Monday, January 31, 2011

Cornas and the Cult of the Stinky Red

One of the big misperceptions about wine professionals is that we sit around every day ruminating over the differences between First Growth Bordeaux, Grand Cru Burgundy, and the like. And, of course, while that does happen once in a very rare while, and while those days are truly remarkable when they do come around, they are few and far between. And anyway, most of us who live and work with wine didn’t get into this business just for the legendary bottlings. Rather, there’s a sense of discovery that brightens up most of our days: The chance to taste something new, or from a place that doesn’t quite get the respect it deserves, is what really gets us going.

I bring this up because in The Wall Street Journal this past weekend, Jay McInerney devotes his column to a wine that, outside the circles of its most dedicated fans, has remained in the shadows for far too long: Cornas.

He writes: “As far as I can tell, Cornas hasn't really been fashionable since the era of Charlemagne. The wine critic Jancis Robinson once wrote a piece describing her failure to fall in love, or even in like, with Cornas...[It] has always been a rustic wine, with formidable tannins and, sometimes, a barnyard funk that suggested a lack of hygiene in the cellar. The first few examples I tasted made me wonder if the grapes had been stomped by someone with very stinky socks.”

To which lovers of this unique wine would reply: Yum. It’s a funky wine, to be sure, often speaking of bonfire, meat, and the cage of some sort of only moderately hygienic animal at the zoo. As disgusting as this sounds, however, it tends to take on a softer personality when paired with food that can provide a counterweight to it, allowing its often unexpectedly expressive fruit to show more clearly. Even on its own, however, Cornas is a wine that, when made well and with honesty, is one of the most idiosyncratic, terroir-specific in the world. Which, for me, at least, is what really gets me excited to get to work every morning.

As we here on the East Coast stare down the barrel of yet another cold, snowy week, this is the time for popping the corks of these winter-perfect reds.

[NB: I do have one correction to make to McInerney’s article: In the fourth paragraph, he says that Cornas, Côte Rôtie, and Hermitage all “make powerful red wines exclusively from the syrah grape.” This is incorrect: Only Cornas is required to be 100% syrah. Côte Rôtie is often blended with a bit of viognier, and Hermitage, though typically all syrah, is permitted to have a percentage of white grapes in the mix.]

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Friday, January 28, 2011

A Big Week for Wine

This has been a seriously busy week in the world of wine. First, as I've been reporting throughout the week, Vino 2011 was held in New York. Then yesterday, the Wine Media Guild held its much-anticipated Bordeaux tasting, featuring the wines of Chateaux Angelus, Figeac, and La Conseillante. And now today, the Union des Grands Crus is hosting its annual tasting, also in New York. Dentists all over the tri-state area must be rejoicing: There will be thousands of purple-stained teeth to clean after all this wine's been poured!

Anyway, I'll be back to my normal reporting of wine news and posting of tasting notes next week. In the meantime, take a look at these articles (click here and here) for some interesting weekend reading.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Virtual Vino Live Video Stream

After a fantastic seminar this morning on the huge diversity of wines from Lombardy, I'm about to head out to what I expect will be one of the highlights of Vino 2011: The virtual vino panel discussion and seminar on the ever-growing importance of social media in today's wine world. It starts at 2:30--make sure to tune in for the live streaming video by clicking here. And as with yesterday, more details to follow in the coming days and weeks...

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Vino 2011: Italian Wine Week

I arrived in New York this afternoon for Vino 2011: Italian Wine Week, and have been on the go ever since. As such, this will be a short blog post; more will follow tomorrow and throughout the events of the week.

This afternoon, I attended my first seminar and tasting, this one called "Well-Heeled Wines of Apulia: From Uva di Troia and Negroamaro to Primitivo," and it covered wines made in both more traditional styles as well as more modern ones. I'll be posting tasting notes on specific highlights later, but for now it will have to suffice to say that this is a region to watch in the coming years. The indigenous grape varieties have all the potential in the world, and, in the hands of the right winemakers, they can express themselves brilliantly.

And now, I'm off to the opening reception. Which, of course, means more wine. Not a bad day at all...

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Time Travel with Wine

Few things in this world give us as direct a connection to the past as wine. Think about it: Drinking a bottle from your birth year, for example, is a literal way to go back in time to your first moments of life.

Now, Taylor Fladgate, the renowned Port house, is presenting a time capsule of a different sort: They have been selling 1,200 bottles of Port that were aged in cask for 150 years.

Taylor Scion is the name of the port that's been maturing since 1855, which makes the wine older than a mid nineteenth century wine blight named phylloxera that almost ended the European wine industry,” reported It also means that it’s been aging since the year of the famous Bordeaux Classification of 1855.

