Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

NV Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte-Anne Brut, $36, Terry Theise Selections/Michael Skurnik Imports. First of all, the $36 price tag is today's price, this is what you'll see the wine selling for right now. And that's pretty great, considering most $36 Champagne a year ago now costs $44 or more. For whatever reason, this excellent non-vintage wine is still in the mid $30's and although it's an excellent wine, it's also a great value.

This is the April, 2008 disgorgement and it is based mostly on 2004 grapes with 20% from 2002. The blend is 50% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, and 10% Meunier. It is interesting to note that the Meunier in this wine is from non-grafted pre-phylloxera vines.

I've always like this wine and this is the best version I've tasted. It is a classic, a caricature of what good Champagne should be. Overtly fruity and joyous, and with real depth and character to the nose, and a lively and round feeling in the mouth. Good acidity and a chalky and floral fragrance on the finish. Totally accessible and delicious wine. This is the bottle to open for someone who thinks they don't like Champagne.

The Chartogne-Taillet estate is located in the village of Merfy, to the northwest of Reims. Peter Liem's June post on the 1999 vintage wine describes Merfy and the vineyard soils in good detail, and explains why this wine might be a bit different in character from many others in the Montagne de Reims.

There are 6 wines that I know of in the Chartogne-Taillet portfolio: this non-vintage Brut, a Brut Rosé, a Blanc de Blancs, a demi-sec, a vintage wine, and the tête de cuvée called Cuvée Fiacre. I've drank the 1996 and the 1999 vintages, and both were excellent wines. I tasted the 2000 a few months ago and loved it, although I haven't yet seen it on shelves. The vintage wines will be more expensive now - I bought the 1999 for $55 a year ago, which seems cheap now. I've never seen the Fiacre on shelves, which is a shame. It is a Chardonnay dominant wine from the estate's oldest vines, and it's a coeur de cuvée, the best part, or heart of the juice, without the first or last several hundred liters of the pressing. This concept is better described by, again, Peter Liem in his post discussing the wines of Vilmart:

"...a special selection of the very heart of the cuvée—in Champagne, a 4,000 kilogram pressing yields 2,050 liters of juice in the cuvée, and Champs selects only the finest 800 liters from the middle of the pressing to make the Coeur de Cuvée. (Although not an exact comparison, think about the heads and the tails in the distilling of spirits.)"
Happily, Chartogne-Taillet's Cuvée Fiacre is not prohibitively expensive - maybe $75 a bottle. Yes, that's a lot of money, but like the Cuvée Sainte-Anne Brut that is the subject of this post, it is one of the better wines of it's class, and also the among the least expensive.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dressner Portfolio Tasting Notes

So after the hard and wonderful work of the Terry Theise Portfolio tasting, we rushed over to the east side for Louis/Dressner tasting. There was simply no way to taste everything, even if this were the only tasting of the day. There were 250 wines, and I don't know about you, but I can't thoughtfully taste more than about 50 wines in one session.

I had to narrow the field, and so very sadly, I decided to taste mostly the new vintages of old and familiar wines. The Italian wines - I didn't taste 'em. Wines of the Savoie - didn't taste 'em. Burgundy, Jura, and Muscadet...nope.

Did I taste anything, you might be wondering, or did I just mingle with the wine stars? Oh, I tasted, buddy, and some great wine at that. I went for the Bubbles, the Beaujolais, the Cab Franc, and the Chenin Blanc. I had an hour - that's all I had time for.

First, I have to tell you about the 20 year table. In honor of their 20th anniversary, the Dressner folk dug into the cellar and set out a load of wines from their inaugural vintage. How thoughtful is that? And what a great opportunity for those of us (like me) who haven't tasted many of these wines with bottle age. I missed some of these wines, much to my dismay. Breton's Bourgueil Perrières, Chateau d'Oupia Cuvée les Barons, Pepière Clos des Briords...gone. And the Clos Rougeard Le Bourg - corked (but even so the fruit was young and lovely). The 1988 Closel Savennières Clos du Papillon was complex and beautiful, and the Chidaine Montlouis Clos Habert and the Pinon Vouvray Moelleux were great too. And as far as I know, 1988 wasn't a particularly great vintage - just a normal working class year in the Loire Valley. I'm more determined than ever to let my bottles sleep in peace...

Bubbles first, and what bubbles! Larmandier-Bernier wines are so different from the wide open style of much of the Theise portfolio. These wines are not generous, they are cautious and they'll hold back on you. There is nothing similar in style in the Theise portfolio except maybe Gimonnet, and those wines, if I may say so, do not have comparable depth or focus. These are piercing wines of great definition, and they can seem like turtles, just their head visible underneath all of that shell.

The Blanc de Blancs was opened as I was standing there and needed time to come together. But this bottle of Terre de Vertus showed better than any other I've tasted - richly fragrant with broad mineral flavors and ripe fruit. A memorable wine, and well worth the price (about $75). The 2004 Vieille Vignes de Cramant was focused and lovely with floral notes, although quite closed. There was no Rosé de Saignée left, which is tragic, as I have never tasted this legend of a wine.

