Friday, November 30, 2007

By The Glass - Champagne Edition

Let me begin by saying this: I've tasted some interested and delicious Champs recently, but my favorites so far have not changed. My favorite entry level Champs is still the NV René Geoffroy Expression. And my favorite Blanc de Blancs is still the NV Larmandier-Bernier Premier Cru.

But this is great - I'm tasting more, learning more about my palate, and really enjoying myself. I think BrooklynLady is pretty psyched too, as she enjoys the bubblies. Anyway, here are a few from recent times.
NV Agrapart & Fils Champagne Les 7 Crus Blancs de Blancs, ($37 at Prospect Wines).
A nose of bread and yeast, and a touch of lemon and stainless steel. And after it was open for a while, something floral. The palate is quite light, with brioche, chalk, and bright white flowers. This is delicious wine, a great aperitif. It does not have the sheer elegance
or the focus of some of the other Blancs de Blancs that I've tasted, but I'm certainly not gonna kick it out of bed either.

NV Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs, ($42 at Moore Brothers).
This is apparently very small production. Moore Borthers says "Almost all of Diebolt's small production is sold to three-star restaurants in France." Well, I'm just going to come right out and admit that I don't get it. I was not a fan, and BrooklynLady thought something might have been off with the wine. And you know, after reading Craig Camp's interesting post on corked wine, I'm starting to think that this bottle may have been corked. Or, it might just not be to my tastes, who knows. I don't think I would necessarily know if a wine is corked. I might just think it to be bad wine.

Anyway, my notes: Mushroomy and sort of funky underarm on the nose, some ginger in there too. Bread and citrus hints. Not a deep nose, lighter. Yeasty palate, almost grassy, bone dry. Lots of chalk. No matter how hard we tried, we could not enjoy this wine.

NV Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs Brut, (about $55).
I was really impressed with Paillard's Champs at the Martin Scott Importer tasting back in September. This one was even better at home as an aperitif with the BrooklynLady, and then with dinner. This has a really nice nose that reveals orange blossoms after a little airtime. There is also a bit of chalk and sweet brioche. The palate is nicely balanced and elegant, with lovely
floral, citrus, and bready flavors. Really good, and BrooklynLady's favorite of all of these. Luckily I have one more bottle...

NV Camille Saves Brut Carte Blanche, ($40 at Chambers Street Wines).
No mistaking this for Blanc de Blancs, that's for sure. Deep nose of cherry fruit, some ginger cream, apples dipped in honey, some chalk. The palate is smooth and silky, very focused and dripping with red fruit, some bread, and bright acidity. The finish is a dollop of sour cherry juice, lingering and delicious. This is excellent wine. Although it's funny...after all of the B de Bs I'd been drinking, this one almost seemed fat because of the Pinot Noir.

NV Marc Hébrart Brut Reserve 1er Cru, ($38 at Prospect Wines).
A Terry Thiese selection, and I find that I am always on board with his Champs palate. I tasted this with Marcus, aka Doktor Weingolb the other day, and while I won't speak for him, I really liked this wine. It kept improving over several hours, gaining complexity and balance as it went. This is also a Pinot heavy wine, about 65% in this version. And it's obvious on the palate, dripping with red fruit. The nose is lovely with chalky flowers, a little toast, and red fruit. The palate is a great balance of red fruit, herbal undertones (Amy from Prospect Wines said celery - right on), minerals, all quite ripe and full of pleasure. If I were forced to take only one of these Champagnes with me to a tasting or to a desert island it would be this one. Think of this - my father who has almost no experience tasting real Champagne, enjoyed the last of this wine when there were almost no bubbles left in the bottle. And he said "Wow, I can't believe how refreshing this is."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Deetrane Deep Down in the Cellars of López de Heredia

When my pal Deetrane read the post from the other day about tasting the 1976 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia, he was flooded with good memories. Deetrane and his wife P-trane went to Spain for their honeymoon and visited several wineries. He says that the single best experience they had was their unplanned visit to López de Heredia. So sit back and enjoy as guest-poster Deetrane takes us on a trip down the twisted pathways of his memory lane:

P-trane and I are on the first winery tours of our honeymoon, after several days and nights wending our way from bistro to parador to cava bar across Catalonia and Aragon, before settling into a lovely old convent-cum-hotel in the medieval center of Haro, Rioja’s wine capital.

First up – Bodegas Muga, of course – the only Rioja wine we knew by name up to that point, and one of the largest “premium” Rioja exporters. A quality winery by any standard, and a very detailed, interesting, competent, FREE English-language tour (an intensive primer, in fact, in all things Rioja). But despite it being our first winery visit, we still sensed we were at the Rioja equivalent of the Epcot Center. Authentic no doubt, yet just a little too polished, and few dozen too many Euro-coaches in the parking lot.

Great prices in the shop though. €2.50 for Crianza, €5.50 for Reserva, €8.50 for Prada Eneo (Gran Reserva), €12.00 for Torre Muga! We bought three bottles.

Right next door, the venerable La Rioja Alta. Three Euro-coaches in the parking lot, versus Muga’s fifty. A very good sign. No English signage, much less an English-language tour. An even better sign. As the Spanish-speaking tour guide describes the traditional steps such as fining with egg-whites, we nod sagely (if uncomprehendingly) having just seen all the same stuff at Muga five minutes earlier. But a real, working cooperage, as opposed to Muga’s costumed-mannequin diorama (think Museum of Natural History, or better yet, that crazy robotic contraption in the basement of the Mormon Tabernacle). Even better prices in the shop, with wines from across the parent company’s brands.

A year or so later we opened the 1994 La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 890 we purchased there for under €10.00. A revelation – the first time I had tasted a perfectly integrated, balanced, aged red wine of any kind. It was the most memorable, sumptuous and absorbing wine I had tasted in my life, notwithstanding what came next.

Three tour buses were still too many for what P-trane and I were I the mood for. We started to stroll through the streets of the old, mostly low-slung, very urban warehouse style winery district of Haro. We became fascinated by the numerous small patches of old, gnarly Tempranillo vines, planted right between the endless brick, stucco and concrete winery buildings.

We’d gone not more than 20 yards from La Rioja Alta when we heard loud banging shop noises coming from behind set of huge oak doors across the street. We ambled towards the noise into a courtyard, saw that the doors were ajar, and walked in on two coopers in overalls. They were busily banging wrought iron rings, American and French oak planks into barrels and toasting them over open flames that were shooting up from perfectly round, manhole-like openings in the floor. The coopers were friendly, and waved us closer.

Within minutes, a door opened and a short, very mod, thirty-something woman with chic rectangular glasses and a spiky short haircut came in with two fair-skinned, forty-something men (there she is in the picture, courtesy of Alice Feiring). Without prompting, she flashed us a sympathetic glance and said, in perfect English, “I’m Maria de López de Heredia. These guys are economists from the University of Barcelona – friends of my father’s. Let me just ask them if they mind you coming with us.”

We held our breath. No, they wouldn’t mind, came back the answer!

Oh boy!

The next minute we were descending through a metal casement door heading directly underneath the sprawling winery complex, down down down over tiny uneven steps, lower and lower in the bowels of López de Heredia. The walls literally turned black and fuzzy with penicillin mold. Maria gesticulated and pointed and jabbered in Spanish, pausing to translate what seemed like every 14th word.

