his most sexy food blog obsession with food for hosting this edition of wbw.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Goin’ Vertical in Vouvray
Domaine Huet at the Pullman

I asked Monsieur Pinguet (director and chief winemaker at Huet) what was Vouvray? This central Loire appellation, mecca for the Chenin Blanc grape, produces a vast and varied selection of wines which range from banal, over fizzy ‘vin mousseux’ to some of the richest and longest lived white wines in the world. I have always loved Huet, if not for their dedication to both organics and biodynamics well before it could be even construed as a marketing ploy, but even more for the shear purity and elegance of their wines.

Pinguet replied that great Vouvray was all about ‘equilibre’ and ‘verticality.’ I would translate ‘equilibre’ as the tension between acidity and sugar, minerality and fruit, each dancing in perfect harmony with one another, supporting but never overshadowing their partner. The verticality lies in the soil and the sky, from the depths of the roots to the tip of the vines, each working towards building this tension. It’s a man waxing poetic about something that he loves. That’s cool. Again, purity is the word here: no chapitalization, no malo, indigenous yeasts, old wood if wood is used at all, and nominal additions of sulfer. Vinification is the afterthought, it all happens in the vineyard (which seems to run contrary to much of modern winemaking).

Here’s the rundown.

Vouvray Sec, Le Haut-Lieu 2002 ($39...saq)
Bracing acidity that showed itself through a lemon-lime continuum. As it warmed the fruit softened and ripened. Very mineral and extremely fresh. I would put it in a carafe for an hour or so before drinking it with lightly sauced white fish.

Vouvray Demi-Sec, Le Haut-Lieu 2003 ($39...saq)
Softer fruits at the get go with hints of ripe apricot and kafir lime. The touch of residual sugar softened the acidity allowing the richness of the fruit and the ever present minerality to show themselves. Will do wonders with everything from the sea or as a very classy aperitif.

Vouvray Moelleux, Clos de Bourg 2003 ($47...saq)
A bit big and fat, could be the curse of 2003. I found it lacked a certain complexity and the sweet fruitiness brought me back to super lemon jellies that I ate as kid.

Vouvray Moelleux, Le Haut Lieu-1er Trie 2003 ($68....saq)
No botrytis, just wonderfully zesty over-ripe grapes that became mandarine, clementine and apricot. If water could taste of liquid honey then this is it. Fantastic, exceptional.

Vouvray Moelleux, Le Mont-1er Trie 1996 ($72...saq)
For a 1996 still tastes like it was put in the bottle yesterday. As 1996 was an almost perfect year, the first pass (trie) had both over-ripe and Botrytis grapes. The tension is alive and well here, with mineral notes, a fantastic freshness and a wonderful honeyed grapiness.

Vouvray Sec, Le Haut-Lieu 1982
I found it a bit austere which could have been the shock of going back to dry after the moelleux but even the third and fourth sips didn’t offer up much more. It is done.

Vouvray Sec, Le Clos du Bourg 1961
Brilliant deep golden color. While it was getting a bit scotchy, it still had a fantastic amount of acidity for a 44 year old wine. Bring on the sole marinière.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Patience Pays
An Update from the Cave

Cellar your wine! Like children, they love stability. So even if you don’t have kids, dig deep for that mama and papa in each of us and take care of a few bottles. My rule is never drink from the store as even the most banal wine will profit from 6 months in a stable environment. As proof positive, here’s a review from a year and a half ago (has it been that long?), and the same wine drunk last night.

Thursday April 29, 2004

Riesling Grand Cru 2000, Furstentum, Blanck ($36…saq)
According to Fred Blanck 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 perhaps lacking a bit of cut). For the intellectual Reisling crowd, it’s definitely not the 99.

Tuesday December 6, 2005

I remember it being completely dry but there now seems to be a touch of sugar showing itself. Richer and with less acidity, the minerality of the Furstentum terroir shows itself more. It had the same petrol nose though it shows much more fruit than it did the last time we drank it, green apples mixed with apricots. Still a great balance between acidity, minerality and richness, my last bottle will sit for at least another year.

(Drunk with pan seared Dorade, served on ratte potatoes with caramelized cauliflower and ratatoulli)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sweet Tooth
How Do You Want It?

The world of ‘vin liqoureux’ is a vast and under-appreciated part of wine world. This is due in part to the wallet factor, but I find many people are at a loss at to how to serve them. The classic match is with fois gras. However, this is hardly a staple in most kitchens and many consider it’s production inhumane, resulting in an ever deceasing supply.

This leaves cheese and dessert. A simple rule of thumb for desserts is that your wine must be sweeter than what’s on the plate. Chocolate is perfect for tawney ports and grenache-based muted wines from the Roussilon (banyuls, maury etc..). ‘Caramelly’ desserts tend to go well with more unctuous sweet wines like icewines, sauternes and perhaps even better with muted sweets like oloroso sherries whose oxidative notes bring a much welcomed freshness to the palette.

I have always believed that cheese is made for white wines. As whites will benefit most from being matched with salty foods, many will show their true colors when drunk with the right cheese. For the richer sweet wines, choose stronger, creamier cheeses while late harvest wines are a great choice for the mixed cheese platters which is more often the case after a dinner.

So here are a couple of faves recently tasted. Enjoy.

Late Harvest

Vin de Constance 1999, Klein Constantia ($64...500ml…saq)
The preferred wine of napoleon and other well to do 19th century folk, this South African wine is the king of a naturally sweet late harvest. A rich unctuous texture is testament to the long hang time which results in an exceptional concentration of flavors and aromas. Perfect for the fois gras.

Vin de pays Côtes-de-Gascogne 2004, Premières Grives, Domaine du Tariquet ($18..saq)
I have reviewed this wine before and it is a staple in the Cave. Made with Gros and Petit Manseng and picked as the first thrushes arrive, it strikes the prefect balance between sugar and acidity; a great go to wine for aperitif, the mixed cheese platter, and a semi-sweet dessert.

Québec, Cabernet Franc Late Harvest, Château Taillefer Lafon ($ the winery)
When will the benfits of global warming ever stop? Just north of montréal, this winery is making a name with actual vitis vinifera grapes. While the dry whites and red show promise, I found this Cab Franc late harvest unique and tasty. With a better acidity than most vidal ‘lates,’ this is a suitable replacement for port when chocolate is on the way.

Botrysized, Dried, and Frozen

Niagara, Vidal 2001, Special Select Late Harvest, Konzellman ($20...375ml…saq)
While we are waiting for the 2002 vintage to arrive, this is one of the best deals on the shelves. Partially botrysized, this is a late harvest which combines exotic fruit, caramel and a touch of that earthy mushroom quality which is a result of grapes infected by Botrytis. It has a remarkable acidity for the Vidal grape which has a tendancy to ‘fatten out’ when used in sweet wines.

Passito-di-Pantelleria 2002 ,Ben Ryé, Donnafugata ($70...saq)
Sultry and sweet, and hailing from the volcanic island of Pantelleria, this Italian classic is made by drying late harvested Muscat grapes in the scorching sun and blistering wind that characterizes the island. A wine which combines a honeyed richeness, with hints of mandarine zest and apricots, I have served this with both fois gras and crème brulé.

Muted Sweets

Montilla Morilles, Oloroso, Alvéar ($20…saq)
From a region northwest of Xeres, this differs from sherry in that it is made with 100% Pedro Ximénez grapes. Wonderfully sweet and rich with notes of caramel, nutmeg and hazelnut, I love the freshness that the oxidative notes bring to the palette. Probably the most practical wine of the bunch and very easy on the wallet.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Piedmont for Paupers
A Dolcetto Duo

Ain’t alliteration great? As my quest for the perfect pasta sauce continues (slow roasting tomatoes is proving to be a revelation), drinking habits too have taken a swerve towards Italy. As Italian wine is plentiful and reasonably priced , I have always found it easily approachable, and generally you get what you pay for. Piedmont, however, has remained a mystery.

Barolo and Barbaresco, both products of the nebbiolo grape, requires extended cellar time. Even ‘modern styled’ versions are tough pieces of meat in their youth and besides, there is little available under $60 a bottle. Barbera is a bit more approachable but it’s high natural acidity makes it a much better drink after 2 to 3 years in the basement. That leaves us with Dolcetto.

Dolcetto is a strange grape, often planted in altitudes and on expositions where Nebbiolo and Barbera won’t consistently ripen. Apparently it is difficult to vinify, requiring shorter fermentations as to not extract too much tannin from it’s rich skin. But when done properly, it is a fragrant and alluring wine. If I had to compare it to Beaujolais, it has a touch more structure, a richer color, less acidity and slightly brighter fruit. Here’s two beautes that went down over the last week.

