Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Viña Montes Purple Angel 2007, Colchagua Valley, Chile
There’s real truth in advertising here: The deep, opaque purple is the first thing you notice, a shimmering, glass-staining color remarkable in its own right. It smells like classic carmenère with an added dose of intensity: Concentrated spiced plums and dark cherries are balanced out by notes of grilled green pepper, spice, blackberry, black cherry, cigar tobacco, and a touch of eucalyptus. For all the richness and palate-coating texture of the wine, it’s an almost salty quality to the attack that first jumps out, a mineral spine that runs throughout this otherwise black cherry- and cherry liqueur-expressive wine. With air, the fruit turns sweeter and more dominant, making this much more approachable right now than it implies right out of the bottle. This is one for the cellar, and with time, the oak, beautifully concentrated fruit, and spice and licorice notes will integrate to create a wine of even greater complexity. Drink 3 - 7 years. 92% carmenère, 8% petit verdot.
Montes Star Angel Syrah 2007, Paso Robles
On the nose, this reminds me of a particularly nice brunch: Toast and blackberry compote and bacon that, for all its depth, remains fresh and bright. The palate shows loads of sweet blackberry fruit, with a ripeness that stays focused and balanced. There’s also licorice and hints of star anise here as well, and this follows through to the finish where it’s joined by cocoa powder and black cherry liqueur with more black licorice and a touch of mesquite. Very well-made, generous and large in scale, yet still focused. Solid potential for short- to medium-term aging, but with this expressive fruit, I’d have a hard time resisting it sooner. Drink now - 5 years.
Montes Star Angel Red Wine 2007, Paso Robles
Darker color, but still not quite opaque. More subtle nose here, with garrigue flashing through here and there between the cherry fruit. There’s also a creamy note here that softens it up at the edges, almost like a nice bacon cream with a hint of sweetness. Again, very sweet fruit here, and the oak is a bit more apparent, with cinnamon and clove spicing it up, as well as Chinese five spice, cigar tobacco, cocoa powder, and hazelnuts. Dusty tannins and oak character that still need to be integrated more fully imply a long-lived wine, 5 - 12 years at least, but again, with the fruit here, it’ll be tough to resist for that long. Buy several and see what promises to be an excellent, interesting evolution. 94% syrah, 4% grenache, 2% mourvedre.
J Cuvée 20, Sonoma
Very attractive laser-point bubbles and a nose that speaks of toast with butter and lemon crème fraîche lead to a palate that sings with bright acidity and excellent concentration, as well as spun sugar, candied lemon, and bright minerality. Its yeast notes really come through on the finish, which itself is tinged with that lemony acidity of the mid-palate. This is a beautiful example of what California sparkling wine is capable of: Intensity, vinosity, and a promise of further evolution. Drink over the next 2 - 4 years, but it’s delicious right now.
Very subtle, unexpectedly transparent nose here that whispers of mushroom and raspberry and a bit of toasted brioche. The palate is creamy despite its bright acidity, and notes of concentrated raspberry, red cherry, and cream come through. This is all about subtlety and transparency, and it succeeds very well. Drink now, and definitely enjoy with food.
Porto Kopke Colheita 1986 (bottled in 2005)
The lightness and transparency of the honeyed amber color here is remarkable. On the nose, it’s gorgeously lifted, with spice and mushroom components that find their counterparts in a subtle florality, all of it carried along a rich, round layer of nougat: Amazing how this runs the gamut from masculine to feminine in just one whiff. This is astoundingly delicate on the palate, with spice and the barest intimation of red berry fruit darting in and out of the spotlight, and joined by orange, candied orange peel, brown sugar, aromatic spices, and flowers. This is a complex, seamless, endlessly evolving Colheita. The finish, all toffee and honey and dried apricot, goes on for a minute, and only slowly recedes first into even greater subtlety, then a whisper, then a beguiling memory of a remarkable wine. This Port is like a ballet dance of nuance--a sweet wine not defined by its sweetness--and shows that tawnies can be some of the most elegant wines in the world. Remarkable, and utterly delicious.
Finally, with New Years Eve just two days away, I’ve included below some highlights from the Wine Media Guild rosé Champagne tasting I attended in New York at the beginning of the month. [Thanks to Ed McCarthy for presenting a fantastic program, as always.]