Who needed translation?

It was…. Insane. With no natural light, a faint bulb here and there was all there was to illuminate row upon row of barrels, a seemingly boundless catacomb of vaulted corridors. On the floor were smooth metal rails, just slightly protruding above slippery cobblestones. After a while we could see faint sparkling lights in the distance. We came upon several cellar workers who were bottling a 1995 Gran Reserva. It was now May of 2003, mind you. This wine was being bottled after some two years in large wooden casks and another five years in barrel. The workers wore hardhats with sputtering sodium lamps, like spelunkers, and thick, black rubber gloves and aprons and reminded me of the Mario Brothers and undertakers at the same time.

One of them was arranging empty green bottles on a small wheeled metal tray sitting on the rails built into the floor. The other was filling the bottles one at time with a little swiveling spigot. As each tray of 12 bottles filled up, they would roll it a few feet to the third guy, who would pick the bottle up and position it in a corking device and pull down on a lever. Each time, he would be liberally squirted with wine – hence the heavy rubber gear. Each guy had a glass of wine standing around the work area, the flicker of the headlamps just enough to see that the Gran Reserva was a crystal clear ruby color. It was 10:15 a.m.

A few minutes latter, we saw bright movie-set lighting further down one of the corridors, this one racked with endless rows of bottled wine. A photo shoot was in progress, and the crew was standing amidst hundreds of bottles on the floor in between the racks, like giants in a sea of penguins.

“Oh, that’s So-and-So,” Maria casually tossed out, “He’s, like, the most famous television director in Spain, but we’re old friends so he’s doing my new brochure pictures today.”

We come to a gigantic, rolling oak door, at least 12 feet high. After several tense (for us) minutes futzing with keys and jostling the padlock, Maria hauls aside this hulking door an we are met with an amazing site. In the center of what can only be described as a dungeon room is a massive round table made from the lid of a giant oak fermenting tank. Standing upright in the middle of that, sort of as a centerpiece, is an old, dried out vine trunk. About six feet above that, a dangling brass chandelier. Over decades, a thick, black rope of pure penicillin mold has climbed down from the ceiling, wrapped itself around the chandelier, and continued on its way to envelope the centerpiece. (Photos courtesy of Crush). All around us are huge concrete bins, with the remaining stocks of winery owned vintages, going all the way back to the beginning (1877). The oldest vintages are mostly piles of mold, dust, broken glass and empty bottles, but Maria assures us there’s still probably some good stuff in there – but no one has the guts to go in and find out!

López de Heredia makes wines from several vineyards, although their most heralded wines come from two vineyards - Tondonia and Bosconia. Bosconia makes only red Rioja, and is pure Tempranillo. The Burgundy-shaped bottle hints at the style of the wine. Tondonia makes white and red, and is a blended wine. The Bordeaux-shaped bottle hints at the style.

Maria turns on the lights and we see platters of Serrano ham, and fresh bread, and… wine glasses! Woo hoo! We tasted flight after flight, starting with some very old Tondonia’s This is WHITE wine, mind you. The oldest we tasted may have been a 1955, followed by a 1961, a 1968, and a 1970. Then we tasted a bunch of old Bosconia, the oldest being a 1954 or so. P-trane and I had never tasted wine this mature or this traditionally made. I can’t really describe it, but needless to say it was around this time that I started drinking a lot more wine, generally!

The economists turn to leave, and Maria tells us to stay put while she escorts them out. P and I are now ALONE in the López de Heredia library. Do I go in search of an intact bottle of 1895 gran reserva? Hmmm, the 1914 stack is looking like a better bet. She’s back, with the television director and his crew in tow. Partay! After doing both white and red flights a second time, with the film director and co., Maria announces that its time to head into town for Tapas. “Do you want to come?” Do we want to come? DO WE WANT TO COME???!???!!!??

We leave our car in the Muga parking lot and hop into Maria’s beat up rat-trap Volkswagen and head to one of her regular bistro’s in the center of Haro near the Plaza Mayor.

Maria orders basically the entire menu over the next three hours, as well as three or four bottles of López de Heredia from the surprisingly ample list at this very casual joint. At this point, bottles of 1988 and 1991 are comparatively blasé.

By about three o’clock, everyone is pissed drunk, Maria has now been translating, drinking and gesticulating for five hours, and it is time to, gulp, drive back to the winery and get our car. We all kissed on both cheeks and said our goodbyes, thanking Maria and television director and the Good Lord for this incredible day. Every year, when we get our Christmas card from Maria, we think about the next time we’ll taste a 1955 Vina Bosconia.

I encourage everyone to visit them. When we were there, there was no organized visiting or tasting at the winery. Maria, who is apparently now the CEO (she had been the head of Marketing) commissioned an ultra-modern tasting building by architect Zaha Hadid, described on Wikipedia as a “notable Iraqi-British
deconstructivist architect.” Yowza.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cassagnoles Cuvée Gros Manseng Reserve

Early on this past summer I found a great wine from the Côte de Gascogne in the southwest of France. The fact that is cost $9 a bottle before case discount was gravy, because if you tasted this wine blind along with other summery whites and a plate of seafood, this one would do well in your scoring - no doubt.

This area of the southwest gets more props for Armagnac, the wonderful grape-based liquor (that offers a better value than you'll find in Cognac) than it does for wine. That's fine with me, as it means that the bracing and delicious white wines usually cost very little. The wine I came to love over the summer is made from grape varieties that are also used to make Armagnac - Gros Manseng, Ugni Blanc, and Colombard. They are also the names of famous spies from the resistance. That last statement is not true. But it should be.

Recently I saw another bottle by Cassagnoles, this one a reserve wine called Cuvée Gros Manseng. Hmmm, am I ready to take the single varietal step in the Côte de Gascogne? What happened to Colombard and to Ugni Blanc? Were they detained, captured, or worse?

2006 Domaine de Cassagnoles Vin de Pays des Côte de Gascogne Reserve Cuvée Gros Manseng, (about $12, should be easy to find). I am happy to report that Gros Manseng is carrying on quite well on its own in this case. The wine is entirely different from the other bottle. This is not the same racy citrusy seaside slacker. This is a medium bodied wine that is all flowers on the nose, some lemon oil too. Clean and fresh tasting, it's refreshing and delicious, and it would be great with heartier fish dishes, but also with things like roast chicken, vegetable stews, or even a simply prepared pork chop. This could easily be one of your three or four house whites for the next few months.

Southwest, huh? As the Euro begins to trade at over $1.50 for the next period of time, it's nice to know that there is a region of France making great wines at daily drinking prices.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Here, Taste this 31 Year Old Rioja."

What a gorgeous Sunday here in Brooklyn! Great light, pretty warm, a carpet of yellow ginkgo leaves on the sidewalk. After we take the little daughter over to a friend's house for brunch, I get a surprise hour or two off, as BrooklynLady tells me to take a walk and enjoy myself and then she takes the daughter home for a nap.