Dolcetto D’Alba 2003, Sandrone ($24..importation)
The DOC takes it’s name from the the region that it is grown and along with Diano and Dogliani, Alba is said to produce the best Dolcetto. A rich, almost creamy texture and packed with dark , almost black cherries and plums. An interesting mineral quality adds freshness which the frightful heat of ’03 might have taken away. A true pleasure and I can’t wait to try a more classic 2004.

Dolcetto di Dogliani 2002, Poderi di Luigi Einaudi ($24..saq)
One of the few grapes of 2002 that escaped the fall rains, this Dolcetto was less vibrant than the Sandrone but had a touch more complexity. It showed the same signature dark cherry fruit, but with earthy notes of truffle and tobacco, and almost an almond bitterness on the finish. Worked wonders with the spag, smothered in the secret sauce and a sautée of king erigé mushrooms.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Gift of Wine

The king of meme over at basic juice has launched yet another challenge to blogdom...pick a wine from your cellar and give it to someone. If you are as lucky as myself, the potential recipients far outnumber the bottles gathering dust in the basement.
Most of my friends know where I live, and my penchant for opening things. So in the spirit of the season I re-invite one and all for some Christmas joy.

So I will limit this gift to blogdom as the ‘why’ is almost more interesting than the ‘what.’ There are many worthy recipients out there so I have chosen two bottles. Beau, cuz he’s so damn cute, gets the magnum of 1996 Chablis, La Moutonne. As an almost full throttle, brett digging Europhile, Beau warrants a bottle of french, and a classic. Encompassing two grand crus (Vaudésir and Preuses), this epitomizes classic cool climate Burgundy. Raised in 100% stainless (after 2001 they began using a bit of oak), and at 10 years old, it should be perfect for the fisherman’s feast. What does it taste like now? No clue but I can’t wait to find out.

My second bottle goes to Huge. Now, while I tend to disagree with most of what he espouses, I find his perspective at least grounded in reason, and always with enough humour to make even his most obscene denunciation palatable. So I offer up one of my favorite of favorites, one of my last Fleurie 2003 from Métras. Widely considered one of the best plots of land in Beaujolais, this wine is a product of one of the masters of the ‘vin de nature’ movement. Indigenous yeasts, no enzymes, no tartaric acid (it’s natural acidity is staggering considering the vintage) and of course, super low sulfite. This means it is a bit reductive and is a bit aromatically challenged, but with a passage in carafe, it should satisfy the most fruit oriented wine lover.

For me, it is the best example of purity in winemaking and I would like nothing more than to crank back a bottle with his Hugeness… and find something new to argue about (like Hockey Huge?).

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Unity of a Grape and a Terroir
The Mosel, Riesling, and St. Urbans-Hof

I make no bones about it, I love German Riesling. If I win the lotto my first ridiculous expenditure will be to add the Mosel tap right next to the Hot and Cold.

I asked one of my confreres cavistes if he had tasted anything great from Germany recently. He smiled and said all of it. There exists an incredible consistency amongst the better winemakers in the region. In the best examples there is a naturally razor-sharp tension between acidity and richness, minerality and fruit. After a difficult 2003 vintage where the razor was definitely dulled and the Rieslings were too rich, it was a pleasure to taste a couple of classic 2004’s where words like aerian, fresh, steely and opulent could be tossed between smiles. Damn do they drink well.

With owner and winemaker Nik Weis present, it was time to learn about why German reisling is so consistently fantastic. He passionately believes in all aspects of the terroir,: temperature, soil, rainfall patterns. How else could aromatic and taste characteristics be so consistent when Mosel winemakers work in such diverse ways? At St. Urbans-Hof, great care is taken in the vineyard to ensure that the wine reflects the character of the land on which it is grown. The wines quality lies in the authenticity of its origin. Organic fertilizers are utilized in order to maintain the natural balance of the soil. Most importantly, yields are kept at low levels in order to achieve intense and well-structured wines. For optimal flavor development, leaves are thinned and grapes are harvested as late as possible to allow for maximum ripening.

Weis works two main vineyards; Ockfener Bocksteinm whose blue slate lends itself to lively, mineral Reislings and Piesporter Goldtröpfchen whose heavy slate and horse-shoed southern exposure lends itself to smokier, richer and more herbaceous wines. Here’s the rundown.

Riesling QbA 2004, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer ($17.50..importation)
A wonderful aperitif wine, this QBa showed notes of kafir lime and other citrus notes, with the expected smoky minerality on the finish.

Riesling Kabinett Ockfener Bockstein 2004, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer ($22…importation)
Slightly richer than the Qba, which is more to my taste, and with more complex and softer fruit flavours. Lemons, limes, peaches and lychee and again grounded with gun-flint slate.

Riesling Spätlese Piesporter Goldtröpfchen 2004, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer ($31..importation)
The winner of the tasting and where that Mosel tension was the most obvious. The Piesporter terroir offers up slightly duller though more complex and smokier aromas. An almost ethereal mouth feel. Outstanding.

Riesling Auslese Ockfener Bockstein 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer ($50…importation)
Dense and creamy in texture, this has concentration and lushness accenting the apricot, lemon, ginger and mineral flavors. Still, it never gets heavy or cloying. Fine length

Monday, November 21, 2005

Confluence (#3...the net)

Follow the link to Lenn's site for a complete list of the junk you might be drinking.. let's get labelling!
The Confluence (a 2nd thought)
Terroir, the Role of the Winemaker, and the Label

I am still intrigued as to how the idea of terroir is rejected by many (most?) New World winemakers. Mr. Stehbens of Katnook was no different (see previous post). So what replaces the terroir model in terms of a unifying force amongst this school of vignerons? In his analysis of the direction of Australian winemaking, he repeatedly emphasized the need for his winemaking brethren to be true to the character of the grape, or ‘varietal integrity.’ The danger as he sees it is that if the trend continues, Australian wines will no longer need to be identified by cépage, rather they will be simply labeled ‘Big Aussie Red.’ His fidelity to the cépage is so strong that he excludes even the idea of blending (even if grapes like Petit Verdot can be used to supplant some of the usage of tartaric acid).

So if varietal distinction is important, and terroir is not, then that leaves human intervention as the defining influence on the eventual character of any bottling. There is no denying that wine is a human construct, however, here is where the most important distinction lies between the ’terroirists,’ and those who deny its importance. For winemakers like Stehbens, it is he who ultimately defines the character of his wine while the terroirists believe that it is the temperature, soil, indigenous yeasts and other classic terroir influences. They are simply there to coax the whole process along, limiting in fact as much as possible the influences of human intervention.

Stehbens and his compatriots are part technicians, part artists, part scientists and 100% god. Any and all interventions are ok as long they approach their personal model of what they want their wine to be, even if it means the negation of the influences of growing conditions inherent in the use of acids, commercial tannins and yeasts. He even maintained that he often describes the final product to his winemakers even before the grapes are picked.

Both of these approaches can make good, distinctive, personalized wines. But as a consumer, I would like to know more about what goes in to making the wine that I am drinking. If I want to know what was used to make my Doritos and Coke, I just have to look at the package. Is it not time for the wine industry to do the same? I would love to know not just about the chemical interventions and exact sulfite content, but also the exact blend, both by the grape of by millisème. I would make a nice change from the three paragraph blurb on the back label that tells me what I should smell and taste, and whether or not some Gomer believes that this bottle is really a great ‘chicken wine.’

I can figure that one out for myself.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Confluence
Damning Overmanipulation of the Juice

For those of you who read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I have a bias for certain types of wines. It is the articulation of why I like or dislike certain styles of winemaking that has eluded me, or at least in a comprehensive ‘Weltanschauung’ sort of way. But this has changed.

At a recent tasting of Australian, Coonawarra-based Katnook, and in the presence of senior winemaker Wayne Stehbens, all these discussions about organics, natural wines, style versus terroir, and so forth reached a focal point, in my glass. It started with the whites.

The three Sauvignon Blancs were all theoretically perfect (gooseberry, vegetative notes, crispness). But I found both the acidity and the mouth feel somewhat off, especially when offset by the richness of the wine. When asked about the challenges of growing Sauvignon Blanc in extremely warm climates, Stehbens waxed the virtues of adding tartaric acid, and of aromatic yeast strains which can handle the high alchohol content of the wines. All this is to preserve what he calls 'essential varietal integrity!?!# ' But the question is then, if Loire and other cool climate regions set the standard for what Sauvignon Blanc should be, and the only way to achieve this model is through what I see as pretty rock and roll interventions, either the standard must be changed to a warm climate model or simply don’t grow Sauvignon in such unfriendly climatic conditions.

The reds are easier to dissect. Typical of warm climate Cabs and Shiraz, they are fruit driven (no Brett here, my friends), but I again find the ensemble heavy, over-oaked, lacking cut and too sweet. That is not a surprise as I don’t particularly like that style but many do and I can respect that. What did surprise me was that the reds were also boosted by both tartaric acid and commercial tannin. If as a result of this manipulation the acidity is too high, then Potassium Sorbate is added. Are these standard interventions for most warm weather winemakers? I always believed my dislike for this style was simply the sugar, texture and wood, but could it again be the artificial acids and tannins? Are there new world winemakers who do not have to manipulate their wines in this way?