Right near the Bubbly table sat two unattended bottles of Dard et Ribo white wine, both from 2006, a Crozes-Hermitage Blanc and a Saint-Joseph Blanc. I've never tasted a Dard et Ribo wine but I'd heard very good things, and these were better than very good. Fresh and pure with beautiful fruit and floral aromas, and great texture - voluptuous without that viscosity that find distracting in white Rhone wines.

Next was Beaujolais. This is such an impressive aspect of the Dressner portfolio. We're talking about many of the finest producers - Desvignes, Descombes, Brun, Tête, and Roilette, all at the same table. The wines that I liked the most on this day were the 2007 Clos de la Roilette Fleurie for its grace and purity of fruit, and the 2006 Desvignes Morgon Côte du Py for its depth and brambly intensity. There were many other excellent wines, but these are the two that I wanted to take those home with me.

The 2006's from Chidaine are quite good, although if you're used to the 2005's they will seem light. The 2006's are probably typical and the 2005's are probably extra rich and intense. My favorite was the 2006 Clos Habert, a demi-sec wine that I also love in 2005. The 2007 Pinon Vouvray Cuvee Silex Noir is just a great wine too, and a very good value at about $25. It was the temperamental 2006 Anjou Blanc from Agnès et René Mosse that I liked best of the current Chenin Blancs, with rich fruit on top of a pool of minerals, and a great underlying streak of acidity. At about $23, this is another excellent value. Rich enough to drink with a hangar steak, relaxed enough to enjoy with a bowl of vegetable soup.

I took a brief Burgundy excursion at this point and tasted through the Philippe Pacalet wines. Pacalet has a cellar in Beaune proper and buys grapes from various growers, often tending the plots himself. His wines are made in the classic style, focusing on purity, grace, and expression of terroir (read - not overly extracted and dark). Although these are not among my favorite red Burgundies, tasting Pacalet's 2006's was as fine a lesson in terroir of the Côte de Nuits as I've ever had. The Nuits-St-Georges was earthy and had wild game on the nose. The Pommard was muscular and dense, almost a bit clunky. The Gevrey-Chambertin was also muscular but with higher toned fruit. The Chambolle-Musigny was silky and more elegant. The Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Perrieres (about $125) was in my opinion the finest of the lineup with great depth and intensity to compliment the ripe fruit and the firm structure. The Chambolle-Musigny was, as advertised, silky and more elegant.

And last for me were the great Loire reds, and what a way to end the day. I'm talking about Breton, Baudry, Raffault, Filliatreau, Clos Roches Blanches, and Clos Rougeard. I think the 2007 Baudry Les Granges is the best Les Granges since 2004. My first time tasting the 2006 Croix Boisée and I'm not sure where I stand. It had nice fruit, but it was so tannic and muddled that I couldn't decide whether or not I would buy it for myself. I need to taste this again. I was super impressed with how well the Raffault wines showed - all of them. The 2005 Chinon Les Picasses was ripe and expressive, but restrained and elegant too, and complex with herbal and earthy flavors. And under $25. The 2002 was a bit more awkward at this stage, but also shows elegance and balance to go along with the silky fruit. The 1990 was gone, but the 1989 was smooth and well balanced, and seemed quite youthful, nothing secondary about it.

All three Clos Rougeard wines were excellent - 2004 was an under appreciated year for red wine in the Loire, I think. Le Clos, the "entry level" wine, was ripe and delicious, and all elbows and knees right now. And by the way, this wine now costs about $60. Les Poyeux used to cost $50. These wines have become too expensive for most of us, sadly, as they represent some of the finest red Cabernet Franc wine from anywhere. Les Poyeux was delicious and oddly more accessible than Le Clos, and Le Bourg was your high school friend's huge but gentle older brother, more into math than football.

An amazing tasting that showcased the work that Louis/Dressner has done over the past 20 years to bring natural wines to the US. Next year if I am invited, I don't care if Barack Obama's white house tasting is the same day, I'm spending the day with Dressner.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Terry Theise Tasting Notes

What's the right thing to do at an enormous industry wine tasting? Do you try to taste every wine being poured? Do you find some way of narrowing the field, and taste only a subset of the wines? The answer is personal, I suppose. I used to try to taste everything but in the end I learned less that way, and did not really enjoy myself. Nowadays I try to figure out what I most want to taste before I get there.

I was invited to both the Terry Theise Selections/Skurnik Champagne Portfolio Tasting and the Louis/Dressner Selections tastings last week, invitations that I am truly grateful for. The largest and arguably the finest portfolio of grower Champagnes in the US, and the largest and finest portfolio of natural wines from France and Italy - what a treat to participate.

Both tastings, however, took place on Tuesday October 21st from noon-4:00. Admit it - that just sucks. Thoughtfully tasting everything in the Terry Theise portfolio alone is challenging enough, but to do that and then find a way to do the same thing at the Dressner tasting...that's a tall order. Luckily I had my buddy and fellow blogger David McDuff as a partner in tasting.