So after walking around a while and enjoying the sun and feeding off of the generally happy people with their kids and/or dogs in my neighborhood I decide to drop into Prospect Wine Shop before going home. I wasn't going to buy anything, but I like to drop in sometimes, just to say "hi"to the Champagnes, relax among the bottles for a few minutes. You know what I'm talking about - you're a pro at browsing wine shops just like me.

But this is Prospect Wine Shop, my home spot, and they know me. They know what I like to drink, they know my wife and baby, they know that I refer friends in the area to the store and they're always really friendly and courteous. Today is a great example - I'm not buying anything, just poking around the Burgundies, and one of the managers comes up to me with a glass of something sort of rusty colored and whispers "Here, taste this 31 year old Rioja."

This guy had just given me a glass of 1976 Lopez de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Bosconia. It was the final bottle in the store and they decided to open and taste it, as sort of an end of Thanksgiving Sunday afternoon treat.

The wine was rose petal colored with clear signs of rust, but it was a beautiful color. I spent the next 10 minutes, honestly, just smelling the wine as I perused the bottles. This stuff had such an interesting and enticing perfume. Mostly orange peel - a mix of candied rum soaked and fresh peel, some fresh figs, something herbal, and hints of crème brûlée. I am not used to drinking wines this mature, so describing them is not easy - cut me some slack here pal.

When I finally tasted I got stewed cherry pulp, fig compote, baking spices, and a pleasing menthol mouth aromas after swallowing. No tannins left, but there is some structure still, and good balance. So lovely, so compelling, getting on in years but still very beautiful - just beguiling in fact. Think Julie Christie.

And I thought I was talking a walk and stopping in for a quick look at the Champs!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

2006 Beaujolais from Vissoux and Cheveau

I have two favorite 2006 Beaujolais so far, considering only the larger appellations of Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages, not the Cru areas. Both of these wines are, to me, exactly what Beaujolais should taste like, and if the dollar weren't such a piece of junk, exactly what Beaujolais should cost here in the US.

They are absolutely fresh and ripe, with snappy acidity, very well balanced, and they're fun and refreshing. They're great on their own but they call out for food, from pan roasted fish, to burgers, t
o roast chicken, to whatever you like - you would have to set your mind to it in order to pair these wines poorly.

2006 Domaine du Vissoux Cuvée Traditionnelle Beaujolais Vieille Vignes, ($15 at Chambers Street - should be widely available). This is an old vines wine, and I prefer it in 2006 to Vissoux's "regular" Beaujolais, which although tasty, I found to be a little dull compared with this wine. This one really sings, with great fruit and floral aromas and a vibrant palate of raspberries, some dried leaves lurking underneath. This wine has such purity and freshness, it just feels good in the mouth. I defy you to find someone who doesn't like this wine. Fine, maybe Dick Cheney wouldn't like it.

2006 Michel Cheveau Beaujolais-Villages Or Rouge, ($15 at Prospect Wine Shop - should be moderately available). This is the same Michel Cheveau whose Mâcon white just killed me recently. I thought this was a Rosenthal Selection, but curiously, Cheveau is not listed on their website now. Anyway, this wine has deeper and sweeter fruit than the Vissoux, but it is without the leafy complexity. It is easy to drink and to enjoy with food, young and vivacious and snappy, and just absolutely delicious. As opposed to the Vissoux, which I though held up very well into the second day, this one lost a lot of fruit on day two. Open this one when you're going to drink the whole bottle. I went through a few bottles recently when we had people over and they were scratching around the cabinets like mice looking for more.

If you think that you don't like Beaujolais (and honestly, I think you do like it, even if you don't know that you do), try one of these and see what you think. If you hate it that much you can send a bill to Brooklynguy Inc. and I will talk to the folks in the back office about reimbursing you. I bet, though, that you wind up with a half case of one of them for daily drinking over the next few months. Who doesn't need a few bottles of delicious food friendly light bodied red wine on hand?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Winter Whites

Fall weather and then winter, with cozy fireplaces, hot stoves, and wool sweaters make me think of braises, stews, and other hearty food. And usually that means red wine. Who could argue with a red Burgundy to pair with your braised beef in red wine and a crusty baguette?

I'm certainly not here to argue, and I love exactly that pairing. So why do I find myself so drawn to white wines these evenings, even as all the leaves have finally turned yellow and red on our block and we need to turn the heat on at night? Now we eat root vegetables and soups with lamb and beans and things like that, but I'm looking through our reds to find the right wine and I come back with a cold, crisp, and complex bottle of white wine. "Don't worry honey, I think it will pair just right."

Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't, but it's what I crave lately. And I don't think the explanation is as simple as I'm having trouble letting go of summer. Nope. I just like the way the brightness of the whites is working for me, even with traditionally red wine foods like steak.

Here are a couple of whites I've enjoyed lately with fall food:

2006 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Kremser Freiheit, (about $18, widely available). We opened this to have with seared scallops, to be honest, but the next night it was wonderful with porkchops and butternut squash. Not a full bodied wine by any means, but a well balanced wine, with floral and wet rocky smells and well defined citrus flavors, really good acidity. We loved this wine at our blind Gruner tasting earlier this year. Sounds crazy, but I would open this right now with a good burger, one made with grass-fed beef, maybe with some pickles and sweet potato fries...

NV Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant de Jura, (about $18, Prospect Wine Shop, moderate availability). Opened as an apéritif but we just couldn't stop, and we enjoyed this with a simple hangar steak dinner, some broccoli rabe with garlic. This was a really interesting sparkling wine, full of character. Recommended to me by the always reliable Amy Louise Pommier at Prospect Wine Shop, it is 100% Chardonnay. A rich nose of yeast and lemon peel, very mineral. This wine was very focused, incisively mineral and citrus, lots of chalk, almost salty. Something deeper in the middle was missing (or else it would be Champagne, I guess), but the finish was quite nice. It turned out to be better with food than on its own. And this is blood-rich hangar steak we're talking about, not a veal cutlet. There's just something so nice about the piercing acidity of a wine like this against the rich meatiness of a steak. Go ahead, try a sparkling wine with your next steak, and then call me crazy if you dare. Just make sure it's not some insipid and sweet mass marketed sparkler.

And speaking of wines that go well with steak, I love Savennier
ès in the cool weather. There is something so wintery to me about a mature Savennierès - the rich roast nuts, the broad and slightly honeyed minerals, the quinine that lingers after I swallow. With a veal stew or pork roast with fennel and acorn squash, or something like that...YUM. Or, you could go with a young wine, which while less complex maybe, can still have the power to stand up to a skirt or hangar steak.

And I haven't even touched on white Burgundy, although I'm POSITIVE that my
2005 Dureuil-Janthial Rully La Martelle would be great with what I'm about to eat tonight - beef braised in vegetable stock with turnips and carrots, and just a few San Marzano tomatoes, a green salad, a baguette. Not to be, though. I still have a cold and I'm not drinking, so BrooklynLady picked the wine for tonight and she went with a 2001 Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Hmmm, impossible to find a wine in our cellar that is more of an opposite to what I've just been talking about.

So what do you think - am I nuts? Can you get with this a little bit - this white wine and fall food thing? If so, what whites would you suggest pairing with cool weather food.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What I'm Bringing to Thanksgiving Dinner

I'm kind of behind on posting these days. I never even did one of those Thanksgiving Wines posts. And I know that you must be wringing your hands and tearing out your hair - 'what wines will I bring to Thanksgiving dinner? Brooklynguy abandoned me in my moment of need...' Um hmm.