While this is damning to a certain extent of modern viticultural techniques, it is by no means limited to New World wineries (the French and other Euro wines regions often use chapitalization to boost sugar levels rather than pruning to get maximum ripeness in weaker years, and I am sure more than a few grams of tartaric acid were used in the 2003 vintage). But because the varietal model seems to remain European, the climatic challenges of California, Australia and South America make these types of interventions necessary to follow that model. Can we taste these interventions? Should the new world winemakers seek out new models so that the wines need not be manipulated and adjusted in a way that attempts to negate one of the primary influences on its character (the weather)?

For me, winemaking is an art.
And over the years I have been fortunate enough to taste thousands upon thousands of wines.
And in the end the most fantastic superlative that I can throw at a wine that I love is ‘purity.’
That’s enough.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What to drink with Condrieu

My favorite blogger and wine drinking Utahonian, Beau at basic juice inquired as to how I would match Villard's Condrieu, Desponcins. This got the motor churning. With it’s heady, soft aromas, relatively low acidity and super creamy texture, Condrieu lends itself to plates on the richer side of the spectrum. Lobster cooked in beurre montée with ginger highlights, firmer fish like tuna and halibut in cream sauces, sweetbreads with a hint of sweetness in the sauce, smoked duck in a salad with truffle oil (particularily the Cuilleron wines), and in terms of cheese, those semi firm which accent creaminess, moderate salinity and nuttiness. Québec cheeses like Riopelle or Migneron come to mind. Some people say it can tough cold fois gras but I tried it this summer and found it got buried by the richness of the plate.
So what would I pair with the Desponcins? To borrow one of Anne"s creations, I would love to try it with pan seared scallops (unilateral), and served on thin slices of roasted beets, sautéed wild mushrooms with a ginger, mushroom foam. Any ideas?

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Couple of Condrieus
Head to Head with Villard and Cuilleron

As Sauvignon is to Sancerre so Viogner is to Condrieu, often copied but rarely accomplished. The combination of being a tiny appellation which uses a grape which requires relatively severe restrictions on yields make Condrieu expensive, and limited. In fact, I bet most people have encountered more Northern Rhone Viogner when assembled with Syrah in Cote Rotie than in it’s pure Condrieu form. It also has the sole particularity of being the most expensive white in France that is best appreciated in youth, when it’s almost inexistent acidity is still perceptible.

Francois Villard and Yves Cuilleron are best buddies and partners with Gaillard in ‘Les Vins de Vienne.’ Both in their early 40’s, they are considered among the rising stars in the Northern Rhone. On Tuesday, I had an opportunity to drink their 04’s with them…and get a mini clinic on the finer details of making great Condrieu.

Condrieu 2004, Deponcins, Francois Villard ($85...importation)
The winner of the tasting, this is Condrieu at it’s finest. It had a delicate yet remarkably complex nose of honey, peach, pear, flint and with just the right dose of fresh oak (45% new barrels). The mouth was rich and creamy, and I was surprised how it’s minerality added to it’s freshness. I won’t even talk about length. Purity was the word that kept coming to mind. I guess the kids will have to eat lentils for another week.

Condrieu 2004, Les Chaillets, Vieilles Vignes, Yves Cuilleron ($85..importation)
Cuilleron’s vineyard is just south of Villard but the soil composition has a touch more clay. They both work in similar fashions in the chai and use almost the same barrels (though Cuilleron uses a touch more new oak), yet the style of Les Chaillets is markedly different. With less schist in his granite soil, his wines do not have the same minerality and thus feel a little heavier in the mouth. I found this bottle didn’t support the new wood as well. Nonetheless , this is still a magnificent beverage. It has much more smoke with riper fruit, moving into dried apricots and with an impression of residual sugar. I had an opportunity this summer to drink a bottle of the 03 with everything from cold fois gras to a truffle-laced veal chop (it was best with the beurre montée lobster).

Condrieu 2004, Petit Côte, Yves Cuilleron ($60..importation)
No new oak and while at first I found the Cuilleron smokiness distracting, it all comes together in the mouth. Like les Chaillets, it had a sweet wine feel without the sugar and while it lacked the fruit of his grand cuvee, it had a creamy almond taste that went on and on. Great length and depth and very, very ripe.

Condrieu 2004, Grand Vallon, Francois Villard ($60..importation)
At first I found the aromas of pears, honey suckle and peaches a step above that of Cuilleron, but without the grounding minerality of the Desponcins, it lacked a touch of depth and thus comes in a close second to La Petit Côte. Still a beautifully crafted wine, I fear it might lack the substance to do the job with a plate of food in front of you.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Why Not More Petit Verdot?
Sette Ponti Makes the Point

Once again I was confronted with the jesus grape of warm climates. Tired of jube jube fruit bombs, those heavy and chewy new world cabs that scream for just a touch more acidity? Well open your arms and embrace the Petit Verdot. While only a minor player in Bordeaux (where it only fully ripens in the best of years), I have come across it in California, Spain and now Italy, and more than a few warm weather vintners have remarked to me how difficult it is to over-ripen. Call it the acidifier, the structurizer, the fresherizer, call it what you will, but yesterday, it was the vintage savior (saver). To read more on this check the review for the Poggio Al Lupo

Lunch was with Francesco Cirelli, estate manager of Tuscany based Tenuta Sette Ponti. Alongside the Arezzo based Sette Ponti, they also own vineyards in Sicile (Feudo Maccari) and straddling the Toscane coast( Poggio al Lupo). I was impressed with the whole catalogue, especially with the judicious choice of grapes for the blending. Many of these wines will be available to us Quebecers in the coming months, so watch out for them.

Thanks Pierre for yet another class tasting.

Morellino di Scansano D.o.c., 2004, Poggio Al Lupo ($29..importation)
A blend of 75% Sangiovese and 25% Alicante and aged in stainless, this wine set the tone. Perfect ripeness, hints of violets, tobacco leaf and a ton of dark fruits, all wrapped around a remarkably soft tannic structure, this is a well crafted wine. I loved it’s ‘un-oakiness.’

Toscana I.g.t., Crognolo 2002, Sette Ponti ($40...saq)
A 90-10 Sangiovese-Merlot mix, this is the first decent Toscane 2002 that I have tasted. As they did not make their top wine Oreno in 02, all the best grapes went into the Crognolo. While it still falls slightly into the void, it has a superb texture. With notes of licorice, bitter chocolate and red fruits, this soft and silky wine is ready for a Sunday roast beef.

Toscana I.g.t., Crognolo 2003, Sette Ponti ($40...saq)
This time 90-10 Sangiovese-Cabernet, this is an explosive beast of a wine. I found it remarkably well balanced for an ’03, not too over ripe and with just an impression of residual sugar. I fear it might descend into the cooked fruit thing if kept too long so I would suggest a short stint in the cellar and then bring on the pepper steak.

Sicilia I.g.t., Saia 2003, Feudo Maccari ($40..importation)
100% Nero D’avola, this is another big, juicy wine. Slightly monolithic as is often the case with unblended Nero, it showed above all sweet red peppercorns with firm, and slightly rustic tannins. I would love to see it in a couple of years or perhaps blended with a little Merlot.

Toscana I.g.t., Poggio Al Lupo 2003 ($78.. importation)
73% Cab, 20% Alicante with 7% Petit Verdot. The best European 2003 that I have tasted to date. It made me thing of a Roc de Cambes (Bordeaux) with it’s combination of elegance and rusticity. Think of biting into a perfectly ripe bunch of grapes and you get an idea as to how fresh this wine tasted. Soft and juicy tannins, it went on and on. And why was this 03 so damned good…? Mr. Cirelli acknowledged the Petit Verdot.

Toscane I.g.t, Oreno 2003, Sette Ponti ($75…saq)
50-50 Sangiovese cabernet, I found it over ripe and a bit too ‘meaty.’ Here is another victim of the heat of 2003. One got the sense of the care that was taken in putting the wine together but for me, but it lacked the acidity and freshness of the Lupo. I would love to try a 2001 to get a sense of what it is like coming from a more typical vintage.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A New Adventure in Wonderland
(Through the Wine Glass)

It started much like the last one, following a tardy but well dressed rabbit down a hole and falling into a pool of tears. As she splashed about, an oyster floated leisurely by, his shell replete with fennel and muscadet. ‘Which way to shore, kind sir?‘, she inquired. ‘It is a ways away but hop on board,‘ he replied. And as she made herself comfortable, 3 radish colored horses surfaced to pull the new found friends towards the Aussie shore. ‘Their names are Verdelho, Chenin and Sémillon, and in their Element they can be a bit fresh.’ he snickered.