I did a much better job at the Theise tasting simply because I went there first. I learned that if I had to pick one Champagne producer's lineup to take to a desert island, it would be that of René Geoffroy. From top to bottom, just amazing. I re-discovered Pierre Peters and Marc Hébrart. And best of all, I am beginning to put together an understanding of terroir in Champagne. Here are some of the wines that I would buy for myself (great wine, good value) from the Theise portfolio (prices are estimates):

NV Pierre Peters Cuvée Réserve Blanc de Blancs Brut, $50. My favorite on this day of the non-vintage Côte des Blancs wines.

NV Marc Hebrart Sélection Brut, $50. Deep rich perfume, just gorgeous. 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay. Complex, delicious, and balanced. I never see this in stores though...

NV René Geoffroy Expression Brut, $50. Heavy in the Meunier, and one of my favorite non-vintage wines of the whole portfolio. If you're skeptical of this whole grower Champagne thing, and you buy only one wine from this portfolio, try this one.
NV René Geoffroy Empreinte Brut, $60. This one is 82% Pinot Noir and it's gorgeous. Again, I've never seen it retail. Not in New York, nowhere. Please, this wine so I can buy it.
NV René Geoffroy Cuvee Volupté Brut, $80. For the first time (I think) this is a Blanc de Blancs. It's all 2004, although it's not a vintage wine. It's a baby and it's very delicate, but it's already got a well defined and muscular physique. This will be a knockout in a few years.
2000 René Geoffroy Brut, $125. I didn't say that I'd be happy about spending the money, I just said that I would buy these wines myself. And since I buy maybe two wines at this price each year, this is a serious comment on the quality I saw in this wine at this price. This wine has no sugar in the dosage, but you might not guess that when drinking it. What a thing of beauty! It is full and deep and rich and delicate and a full-on sensory experience. If you have the money and the inclination, this is not to be missed. Will someone carry it in their store, though?
1995 René Geoffroy Cuvée de René Geoffroy Brut, $300 (magnum). Truffles and strawberries. This was the wine of the tasting for me, and although I cannot spend my own (and my wife's) $300 on a magnum, I'm hoping that the gods of wine will somehow allow me to taste this again someday.

NV Gaston Chiquet Tradition Brut, $45. Also heavy on the Meunier, and another favorite non-vintage wine. I haven't always loved this wine, but on this day it was great.

NV Margaine Brut Rosé, $55. Refined and delicate, yet bold and lovely fruit. Delicious.
2000 Margaine Special Club Blanc de Blancs Brut, $75 (but this price could be totally wrong - the book is missing information). Gorgeous mature nose of nuts and minerals, very rich.

2002 Henri Billiot Brut, $75. Just gorgeous 80% Pinot Noir deliciousness. So deep fruited and satisfying. And a keeper too - this has a long life ahead of it.

NV Lallement Brut, $55, Intense spicy fruit with a steely mineral backbone. Powerful but also delicate somehow in its purity.

NV Chartogne Taillet Cuvée Sainte Anne Brut, $45. Bring this to someone who thinks they don't like Champagne. It's a classic, well balanced, fragrant, deeply fruited wine, and delicious wine. And I've seen it, the same disorgement as in the tasting, based on 2004, with the new label, for as little as $36.
2000 Chartogne Taillet Brut, $65. Bold and rich, with a spicy depth. This is big wine, but it's well balanced and gentle.
2002 Chartogne Taillet Cuvee Fiacre Brut, $75. From their oldest vines, this wine is refined and elegant, and still pretty closed. The 2000 Fiacre that I tasted in September was much more approachable. But this will be a beauty in a few years, I suspect.

Dressner notes coming soon...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

NV Jean Lallement et Fils Réserve Brut, $55, Terry Theise Selections, Skurnik Imports. The Lallement estate is located in the Grand Cru village of Verzenay in the northeastern part of the Montaigne de Reims. There are only 1,700 cases of Lallement wines produced. This is the smallest production of any of the Terry Theise estates, and it will continue to be even when production increases to 2,500 cases in 2010. I'm not sure how many of the 1,700 cases make it to the US, I'm guessing the majority do, but in any case, there is not a whole lot of this wine. If you see Lallement Champagne, it's probably a good idea to just buy it.

Lallement's NV Brut is the first bottle of grower Champagne that I ever drank at home, and I still have a soft spot for the wines. Both that wine and this one, the Réserve Brut, are a blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. The wines are deeply fruited, rich, and intense. The difference between the two wines, as I understand it, is that the NV Brut blends wines from at least two vintages, while the Réserve Brut contains wines from a single year.

I've enjoyed every bottle of the NV Brut, but the Réserve Brut has been more variable, as you might expect - grapes are different each year and blending wines from different years minimizes this in the final wine. The Réserve Brut was incredibly rich with great depth and finesse the first time I had it, and based on that I splurged on a few more bottles. Although very good, it has not been as amazing as the first bottle. I think that my bottles are made from 2003 grapes. I'm guessing 2003 because the new version of this wine that I tasted the other day at the Terry Theise portfolio tasting is based on 2004, which I thought was stunning, by the way.