You already know by now what you're bringing for Thanksgiving dinner, so stop trying to make me feel guilty. Here's what I'm bringing:


Eric Bordelet Poire Authentique, about $12 - a sparkling pear cider made of biodynamically farmed fruit from northwest France. At only 4% alcohol, I can drink a few glasses over a few hours, feel festive, and safely drive home with my family in the car. Heck, I can even refill my aunt's glass, and she's 80.

2005 Bisol Prosecco di Valdobiaddene Crede Brut, about $15 - the best Prosecco I know of. It's fresh and crisp and easy to drink, and it has some nice complex aromatic notes too, especially with about 15 minutes of air time. Ripe tasty fruit and a hint of ginger-spice on the palate. This one is 11.5% alcohol, so it won't knock them over when they like it enough to have another glass.


2006 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny, about $14 - this is one of my favorite whites this season, and I think it should pair well with turkey and all that. It's a blend of about 85%-15% Sauvignon Blanc to Chardonnay, and it's lip smackingly good. It's over 13% alcohol though, so watch it...


2005 Chateau de Hureau Saumur-Champigny Grande Cuveé, about $14 - this is among the better under $15 Loire Cab Francs of the season, in my opinion. Very different style from a young Chinon, this one has tobacco and lots of earth to compliment the fresh red fruit. I've made my way through a half case of this little gem in the past 8 months, and now my family will do the same on one special Thursday afternoon (if I'm lucky).

By the way, this particular wine is one of the two Loire Valley wines I picked for Domaine 547's blogger's wine pack project. So if you're curious to taste this but can't find it near you, they'll ship it to your door.

What I'm most excited about bringing, though, and what I'm most thankful for, is the little 10 month old BrooklynBabyGirl. That's what everyone in the family is most excited about this Thanksgiving.

I wish you a healthy and a happy one, or at least an easy one, and a quick and safe return to normal life.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Silver Burgundy Roudup - WBW #39

There are lots of things that I like about this edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday. There were many new participants - some newer bloggers, and also some established bloggers jumped into the WBW fray for the first time this month. I enjoyed reading your reactions to the wines of the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais, particularly from the folks who were first trying these wines, and having a good time doing so.

Not everyone loved wine they tasted, but on the whole the experience was clearly a positive one. Many delicious wines were identified, most of them under $25. Some are surprisingly inexpensive. Before getting into the specifics, here are a few things that jump out at me when looking at our notes as a whole:

  • 9 out of the 14 reds tasted were from the 2005 vintage, a ripe and glorious year. But maybe the tannins in these wines have not yet begun to resolve, and the wines do not yet show balance. Some folks found their 05 red to be a bit young.
  • Vieille Vignes (old vines) seems to have a big impact in the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais. By this I mean that the wines designated as Vieille Vignes tended to truly be a step up from their "regular" counterparts, and were almost universally well reviewed. This is probably true in most wine regions, but maybe not…a topic for a future WBW?
  • 1er Cru wines were no more successful according to our tasters than village or regional wines. As I keep hearing (and learning for myself) about Burgundy - it's all about the producer. Vintage matters, so does the level of wine, but it all comes down to the producer. A good producer makes good wine...period. Grand Cru wine from a poor producer might not be as good as a regional Bourgogne made by a great producer.

So now to a summary, and then the bloggers and the wines.

WBW #39 - Wines of the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais

Participants: 36
Wines reviewed: 52
Mâconnais wines: 33
Côte Chalonnaise wines: 18
Côte d'Or wines (whoops, a la Dr. Vino): 1
Whites: 38 (30 from the Mâconnais)
Reds: 14 (12 were from the Côte Chalonnaise)
Most Common Vintage: 25 wines from 2005
Youngest Wine: 2007
Oldest Wine: 1996
Level of wines: 6 1er Cru wines; 32 Village wines; 14 Regional wines
Most Common Village: 7 wines from Mercurey
Most Common Mâcon Village: 4 wines from Viré-Clessé
Number of Mâcon villages represented: 11
Total Number of villages in the Mâcon with the right to appellation: 43
Most Common Producer: André Bonhommie, Comte Lafon, and Jean Manciat
Most Common Pricing: 31 wines were between $16-25
Least Expensive Wine: $3.99 (no lie, pal)
Most Expensive Wine: ask Dr. Weingolb
Tasting wine: Priceless
Number of Bloggers who Tasted Wine While Actually in the Mâconnais: 1
Number of You Wishing That I Just Get on with the Round Up: get over it

And in no particular order other than whites first...

Bert of the Wine Terroirs blog visits Guy Blanchard in Mercy, Mâconnais and tastes through a wide lineup of whites, including the very young 2007s. In this post you can see photos of the cellar, the producer petting his cat, the producer looking like Vincent Price, and most importantly, an amazing photo where you can literally see the difference between organically and non-organically farmed vineyards. This is Bert's first time participating in WBW, but he is a prolific blogger. Hopefully he will be back for more.

Lyle Fass of Rockss and Fruit also participates for the first time, writing about a Tres Vieille Vignes 2005 Mâcon Bussieres by Eric Texier. These are 100 year old vines (!!!) and at under $25 a bottle, Lyle says the wine is glorious, using the highly descriptive and evocative notes that he always manages to bring to the table.

David of McDuff's Food and Wine Trail reaches into his cellar for a couple of 2002's by one of his favorite producers, André Bonhomme. He tastes a Viré-Clessé and a Vieille Vignes Viré-Clessé and finds them both to be excellent, but the VV wine is deeper, bearing some resemblance to a Meursault. Want to really learn something about Viré-Clessé, a great producer in the Mâconnais, or about wine in general - check this out.

Eddie of Oeno Not Another Wine Blog, another first time participant, also tasted a wine by André Bonhomme, a 2004 Viré-Clessé. Eddie says he is still learning to trust his nose and palate, and he’s not ashamed to say that he had trouble identifying the aromas and flavors. But he liked the wine, which is a good thing. I’m sure we’ll see more of him.

Katherine at Purple Liquid also tasted a wine from Viré-Clessé, this one made by a larger négociant house. She enjoyed the 2005 Maison Chanson Viré-Clessé, and offers up a nice recipe for poached fish to go with it.

Andrea, the Wine Scamp, tasted a couple of whites and gave them both rave reviews
. We're talking about an 05 Michel Cheveau Mâcon-Solutré-Pouilly (on which some jerk scooped her) and an 06 Chateau de la Greffiere Mâcon La Roche Vineuse Vieille Vignes. At $14 somewhere in the middle of Texas, this old vines wine might be the best value of the event. Okay, so it didn't pair well with her Brie and hazelnuts, but it sounds like excellent wine. It inspired the Scamp to share some great notes and ideas about cool weather and white wine - check it out.

Jeff at Indiscriminate Ideas writes about all sorts of stuff, from philosophy to food, and now, to wine. This is his first time participating in WBW and he appreciates our collective gentle touch. He found what sounds like one heck of a bottle, the 2005 Domaine Alain Normand Mâcon La Roche-Vineuse, and at $17 he says it's "worth every penny."