“The company,” Luxist continued, “bought the wine in cask back then, and it was scheduled for tawny blending with 30 or 40 year-old wines, but somehow it got left in the cellar...About the decision to release the wine today, Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership, the owners of Taylor, alluded to it being a shame to blend something so special as this old wine.”

We couldn’t agree more. I’ll take two for my birthday next month.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oregon Pinot Noir 2008

Today's New York Times is reporting about a vintage that has already received plenty of accolades: The 2008 pinot noirs from Oregon's Willamette Valley. I've noted here before that I firmly believe these wines are among the best examples in the world of this notoriously finicky grape variety. And the region has had more than its share of standout vintages recently. But this one, it seems, is striking a particularly passionate chord.

These 2008's are, in general, "consistently top-notch. They were balanced and well-structured by virtue of their lively acidity," wrote Eric Asimov in today's column. "They were full of delicious red-fruit flavors without being syrupy, over the top or, to use the dreaded phrase of wine marketers, 'fruit forward.' They offered the rare combination of fruitiness and restraint. Most of them will be versatile with food. They are 'nonsteroidal pinot noirs,' as [tasting-panel member] Joshua [Nadel] put it."

Click here for the entire article. And then, in the coming year, look to stock up on these wines that represent such fantastic value considering the pleasure they deliver.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Back from LA, and thinking about Italy

We returned late last night from a fantastic weekend in Los Angeles, tasting wines with all kinds of movie and TV stars. We should be receiving all the photos later this week, at which point I'll be sure to post them, as well as details about our time out there.

On another note, one week from today, I will be in attendance at Vino 2011, the second annual Italian Wine Week in New York at the Waldorf=Astoria from January 24 - 26. Throughout next week, I'll be blogging and tweeting from seminars, tastings, and panel discussions. Make sure to keep checking back throughout. In the meantime, click over to Vino 2011's homepage for details about what promises to be a fantastic education on one of the world's oldest and most exciting wine-producing countries.
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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wine Review Wednesday, with a Spirited Addition

Luce della Vite "Lucente" 2007, Toscana

Nice dense concentration to the nose here, with dark cherry fruit buttressed by warm clay and leather aromas: Very appealing as soon as you pour it in the glass. On the palate, however, it needs some air to really show its potential: This is a wine that will age nicely for 5 - 7+ years, and a stint in the glass or the decanter will do it wonders for short-term enjoyment. The fruit here is just as concentrated as the nose implies, but far brighter, lifted by very zippy acidity and a tannic structure that holds great promise for its longevity. There’s a minor floral quality to the palate, with raspberries, pomegranate, cocoa powder, and spice filling it out. Very well-crafted: This is a wine for the cellar, or a great meal right now.

Luce della Vite 2001, Toscana (375ml)

This smells like an Italian version of an excellent, fully-evolved Bordeaux, with more than a passing resemblance to Mouton in its maturity: A nose of mint, leather, tea, and a hint of sandalwood, which turns, on the palate, to a gorgeously aromatic mix of mint, brown spices (cardamom, clove, etc.), leather, and black fruit that nods in the direction of something approaching balsamic in its finely detailed acidity. With some more air, caramelized sugar and hoisin sauce, as well as the delicious, savory flavor of truffles and decay make themselves known: Mysterious and wonderful. The tannins have melted, the fruit is fading yet still retains a distinct identity, and the texture is like dusty silk. Drink this now: With the fruit still hanging on, and the bottle-age characteristics on full display, this is a wine at its peak.

Waterstone Chardonnay 2008, Carneros

Apricot and oak spice define the nose initially here, with a warmth to the aromas that’s appealing off the bat. On the palate, baking spices and something almost yeast-like is balanced by bright acidity and the bitterness of grapefruit and lemon pith, as well as the slightest intimation of warmed honey. A bass-note of pie crust comes through on the mid-palate, too, and lingers on through the finish, which itself is tinged with white cherries and grapefruit. Balanced, and with intriguing details. Drink now - 2 years.

Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley

Inky color, like particularly dark cherry juice. This turns out to be a harbinger of the experience of the wine itself, which smells of dark cherry, licorice, and oak that still needs time to be absorbed and integrated. This doesn’t come off as heavy-handed in any way, however: It’s more a perfume than anything, and a lovely one at that. The palate is where this wine is really appealing right now, with sweet dark cherry and plum fruit, kirsch, dark chocolate, spicy cigar tobacco, and fresh flowers fluttering around the edges. With a bit more air, peppercorn and cedar flavors also come out, and these linger through on the cedar-, tea-, and vanilla-tinged finish. For all its size and the expressivity of the fruit here, this is a wine that promises to evolve for another 10 years. Of course, there’s nothing to prevent opening it right now: It’s drinking beautifully as is.