Among non-vintage bottlings, the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé, as always, was a beautifully crafted wine with plenty of pastry crust, red berry fruit, and cream--perfect for starting off the night’s celebrations on the right foot. Ayala Brut Rosé Majeur, like the Feuillatte, delivered a lot of wine for relatively little money: The strawberry here is addictive. Ariston Fils Brut Rosé was a standout, its crystal-clear wild strawberry and raspberry character framed by an intense vinosity. Bruno Paillard Brut Rosé Première Cuvée, while a bit more money, was a winner: With deep, candied strawberry and cherry fruit, a note of warm brown sugar, and a long finish, it was great on its own and even better with food. Delamotte Brut Rosé showed a solidly integrated character that included mushrooms, flowers, and more aromatic truffles: Excellent. Charles Heidsieck Brut Rosé Réserve was round, lush, and structured, with a beam of minerality providing backbone. Pol Roger Brut Rosé was a taut, elegant expression of pinot noir.
Vintage standouts included the Charles Gardet Rosé 2001, and exceptionally vinous wine whose maturity sang through with brown spice, leather, and truffles, and whose pinot noir character really came to the fore. The Gosset Célébris Brut Rosé 2003 was surprisingly--and charmingly--bright and structured given its vintage. Taitinger Comtes de Champagne Brut Rosé 2004, while still quite young and fruit-driven, demonstrated ample potential for development in coming years. Perrier-Jouët “Fleur de Champagne” Brut Rosé 2002, while expensive, was one of my wines of the tasting, a bright bubbly that reminded me of strawberry jam on whole wheat toast, and whose almost tannic structure promises a long life ahead. And the Charles Heidsieck Brut Rosé 1999, with its graphite and mushroom notes, is just now hitting its stride and utterly impossible to stop sipping.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
With New Years Eve dinner parties just a few days away, and menus and wine selections being finalized for the celebrations, this seems like the right time to discuss the issue of wine service--particularly, what kind of glass to pour your wine into and whether or not to decant the bottles you’ll be serving.
Regarding the first issue, I strongly recommend reading the article linked up right here, posted just last week, by Jancis Robinson on the web site of the Financial Times. She recommends a number of specific glasses, though her most salient point seems to be that, contrary to popular belief, wine professionals don’t generally obsess over what kind of glass to serve wine in. As long as the glass provides ample room for swirling and breathing, is narrower at the rim than at the widest point of the bowl, is fairly thin, and provides enough room for an appropriately sized pour, it’ll do just fine. Issues of aesthetics and feel are personal, and should certainly be considered, but they won’t necessarily have a major impact on the experience of drinking the wine.
Then there’s the issue of decanting, which The Guardian’s Fiona Beckett addresses in a recently posted commentary. Her advice can be summed up like this: “The most obvious reason to decant is that the wine has thrown a deposit, and that's really only likely with vintage or crusted ports and aged unfiltered reds...You may also want to get some air into a wine that smells slightly stinky - there are more of these around given the growing popularity of natural wines made with no or very little sulphur - or full-bodied young reds that need a bit of aeration to mellow over-aggressive tannins. You might even want to decant a full-bodied white if you feel it's tasting a bit funky or not showing at its best.”
The important point to remember is that all of this pre-sipping routine--choosing the stemware, decanting (or not)--is done in the service of maximizing the enjoyment you get from your wine. Everything else is secondary.
Monday, December 27, 2010
With the holidays here, and all the pressure to pop the best corks in your cellar for everyone who stops by to say hello, Matt Kramer has written a fantastic piece on Wine Spectator's web site on which guests you should or shouldn’t open which wines for. I’ll avoid saying whether I agree with him or not (call it political expediency), but it’s well worth a read.
As Kramer says: “I care a great deal about who gets served a certain wine. I realize that this makes [me] less than a generous, all-embracing soul. And in my defense, it's got nothing to do with money. Instead, it's got to do with my conviction that there's no sense squandering a great wine—or even a carefully cellared minor jewel—on somebody who could care less about what's put in front of them. Never mind congenial food. The real art of ‘pairing’ lies in the right wines for the right guests.