Joe at Joe's Wine and and Erika at StrumErika both tasted the same Bourgogne wine by A & P Villaine. Villaine is the wine maker at a little Domaine called Romanee Conti, maybe you've heard of it. This is a case where a good producer can make regional wine that rivals or exceeds "higher level" wine by other producers. Joe really liked the wine, a 2005. Erika wasn't so sure about the 2003 she drank. It was a hot hot hot year with low low low acidity...

Three people tasted wines made by the venerable Comte Lafon, a Domaine based in Meursault in the Côte d’Or. Lafon’s Montrachet and Meursault sell for LOTS of money, and are some of the more sought after wines in Burgundy. So when Lafon bought land in the Mâconnais, people rightly took it as a sign of the potential quality of the terroir.

John, the Corkdork, tasted a 2003 Comte Lafon Mâcon Milly Lamartine, and he highly recommends it, and also trying Lafon's Mâconnais wines in general. Edward, the Wino Sapien tasted the same wine from the 2004 vintage, and thought it was excellent. He had to shell out quite a few Australian dollars for the bottle, but it sounds like he got a good value.

Mike from Wicker Parker, another first time participant, also tasted the 2004. It got its third excellent review. Mike didn’t stop there though, the first wine was way too good. He also tasted two reds, both by François Raquillet, both from Mercurey: a 2004 1er Cru and a 2005 Vieille Vignes. He says the 05 VV was opened too early, but he calls it a definite rebuy that should be great down the line. And his notes on the 04 1er Cru speak for themselves - take a look.

Sonadora at Wannabe Wino tasted the 2005 Jean Manciat Mâcon-Charnay. This was her first foray into the wines of the Mâconnais and she really liked it! "A definite rebuy," she says. And this is a $16 bottle. I like her taste – Manciat is awesome.

Doug from The Inquiring Vine tasted the same Manciat wine, but his sinuses were acting up, so he leaves it to Sonadora to talk about how good it is. He tasted the 2004 Mâcon-Chaintré for good measure and liked it, but almost mistook it for a Soave.

Brooklynguy (me – your host) also tasted a Manciat wine, the 2005 Mâcon-Charnay Vieille Vignes. It is a great wine, so distinctive and satisfying, with so much development yet to come. And it cost me all of $20. I like the "regular" version of this wine very much, but the VV is a whole different ballgame.

Lenn had some trouble finding a wine, so his patient wife Nena grabbed a bottle for him, a 2004 Mâcon regional white for under $15 made by, in what is surely the second best producer name of this event, La Mere Boitier (the drinking mother?). Lenn found the wine to be interesting aromatically, but overall thought it was nothing special. Nena liked it though so Lenn is now the proud owner of 2 cases.

Dr. Vino also tasted a regional wine, an Aligoté, the other white grape of Burgundy. Whoops – this wine turns out to be made from vines near Meursault. Just goes to show you that French wine labels can be tough to decipher – even the most experienced among us can end up in Meursault when looking for the Côte Chalonnaise. No matter, Tyler enjoyed the wine. And for good measure, he tasted a 1er Cru Mercurey that he liked also.

Jack and Joanne at the esteemed food and wine website Fork and Bottle also tasted a regional white, and it seems as though they found a real winner. At about $18, the Domaine Guillemeot-Michel Quintaine “is a no-brainer at a restaurant,” and “a definite rebuy.” As always, their tasting notes give you a great sense of what to expect from the wine. And for good measure, Jack and Joanne also tasted a red from Vincent Dureuil-Janthial, a rising star in the Côte Chalonnaise. The 2005 Rully 1er Cru Vieille Vignes was full of promise, but was not yet ready to fully strut its stuff.

Speaking of Rully, Daniel at Red Wine With Fish tasted one too. He recommends the 2005 Domaine de la Folie Rully, and successfully paired it with pork chops and braised apples, but thinks it might need more bottle age.

Dave, the WineBaer tasted the 2005 Domaine Jaeger Defaix Rully and was intrigued, but ultimately the wine did not show very well. He also tasted a red wine, one from what must be the newest appellation in France, the Côte de Coucherais. Situated just to the northwest of the Côte Chalonnaise, these wines are all Pinot all the time. But sadly, the 2005 Les Champs de l'Abbaye Couchois was not all that impressive either, and since the WineBaer spent about 50 smacks on these wines, he feels a bit shortchanged. I hear that. Hopefully he will find a Silver Burgundy wine that he likes, maybe even at less money.

Farley at Behind the Vines found a wine from a reputable producer for $3.99. That’s right folks, $3.99. The fact that she bought it from a recently fired sommelier in the back alley behind the restaurant is irrelevant. The wine, a 2001 Faiveley Montagny, was probably past its prime. So she tasted a 2005 red from Givry made by Michel Sarrazin, and she liked that one much more. By the way, Farley has two more bottles of the Faiveley, and they’re yours for the bargain basement price of $2.99. Meet her behind the restaurant…

Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 helped Farley find her Givry, and she found a nice little wine for herself too, the 2004 Domaine Larochette-Manciat Mâcon-Vinzelles, at under $20 of course. She liked her wine a lot, and was fascinated by the lack of fruit. Minerals, yes. Nuts, yes. Live electrical wire after a storm, yes.

Andrew at RougeAndBlanc tasted two wines - a 2005 Domaine Thomas St Véran and a red Givry, the 2003 Chofflet-Valdenaire. He found them both to be quite nice, if not terrible complex. He also offers the recipe for one of the dishes he paired with the wines, Steamed Chicken with Tiger Lily and fungus. Worth a peek, no?

Bill at the Wine for Newbies Podcast also tasted a St Véran, the 2004 Domaine de la Croix Senaillet. He rather enjoyed it, and at about $15 says it has excellent QPR.

Tim of Cheap Wine Ratings rummaged through his cellar and found two wines for this event. He thought the 2005 Caves de Lugny Mâcon-Lugny Les Charmes was fine at $13, but not a rebuy. He would rebuy the Domaine Michel Goubard & Fils Mont Avril Bourgogne at $17 though. He thought this one was fantastic - mushrooms, cigars, cherries - it's in there!

Mariëlla from Wijnkronieken, a Dutch Blog, was somehow the only person to sample a Pouilly-Fuissé, what I thought was a more popular area of the Mâconnais. She enjoys the2004 Domaine de la Collonge, and notes how different it is from a California wine she tasted. Kathleen at Wine and Stories from the Vineyard tasted a Latour Macon-Lugny Les Genievres and found that same contrast.

Garry from Tales of a Sommelier tasted our oldest wine, a 1996 JM Boillot Givry. He enjoys it and calls it a good deal off the winelist at £33 (2.5 million US dollars), although he notes that it is old, and one in three bottles is lost.

New participant DJR-S at Sangre y Pajas en Flor: Vinomadic? Because. (yeah, I'd like him to explain the name also) in Puerto Rico tasted three old wines and finds some beauty, reluctant beauty maybe, but beauty nonetheless in all three. DJR-S is a poet who loves wine. Check out this description of one of the wines: "The white Mercurey has blossomed into an amazing tightrope act of earth & oxidative notes, giving it a caramelized orange rind & apple throughline that matches a light, lingering citrus blossom nose-- with some mushroom underpinning that balances the midpalate at a near-impossible point between astringent & unctuous.