‘So have we arrived?’ she asked, but she found herself alone once again. Another queer place she thought to herself, eyeing a gathering of fattened, muscovy ducks next to a forest of celery and butternut squash. ‘Just in time for the race,’ they called to her. ‘And did you bring the prize?’ Alice in despair put her hand in her pocket and pulled out all she had, a sweetly spiced sapote. ‘Queen Constance will love it!’ they rejoiced, as a spicy, muscat scented mist began to fall against a rich and opulent sky.

As if in a trance, Alice spun about only to come face to face with the Rabbit, dressed as if it were time for the hunt. Seeing Alice, he sped away, down one hole and up through another. She followed, through a patch of tomatoes and wild mushrooms until she reached the edge of a cliff. ‘Welcome to the Main Divide,’ read the sign and as Alice peered precariously over the edge, she saw the rabbit floating on a proscuitto chip, happily awash in a sea of Pinot.

Licking her lips she decided to retrace her steps. As she pulled herself from the hole she came upon an old friend, the Cheshire cat. He recounted a fantastic tale of a wild, chipoline crowned deer who lived in a field of caramelized cauliflower and roasted onion. Each night it would sing it’s sweet song as the sky turned cabernet red. ‘Le Bonheur,’ she sighed, as she imagined this powerful yet subtle juxtaposition.

Falling into a wonderful dream, she imagined another life, on an island home to white foxes. Against the backdrop of the translucent sea of Sauvignon, she tended to pannacotta goats who grazed in fields of pears, celery and liveche. The refreshing scent of mint, walnuts and flowers sent Alice into a deep sleep, content in having found such simple pleasures in such a strange and wonderful land.

authors note: in response to the overwhelmingly consistent email theme that I recieved, no, while I do not have any problem with hallucinogenics and other recreational drugs, I was relatively straight when writing this. This is simply an introduction to one our tasting menus.. try and figure out the menu by the clues...maybe we should do some sort of contest... hmmmmm.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

More Biodynamics in Burgundy
A Tasting of the Maison Champy

Believe what you will with respect to the whole biodyamics movement but it seems that more and more winemakers are jumping on board. Again, the buzzwords of being ‘faithful to the terroir,’ ‘respectful of the millisème,’’ typicité,’ are at the roots of the adoption of what seems on the surface such a wacky belief system. Maybe it is rooted in French arrogance, but perhaps that is what is needed to stand up and defend their winemaking style against that innocuous army of little penguins (which by the way is revolting).

Pierre Meurgey bought Champy in 1990 and has since worked to rebuild the reputation of Burgundys oldest winemaker (founded in 1720). With winemaker Dimitri Bazas, they exploit a number of sexy and lesser know appellations in Burgundy, accentuating maximum ripeness and terroir typicité. I found the Chardonnays remarkably, and sometimes excessively fresh, while the Pinot were highly extracted. Here’s the rundown.

The Whites

Saint-Romain Blanc 2003 ($32…importation)
Remarkable acidity considering the vintage. Because of the extraordinary ripeness of the 03’s, they added what he called a homeopathic dose of tartaric acid for the sole purpose of creating an environment more conducive to the indigenous yeast strains that ferment his wine. Like many of the chardonnays of this region, I found it a bit thin and lacking a bit of aromatique exuberance.

Pernand Vergelesses 2003 Blanc ($38…importation)
My first Pernand Blanc and one of my favorites of the tasting. A beautiful floral nose and much better équilibre between freshness and richness. Anchored by an interesting minerality, it has potential to be greater with a short stint in the cellar.

Puligny-Monrachet 2003, Les Ensignères ($73..importation)
In their efforts to maximize the freshness of the wine, they sometimes seem to forget that this is Chardonnay and people want that richness. Thin.

Corton-Charlemagne 2003, Grand Cru ($144..importation)
Nice length with a bit of nutty bitterness on the finish. The best Corton’s that I have tasted have been aromatically intense and I found this one a bit muted, more along the lines of a Meursault. Pretty wine but a bit too expensive.

The Reds

Chorey les Beaune 2003 ($30..saq)
It doesn’t get much better than this for $30. It tasted of spicey blackberry jam and was held up by soft, ripe tannins. Not the most elegant Pinot Noir I have ever tasted but for those people who find Pinot a bit soft, this is for you. Great Buy.

Beaune 1er Cru 2003, Champs Pimont ($57…importation)
This was the winner of the tasting. Ripe and rich with a wonderful complexity, it had a ton of fruit and with all those sweet spices (nutmeg, cinnamon) that make a great Beaune. Slightly reductive, it needs some time in carafe to get rid of that barnyard funk, but for those of you (like me) who appreciate that aromatic quality, you will have a noseful.

Gevrey-Chambertin 2003, Vieilles Vignes ($56..importation)
Nice density with a slightly licorice nose. I found it a bit rough, and even if this is Gevrey, it lacked a certain femininity. Nope.

Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru 2003, Les Beaux Monts ($109..importation)
Great. Soft, spherique and profound, it had an almost chocolate quality to it. This is Pinot at it’s best with explosive fruit, great length and a texture that made me want a plate of wild mushroom laced Guinea Hen. One of the better $100 burgundies that I have tasted.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Terroir Treat
The White Wine of Olivier Jullien

His reds are the most elegant of the Languedoc. They age with grace, gathering complexity like a fall wind. But his white wine had remained a mystery up until last week. I had tried a number of different millisèmes, liked them, but they were simply just good, not the majestic elixir as was advertised. Again, that was until last week.

Vin de Pays de L’Hérault 2000, Mas Jullien ($30..importation)
Composed of a veritable salad of indigenous (and bio-dynamically grown) grapes including Grenache Blanc, Viogner, Chenin, Terret Bourret and possibly even some Gros Manseng, this is big wine with a lot of stuff going on. Apparently his buddy Didier Dagneau of Pur Sang Pouilly fame helps Jullien with the vinification. My first two attempts were foiled simply by a lack of patience on my part. One could sense the grandeur but the combination of too much oak and bracing acidity put it out of balance.

One year later, the mystery is no longer. It had a beautiful floral nose with browning apples, peach and vanilla accents. It reminded me of spring. What followed was one of the creamiest and most complex whites that I have tasted in a while. Terret brings the apples, Grenache a hint of oxidized nuttiness, Viogner that allusion to sweet honeysuckle on the finish. The whole package was framed by a wonderful freshness that apparently comes from the Manseng. Drunk alongside Will and Sara’s inch high pork chops and served with an apple-tomatillo salsa, we shook are heads a number of times at how good the whole thing worked.

Who needs Chardonnay when this stuff exists?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Californian Vertical
Spottswoode at La Queue De Cheval

Hi everyone, welcome back to blogsville, caveman style.

Most of you know I have little affection for most Californian wines (in particular their whites and Cabernets) but a reference to Spottswoode as being the ‘Margaux of California’ was enough to pique my interest, even if it was just to eat a great lunch and confirm what I believe is my well founded prejudice. Thanks to all at La Celeste Levure for putting this one together.

Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, 2004
Possibly the best Californian white I have ever tasted. It reminded me of the 2000 Fieuzal but less zingy and slightly richer. Classic Bordeaux white grapefruit alongside riper notes of melon, peach and even some kiwi. A judicious use of oak rounded out the rough edges and acted as a foil to a wonderful minerality. Super fresh and really, really good. Unfortunately it is not available this year in Quebec.

Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

Primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with a hint of Cabernet Franc, these organically farmed grapes touch only French oak. While the Margaux reference is perhaps a stretch, especially with respect to older vintages, these are elegant and food friendly Cabernets. Not too sweet or chewy, all the bottles shared an interesting minerality and spice component that was a refreshing change from the classic jube-jube cab that seems to be the norm. Here’s a rundown of tasting.

1987… Slightly over-cooked blackberries is a sure sign that it is on it’s way down fast.

1994… Nicely balanced wine though I found it perhaps a bit too straightforward. While it didn’t have any of that cooked fruit of the 87, it lacked the spice component and vigour of the younger vintages. I would have liked to have tasted it a couple of years ago.

2000… Interesting wine that combined bright fruits (raspberry) with more earthier notes, almost Olives. Nice and rich with silky tannins, this is classic Cali cab without the residual sweetness. I had a sense this balance was a bit tenuous so drink em up if you got them.

2001… I liked this one the most and it worked best with filet mignon and mushroom brochettes. The tannins were alive but by no means out of line, just a nice structure that allowed the oak, alchohol, fruit, spice and minerality to support one another. While the Spottswoode folk were claiming this was a keeper, I would drink it now to benefit from it’s youthful vigour.