“Nobody likes to mention this sort of thing because it makes you seem snobbish or even churlish. Yet I know I'm not alone in these dark, semi-unsociable feelings.”
Tough? Absolutely. Justified? Difficult call. Read his argument for yourself, as well as the comments that follow.
[Note: The photo above is from The Wall Street Journal.]
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
This week, I’ve ordered the wines as they’d appear in a meal: We start with three sparklers, move on to a lovely Tuscan white and red, head over to the Rhone for a Crozes-Hermitage, continue south to Argentina for a big, juicy red blend, and finish off with a California cabernet that, though drinking very well right now, still has plenty of time left to evolve in the bottle.
Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava
With its appealing light straw color and pinpoint lacing, this has always been a Cava of elegance and excellent value (and, now, a new label). It speaks of bright green apple, citrus, and a hint of nuts, but it’s primarily a fruit-driven bottle. On the finish, a zing of minerality comes through, which, with the mouth-watering acidity and overall crisp character, provides excellent backbone. As always, this is a very good everyday sparkler, refreshing and food-friendly.
La Cave de Die Jaillance Cremant de Bordeaux “Cuvee de l’Abbaye” Brut
What a lovely, bright sparkler: Grapefruit, warmed honey, vanilla creme Anglaise, and something a touch waxy mingle to create a nose that’s both unfamiliar and deeply comforting. The palate explodes with sweet citrus fruit both in the grapefruit and Mandarin orange family, as well as a taut minerality, ginger, and well-balanced acidity that lend this sparkler a sense of seriousness. Let this one sit on the counter for 10 minutes after taking it our of the fridge: When the edge of the chill comes off it, a beautiful bass note of brioche pumps through, leading to a finish rich with that Anglaise from the nose. Very, very well made, and a wonderful option both for New Years or, for that matter, any time you want to treat yourself.
La Cave de Die Jaillance Cuvee Imperiale Clairette de Die
Very intense nose of concentrated honey suckle, orange blossom, and other warm-weather flowers, with and edging of orange oil. It’s sweet and concentrated on the palate, too, with pronounced notes of spice, honeycomb, and candied apple and nuts that follow through to the finish. This is a nice wine for rich cheeses or to ring in the New Year with.
Banfi Centine White 2008, Toscana
There’s an unexpected floral note to the nose here, and aromatic lift that speaks of peaches and orange blossom, and in that way implicitly references summertime. There’s also a hint of something a touch spicy, which itself adds to the wine’s sense of freshness. This blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and pinot grigio is very clean on the palate, with well-balanced acidity that keeps the peach and apricot notes fresh. There’s some apple here too, as well as a hint of something a bit honeyed. Hazelnuts and a touch of nougat sing on the finish, which still remains nicely mouth-watering. What a charming wine, and a serious bottle for the money. Drink now with anything, or with nothing at all.
Banfi Centine Red 2007, Toscana
Lots of red cherries and ripe fraises de bois on the nose of this fabulously food-friendly Tuscan blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. There’s also a bit of minerality here, as well as cured black Sicilian olives and a hint of dried Mediterranean herbs and chocolate. On the palate, this medium-bodied wine boasts plenty of red and darker berry fruit and ripe cherries, but also touches of coffee grinds and, on the finish, a bit of smoke and leather. Well-made and complex, lovely integrated tannins, and an excellent value. Drink in the next three years.
Cave de Tain Crozes-Hermitage “Les Hauts du Fief” 2006
Such a pretty, accurate nose. Black raspberries, blackberries, asphalt, and something a bit funky, like grinding peppercorns in a barn (in a good way!). With some time, a gentler face starts to show itself, the pepper taking on a more perfumed note and the fruit resolving into a riper, sweeter style. On the palate, this is appealingly elegant, with fully integrated tannins, a silky texture, and subtle fruit that indicates that this is a wine at its peak. There are some tea notes on the finish, as well as a lingering hint of earthiness lending it all a sense of richness underpinning its elegance. Really good stuff.
