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.