2002… The first over-ripe wine of the bunch and strangely ‘Parkered’ at 96 (while the 2001 received a 94). Not my style of wine but might make the average Caymus lover pretty happy.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Lobster on the Moon
Nailing Down the Boiled SeaBug

It has been a quest that has spanned almost a decade, but I believe I have finally found the perfect foil for the boiled lobster, with or without the lemony garlic butter. It is a wine that combines the minerality of a Chablis, the richness and oxidative flavors of great white Rhône, and the acidity and herbal notes of Gruner Veltliner. Add to this list bio-dynamic, a hint of sugar, and the fact that the vigneron has chosen to break from tradition and produce a wine that he wanted, as opposed to what the AOC rules impose, and you have one of the most unique dry Chenin Blancs that I have ever had the pleasure to drink.

Anjou Blanc 2001, La Lune, Ferme de la Sansonnière ($50…importation)

While the wine carries the Anjou blanc appelation, it is actually produced in Bonnezeaux, home to some of the best sweet Chenin in the world. However, as AOC rules allow only for sweet wines in Bonnezeau, winemaker Marc Angéli has been forced to give his wine the general Anjou label. While I appreciate the spirit behind the French AOC system, that is to protect the regional character of french wine, there must be room for vignerons like Angéli who are simply pushing the limits of tradition. A Bonnezeau will fetch a higher price than a lowly Anjou Blanc, and people like Angéli should be compensated for their efforts. I have no problem drinking a Bonnezeau Sec. But if this is the future of Anjou, then sign me up.

An intense gold color reminiscent of sweet Chenin, this is a far cry from the white flowers and citrus flavors that are the hallmark of most dry Loire Chenin. Hints of honey, browning apples, figs macerated in eau de vie, are but a few of the flavors encountered as we slowly worked down the bottle. As the bottle warmed, it became unbelievably rich, almost to a buttery caramel that makes me wonder if the wine has seen a bit of time in oak. This was rich to the point where I couldn’t remember wether or not I had dipped the lobster meat in the butter or not. Balanced by a wonderful acidity, it never became to heavy, just an exceptionally profound wine that combines the weight and breadth of classic Loire sweet with the facility of being dry. Amazing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Head First Into the Pink
An All-Rosé Dinner For Two

The Apero
Bugey Cerdon, Méthode ancestrale, Raphael Bartucci ($30..importation)
What’s a dinner without, well, pre-dinner drinks while basking in the late afternoon sun. This rare and magnificent bubbly is a mix of Gamay and Poulsard and the method ancestrale implies a double fermentation which is closer to that of a cider than that of champagne. The end result is demi-sec bliss. The color approaches that of raspberry but the fruit is a mix of strawberry and black cherry. Just enough sweetness to make it go down a little too easy and with fine, soft bubbles that are reminiscent more of a fine bubbly than those of a cheap mousseux. At 7.5% alchohol, a bottle for two is just enough to put a smile on your face.

The Dinner
Coteaux-du-languedoc 2004, Pic St-Loup, Château de Lancyre ($15..saq)

Buy two bottles and pour most of the first one into a pan, add some shallotts and herbs and boil it up. Next, down to a simmer and poach up some salmon. This Syrah-Grenache blend is Rosé elegance. Very dry with a wonderful mix of summer berries and pepper, it is the consummate dinner rosé with more fruit in the nose than in the mouth. A crisp acidity keeps it fresh but is does have an almost creamy finish that worked wonders with the yoghurt hollandaise which accompanied the salmon.

The Gourmandise
Zweigelt Rosé 1998, TBA, Nouvelle Vague, Kracher ($65…importation..375ml)
Expensive, but what is too much when pink is on the menu? Austrian sweet wine master Alois Kracher takes it a step beyond with his French oaked sweet zweigelt. Kracher makes his ‘traditional’ bottlings in Accacia wood while his ‘nouvelle vague’ bottlings tend to be slightly higher in alchohol and in French oak. A truly bizarre wine, it combines intense notes of strawberries, candied raspberries and a hint of burnt bar-b-q chicken. A nice acidity combined with an unctuous texture, it struck me that it had a bit of botrytis which added to the lingering complexity. Interesting and reminded me of a Banyuls but with brighter fruit. Try it with all things chocolate.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

My First Parker 100
Fusion Lunch and Fancy Cali Wine

Another stab in the belly of the beast that is Californian wine. After this tasting I can say without reservation that if I am to drink California on a regular basis, I am going to refinance my house, feed my children lentils and crusty bread, and become accustomed to paying $100 plus for a bottle of wine. In short, I find the entry level and mid-priced wines too sweet and chewy, over-oaked and generally lacking the subtlety that is required for good food matches. However, the extravagantly priced wines, at least in part, are charming, densely fruited and wonderfully complex wines that are unique in the world of wine. Thanks to the folks at Reserve and Selection for the invitation and without going into the lunch menu, here are some of the best selections from feast at Le Piment Rouge.

Abreu 1997, Madrona Ranch, Cabernet Sauvignon ($400…importation)
We finished with this, and it was served alongside of all things..a chocolate brownie. Incredible. Wether this merits 100, 4 popcorn bags, ‘full wood’ or other rating, it is undeniably a very fine wine. Opulent and elegant, it was packed with cassis, other dark fruits and a fabulous texture that can be best described as earthy and meaty. It was phenomenal with the chocolate ganache, a real treat.

L’Aventure 2001, Estate Cuvée, Stephan Vineyard ($100…saq)
My revelation from the tasting, winemaker Stephen Asseo has established himself in Paso Robles and brings french savoir-faire to Cali terroir like nobody else that I have tasted. We tried the 2000 and 2001 vintages, with the 2001 being the winner. He believes in lots of foliage on his vines and looks for the best balance between sugar and phenolic acid at harvest time, and it shows in his wine. His mix is Syrah with Cabernet and Petit Verdot, The high percentage of Petit Verdot (30%) in the 2001keeps the wine super tight, the French oak is used judiciously and the result is a wine that remains undeniably Californian with jammy fruit, zin-type spicing, a luscious tannic structure but held together with enough acidity to keep it fresh.

Silver Oak Cellars, 1996, Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($$$unknown)
A more classic Californian Bordeaux blend of 91% Cab and Cabernet Franc, I liked the underlying sweet spices of cinnamon and nutmeg that came out as we ate out Blackberry and whiskey infused Filet Mignon. Perhaps lacking a touch of acidity, it was still a pleasure to drink and didn’t kill the plate as so often happens with big Cali Cabs.

And One white…

Cigare Blanc 2003, Bonny Doon Vineyard ($35… importation)
97% Rousanne and 3% Grenache, this is Rhone white without the slight oxidation that one encounters with much of French wine made with similar grapes. Very ‘fleurs blanches,’ and packed with peach and pear flavors, I would have liked it to be a bit uglier, as a slight oxidation would have kept it fresher. But a fun drink and it worked well with the yellow fin tuna tartare.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Poggio Alle Gazze...R.I.P.
Saying Goodbye to An Old Favorite

Toscana I.g.t., Poggio Alle Gazze 2000, Ornellaia ($28….nowhere)
My turntable is broken so I can’t listen to Elton John’s ‘Funeral for a Friend,’ but as I am turning 40 tomorrow I in someway feel in the right frame of mind to do this review. The Poggio was Ornellaia’s sole white bottling to my knowledge, a Sauvignon Blanc distinctly Italian, a bottle which I have followed, drunk and enjoyed over a number of millisèmes.

It had none of the grapefruit of Bordeaux, even less of the exotic fruit of New Zealand Sauvignon, and perhaps just an allusion to the herbaceous character of Loire. What it did have was ‘melon-ness,’ a mix of cantaloupe, honeydew and with perhaps a hint of passion fruit. Less ripe and woody than your average American, it had just enough acidity to keep it from being flabby. And while it was a far cry from the wrenching acidity of great cool climate Sauvignon, it was hospitable, elegant and charming. It accompanied a spring roll feast to perfection, embracing the shrimp, mint, ginger and soya. It was easy.

But the great Bolgheri, super-tuscan house of Ornellaia was recently purchased by the Frescobaldi-Mondavi monolith and a decision was made to uproot the Sauvignon in favor of the ‘lesser known,’ indigenous varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Perhaps they will make an extra case or two of Ornellaia or perhaps a dozen more Le Volte. Both are fantastic wines, but I can’t help but feel a bit sad this evening as the last sip of Poggio is drained from my glass. Another great memory to add to the roll of impressions and feelings that make up the first half of my life, and as tonight I begin the second half, a great memory to build on.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Darker Side of Burgundy
A Tasting of Domaine de la Vougeraie

A recent commentator on my blog qualified drinking Burgundy as beguiling and mysterious. As one descends from the Côte de Nuits down thru the Beaune, one encounters many shades of the Pinot Noir, where subtlety and nuance is the barometer of difference.

It is here where the interaction between terroir and style is most marked. As one moves north into the Nuits, the wines become earthier, with darker fruits. Beaune Pinot tends to be marked by the red fruit and the ‘sweet spices’ like nutmeg, cinnamon and anise. The early 90’s saw a Dominque Laurent influenced ‘extracted’ style of Burgundy. Toasty, dark and tannic Pinot Noirs were the rule, but in recent years, typified by winemakers like Perrot-Minot, we have seen an about face, and a return to softer, more elegant Pinots.