Kaiken “Corte” Malbec - Bonarda - Petit Verdot 2008, Mendoza
A beautiful, glistening opaque purple color with a center verging on black. The implications of that appearance come through on the nose, which is well-lifted by blackberries, black cherries, smoky plums, and hoisin sauce. There’s also something reminiscent of tarragon in there, perhaps a bit of the cabernet’s freshness poking through. On the palate, the fruit is sweet and ripe, with those cherries taking the lion’s share of attention. Still, this isn’t just a fruit-expressive bottling: Sweet tobacco, black licorice, bonfire, and a touch of birch bark add depth and complexity. Very well-made, and compulsively drinkable. Could go three more years, but there’s no need to wait.
SIMI Cabernet Sauvignon Landslide Vineyard 2007, Alexander Valley
The minerality is the first thing you’ll notice here, a terroir-driven nose that indicates a wine that, year after year, is firmly rooted to this particular patch of land. There’s bright currants and spice there too, though it’s still tightly wound, practically coiled to explode with more time in the bottle. The palate here is remarkably similar to the nose, though there’s a bit more lushness to the fruit than you might expect, more cherries as well as tea and oak spice that still needs some time to integrate fully. All of it is buttressed by tannins that, though attractively sweet, still have 7 - 10 more years of life to give this excellent wine whose future in the cellar is very bright indeed. Drink now with food and a good decanting, or hold onto it for even more pleasure.
Monday, December 20, 2010
With the holiday gift-buying rush upon us, this is the perfect time to focus on the books that the food, wine, and cocktail lovers in your life would be more than happy to find under their tree, by their menorah...or anywhere else, for that matter. Here are five that I strongly recommend.
Vino Argentino: An Insider’s Guide to the Wines and Wine Country of Argentina, by Laura Catena
From the Wonder-Woman of the wine world (Catena is an emergency room physician, producer of fantastic wines, and one of the most recognizable faces of Argentina’s wine industry), this book is an excellent primer on what makes Argentina such an alluring destination for wine fanatics and casual sippers alike. In fact, I began reading this book shortly after returning from a 10-day tour of the country myself, and it not only brought me back to the magic of the country, but also served to clarify and highlight certain experiences I had while there. (It also made me want to return to Argentina immediately, which, come to think of it, I've wanted to do since returning to the States back in October!)
Unlike most wine books, Vino Argentino doesn’t just focus on the juice. Instead, it serves as a tour guide through the country’s most important wine regions (with sections on their history, major players, wines, and more) and also provides an excellent sense of cultural and historical context. There are forays into the occasional technical issue, but it’s always entertaining and charmingly presented, and it’s always at the service of Catena’s larger goals: To educate consumers about her beloved country, and to share her enthusiasm for its people, its culture, its food (there are a number of fabulous recipes in the book), and, of course, its magnificent, world-class wine. She succeeds with gusto.
Secrets of the Sommeliers: How to Think and Drink Like the World’s Top Wine Professionals, by Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay
Bringing together one of America’s most respected sommeliers and one of the field’s most accomplished wine writers, and Secrets of the Sommeliers delivers exactly what you’d expect from a team like this: Serious information--much of it informed with the kind of “insider” knowledge that these two have accrued over the years--conveyed in a way that’s both casual and compulsively readable.
The varietal guide to blind tasting is particularly useful to budding professionals and the most passionate consumers, and a rundown of the best importers to become familiar with provides a fantastically helpful guide to consumers who find themselves confused and overwhelmed when picking through the wine-store shelves. Advice on topics as diverse as food and wine pairing, wine travel, service, and making the most of auctions are very well-researched and laid out, but it’s Parr’s and Mackay’s willingness to speak truth to power, as it were, that really sets this book apart: Referring to Krug’s Clos d’Ambonnay, for example, as having “the ignominious distinction of...[being] the world’s most overpriced Champagne” is gusty and bracingly refreshing. In other words, exactly what the wine world could use more of.
Speakeasy: Classic Cocktails Reimagined, from New York’s Employees Only Bar, by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric
Suddenly, somewhere along the way, cocktails became a serious business again. Maybe it’s the pendulum’s natural swing back from the ridiculousness of Carrie Bradshaw’s sugary-sweet cosmos and every crime-against-nature apple-caramel martini that we’ve ever been subjected to. Whatever the cause, serious drinks are the stuff of grown-ups once again. Finally.