Pali Wine Co. Pinot Noir “Summit” 2008, Monterey (55%) and Santa Barbara County (45%)

There’s a sun-warmed clay note to the nose here, and a roasted quality to the berry fruit that, with some air, diminishes and allows the sweet transparency of the raspberries and cherries to come through, as well as a strain of minerality. The oak is still apparent on the palate, though with some age it will integrate very nicely into the rest of the wine. There are still a number of moving parts here, but I expect they will come together beautifully, the tea, spice, sweet-tart cherry, birch bark, and Dr. Pepper-like cola notes promising a wine of finesse, complexity, and power. Very nice. Drink 1 - 6 years.

Pali Wine Co. Cabernet Sauvignon (Blend) "Highlands" 2007, Napa Valley

Lots of rich red and black fruit on the nose, with standout performances by the blackberry and blueberry notes. These are edged with violets and chocolate: Like some sort of perfect Provençal dessert. Those lush aromas come through on the polished palate, but are here lifted by an unexpected brightness, as well as by a seam of graphite running down the wine’s spine. The mid-palate shows lots of cabernet character, with cedar, a bit of tobacco, and a spicy note that linger through the finish alongside distinct flavors of oolong tea. This, then, is what you hope for from Napa Valley cab-based wines: Concentration, expressive fruit balanced out by minerality, and compulsive drinkability. Excellent structure, and just as nice on its own as it will be with food. Drink now - 5 years. 87% cabernet sauvignon, 6% malbec, 4% cabernet franc, 3% merlot.


Spirit of the Week: I’ve been tasting more and more spirits lately, and many of them have both charmed and surprised me. I’ll be including a spirit of the week from now on whenever I’ve tasted something I can strongly recommend.

This week it’s a super-premium vodka (actually, Stoli refers to it as an “ultra-luxury vodka”) that actually lives up to its promise: Elit by Stolichnaya. I’m often skeptical of the claims made by the distillers of vodka, but this one, with its silkiness on the palate, its utter lack of rough edges, and its whisper of lemon pith and rind on the nose and hint of sweetness on the palate, is a supremely clean, pure expression of vodka--one I’ve been enjoying on its own, sipped after a big meal. It needs no mixer.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Really Old Wine

There are countless things I love about my career in wine...and the juice is just one of them. No matter how you look at it, delving beneath the surface of the world of wine involves learning about other cultures, geography, geology, foreign languages, travel, food--everything. It also involves history: Wine, after all, has been an integral part of our species' experience for millennia.

In today's New York Times (and in a press release I received last night from UCLA and the National Geographic Society), there is a fantastic report of scientists having found "the oldest known winemaking operation, about 6,100 years old, complete with a vat for fermenting, a press, storage jars, a clay bowl and a drinking cup made from an animal horn," the Times reported today. "Grape seeds, dried pressed grapes, stems, shriveled grapevines and residue were also found, and chemical analyses indicate red wine was produced there."

Read the entire article by clicking here, and then, just for irony's sake, pop the cork on that last remaining bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau you have lying around...

[Note: The photo above is copied from The Los Angeles Times.]
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Monday, January 10, 2011

Classed-Growth Organics

Earlier today, reported that “Pontet Canet in Pauillac, and Chateau Guiraud in Sauternes, have achieved full Agence Bio (AB) organic certification – Pontet Canet for its 2010 vintage and Guiraud from 2011,” making them the first estates included in the 1855 classification to do so.

This is an important milestone in the wine industry’s seemingly inexorable march in the direction many consumers feel it should have been heading for a long time. After all, as wine is perhaps the greatest tool for clearly and accurately expressing the nature of a particular plot of land, it only seems logical that more and more producers would work to place as little as possible between the earth and their wine, and to show the greatest level of respect that they can for the source of their livelihood.

Aubert de Villaine, of the legendary Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (which was organic by 1986 and is now biodynamic), was quoted in the May 31, 2010, issue of the Wine Spectator as saying that “We don't try to make better wine than the grapes we have...This is our philosophy, and I think it's a good one for Burgundy, because the talent isn't with the winemaker, it is in the climat.”

The same could be said for notable terroirs all over the world. (Though you can't lose sight of the importance of a great winemaker.) This recent development with two classed growths in Bordeaux simply demonstrates, again, that the trend toward more earth-friendly winemaking continues its march.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Notes from Argentina: Clos de los Siete

Clos de los Siete, the much-lauded Mendoza red crafted by Michel Rolland, has garnered as much press as any Argentine wine project in recent years. And justifiably so: The flagship wines are both very enjoyable vintage after vintage and--another hallmark of Argentina’s wine industry--exceptionally affordable, especially considering the quality of the fruit; the location of the vineyard sites (in the Uco Valley, south of Mendoza City; it’s gorgeous both aesthetically and viticulturally); and the pedigree of the people involved in the project (their names are a veritable who’s who of the French wine industry: Laurent Dassault of Chateau Dassault, Jean-Guy and Bertrand Cuvelier of Chateau Leoville Poyferré, Rolland himself, and other notables).