So with winemaker Pascal Marchand in town to animate a tasting of his top wines, it was time to see where Vougeraie fits into this spectrum. Of his own admission, he is an ‘extractor,’ with darker and denser wines than the majority, though he foresees a move towards les severe vintages in the future. He believes in long maceration, organic agriculture, optimal maturity and limited yields. Thanks to Vincor for arranging a fantastic morning of drinking. Notice how the whites were tasted after the reds.

Pinot Noir 2001, Terre de Famille ($27..saq)
These grapes were harvested in Vougeot and Chambolle, so it had a characteristic Nuits earthiness. I found it very grapey with hints of cooked fruit. Slightly smokey bouquet, it made me think of dark jube jubes. Nice concentration but a bit heavy. I prefer the Daniel Rion generic as it is a little more elegant.

Côte de Beaune 2001, Les Pierres Blanches ($40...saq)
The only Beaune in the line-up, but very classic with hints of strawberries mixed with some sweet spices, most notably anise. A sub soil of calcaire gives this wine an interesting minerality (think of a lead pencil). With a better acidity than the generic, it had silky and soft tannins that drank wonderfully.

Vougeot 2001, Le Clos du Prieuré, Monopole ($82..saq)
I love Vougeot as it tends to have the richest and sexiest bouquet in the Nuits, so much so that you almost don’t want to even drink it. Floral with hints of truffle, I found it a bit soft in the mouth, and perhaps lacking a certain amplitude…But the bouquet!

Vougeot 2001, Les Cras, 1er Cru ($97..saq)
The red winner of the day. We return to slightly calcaire soils, and thus a more mineral quality that added a complexity that the Prieuré lacked. It had the same beautiful bouquet but with a hint of redder fruit. Explosive, expansive, and an incredible length, this is Pinot at it’s best.

Mazoyères-Charmes Chambertin 2000, Grand Cru ($105..saq)
A smokey, almost leathery bouquet, this was a Burgundy still in development. I found the tannins a bit tough, limiting my appreciation. It needed some food and another couple of years but one had a sense of the good things that was to come.

Bonnes Mares 2001, Grand Cru ($169…saq)
An appelation that is divided between Morey-Saint-Denis and Chambolle Musigny, this product of exceptionally old vines (circa 1902) was another complete package. With soft yet explosive tannins, it had an incredible richness and texture. The evolution in the mouth was equally exceptional as it started with blackberry and finished with hints of strawberry. Incredible length , very expensive, but grandiose.

La Grand Famille 2000 ($234..magnum..saq)
A mix of various Grand Cru barrels that was bright and cheerful, but lacked a sense of place. Okay.

And now 2 whites…

Vougeot 2001, Le Clos du Prieuré, Monopole ($82..saq)
A very ripe Chardonnay that had those wonderful Vougeot aromas. Hints of caramel and smoked hazelnuts and not overly oaked, it had a slight sweetness at the end that I found a little annoying. I would say missing a bit of ‘cut,’ but for the Cali Chardonnay lover, a nice bridge into Burgundy.

Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot 2001 ($127…saq)
I wrote ‘wow!’ in my tasting notes and while less fun to sniff than the Prieuré, it had a mind-blowing complexity. Rich and buttery like great white Burgundy, it had a creamy texture that when mixed with aromas of nuts and clover, approached 'Chardonnic' perfection. A sublime cocktail, I went back for seconds.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Wineblog Wednesday #8
Sicily’s Reds- Meeting Ground of the Two Worlds

Most people tend to favor either New World fruit, ripeness and vivacity, or classic Euro elegance and finesse. This line can be at times fuzzy, as the terroir influenced character of a country’s wine is tweeked by winemaking style, but Old and New World wines remain inarguably distinct and are justly caricaturized. I love Sicily because it so effortlessly seems to bridge this divide.

It is firmly grounded in it’s viticultural history, producing stylish though sometimes austere wines with the indigenous Nero D’Avola. But they do the international varietals with a blast of new world enthusiasm, with just enough sweetness to satisfy the ‘jammies,’ and not turn off the classic, French wine-lover. Planeta comes to mind with their juicy trio of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. All three have super ripe fruit, a good dose of wood and silky tannins; but something always remains unmistakingly Italian about the juice. So here’s to Sicily (my friend fell in love there), and here’s my Nero and a Cabernet that I drank over the last couple of days.

Passomagio 2002, Santa Anastasia ($26…importation)
A blend of 80% Nero and 20% Merlot, the Passomagio is a perfect example of how well Sicilian reds can straddle the divide. Classic Nero D’Avola odors complimented by ripe Merlot fruit, the bouquet reminded me of walking through the forest in late fall, of decomposing leaves and mushrooms. It had a touch of white pepper and an allusion to residual sugar. It had a great texture,with soft, integrated tannins and an earthiness that finished with a hint of jammy plums. At L’eau we served it with a Guinea Hen dosed with black truffle, and it worked magnificemtly.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Fazio ($29…saq)
From the western tip of the island and high up the slopes of Mount Erice, this was an interesting drink. I had previously drunk a way too ripe Muller-Thurgau from the same house (Germanic white grapes should probably stay in the north), but in the spirit of discovery I sprung for the Cab. It started with notes of sweet blackberry and cassis, with a hint of a vanilla smokiness that gave it some depth. A bit thick on the palette, it had just enough acidity to keep it from getting too heavy. As we got through the bottle, the fruit lost it’s brightness and was slowly replaced by black tea, cooked fruit, and spice. I preferred the fresher first half so this is not a bottle to carafe (as I had for 1 hour before diving in).

It was okay, but I would have preferred a Planeta.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Dinner with a Friend

Blanc Fumé de Pouilly 2001, Pur Sang, Didier Dagueneau ($80 importation)
An extraordinary Sauvignon Blanc, and at 4 years old it tastes as though it was put in the bottle last year. With an incredible harmony between acidity and richness, an elegant and thoughtful use of oak, it was very, very classy. If the company at the table wasn’t so good, I might have remembered more details about it, but it was perfect with the cheese fondue. It was intense and stood out on it’s own, as most great wines often do, but was a solid compliment to both the food and the conversation.

Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru 1999, La Riotte, Domaine Taupenot-Merme ($79..saq)
It is amazing how a great Pinot Noir can be so many different things to so many different plates. This is my third time drinking this bottle, and each time both it’s texture and flavors have varied depending on the food being served. Great Pinot becomes this haunting backdrop to the most subtle and exotic of spicings, and always drinks effortlessly. This time with filet mignon- fondue style, it was a texture game. Both the meat and wine melted into a rich and buttery mouthful, with the wine adding hints of dark fruit and cloves.

Some Californian Pinot Doesn’t Suck
A fellow blogger Christian trashed Californian Pinot Noir pretty well, and while I generally agree, I am still on the lookout, hoping to find people in Cali who have figured out how to blend Cali coyness with Burgundian elegance. I recently tasted a couple of Pinots from Saintsbury ($37..saq) and they were great. Equally good and perhaps a touch better is the Pinot Noir-Mondeuse from Au Bon Climat ($32.... importation). It’s a classic Savoie Blend done with enough character to place it somewhere other than France. Great.

Monday, April 04, 2005

New Zealand Gris and Noir

Mention New Zealand to the majority of wine lovers and Sauvignon Blanc immediately comes to mind. While I find it’s exuberant odors and flavors can be sometimes a bit over the top, and often too much for more delicate foods, they understand the basics of good Sauvignon: Acidity, NO Wood and of course, Acidity.
Aside from Sauvignon, us Quebecers aren’t privy to a plethora of examples of what the kiwis can do with other cépages. So when my man Gerald passed by with a couple of high octane pinots, and with an appetite for a Friday evening of excess, Manon and I sampled another side of New Zealand’s wine production.

Pinot Gris 2002, Station Bush Vineyard, Martinborough, Escarpment ($36…importation)
Pinot Gris can take on a variety of personalities, from a light and fruity aperitif wine to a rich and complex food wine. This bottle was definitely the latter, infused with smokey oak and ripe pears, and a staggering 14.5% alc level that was the definition of ‘hot after taste.’ I would have preferred they left a touch of sugar instead of cranking up the alc volume so high, but all in all, an interesting and complex effort that would best befit a mid to strong cheese.

Pinot Noir 2001, Marlborough, Foxes Island ($48… importation)
I have this bottle on L’eau’s winelist, and while I have tasted it on a number of occasions, this was my first opportunity to drink the bottle and see how well it worked with food. Like their Sauvignon Blancs, the Pinot Noir’s of New Zealand have their own unique character, and a style which any European wine lover can appreciate. This bottle is full of dark, almost cooked fruit with just a hint of oak. Much richer than a classic Burgundy but with more acidity than your average American, it had a sweet and spicey bouquet that I have never encountered with a Pinot Noir. It worked nicely with my Sea Bass ‘en papillote,’ which was cooked with beets, sweet potato and carrots.