Which is where Speakeasy begins, and the place from which it takes off. The recipes are excellent (after testing a number of them, I’ve become an unrepentant addict of their Secret Crush, a riff on the Champagne cocktail that calls for Llopart Cava brut rosé and Campari, and results in a compulsively drinkable treat any time of day); the advice to use real ingredients as opposed to resorting to mass-produced ones of questionable quality is well-argued (their recipe for a lime cordial, key to a good gimlet, is brilliant); and the style--well-informed, considerate, and thoroughly engaging--is just what you’d want from two of the country’s leading beverage personalities.
At Home with Madhur Jaffrey: Simple, Delectable Dishes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, by Madhur Jaffrey
Few cuisines intimidate home cooks quite like the ones listed above. Mention to even the most accomplished dinner-party host or hostess that you’d like to learn to prepare the emblematic dishes of South Asia, and you’re more often than not met with an uncomprehending stare that mixes fear and incredulity. Its reputation --not necessarily true, by the way--for being endlessly difficult to prepare at home, especially for unseasoned cooks, has frightened generations of people who otherwise love the food.
Madhur Jaffrey, however, not only takes the fear out of cooking the food of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, but her recipes are both approachable and utterly delicious. Start with something simple--say, roasted cashews spiced with cumin and cayenne. This is exactly the sort of deceptively simple, high-impact item to whip up for cocktail hour with friends, and perfumes the house with a scent both exotic and unarguably comforting. Move on to a Sri Lankan fish curry, which sounds daunting until you see Jaffrey’s recipe: Easy to prepare, time-effective, and, like so much else in this excellent cook book, impressive. For passionate home cooks and, frankly, anyone who loves to eat, this book is a necessary addition to the kitchen.
At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining, by Steve Poses
As a native Philadelphian, I take a special kind of pride whenever the name Steve Poses comes up in conversation: He has done as much as anyone to put Philadelphia on the nation’s food map, and his Frog/Commissary Cookbook, written with Anne Clark and Becky Roller, informed so many of my own mother’s dishes growing up that, over the years, I mush have eaten every recipe in it.
Now, with At Home, Poses turns his attention to one of the biggest dilemmas of all: How to make the most of entertaining, well, at home. This is not an easy task: Many of us, when pressed, are happy to bake a few boxes of frozen hors d’oeuvres, cook up the same tired dishes we always do, and hope that our guests drink enough in the beginning to miss the obviously repetitive nature of the get-together.
At Home changes that.
The recipes in this book are, as always with Poses, easy to prepare and pack a serious flavor punch. Shrimp poached in coconut milk with pumpkin and cilantro pesto is exotic, decadent, and tastes like it took far longer to create than it does. Savory ricotta cheesecake flips expectations on their head and serves as an excellent, whimsical first course. But more than that, At Home provides the kind of advice and guidance that could only have come from a professional with Poses’ experience: Advice for rolling and tying napkins, microwave do’s and don’ts, a running commentary on how to successfully entertain at home, and more. It’s all here and then some, all presented in the charming, conversational voice that’s inimitably Poses’.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
SIMI Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Alexander Valley
This shows a surprisingly high-toned nose, with super-ripe and roasted green bell peppers, a passing whiff of wild mint and licorice, and lots of currants. Its youth is apparent on the palate, where it’s still tightly wound and not showing all that it ultimately will. For now, there’s coffee grounds, as well as a creaminess that carries within it intimations of tiny wild strawberries, raspberries, brambly fruit, and wild herbs, with a hint of fennel on the finish. There’s lots of potential here; let it evolve for another 2 or 3 years, and then enjoy it for 4 - 6 after that, when it should really come into its own. The acid and tannins will allow it to age well. Subtle, with great structure.
Quivira Vineyards and Winery Zinfandel 2008, Dry Creek Valley
The nose here explodes with a deep, ripe bowlful of summertime berries: Blackberries, black raspberries, and wonderfully evocative strawberries. There’s some peppercorn spice too, but this wine’s story centers on its density of fruit. All that fruit, in fact, follows through to the palate, where it manifests itself with a sweetness, as well as a hint of cherries reduced with a splash of balsamic, that’s addictive. Lush mouthfeel, with subtly dusty tannins that serve as excellent and successful foils to the glycerin-like slipperiness. This is a wine that manages to be both fun and serious at the same time. Drink now, with barbecue or a burger.
Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2009, St. Helena, Napa Valley
There’s an earthy, almost mushroom-referencing note to the nose here: Unusual, unexpected, and intriguing. With air, this refines itself into fruit in the clementine family, and there’s an almost fresh-herb-and-spun-sugar perfume to it that makes the aroma a lovely analog for summertime, no matter when you’re drinking this. The palate is much more acidic and tightly wound than the nose implies: This is a sauvignon blanc for the cellar. Flavors of slate, lemon, and something lanolin-like linger on the finish, and promise a wine of both serious potential and intense food-pairability. Loire-like in profile; tasted blind, I’d think Sancerre more than Napa. Excellent. 4 - 6 years.
Waterstone Merlot 2007, Napa Valley
Lots of juicy plum and berry aromas jump from the glass here, an almost light-bodied, relatively high-toned mixed-berry composition kicked up with shiso, if such a thing exists. The palate is still tight and not showing much fruit right now beyond a subtle hint of cherry, though in time more cherry, tea, colorado-wrapper cigar, as well as more tarragon and shiso flavors, should express themselves nicely. Restrained style, and a nod in the direction of Napa’s potential for subtler reds. 3 - 7 years.
Cupcake Vineyards Riesling 2009, Columbia Valley
The nose here is defined by its soft peach and orange blossom notes, a summery combination that implies sweetness but doesn’t force the issue. On the palate, those peaches are joined by tart apples, a touch of grapefruit and minerals, and a hint of the kind of petrol note that defines accurate Rieslings all over the place. Pleasant, straightforward, and a nice accompaniment to spicy dishes. Drink now.
Clos du Bois Pinot Noir 2008, North Coast
There’s nice lift to the spicy cherry and kirsch of this wine’s nose, an expressiveness that people who haven’t tasted Clos du Bois lately might not expect. Those cherries follow through to the palate, where they’re joined by mushrooms and a smoky mesquite finish that adds depth and a nice grounding to the fruit. Drinking well right now.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Wine on the web just got a bit better with the relaunch of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board’s website, AustrianWine.com, a few weeks ago. As readers of this blog know, I’m a big believer in the wines of Austria--from the expressive, pairable-with-everything whites like Gruner Veltliner to the spicier, endlessly rewarding reds like St. Laurent, Zweigelt, and Blaufrankisch, the wines of Austria are some of the most exciting in Europe right now.
Now, with this relaunched web site, consumers will have a chance to learn even more about Austria’s wines and stay up to date on recent developments. With everything that’s happening with Austrian wine these days, this is definitely a site worth adding to your favorites folder and checking regularly.
Monday, December 13, 2010
With all the news and ongoing commentary about the ever-skyrocketing prices of First Growth Bordeaux, it’s easy to forget that these legendary wines are far different from most other luxury goods. Their history sees to that, and the fact that they’re not products that have been expressly created to appeal to a specific market sector but, rather, have grown over the centuries while maintaining a sense of consistency and recognizable style (while still evolving with the times) means that they constitute a category apart.
Bloomberg.com ran a fascinating story yesterday on the history of Chateau Haut-Brion, the great First Growth of Bordeaux’s Pessac-Leognan. And even if, as the article notes, “Haut-Brion has had an undisputed place among the top 10 or 20 most expensive wines in the world for the past 350 years...it [right now] tends to sell for less than rival top reds from the Medoc, Saint-Emilion and Pomerol,” it nonetheless is among the greatest wines on the planet, and a supremely expressive example of why certain terroirs are superior to others.
Its history, the article notes, goes back “more than 2,000 years ago, when a group of Bituriges Vivisci tribesmen scattered grape seeds a few miles west of the Gironde River. That gesture has burgeoned into a hyper-luxury, billion-dollar industry hinged on how the weather affects the 400,000 vines that annually turn out between 10,000 and 11,000 cases of Haut-Brion.”