The bottle we drank at home last Friday night had an elegant and broad nose, very fresh and classy. Dark fruit, ladies' perfume, roast nuts, very mature and stately. The palate did not quite live up to the promise of the nose, though. There is a celery-like metallic tone to the palate, with bitter minerals and high pitched red currant flavors - pure and refreshing. Somehow a bit thin from the midpalate to the finish, although there is a chalky grace there.
We left the bottle alone for a while and almost 5 hours later it was the same lovely nose, but the flavors on the palate had clarified a bit. Now it was the purest of red fruit completely surrounded by a pillow of chalk, and it was lovely. Still not as fleshy in the middle as the newer wine, but really very good. And I suspect this will get better with bottle age, so my last bottle goes into the tank for the next five years.

I hope that Terry Theise convinces the Lallements to include more information on the back labels of their wines. When I spend this kind of dough on a bottle of Champagne I would like to know whether it is 2004 grapes or 2003 grapes, for example, and when it was disgorged. These are the things that we as consumers need to know about this wine in order to understand what we're buying. Not that it's necessary to know this in order to enjoy drinking the wine, but if, like me, there are only so many $50 and up Champagne bottles you buy in a year, I'd rather not roll the dice - I want to know what I'm buying.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Scene from the Domaine Select Tasting


A ring of white-clothed tables lines the perimeter of the room, several bottles of wine, a spit bucket, and various pamphlets on each table. The room is crowded with well dressed people. Everyone holds a wine glass, sips wine, chats with their companions, shuffles on to the next table.

Brooklynguy stands to one side and thumbs through the tasting book. A slight frown crosses his face as he continues to thumb through the book. He reaches a certain page, his face lights up, and he purposefully strides across the room looking at the table numbers as he walks. He approaches Table 75 in the corner of the room. Two women stand behind the table looking bored, although there are three men in suits standing there tasting wine. Brooklynguy waits his turn and fixes his gaze on the women, hoping one of them will notice him standing there with an empty glass.

Vesna Kristančič

Fine, thank you. I'd like to taste through the whole Movia lineup.

Vesna Kristančič
Yes. Here is 2006 Pinot Grigio (POURS).

Are you Aleš' wife?

Vesna Kristančič

My name is Neil. I'm friendly with Jeremy Parzen he told me...

Vesna Kristančič
(INTERRUPTS, SMILING) Oh yes, Jeremy. We just saw him in San Francisco. Okay, you taste my wines.

A rather short and skinny Japanese man approaches the table. He has long gray hair and is wearing a yellow suit jacket, a black tie, and a large brown felt hat with a partridge feather in the band.

Japanese Man
Can I taste Lunar please.

Vesna Kristančič
(POURS) Yes, of course.

What exactly is Lunar?

Japanese Man
(DRINKS, FACE LIGHTS UP) Oh, this is very different from everything else, very delicious.

Vesna Kristančič
Thank you. (TURNS TO BROOKLYNGUY) Lunar is Ribolla made from whole grape clusters and Aleš leave it alone until he put it in the bottle.

Japanese Man
(RAISES GLASS TO TOAST, LAUGHING LOUDLY) This is really different. You gonna make a whole lotta money. Prada, Versace, Louis Vuitton, right? Yeah!

Vesna Kristančič
(BLINKING) Yes, well, it's not like this.

Japanese Man
A whole lotta money! Versace!


I've been to a few tastings recently, as you may have guessed. A weird scene, lemme tell you. Some truly great wines though - I'll share some impressions soon.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Shape Matters

Once upon a time I owned six Riedel red Burgundy glasses, the Vinum series. These are the glasses with the rather large bowls and the tapered lip, perfect for nurturing the delicate aromas of Pinot Noir, and designed to deposit the wine at the precise point on the tasters tongue that will result in the optimal flavor experience. Or so says Riedel, anyway.

I like nice wine glasses as much as the next guy. A wine's subtleties really can be better appreciated when drinking from certain glasses. Some of this is simply the size of the glass - good red Burgundy from a 4 oz. orange juice glass would be tragic because the aromas would dissipate into the air. And shape matters too. You can drink Champagne from a flute, for example, and it does indeed look beautiful that way. But drinking Champagne from a white wine glass allows the aromas to be appreciated in a whole different way. A Champagne coupe doesn't do enough to trap the aromas and is probably best used to serve cocktails.

As long as a basic minimum of quality is present, I'm not all that picky about a wine glass. I want it to be big enough so I can pour a few ounces of wine and swirl a bit. And I want a tapered shape to help trap the aromas. I do prefer to drink Champagne and other sparkling wines from a white wine glass. Other than that, I've never been much of a believer in the idea that specific glass shapes are better for specific wines. Seems like alchemy, or like putting lipstick on a pig.