This past October, I had the great opportunity to visit Clos de los Siete along with my travel companions, Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW, and Ed McCarthy, two of the most highly respected names in wine anywhere in the world. The project was explained to us, and the wines shown, by Carlos Tizio Mayer, general manager of Clos de los Siete, and a man of passion and a breathtakingly deep well of knowledge. (I also had dinner with him the next night at the excellent La Barra restaurant in Mendoza, where we enjoyed Clos de los Siete alongside the best beef I’ve ever tasted.)

It’s a fascinating project: 850 hectares (approximately 430 of them are planted right now), divided among seven owners (the siete, or seven, of the name), each of whom is from Bordeaux, and who provide at least 40% of their annual crop to the communal Clos de los Siete bottling. One half of the fruit from each owner’s land must be malbec, and about 60% of the total plantings right now are to that grape variety. The relatively high vine density of 5,500 vines per hectare, a yield of 1kg per vine, a focus on massal selection that prizes higher acidity and lower sugar, the use of a pre-phylloxera malbec clone, and an elevation between 1,000m - 1,200m mean that the fruit harvested from these alluvial soils is as expressive and carefully managed as you’re likely to find anywhere, if not more so.

The fact that all of this work goes into a flagship bottling that retails for less than $20 is remarkable. Then again, that’s what Argentina seems to be doing better than almost anyone right now: Providing beautifully expressive wines at prices that are often breathtakingly fair. Below are my reviews of the three vintages of Clos de los Siete that we tasted on-site, as well as wines from four of the seven participants in this project.

Clos de los Siete 2006

There’s real power to the plum, black and bing cherry, tobacco and garrigue of the nose here, though it’s balanced out by an unexpected whiff of flowers. The creamy, sweet cherry- and red plum-flecked palate follows through on the promise of that expressive nose, with added hints of chocolate and, with air, a meaty note that anchors it all. Remarkably fresh for a four-year-old wine, and with plenty of life to go.

Clos de los Siete 2007

This is an altogether darker-scented wine than the 2006, with leather and clay peeking through the concentrated kirsch, black cherry, coffee, and aromatic plum and wild berry notes. There’s a hint of earth here too, and that follows through to the palate and lends a bass-note of sorts to the sweet fruit and tannins. Beautiful detail and structure here, almost like a particularly ripe Bordeaux style; this promises to evolve for another 10 years, but it’s great right now, too.

Clos de los Siete 2008

A sweeter, plummier nose than the 2007, with chocolate, blueberry pie filling, ripe fraises de bois, and roasted bell peppers. There’s an appealing glycerine texture to the palate, a big-hearted structure that supports flavors of summer berries, meat, and roasted fennel. Utterly delicious, with bright acidity, sweet tannins, and plenty of life ahead of it in the cellar.

Flecha de los Andes Gran Malbec 2006

A nose of very ripe fruit, beef carpaccio, crushed blueberries, brown spices, and cafe con leche lead to a velvet-textured malbec with flashes of strawberry compote, crushed red and dark cherries, and cigar humidor. Complex and very tasty. 10+ years.

Cuvelier los Andes “Grand Vin” 2007

This smells almost Bordeaux-like, its chocolate-coated mint , warm clay, roasted bell pepper, and cigar tobacco reminding me of certain Mouton-Rothschilds I’ve tasted. These aromas turn to a palate of sweet fruit--lots of ripe dark plum--black tea, tobacco, and cocoa powder. The dusty tannins provide amazing structure alongside all this ripeness, and promise 10 - 12 years of evolution.

Bodega Monteviejo “Lindaflor” 2005

The black color here brings to mind the famous “black wines of Cahors,” those quintessential French malbecs that more people really should drink. There’s a solid sense of density to the nose here, with roasted blackberry, maduro cigar tobacco, and a bit of smokiness. On the palate, these savory tones continue, with asphalt, blackberry, sappy black cherry, leather, and, to provide a lovely sense of lift, violets. In some ways, its density and expressivity remind me of the Spanish giant Numanthia. Wonderful.

Val de Flores 2005

Spicier, more brambly fruit on the nose, lifted by peppercorn and notes of dried Mediterranean herbs. For all this, however, the palate is remarkably soft and lush, with flavors of sachertorte and raspberry jam that lead to a caramel-like finish. A rich, round style.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

The Wines of Argentina

Just a quick link this Monday. Click here for the article I wrote for John Mariani's Virtual Gourmet on the trip I took to Argentina this past October. Now that the holidays are behind us, and my newborn daughter is sleeping a bit more, I'll finally be able to post my tasting notes in their entirety over the course of the coming weeks and months. Keep checking in to see what gets posted. As I've said before, Argentina is home to a spectacular variety of grapes and wine styles, and worth exploring as much as possible.

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