That may seem like a lot of wine, but the demand for it means that it’s often difficult to find. Indeed, Jay McInerney, in his excellent book A Hedonist in the Cellar, notes that Haut-Brion is “the most aromatically distinctive and unmistakable of all the first growths...a mature Haut-Brion smells like a cigar box containing a Montecristo, a black truffle, and a hot brick, sitting on top of an old saddle. It’s as earthy and complex as a Shakespearean sonnet. Once you’ve had it you never forget it, and you never stop yearning for more.”
It may be priced out of the range of most mere mortals’ budgets (the second wine, Bahans Haut-Brion, is a great alternative), but its history is integral to the story not just of Bordeaux, but of wine itself.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Just a quick post today about celebratory wines, which I’ve been drinking plenty of since this past Tuesday night when my wife gave birth to our daughter. And while something bubbly and festive is usually popped to mark a moment like that, I wanted to make sure that we kept the party going throughout our stay in the hospital. (Within reason, of course.)
We started off with a bottle of J. Dumangin Fils Brut Rosé 1er Cru, an amazingly expressive Champagne with berry fruit of astounding ripeness backed up by all kinds of toast. We also enjoyed a bottle of Heitz Bella Oaks 1998, a Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee, and, to toast a sweet life ahead, some beautiful Dow’s 40 Year Old Tawny Port.
Come to think of it, whether you’re celebrating the arrival of a new child, a birthday, the holidays, or absolutely nothing at all, these are wonderful wines to mark the occasion with, and to savor either in their own right or in the context of an occasion worth toasting.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Stoller Pinot Noir “SV Estate” 2006, Dundee Hills
The utterly intriguing nose here shows almost cherry-cola notes, though it never turns sweet. There’s lots of brambly fruit, almost autumnal in its expression, although it still maintains a sense of transparency. On the palate, there’s excellent concentration: This is clearly a young wine with serious potential. Some of that cola character comes through on the mid-palate, and is joined by hints of sous bois, black licorice, minerals, and flowers. The acid and tannins are in excellent balance, and though this is drinking nicely now--it’s screaming out for food--it should be even better in 7 - 10+ years. A muscular style, with an almost feminine sense of elegance. It evolves with half an hour of air and gains aromatic hints of kimchee and horseradish: Almost like a Gevry-Chambertin or an Echezeaux. Fabulous Pinot.
Hartford Court Pinot Noir “Lands Edge Vineyards” 2005, Sonoma Coast
Very subtle nose, almost smoky and mysterious in character--interesting for a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. It’s showing spicy, higher-toned dark cherry fruit too, and an unexpected whiff of slate. This is very soft on the palate, with lots of grilled mushrooms, mesquite, and sous bois notes. There’s also a touch of meat on the finish, were the cherry comes back, but here in the guise of cherry reduction and coffee grounds. Much of the fruit has melted away at this point, and it’s beginning to turn to something more secondary. Fascinating expression of the appellation. Very masculine. Drink now.
Knights Bridge Chardonnay “West Block” 2008, Knights Valley
Warm, toasty oak dominates the nose right now, but with some air, aromas of preserved lemon, cream, red apple, pear, and tarragon start to peek through. Where this wine really gains speed is on the palate, with its flavors of white peppercorn, dulce de leche, toffee, and hazelnuts. The fruit is sweet and ripe, with echoes of baked apple and cinnamon. This is a young wine, and still needs a bit of time to integrate more fully, but it shows lots of potential with its muscular, creamy texture, lingering finish of spiced nuts, caramel, and kumquat peel, and an overall impression of a wine that will evolve for another 6 - 10 years. Big and delicious.
Knights Bridge Chardonnay “Beresini Vineyard” 2008, Carneros
Much more filigreed and detailed on the nose than the “West Block” bottling; maybe the Puligny-Montrachet to the Meursault of the other one? There’s something more nervy here, more transparent, with intimations of seckle pear, flowers, and a whiff of minerals. The flavors take a nuttier, spicier turn, with anise and fennel pollen, and the oak’s caramel and vanilla are only showing their full potential on the finish for now, where they’re joined by a pleasantly bitter hint of lemon pith that vibrates on the tongue for a good 30 seconds. This is a very well-made wine, exceptionally pleasurable, and indicative of what Carneros is capable of: Power and insistency wrapped in an elegant package. 4 - 8 years.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Like music and fashion and food, wine is subject to fads and trends that even its most passionate and devoted consumers easily fall victim to. The soft, Milli Vanilli pop of the early 1990s caused a backlash that led to grunge, which itself eventually opened the door to the swing music that was piped into martini and cigar bars all over the country. It’s the circle of life, or something like that.