Good news for fans of New Zealand Sauvignon as my moles have told me that Kim Crawford's will be available province wide this fall. The screwcap Kim is a classic, well balanced Sauvignon that doesn't veer too far into that exotic fruit twang. And at under $20, a true bargain. Anybody have any ideas as to why they smell the way they do? Is it the yeasts, the kiwi trees, the lamb dung?

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Wierd Wines #2
Les Vins qui Tachent

It seems that as the temperature rises blog updates decrease… I will try and maintain at least a weekly post (but thanks to those who emailed me for an update).

The south of France is home to some of the meanest, darkest and densest wines in the viticultural world. Cahors, Madiran and Irouleguy with their Malbec and Tannat grapes are but a couple of the regions whose wines, if perhaps a touch somber, are built to accompany only the richest, and the most gamey of foods. These wines scare me (see cahors post ), however, I opened an interesting bottle last night which merits inclusion in this ignoble club.

Alicante 2000, Vin de Table de France, Pech Redon ($25..importation)
A cross between Grenache and Petit Bouschet, the Alicante grape reminded me alot of Malbec. Dark and foreboding, it’s opacity is rivaled only by it’s tannic structure. Grown mostly in the Languedoc region of France, it is mostly used for blending to add depth and color. Like it’s southern compatriots, this is not the wine to sip by the pool on a hot, Sunday afternoon. Perhaps a touch more fruit than a Cahors, and with less of the black licorice finish, it is loaded with pepper and spice, and of course tannin. I found it actually more hospitable than the majority of the other ‘tooth stainers,’ and perfect for a mushroom dosed braised lamb, wild boar or other tasty meat. Pech Redon is a fantastic estate in the La Clape region of the Languedoc and run by Christophe Bousquet, a young vigneron who also produces great Cabernet Sauvignon as well as more classic Syrah, Grenach and Carignan blends.

Another Near-Perfect German Riesling
Rauenthaler Baiken, Rheingau Riesling, 2001, Spatlese, Kloster Eberbach ($39..saq)
I must admit that I love them all, but this one blew me away. It is widely considered that the Mosel produces the best Riesling in Germany, however, this Rheingau effort has piqued my interest in the region. More delicate than a classic Mosel, the Eberbach was more floral, softer and with less sugar than I had expected. At $40, it’s expensive, but well worth it if you want to start an evening off in style (or an afternoon in the sun).

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Weird Wines #1
The Pain and Pleasure of Drinking Jura

There are certain wines which require a certain reflection before casting judgement. Many of these wines have been around for hundreds or thousands of years, and have remained true to their roots, oblivious to the whims and scruples of changing tastes. I am speaking of the resin infused Retsinas , the aromatically challenged Bandols, the oxidized Grenache Blanc and Terret Blanc whites of the southwest, the Coulée de Serrant of Savennières and perhaps at the head of the pack, the Savignan based wines of the Jura. These wines are often not easy to drink, often needing an appropriate food accompaniment and an open mind. To this day, I have yet to find a wine that so well compliments garlic, yoghurt and oregano as a good Retsina.

So in defference to those who have remained unique in the face of the homogenization that is much of the world of modern wine, here is the first installment of wines to discover, understand and appreciate.

Arbois 2000, Béthanie, Fruitière Vinicole d’Arbois (saq..$23)
It is hard to think of the Jura without a mention of Vin Jaune, or ‘yellow wine.’ Made in it’s entirety with the local Savignan grape (a distant relative of the Traminer family), it is aged in old 60 gallon open casks in similar fashion to that of fino sherries, allowing a film forming yeast to develop on the surface. And there it rests for 6 years and 3 months until bottling. The result is a wine with a phenomenal richness, nuttiness and spiciness that accompanies a variety of strong cheeses and the classic vin jaune chicken.

A good way to enter the world of the Savignan is with this Arbois. Composed of 60% Savignan (aged for 3 years under the film) and 40% Chardonnay, it has the distinctive nuttiness of the vin jaune but with an added touch of browning apples, lemon and vanilla. Serve it at 15 degrees Celcius (around 60F) so as to bring out as much of the richness, spice and nuts that it has to offer. Any cooler, and the oxidized flavors are too strong and the wine becomes way too acidic. It will work wonders with terrines, chicken and with a strong, ripe cheese like Raclette. We serve it at L’eau with a fondue of Victor and Berthold Reserve, laced with cumin and nut bread as the dipper, a phenomenal mix and one which very few wines can handle. My first bottle took me a week to drink but I am now a convert.... So take your time, open your mind and mouth, and discover an extraordinary style of winemaking.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Food Quandry
Shrimp Provençale

There are a couple of plates that I have yet to nail down a great ‘go to’ wine. But as I gain a more profound understanding of cuisine and the inherent subtleties of it’s ingredients (and here is a lesson to all you wineheads out there), I find there are fewer and fewer mysteries. Tonight I nailed down the Shrimp provençale, at least my version of it. With tomatoes, herbes de provence, and of course garlic, I always favored a lighter red instead of a white, believing that any of the shrimps delicate saltiness was already overpowered by my Provençal sauce. But I had yet to find the perfect red for the job.

Well, here’s a solution... Roussanne, a strange but wonderful white from the Rhône.

Côtes du Rhône 2003, Brézème, Roussanne, Eric Téxier ($25...importation)
Made by vinificateur at large Eric Texier, this is a wine for the seasoned white wine drinker. It smells of browning apples, a hint of scotch, black tea and a mixture of garden herbs. I smelt it next to a bottle of marjoram, and I don’t know wether that was one of the herbs of the mix, but it was wonderful together. With little or no acidty, it is a strikingly rich wine and the slightly oxidized feel in the mouth gave it a wonderful freshness. It was a wonderful counterpoint to the acidity of the tomatoes. It held up to the garlic, enhancing the spices and was a perfect match for the texture of the shrimp. Even it’s rather gnarly bouquet dissipated with the joy of each effortless bite and sip. In short, a shockingly great match.

Next hurdle is the ubiquitous yet tasty ‘Jambon a la Bière.’

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Wine Blog Wednesday #7
Near Delerium with Patapon

For my regular ‘non-blogging’ readership, wineblog Wednesday is a forum for all of blogdom to get together and jam on some wine related topic. Number 7 is the bizarre cépage, a grape that either has fallen out of favor with today’s viticultural tastes or hails from some obscure wine making country. Ultimately my choice was helped by our host Andrew at Spittoon ,who in his efforts to eliminate one of my favorite wine making regions jogged a memory of a wonderful bottle(s) that I drank in NewYork last autumn. So here’s to the Loire and the Pineau D’Aunis.

Patapon 2002, Christian Chaussard

Pineau D’Aunis, also referred to as Chenin Noir, is a black berried grape grown mostly in the Anjou-Saumur area of the Eastern Loire. Apparently it is being pulled up in favor of Cabernet Franc, so leave it to the Vin Nature gang to recognize it’s worth and exploit it’s potential. Served slightly chilled, it has Gamay style fruit but with soft tannins and a spicier finish.

Patapon is a mix of Pineau D’Aunis and Gamay, organic, without sulfites, and the label befits the wine like no label I have ever seen; the scribbled name ‘Patapon’ and a drawing of this disturbing ‘Jack Nicholsonesque’ smiling clown. As we sat down to dinner at the end of a long day of tasting organic wines, my 2 hours of sleep from the previous night was catching up with me. Joe Dressner was opening what seemed an endless variety of great bottles, but despite all the choice, Mike and I hung onto the Patapon as we gorged ourselves on some of the best Vietnamese food I have ever tasted (I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant). As my sleep deprivation cocktailed with the wine, the disturbing clown began to smile at me and Mike and I would scream ‘More Patapouf!,’ and thankfully another bottle was plopped down in front of us.

The great wines, while the details may fade away, linger in that corner of our brains oblivious to excess. Patapon and Pineau D’Aunis, a very worthy member of that club.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Naked Wine #2
A Morgon 3-Some

The best way to get intimate with a region is to throw yourself into it with a certain abandon. So with all the recent discussion about terroir versus style, I decided to go back to back to back with 3 different Beaujolais and see what I could unearth. All 3 producers are from the ‘Vin Nature’ school (see previous post) and work the vine in a similar fashion and avoid excessive use of sulfites. While one of the wines was from the 2003 vintage, it was interesting to taste the difference in wines made in vineyards that were walking distance from one another. You know, check out the terroir discussion on a micro level. For a great New World versus Old World style comparison, Beau did a great pizza comp at Basic Juice.