Tim at Winecast tasted the 2003 Faiveley Mercurey, and says it's a very good value at about $20. He thinks it could go a few more years in the bottle and continue to improve. Check out his notes and his podcast.

Marcus at Doktor Weingolb really went all out - he spent some serious clams on his wine, the 2004 Domaine Francois Lumpp Givry 1er Cru Crausot. And the sad part is, he was really disappointed. He gives the wine only two Lumpps. But his post is as engaging as ever.

Jeff at The Good Grape was the victim of wine-salesperson-rage and was forced to grab a random bottle and flee his local shop. His wine, the 2005 Matthiew di Brully Mercurey “La Perriere” was not at all to his liking, but he will try again another day.

Diane at Wine Lover's Journal, another first time participant, tasted a 2005 Chateau de la Tour de L'Ange, a red from the Mâconnais, and enjoyed it with mild cheese.

Dale at Drinks Are On Me, another first time participant, says the Gerard et Laurent Parize Grand Vin de Bourgogne Givry 1er Cru is a killer wine, and highly recommends it at about $25.

Serge the Concierge was not able to actually taste a wine for WBW, but he describes a producer he admires - Maison Jaques Depagneux.

And last but not least, Wilf from Wilf's Wine Press uses the occasion of WBW to remember the horrors of war (no, I'm not kidding).

Sorry for the delay in posting the roundup, and thanks again for having me as your host.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sorry for the Delay

The Roundup is almost ready (this was as of Friday afternoon) but Time Warner, bless their souls, had a service interruption that hit my whole neighborhood. I'm posting this from a friend's house to tell you that a tech dude comes to my house on Monday and the roundup will follow.

Thanks for your patience!


The entire staff at Brooklynguy

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

2005 Jean Manciat Mâcon-Charnay Vieilles Vignes

Wine Blogging Wednesday is upon us again, installment # 39, and the theme is Silver Burgundy, or the wines of the Côte Chalonnaise or the Mâconnais. I am proud to be your host this month - I have been an avid reader of WBW roundups and posts since long before I had a blog. In fact, and it was a WBW write up from June of 2006 that kind of flipped the switch in my brain and helped me decide to start a blog myself.

Lenn started this WBW craze over three years ago, in one of his many creative episodes of foresight and community spirit, and thanks to him for passing the host baton to me this month.

So now the wine...and what a wine it is folks! I have to start by telling you that this wine can be purchased, albeit probably not for much longer, and at few select wine shops, for about $20. This is a brilliant white wine, a Chardonnay that could go toe to toe with some from the far more famous and expensive Côte d'Or, the home of the Montrachets and of Meursault. Not to diminish those superstar wine regions by any means - they have earned their reputations because there are utterly incredible wines made there, Chardonnay that when at its best or near-best is probably unequaled by any other in the world.

But Burgundy is notoriously tough for us as consumers, as there are huge variations in quality, and it is often quite easy to spend $50 on a bottle of wine and feel very disappointed upon tasting. That's why I've become a big fan of the
Mâconnais for white wines (not to disrespect the Côte Chalonnaise, but I just haven't tasted as many). I've found great wines for as little as $13 from the Mâconnais. Not great for a $13 bottle, but great wine. So I do my research and try to go to tastings and cellar a few carefully chosen whites from the Côte d'Or each year, but for the daily pleasure of drinking good white Burgundy, it is Silver Burgundy for me.

I first tasted the 2005 Jean Manciat Mâcon-Charnay Vieilles Vignes back in March and I loved it - so rich and lean and complex. Fermented in about 20-30% new oak barrels, this wine has the structure to improve with some age. In fact, it probably should be left alone for the next four or five years so that the secondary aromas and flavors can come out of their shell. But I couldn't help myself - no self-control sometimes.

BrooklynLady and I made a dinner with this wine in mind, blackfish roasted in parchment paper with tarragon, and a smooth and earthy rutabaga pure
é. The wine was deep yellow-gold, sort of old looking. Had me worried - was this oxidized and prematurely gray? No, just deep and rich in color. And the nose...WOW. Intense roast nuts, wet rocky minerals, some tropical fruit that I assume comes from the oak, and something herbal, deep down in there. Very pure nose, well defined aromas, very inviting. This wine was just delicious, although not entirely ready to drink, but delicious. Clean citrus and hints of apricot or peach on the palate, very tense against the minerals and acids, and mouth aromas of flowers and quinine that persist for quite a while after swallowing. A great pairing with the rich Blackfish and the rutabage. I am so excited to open another one of these in a few years, assuming I can grow some patience.

I will post a round-up as soon as possible - looking forward to reading about your SIlver Burgundy experiences.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

WBW #39 is Tomorrow, People!

Looking forward to reading, gathering, and rounding up your posts on the wines of the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais. Please email me at Brooklynguy earthlink net with the link to your post and for your blog. If you're not a blogger, please just email me and I'll include your writing. Looking forward to it.

We will have some new participants this month, and some surprise guests. Scheduled to appear are, in no particular order, actor Dustin Hoffman, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, highly acclaimed author Alice Munro, NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon, United States Presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich, magician and thrilling escape artist David Blaine, and noted socialite Paris Hilton.
Guest appearances are scheduled but unconfirmed. Brooklynguy is not responsible for changes or last minute cancellations.

A Vine Grows in...Staten Island !!!

Pretty soon there will be a 2 acre grape vineyard, and I assume a functioning winery, right here in New York City. See, don't make the mistake of thinking that it's all concrete, skyscrapers, and guys flipping you the bird here. We have loads of park space, marshland, greenery, and now we'll have a winery. They know that the grapes will be Italian, but beyond that they are not yet sure what they will grow. It gets pretty wet and cold in Staten Island...

Fine, so Staten Island is more like New Jersey than it is like NYC, and it has tried on various occasions to break away from NYC and become its own city. I don't hold that against them, do you?

The Staten Island Botanical Garden is a gorgeous place - The Chinese Scholar's Garden in particular is one of a kind on the east coast. And I'm talking about a 15 minute walk from the ferry terminal. I, for one, will be among the early visitors to this vineyard. Read the article.

Friday, November 09, 2007

More Pre-WBW Appetizers

A couple more lovely whites from the Mâconnais to get your wheels spinning for Silver Burgundy, the next installment, # 39, of Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted this month right here in Brooklynguy-ville.

How about this at under $15 - the 2006 Le Bourcier Mâcon Cuvée Elena, a focused and pure wine with fresh and clean fruit, nice citrus notes, and great minerality. The 2005 version of this wine did great in the NY Times tasting panel's July Mâconnais tasting - the 06 is not as juicy and rich, but it is equally appealing for its vibrancy and tension, and its clean fruit. An amazing value too at this price - a $15 Beauty if I've ever seen one. This wine is not super widely available, which is odd because it's a Polaner wine. I bet you can find it, and if you like white Burgundy but for about $15 instead of $50, try this one. If you live in Brooklyn, I get mine at Prospect Wine Shop.