But the other night my lack of faith was put to the test. My pal Adam and his wife brought a bottle of 2002 Domaine Ramonet Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Clos de la Boudriotte to dinner at my place. But of those six Vinum glasses there are merely two remaining, the rest unlucky victims of various sink collisions, or in one case, a cavalier paper towel drying program. Would I be forced to serve this fine red Burgundy in white wine glasses?

Then I remembered that four years ago while trying to use a wedding-related store credit at Tiffany, I lost my patience in the vase section of the store and in 5 short minutes became the owner of two utterly enormous wine glasses, small bath tubs really. These would be the Sommelier series Pinot Noir glasses. They have a special flared lip to direct the wine to the mid-portion of the tongue. Honestly they cost something like $100 each, and therefore cannot rationally be used or washed, because they surely would shatter. Just touching them results in a gong-like humming. We have used these glasses maybe twice since we purchased them.
So the Ramonet went into two Vinum glasses (Sommelier above left, Vinum above right) and two Sommelier glasses-on-steroids. And you know what? It was a far superior wine from the big Sommelier glasses. At 13.5%, from the Vinum glasses there was unpleasant alcohol heat on the nose. From the Sommelier glasses, just pure earthy mossy dark fruited sumptuousness. And the wine tasted better too from this glass, which is no surprise because so much of flavor is tied to aroma. The difference was such that I probably would not have liked the wine if tasted only from the Vinum glass, but I would happily buy the wine in the Sommelier glass.

So now I will tell you two more things: I will use these glasses exclusively to drink Pinot until they also break, and BrooklynLady so far has followed through on her promise/threat to drink her every liquid from one of these glasses. I might also purchase two of the Sommelier series Chenin Blanc glasses with what's left of my retirement account.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

2000 Movia Puro Rosé, $50 on the east coast, $42 out west, Domaine Select Wine Estates. Early in July of this year while reading Jeremy Parzen's always intelligent and pleasurable blog, I saw a photo of his pal Jon opening a bottle of Movia Puro upside down in a bowl of water. I asked why this is necessary and Jeremy posted this informative response, including a neat video showing a successful disgorgement.

Knowing that I kind of like Champagne, Jeremy felt that I would be a more complete human being if I were to disgorge and taste Movia sparkling wine for myself. He waved his magic wand and arranged for me to receive a sample, which I very much appreciated. I put the wine in the racks and tried to be patient for a few weeks so they could recover from their journey.

Jack and Joanne at Fork & Bottle, Jeremy Parzen, and Italian Wine Merchants (particularly their helpful page on how to disgorge the bottle) on their websites offer lots of information about Movia, so I will only tell you what I know about this specific wine. The 2000 vintage is 70% Chardonnay, 20% Ribolla, and 10% Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero in Italian, Modri Pinot in Slovenian). The 1999 vintage was all Pinot Noir, according to the Movia website, so I guess the wine maker is not wedded to a particular formula. Like most Movia juice, this is aged in barrique, in this case for 4 years. It then spends almost 3 years more aging in bottle before release. Obviously there is no dosage, as we consumers must disgorge the bottles ourselves. I might be wrong here, but I think there is almost no residual sugar in this wine, maybe a couple of grams per liter. This is amazing, considering how rich and ripe the wine feels. Must be all that time on the lees.

When I could wait no longer (3 weeks, more or less) I turned a bottle upside down one night and put it in the fridge. I wedged it between the side of the fridge and a jug of water, hoping it would remain still so the sediment could gather neatly in the neck. The next evening I knocked the bottle over while trying to take it out of the fridge. Oiy! So again I wedged it in there and swore that I would be more careful the next day.

I managed to extract the bottle very smoothly the next night, but then realized that I had to remove the foil wrapper and the cage before opening. How do you do that while holding the bottle upside down using only one hand? Cannot be done without some bottle shaking. I did my best, and then submerged the neck in a bowl of water and eased out the cork. An explosion of foam and jettisoned sediment, I turned the bottle upright, and I have no idea how much wine I lost because the bottle is strategically opaque. Not an entirely successful disgorgement, as the wine was a bit cloudy.

But the nose...a thing of beauty! So clean and fresh, and such incredibly rich and ripe fruit. The exuberance of eating a just-picked peach in August, the juices running down to your elbow. There is a hint of cinnamon in there somewhere, too. Nothing mineral or earthy going on here - all fruit all the time, but it is utterly beautiful fruit, and somehow with only fruit there is depth and complexity on the nose.

The palate did not follow through on the nose's wild promises. It felt rather thin, considering the broad richness of the nose, and the fruit was cidery, somewhat hollow. Maybe I messed up the bottle with my clumsy handling, or maybe, as is common with biodynamic and naturally made wines, maybe this bottle is not as good as most - lots of variation.

Luckily for me, Jeremy's generous sample gods sent more than 1 bottle. I waited a month and tried again. This time I placed the upside down bottle in a flower vase filled with water to keep it stable in the fridge. And I trained on the stationary bike for 3 weeks in order to achieve the vise-like knee grip necessary to remove the foil and cage without shaking the bottle too much. Disgorgement successful this time, I'm proud to say. Perfectly clear peach and onion skin colored wine.

