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?