Morgon 2002, Côte du Py, Jean Foillard ($29…importation)
Not the brightest in terms of fruit but the most deliciously rich. Soft on the palette, the typical cherry Gamay is a little darker than normal, and finishes with a hint of mandarin orange. This Côte du Py is considered the best terroir in Morgon, and this was the only wine of the 3 tasted that was 100% Py. According to a man in the know, Foillard filters the lees to gain a little more color, and for me, a little more richness than what you get from Lapierre. It was wonderful with a plate of thyme laced roasted vegetables.

Morgon 2002, Marcel Lapierre ($27…importation)
My third vintage of Lapierre so I am starting to get a feel for his style. A part of this bottle comes from the Côte du Py. Super bright cherry fruit and almost translucent compared to Foillard, and what it lacked in depth, it made up for in spice. In almost Beaune fashion, it picked up on the curry sauce that covered my sole filets. More delicate than Foillard, it stayed refreshing and crisp until the very end (which came way to quick). A very sunny wine but a touch less complex than the Foillard.

Morgon 2003, Vieille Vignes, Jean-Paul Thévenet ($27..importation)
Much denser in both color and texture than the previous two, but that could be a result of the 2003 vintage. It had a ton on fruit, going beyond cherry into an almost candy-apple finish. But most interesting was this lead pencil minerality that I had never tasted in a red wine. It was almost as if I could taste something that was deep inside the rocks. While it was the most complex of the bunch, I found the lead pencil thing a little bit of a distraction.

But the best Beaujolais on the block year after year is still Métras' Fleurie, a wine which a number of people (vignerons and wine affecianados) have told me comes from one of the best drained and best exposed vineyards in the region. Terroir?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Stylizing Terroir

Tom at fermentations has written an interesting post in which he deals with a number of interesting questions regarding style and terroir.
1-‘shouldn't the traditional wine style that is associated with a region be seen as part of the terroir’
2- ‘Isn't a desire to see wines be "terroir-driven" just an aesthetic philosophy?’
3-‘ Couldn't a wine lover, with just as much care and enthusiasm for wine, take the position that style-driven wines are on an equal plane with terroir-driven wines?’

I would agree that these two concepts should be considered with equal worth, though on different terms. From my understanding of the notion of ‘terroir,’ I would have it include all those factors that are beyond the control of human intervention, and that influence the ‘raw material’ that the wine-maker has to work with when it comes time to ferment his wine. These include meso and micro-climates, soil and sub-soil structures of which indigenous yeasts and micro organisms, and topography.

These factors are all constants and to my understanding can create subtle differences between wines made under similar conditions and ‘exigence,’ even if the vineyards are but a few miles from one another.

It is here that style comes into play. How a particular winemaker works his vines, the degree of ripeness he seeks, how he deals with fermentation, etc.., have a very profound, and without a doubt, a greater effect upon the wine that we guzzle back on Friday evenings. While there is little doubt that there is a general movement towards a riper, ‘fruit forward’ style, this component is in constant flux. For example, in the early 90’s, Burgundy went through a faze of heavily extracted, dense, and oakey wines. Over the past few years, we have seen a number of younger winemakers move in the complete opposite direction. There is room for all and it is this diversity of styles that make wine so interesting.

It is here also that we as consumers value and judge the style of the winemaker. On a personal level (and that is the beauty of blogdom), I appreciate much more those winemakers who work to expose those subtle differences that are a product of his particular terroir. I love ripeness, but I find that the heavily extracted style pushed by Parker and Rolland tend to mask subtle aromas and flavours at the expense of nuance. It is my chief complaint against much of the wines of the New World, that they are too massive, too intense. And as I see wine as an accessory to eating, I find that they are not delicate enough for the majority of foods. But that is my stylistic penchant.

So am I thus a style–driven ‘terroir aesthetic?’ I think the answer to question 3 is that ‘terroir-driven’ wines must be regarded as a style of winemaking. But in the end, isn’t it just about making great wine?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Naked Wine
Beyond Packaging with Vin Naturel

The ‘vin nature’ movement extols as it’s primary virtue that a wine must reflect as honestly as possible the millisème that it was made, the terroir where it was grown and ultimately, the skill and soul of the winemaker. Entirely organic in the vineyard, it's proponents attempt to maintain the ‘signature’ of ‘the place’ throughout all stages of vinification. In practice this means the addition of little or no sulfites, allowing the indigineous yeasts that already exist in the soil to work their magic, and no filtering or fining. They buck the trend towards using international varietals, embracing instead the traditional grapes of their region.

This ‘vinideology’ and the resulting wines are in sharp contrast to the plethora of generic Merlots, Cabernets and Chardonnays that are filling the shelves of our stores. These wines are not always bad, they have simply lost their sense of place. Their character, instead of reflecting the typicity of the terroir is due instead to manufactured yeasts and other ‘modern’ viticultural techniques which guarantee a consistent, if unexciting, product year after year. What’s left is up to the marketing departments with emphasis placed on cool bottle shapes, sexy labels and hipster ad campaigns. The wine becomes secondary as it all kinda tastes the same anyway.

So are the ‘Natural Wines’ any better? Many are great and most are an interesting drink, often challenging my preconceptions about both the varietal and the region. Are they better for you? I don’t know about that but with less sulfites I can attest to easier mornings after the occasional excessive soirée. Is it good for wine lovers? Definitely. Globalization at it’s best should offer the wine enthusiast an opportunity to discover the plethora of tastes and terroirs that exist in the four corners of the wine world. It would be a shame if the thirst to conquer certain markets means losing regional typicity. I guess that is why I am drawn to these wines and the people that make them.

Over the next couple of posts I will delve into the ‘Natural Wine’ world, reviewing some of my favorites, some that I didn’t quite understand, and others that were just plain weird.
Thanks for reading and check out Basic Juice for another related take on the subject.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Easton Update

I have already reviewed the line of Easton wines, but it is always interesting to watch a winemaker and his wines develop from one vintage to the next. So while I struggle over my review of the ‘vin nature’ tasting, I’ll follow a path of less resistance and offer up the skinny of one my favorite Californian winemakers.

Enigma 2002, Sierra Foothills, Terre Rouge ($34.. saq)
While the 2000 was a delicate and refreshing mix of honey and flowers, the 2001 is much more Rhone style with those typical ‘heady’ aromas of tea and smoke. With less acidity than the 2000, this Enigma compensates with more length and richness. Both are great but I could see Bill’s pride swell when I made the Rhone style comment. This could be an early favorite for lobster season.

California House 2003 ($20.. importation)
A blend of Syrah and Cabernet and Easton’s first foray into a new price bracket, I found it very Californian with super ripe fruit and a hint of residual sugar, but with none of that suffocating oak. An interesting bouquet with whiffs of horse fart made me laugh and like it even more. One of the better under $20 Cali reds that I have tasted.

Mourvèdre 2000, Amador County, Terre Rouge ($35…saq)
Five dollars cheaper and way better than the 1999, this is Mourvèdre Bandol-style wrapped in a silky Californian bath robe. More of that ‘funky,’ animal bouquet and with way softer tannins, the 2000 is rich, tasty and very ready to drink while the 1999 was a bit austere. A great buy and bring on the filet with a blue cheese and wild mushroom sauce.

Late-Harvest Zinfandel 2000, El Dorado County ($33… importation…500ml)
My first ever late-harvest Zin, it had just enough residual sugar to be a late-harvest as opposed to a botched, over-ripe ‘dry’ Zin. Interesting but how to use it was a bit of a puzzle. Perhaps a spicy, red-wine sauced fois gras or maybe some sort of chocolate, mushroom and cassis cake… or probably just straight up, or maybe….?

Monday, February 21, 2005

My Dinner with Barbera

My recent foray into Italian wines has been a revelation with respect to the difference between ‘good wine,’ and ‘good- food wine;’ wines that drink well and those that ‘eat well.’ The Italians are masters of food wines, wines that can transform and morph into the perfect companion to whatever is on your plate. If you can get close, the bottle will take you the rest of the way, making even a so-so choice a pleasant experience. I kinda botched this one but Barbera bailed me out.

I gave Nate, my 3 year old son, a meat tenderizer and let him take care of the veal. I then baked the scallopines in a half pound of fresh shitake mushrooms, garlic and basil. A semi-successful attempt at home-made gnocchi was the side dish with a classic ceasar to round out the table.

Barbera d’Asti 2001, La Tota, Marchesi Alfieri ($26..saq)
I am a novice when it comes to this Piedmont grape. However, the majority of Italian wines are not ‘fruit driven,’ so I was a bit shocked by the rich notes of blackberries and other dark fruits. Super silky tannins with a just a hint of vanilla, I found it very linear, almost meaty, and lacking any of those sexy earthy notes that characterize so much of Italian wine, and what I wanted to go with my mushroom laden veal. But as we ate, the wine forgave, and subtle notes of spices came through the brin of fruit. It was still better on it’s own, and maybe made for pasta, but it did it’s best to take a backseat to the food; a decent match but not fantastic. I was left wondering wether this was typical barbera... the investigation has begun.