The nose was again stunning. This nose is moving in a visceral way - is this what it smells like to stand in a fruit orchard on the border between Collio and Brda? And this time I liked the flavors much more. A spring water cleanness supports lovely ripe fruit and there is a spicy depth to the wine. The fruit perfume lingers in the nostrils after swallowing. I could imagine this pairing well with duck breast and confit, with light creamy cheeses and fresh fruit, or even with fresh scallops and shrimp - their sweet clean characters might compliment each other. I'm saving the last bottle for the winter when I'll be desperate for the scent of summer fruit. It will make a perfect Valentine's day wine, I'm thinking.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bad Wine Lately

I'm talking about wines from places and producers that I've liked in the past, things that I expected to like. Not random stuff, like the liquids masquerading as wine that I sometimes receive as samples (remind me to tell you about the California Babera that reminded me of light sweet crude oil - drill baby drill!).

Like this - the 2006 Luneau-Papin Domaine Pierre de la Grange Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Vieilles Vignes at $12. This is Luneau-Papin for crying out loud! I loved this wine in 05 but this one was just out of whack. Bread dough and highly concentrated, but not in a good way. Didn't really feel like Muscadet. Like reaching for your cup of milk and drinking orange juice.

Or this - those 2007
Hervé Villemade Chevernys from Domaine de Moulin at $16. I really liked the 2006 red wine based on the glass I had at a restaurant. This was so uninspiring though. At 50-50 Pinot/Gamay it felt like it was trying too hard, a bit overpowering. And it had a burnt earth aroma that kept wafting in and out, something that I did not at all enjoy. Look, maybe this isn't bad wine, but to me it just doesn't hold a candle to the 07 Tue-Boeuf Cheverny. But Villemade's 2007 Cheverny Blanc...pungent and borderline unpleasant. Maybe I'm just cranky?

Now this - the 2003 Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny La Marginale, this just isn't any good. It's Thierry Germain's top cuv
ée and it's like licking the inside of a recently drained oak barrel. It doesn't help that this is an 03, as there is little acidity or structure, but this was hollow in the mid palate and completely catatonic. To think that I shelled out $35 for this a few years ago. Schlameal!

And I wanted to like this - the 2007 Luneau-Papin VdP Nantais Gros-Plant, but in the end I couldn't. So much nail polish remover on the nose, and then seaside air which is nice, and then almost bubble gum sweetness on the palate. I'm not trying to pick on Luneau-Papin because I am a true fan, but this wine gets the nay-no.

It hasn't been all bad. I had a great Tour du Bon ros
é, and a very nice 2007 old vines Beaujolais from Vissoux. But enough of that - this is a bad wine post.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

NV Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Brut Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs, $37, Louis/Dressner Imports. Like driving at night on a lonely road, there is something about drinking this wine that closes out all other stimuli.

The outer layers are lovely, with a wonderfully clear sense of chalky soil, and focused mineral, saline, and citrus flavors. There is a fragrant chalky finish that really lingers, the acidity tingling the cheeks. But honestly, that's just the outer layers.

I've had this bottle for about a year now, and I'm starting to see that some non-vintage wines do really well with a little bit of bottle age. This bottle was so different from the first one I had back then. This is a wine of delicacy and great finesse, but there is something finely chiseled, penetrating, and powerful at its core. Not an aroma or a flavor, more of a sensation. Underneath all of the delicate aromas and flavors, there is an inner layer, a cylinder of intensity that drives through the mid palate and into the finish. It is a piercing sensation, and one that really defines this wine for me.

Larmandier-Bernier's Blanc de Blancs is made from the grapes of several villages in the Côte des Blancs. There are two other wines by this producer that are both highly prized - the Terre de Vertus, a non-dosé Blanc de Blancs and a Vieille Vignes de Cramant. I've not had the chance to drink either of these wines at home, but I do have a bottle of the 2002 Vieille Vignes sleeping in the cellar. That will be a good day...

This is a brilliant wine made by grower/producers that are completely dedicated to truth in the bottle. Not a surprise really - this is Dressner wine, which means that the growers practice healthy farming, natural yeasts ferment the juice, there is minimal dosage (minimal intervention of any kind) and the producers practice yoga and/or meditation at least 3 times a week.

The metal cap in the wire cage bears the Latin phrase "Abusus non tollit usum." I assumed that this quote contains the key to the mysteries of this great Blanc de Blancs, and so after some emailing and a little translation help from our friend in Dizy, I learned that this means "The abuse does not prevent the usage." Not what I was expecting...