For a few bucks more, but still under $20, you should be able to get a bottle of 2006 Domaine Michel Cheveau Mâcon-Solutré Pouilly. This is sick wine, honestly, just sick. A Rosenthal selection, and Rosenthal consistently picks great stuff in my opinion. This wine poured out a heady floral ripe aroma before I even got it out of the glass, and once in the glass, just gorgeous. You'll think I'm exaggerating but I'm not - this wine could compete nose-wise with many a young Puligny that I know. It's that intense, with lemon oils and rocky minerals and ripe stone fruit somewhere in there. An amazing nose, and the palate is great too, with great balance and richness, and a bit of saline minerality. There is a crystalline tension here, and good acidity - this stuff is energetic, and it goes great with food. We had it with potato leek soup and everything harmonized perfectly. Again, I got mine at Prospect Wine Shop, but check for it near you. You could always contact Rosenthal if you had too.

Looking forward to your Silver Burgundy choices.

Lenn Thompson's SHOW US YOUR RACK !!!

Lenn thought it would be fun for everyone to post pictures of their wine racks and storage systems. So here we go. Okay folks, sit back, get comfortable, maybe with a nice glass of bubbly. I just put some Serge Gainsbourg on, the mood is right...Wow - just look at this little number. Slightly bottom heavy, yes, but in a good kind of daily Beaujolais and Loire Cab Franc kind of way. Punctuated with curvy white serving bowls and some well-oiled wood. Mmmm. And just a tease of forbidden expensive wine that can't fit into the wine fridge on the lower right.

And this baby is BOOMIN'. Busting out all over the place, totally out of control and with no decorum at all. But enticing, no? Specially since you can kind of make out the wine glasses and the baby bottles drying on top.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Silver Burgundy Dinner - WBW 39 Preview

Wine Blogging Wednesday is now only a week away now. Many people (I hope) will be tasting the affordable and interesting wines of the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais, and will share their thoughts in blog posts and emails, and I will gather and post them here. As a little preview, I want to share a bit about three interesting Silver Burgundy wines that we sampled with dinner the other night.

Thévenet is a pretty famous name in the Mâconnais. Thévenets have been growing grapes and making wine for four generations, and sometimes coming into conflict with the local governing body while doing so. One story I heard is that when the two villages Viré and Clessé in the north of the Mâconnais were granted joint appellation status, this new appellation Viré-Clessé included among its rules that wines can have extremely little residual sugar. There are all sorts of seemingly arbitrary rules for wine in France, so this is just another one right?

But it is not arbitrary at all, as it turns out. Apparently this rule prevents Jean-Claude
Thévenet, at Domaine de la Bongran, from using Viré-Clessé appellation status for his magnificent sweet wines, a sought-after and highly regarded wine. Instead they are called Mâcon-Clessé Cuvee Botrytis du 04 Octobre, for example, if that was the date the grapes were picked. Did they make this rule only to exclude this wine, and if so, why? Who knows the politics of the area. But clearly the name Thévenet is an important and provocative one in the Mâconnais.

Jean-Claude is the third generation vigneron and his impressive stable of Chardonnay wines includes St Veran, a Mâcon-Pierreclos, and several other village wines, some under the name Domaine de la Bongran. Thévenet makes a sparkling wine too, a Blanc de Blancs (a sparkling wine made entirely of white grapes, usually Chardonnay).

We enjoyed the NV Jean-Claude Thévenet Blanc de Blancs, ($20 at Astor Wines) as an aperitif, and then with a salad that included fresh sorrel, radiccio, golden beets, and fresh goat cheese. Good thing too about the sorrel, as its intense lemony flavor was a good foil for the wine. When we first opened the wine, BrooklynLady was the one to break the silence - "it smells like a ripe barnyard," she said. And this was an understatement. This wine was all about the poop smell. And it never really blew off. It was tamed a bit with 15 minutes of air, joined by strong sea air and focused lemon aromas, that carried over onto the intensely, almost painfully mineral palate.

I will be honest here - I did not like this wine during our dinner, or afterwards when I snuck in another taste. But
the leftover third of a bottle the next day...BEAUTIFUL. So weird when that happens, but this wine just needed lots of exposure to oxygen I suppose. Maybe it was aged in a completely reductive environment (hence the poop smell). Turns out that I've thought a lot about this wine since finishing it, and I think I must have it again.

We had another Mâconnais white with our main course, seared sea scallops with kale custard and watermelon radishes. This was the 2004 Domaine de Roally Viré-Clessé, ($20 at Chambers Street Wines) made by Jean-Claude's son Gautier. This wine was a stunner from beginning to end. The color was deep golden yellow, like a sweet wine. I decanted it about four hours before serving following David Lillie's (co-owner of Chambers Street Wines) advice. David says that the wine ferments for a year, and this provides great complexity. It was fat and rich, full of floral perfume when I first opened it. Very exciting! But it's personality completely changed when we had it with dinner several hours later. Still rich and mouth coating, but now so dry and mineral that it almost hurt. There are floral notes on the nose, a bit of lemon peel, but this is wet rocks and quinine, and this is the dominant flavor on the palate too. Very focused and angular, with lemony and quinine mouth aromas after swallowing. This was really good with the scallops and kale custard. BrooklynLady's favorite of the evening.

We popped and poured a mature Pinot Noir with our cheese course, the 1998 Hugues et Yves de Suremain Mercurey 1er Cru La Bondue, ($19, Chambers Street Wines). 1998 was a year that produced a lighter style of wines in Burgundy. It is always a treat to taste a mature Burgundy, and this was certainly no exception. To my taste, it perfectly complimented our cheeses, expecially the pungeant (read: stinky) Pont L'Eveque. The color was light rose red with no signs of rustiness. At first the nose was a bit sea-weedy, with something like rotting garbage. This toned down with a few minutes of air and the nose grew to include enticing cooked cherries and orange pith with hints of prune, mint, and toffee. Ah, the complexity of a mature Burgundy! And for under $20 - is this some sort of a joke?!? The palate was light but quite intense, echoing the nose. Broad and mouth coating, and the tannins do not seem to have fully resolved yet - this could even go a bit longer. Why bother though - it's drinking beautifully now and it's wise and gracious in its old age.

Think of this: I paid less than $60 before taxes (and before case discount) for these wines, three interesting and high quality wines of character and substance, each offering lots of pleasure. And this is Burgundy folks, where one bottle can easily cost $60. But this is Silver Burgundy, and hence the savings. I hope this whets your appetite, and that you will get it in gear and participate in WBW #39.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Portuguese Wine Tasting

Recently the gods, having decided that my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds (like Bernard Kerik when he was Police Chief in NYC maybe?), ensured that I was invited to participate in a very special lunch and wine tasting put on by The Port Wine Institute, ViniPortugal, and the Portuguese Trade Commission. Lunch was in the private back room at Gramercy Tavern, a hallowed institution of fine dining in New York City.

There were about 15 distinguished folk at this event, and I'm talking about Rui Abecassis (the Deputy Trade Commissioner of Portugal), esteemed wine writers such as Jamal Rayyis of Food and Wine Magazine, David Talbot of Wine Enthusiast, and bloggers like our very own Dr. Vino. And Rui Reguinga, Portuguese wine maker and wine consultant guided us through our tasting.