It’s the same with wine: As soon as a particular style becomes too popular, too widely accessible or venerated or otherwise obsessed over by either the masses of middle-of-the-road consumers or elite collectors, it eventually, perhaps inevitably, experiences a backlash of some sort.
Jay McInerney’s column in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal deals with this phenomenon as it applies to Bordeaux, one of the great wine regions of the world that has, in recent years, experienced a bit of a PR problem as a result of both its reputation for being a bit on the staid side (I disagree strongly with this) and, at the highest levels, exorbitantly priced (on this point I have to agree).
“Does Bordeaux still matter?” McInerney asks. “This might seem like a foolish question given the fact that the 2009 futures campaign set new records for prices, or given that Asian buyers in general and the Chinese in particular have embraced the region's wines, especially the first growths, as if they had proven aphrodisiac qualities. Many younger sommeliers and enthusiasts think of Bordeaux as the IBM of the wine world—kind of a dinosaur. For wine buffs with an indie sensibility, Bordeaux is the equivalent of the Hollywood blockbuster, more about money than about art. At one recent Acker Merrall & Condit auction, there was booing when the auctioneer announced an offering of Bordeaux.”
“Bordeaux bashing,” he continues, “has become a new form of wine snobbery. As someone whose first love was Bordeaux, I can't quite join the beat-down, and several recent close encounters have reignited my passion.”
McInerney goes on to catalogue a number of tastings he’s recently experienced that give him hope for the region, from the seemingly timeless beauty of older vintages to the up-and-coming producers from lesser-known parts of the region that are igniting a whole new generation’s sense of excitement about Bordeaux.
What interests me most about McInerney’s column is the fact that, finally, it perhaps implies a change in direction of the pendulum’s swing, and hopefully represents a new era of Bordeaux appreciation. Because despite the crazy prices commanded by so many of the top chateaux at auction, these are wines that have earned their reputation for greatness. With a bit of focus on other parts of the region, and producers that bottle wines at prices mere mortals can afford and justify, perhaps Bordeaux will experience the resurgence among all wine lovers that it so richly deserves.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
With Thanksgiving behind us and the long haul of the rest of the build-up to the holidays ahead, it’s time to start drinking some serious wines. This week, we start off with a whet-your-whistle SB before moving on to two bigger, rather dramatic reds. ‘Tis the season for wines like these, after all...
Viña Casa Silva Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2009, Colchagua Valley
There’s a nice grapefruity nose here, with hints of warm hay and tarragon. The palate, however, is where things really get interesting: Unexpected concentration fans out to a bright, kumquat- and white grapefruit-flavored wine, with flashes of minerality providing complexity at the edges and a hint of something with an almost fresh-mint aromatic component lingering on the finish. Well-made, and a very good wine for the price.
Mount Veeder Winery Reserve 2005, Napa Valley
The nose here is absolutely intriguing: It starts off at the intersection of cream and clay, with licorice and coffee and beef carpaccio livening it up throughout. On the palate, it shows amazingly well-defined red and black cherry, spice box, cedar, graphite, and wildflowers, the last of which follow through to a finish as elegant and pretty as the palate is complex and rich. Exquisite balance, dusty tannins that still show plenty of life, and the promise of another 10+ years of evolution. Even better on day two. Built for the long-haul. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec.
Ehlers Estate Merlot 2007, St. Helena
As soon as you pour this wine into the glass, you’re given an inkling of just how exciting and accomplished California Merlot can be, naysayers notwithstanding. It’s all rich cafe mocha, nutmeg, warm cream, and cherries, with an edge of minerals and sage providing lift. Sweet cherry, birch bark, a touch of balsamic, sun-warmed fraises de bois, and dusty cinnamon sing through, swirling around the palate and given ballast by the utterly elegant tannic structure and perfectly balanced acid. This is one of those wines that, no matter how long I’d like to hold onto it (5 - 7 years), I probably couldn’t keep from raiding the cellar and popping the cork the next chance I have. Stunning.