In any case, the wine is great - one of the finest NV Blanc de Blancs that I know of.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Fish Soup and Two Wines

I made my best fish soup ever on Sunday. I've been working on this for two years now, but it's finally right. This soup lives and dies by the quality of the fish stock. Sure, I've learned to fine tune a few things through trial and error. Shallots work best, for example, no onion or garlic in the soup. Some finely teeny tiny chopped parsley stems are quite nice, about 3 good canned plum tomatoes crushed by hand are better than tomato paste, and keeping it simple is the way to go with the finished soup - just a few clams and chunks of flounder or blackfish. And a shot glass of cooked fregola pasta is all that's needed in each bowl of soup - no more than that. But in the end it's about the stock. It is impossible to make this soup without good fish stock. And I'm telling you, I've got it now. You don't believe me - take a look at this:

Funny to look back at the first time I wrote about making fish stock. You can tell from the very beginning that economic times were quite different in December of 2006. Anyway, During the last two nights of dinner, we discovered that this

is delicious and pairs beautifully with the soup. It is a rich and full bodied Chablis, with telltale aromas of iodine and sharp citrus fruit. Incredibly pure and balanced, just a joy to drink. Then on the second night, we discovered that this

although not quite as majestic of a wine, and at less than half of the price, is an even better pairing with my fish soup. Taut, balanced, ripe, saline, very giving at this stage of its life. I guess these things become cliché for a reason.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Inexpensive but Totally Cellar Worthy

Make your morning coffee at home - why pay almost 3 bucks for it each day? Bring your lunch to work - why pay almost 10 bucks for it every day? There are many little ways to reduce spending. It feels reassuring to do these things now that common wisdom says most of us in the US have been living way beyond our means, the economy isn't nearly as bad as it's going to get, and it's now about holding onto our jobs as opposed to getting a raise.

Be that as it may, are we supposed to give up entirely on building our modest wine cellars? I can cut down on buying new shoes and underwear, but no fine wine for the cellar - that would be an undo hardship. Now is a good time, though, to be more selective about what to buy, and value is king.

With that in mind, here are three wines that will be amazing down the road, and that in my opinion offer great value. And these are wines that you can find on retail shelves without too much difficulty. I have four each of these babies, the most I buy of any one wine due to space and $ constraints. That's how much I like 'em.

2006 Chandon de Briailles Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Les Vergelesses
, $38, David Bowler Wine.
$38 is not cheap for a bottle of wine, I know, but this is an amazing value. This will act like a much more expensive wine if you let it rest for 8-12 years. Pernand-Vergelesses is a lovely little village on the west side of the big hill of Corton, the promontory on whose slopes are found the Grand Cru vineyards that produce grapes for the wines of Corton Charlemagne, Clos du Roi, Bressandes, and others. Pernand-Vergelesses and Savigny-Les-Beaune, its neighbor to the south, are the two villages in the Côte de Beaune that I look to for great values in red wine. There are a couple of vineyards in particular that seem to spawn really good wines year in-year out, and Les Vergelesses is one of them, and Chandon de Briailles is one of the top producers working there.

Even though this wine is completely wrapped up in structure, the perfume is deep purple and very clean. The purity and the richness of fruit is obvious, and it rests on a nimble and spare frame. The acidity is gentle and there is a current of iron minerals running underneath everything. It's so good now, like dipping your finger in the bowl of icing - better to wait for the whole cake, but undeniably yummy.

2005 Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Grezeaux, $23, Louis/Dressner Selections. If you live in the NYC area you'll probably have to order this from North Carolina, but with shipping and a mixed case discount you're still talking about under $25. And that's just silliness for a wine of this quality and longevity. The structure on this one is quite a thick layer right now, but the fruit is dark, ripe, and juicy. There are little glimpses of the secondary goodness to come - wafts of tobacco and moss. Great acidity, very lively wine, this one is a killer. And it will be drinking great when my daughter is done with college. And this is not even the top wine from the Baudry estate. How good is that wine, the 2005 La Croix Boisée? I haven't tasted mine yet, have you?

2004 Produttori del Barbaresco, $29, Vias Imports. I'm really not the guy to talk to about Produttori del Barbaresco. That would be Dr. Parzen. I'm a Barbaresco neophyte. But on Produttori I'm totally convinced. I can't afford to start learning about Barolo now, so this is going to have to do. The 2004 is absolutely delicious at this very moment, but so clearly will sleep happily for 20 years or more - there is a robe of structure and a bright and lovely core. When it integrates, I want to be there. Right now we're talking about clean cherries, tar, flowers, and leather on the nose. The tannins are pretty fierce right now, but the ripeness and balance, the juicy acidity on the palate is undeniable.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

2002 Christoph Von Nell Ludovico Sekt Brut, $24, Mosel Wine Merchants. My friend Adam poured this for me recently and it was fantastic. This is one of Lars Carlberg's selections at Mosel Wine Merchant, the exporting company he created specifically to bring fine wines of the Mosel to the USA. Their website, by the way, is well worth visiting. It's easy to navigate and well designed, and it contains a lot of useful information about the producers and the wines. There is also a link to the Mosel Wine Merchant catalog, which at 20 pages, seems like something many German wine lovers might keep on the same shelf as their Terry Theise catalog.