I know that I'm probably supposed to write about this event if and only if I'm going to shower praise on the wines. But that's why I'm a blogger - I can report my real feelings about what I experienced. And although I really enjoyed a few of the wines (and the food was great), I was basically unimpressed with the overall lineup of wines we tasted before our lunch. I found the reds (8 of 10 wines were reds) to be almost uniformly big and characterless. Not memorable or emotional, business-like, the result of a focus group or something. Smooth and powerful, yes. But not my cup of tea.

Be warned - I have almost no context in which to place these wines. If I knew nothing about French wine and went to this kind of event, but it was French wine instead of Portuguese, and they poured only big manipulated Bordeaux wines, I might walk away thinking that I don't like French wine. For all I know, they poured only the Portuguese equivalent of big manipulated crowd-pleasing Bordeaux at this event. Are there soulful, lighter, elegant reds from Portugal? What is the Burgundy of Portugal, the Cru Beaujolais, the Chinon?

Anyway, here are a few wines that I liked. There was a lovely rosé, the 2006 Quinta da Alorna Touriga National Rosé from Ribatejo DOC, a large flat valley in the south-central part of Portugal. This wine had an absolutely gorgeous color, a nose of fresh berries, and a sweet berry palate with an interesting medicinal nuance. This wine retails for about $12, and I would buy it happily if I saw it on the shelf.

I enjoyed the 2005 Quinta do Poeira Douro. It was described as having "less structure, more elegance" by Mr. Reguinga, and maybe that's why it stood out for me. At 13.5% alcohol, it was lighter than many of the other wines. I liked the light nose with some cinnamon spice, the well balanced palate of spicy fruit with a bit of earth, the relaxed mouth feel. I do not know the retail price of this wine, so I have no idea whether or not it is a good value. But if it were under $20 I would happily buy it.

If I had to select one red to bring home to BrooklynLady and enjoy over dinner, it would be the 2005 Quinta da Bacalhoa of Terras do Sado, at about $29. This wine is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot -- that's right, a Bordeaux blend is the wine I liked most in the tasting. I liked the lovely dried rose petal nose, the pretty fresh berries and the overall feeling of the wine, light and elegant, but with deep and focused flavors, well balanced with good acidity. I didn't even notice the alcohol, and at 14.5%, that's impressive.

Let me say this right now - the revelation of the tasting for me was Tawny Port. I loved the Sandeman (beware of ridiculous website) 20 year old Tawny so much that I've looked in at least four stores for it so far, with no luck. Peter Cobb, a delightful English gentleman who lives and loves Port wine guided us through a tasting of four Ports, including a young ruby vintage Port by Quinta de Noval, a Fonseca 10 year old Tawny, and the Sandeman 20 year Tawny. I learned that Port wine is better served with a chill, that Tawny compliments cheese quite well, that the Tawny style really appeals to me, with its complex and oxidized nature, and that I would pay good money to have an afternoon of Port with Peter Cobb.

So thank you gods for smiling on me that afternoon. This was a wonderful afternoon of wine tasting, eating, and learning, and I met some great people too. And I'm going to find a bottle of 20 year old Sandeman Tawny before the holidays, I can promise you that.

Addendum: here is the full lineup of wines we tasted before our lunch:

1. 2006 Anselmo Mendes Muros de Melgaco, Vinho Verde
2. 2006 Quinta da Alorna Touriga National Rosé, Ribatejo
3. 2005 Campolargo Termeao, Beiras
4. 2005 Quinta dos Roques Touriga Nacional, Dao
5. 2004 Quinta de Chocapalha Reserva, Estremadura
6. 2005 Quinta da Bacalhoa, Terras do Sado
7. 2005 Jorge Moreira Poeira, Douro
8. 2004 Symington Family Estates Chryseia, Douro
9. 2005 Herdade dos Grous Reserva, Alentejo
10. 2004 Rui Reguinga
Terrenus Reserva, Alentejo

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Brooklynguy Stops Being a Hater and Learns to Appreciate "Other" Sparkling Wines

Feel like Champagne every night? I do. Actually, I feel like Champagne most days with lunch too, and I'm not completely adverse to it with breakfast on the weekends. We cannot give in to our every whim though, can we? So instead I'm trying to keep it to a weekly indulgence.

As the dollar continues to suck, this means between $35-40 per week on Champs. That's about 2 thousand dollar a year habit! Harder to swallow, when you put it that way. It's about time that I find some sparkling wines that make me really happy, and that cost between $12-20, like most of the wine we drink on a daily basis.

There are some wines that just don't cooperate in that price range, like Pinot Noir. Very rarely do I find a Pinot in that range that delivers true Pinot pleasure. I suspect that sparkling wine is not as difficult as Pinot - there are many sparklers that can deliver great pleasure. They will not be as deep or as elegant, as powerful or as focused as good Champagne. And Champagne is so much more ---STOP--- it man, we're not talking about Champagne anymore. Just get over it and stick to the point! (~ed.)

Sorry, I just got a little angry at myself.

Okay, back to what I was saying about other sparklers. It's not like I've never enjoyed them before. I have to branch out some more, have a little faith, that's all. Of course I'm going to start in the Loire Valley with this, as there's great sparkling Vouvray and Saumur to be had. I had some a few years ago, before I fell in love with Champagne ---STOP IT--- and I remember liking NV Foreau Vouvray Petillant (petillant means fizzy, mildly sparkling) a whole lot. But that's like $25 now! If I'm not drinking you-know-what then I'm not spending more than 20 smacks either.

So here are two Loire Valley sparklers that I enjoyed lately in the $12-20 price range. They're not as good as Ch@~*^+;, but they certainly have their charms and are worth seeking out if like me, you're in over your head with the "real" stuff.

NV Domaine du Vieux Pressoir Saumur Brut Methode Traditionelle, ($15 Astor Wines). Saumur sparklers tend to be a bit cheaper than their friends from Vouvray. This is only the second one I've tried, and like the first, this one is an excellent value. I was worried when I opened it though because it started off super flinty, flinty and smoky to the exclusion of anything else on the nose. But this balanced out after about 15 minutes, and the wine was really quite nice. Flinty still, but with some green apple and citrus notes, and a nice floral mouth perfume after swallowing. A bruiser of a sparkler, but excellent with food and very high quality in general. A $15 Beauty, I would suggest.

Domaine du Vieux Pressoir makes three sparklers. Their rose, which I believe is what they are better known for, is all Cabernet Franc. This one is a blend of 70/30 Chenin Blanc to Chardonnay.

NV Domaine des Aubuisieres Vouvray Brut, ($20 Astor Wines). I have become a big fan of Mssr. Fouquet's still wine, so why not give the sparkler a shot? This wine was more refined than the Saumur, offering a lighter nose of apple and hints of wet stones and flowers. Quite dry and mineral on the palate too, with ripe fresh fruit. Very nice indeed. Hard to compare to the Saumur because the styles are so different. But if I were forced to say, I'm not sure that the Aubuisieres wine is worth 33% more than the Saumur, as the price demands.

I will not stop here, friends. More Loire Sparklers to come, as well as whatever else I taste in the under $20 price range that merits writing about. Want to help get this Champagne singe off my back? What are your favorite under $20 sparklers?