Here is what I learned about this wine from email exchanges with Lars and from reading the website:

Von Nell has made sparkling wine longer than any other producer in the Ruwer Valley. Production for Ludovico is just over 330 cases, about 4,000 bottles. The wine is 100% Riesling from the 2002 harvest, all from the Kaseler Dominikanerberg vineyard, a monopole site with blue Devonian slate in the Ruwer Valley. The grapes are hand-harvested and fermented in stainless-steel tanks with outside yeasts. "Outside"yeasts is Lars' term - I'm guessing it means added yeasts.

The wine was aged on its fine lees until early 2007. Riddling (the art of turning and angling the bottles in order to encourage the dead yeast cells to converge in the neck of the bottle before disgorgment) is done in the old manner with pupitres. Dosage was done with a 1994 Riesling Auslese - how intriguing is that? Dosage is often done with concentrated grape must, or some other sweet liquid. But to use an old wine for dosage - I imagine that accounts in part for the complexity of the finished wine.

I loved the contrast between the incredibly round and ripe nose suggestive of orchard fruits bursting with sweet juice, and the dry and mineral palate with its almost bitter finish. Surprising how dry it felt considering there are 12 grams of residual sugar here. Whereas the nose is all exuberance and joy, the palate is more about finesse, very sleek, complex with fruit, mineral, and earth. The overall effect is just delicious. This would work well as an aperitif, it would be great after dinner with a plate of fall pears, and I can imagine how nice it would be to have a glass of this wine with a plate of steaming beef goulash over spaetzle. Yes, I enjoy bright white wines with deep meaty dishes. So sue me.

I searched for this wine on retail shelves and discovered something unfortunate - the only store I know of that carries it is Chambers Street Wines - apparently Lyle Fass immediately took to this wine and brought it in when no one else did. It's possible that you might find the wine in Texas or Colorado, but I'm not sure - distributors in those states also purchased some. When I asked Lars if anyone else will carry the wine, and if there are further sparkling wines in the von Nell portfolio, his reply made me sad."He does several different sparkling wines, including an off-dry Riesling called Elenora," Lars said. "We have some in the warehouse in New Jersey. The others are Stephanus (trocken), Dominikus (extra brut, zero dosage), and Ruva-Rubin (Pinot Noir, off-dry). I'm less optimistic about carrying von Nell in the future due to a lack of demand for Sekt."

Can you believe it? A truly wonderful sparkling wine that retails for under $25, and Lars is having a tough time getting folks to buy it. I would love to taste the other sparklers in von Nell's portfolio too - I bet they're quite good. Maybe Lars' upcoming visit to New York to pour with the Polaner folks will allow more people to taste this wine, and increase demand. If you don't feel like waiting, There are over 60 bottles right now at Chambers Street, and I encourage you to try this wine the next time you shop there.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Listen - I don't always have time to write something grand for this blog. Very busy times lately, as you know. So for today, a few tidbits:

Deetrane Beats the Market

For all of the fun I like to poke at my good buddy Deetrane for his wine buying habits (Wine Commune, Bin-Ends, all sorts of "deals" on "strange" wine), maybe he was onto something. Over the past few years he bought approximately $800 worth of Brunello, mostly modern style wines in the $30-$60 range, mostly on the secondary market. Way too many bottles, he says. Especially since he recently realized that he is not interested in drinking any of them.

So wasn't Deetrane lucky that one of the head honchos at Acker Merrall, where he cellars all of his wine, contacted him say that another client was looking to buy Brunello with a few years of age under $100 a bottle. Would he accept $2,000 for the whole lot of Brunello? Why yes, yes he would. Let's see...had Deetrane done the "smart" thing and invested his $800 in a group of stocks, he would have about $560 today. Who could predict something like this? Now, who would like to try to guess what Deetrane will do with his $1,200 in profits?

Wine Tasting News

I had the 2005 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Clos des Briords the other night, and it was awesome. I bought a case of this wine, the only wine I bought an entire case of in the past three years, and I now have 7 bottles remaining. The bottle I drank the other night was the best one yet. The nose was just piercing with bright citrus and seashells. Then it shut down. This wine will live to be 50, and at that age I imagine that it will beat many a younger wine on the tennis court. Is there anything better in wine for $15 than Muscadet?

I had the 2005 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Tuffeaux the other night and it was honestly just amazing. This is a cuvée blended from a few vineyards that I guess all feature a certain type of stone in the soils called Tuffeau. Les Tuffeaux is one of the richest wines in Chidaine's Montlouis lineup, and in 2005 this richness is even more pronounced. The residual sugar is much better integrated than it was only a year ago, and there is so much more to offer. As good as it was, it was that much better on day two, when it was woolly, honeyed, waxy, mineral, herbal, harmonious perfection. I think this is a keeper - hold it for five plus more years, more if you're tough enough. I have only two more of these, and I swear to you, they will not see the light of day until my daughter is going on 10 years old.

I had the 2007 Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Granges the other night and it's my favorite Granges of the past several vintages. This is the young drinking wine from gravel soils, the "entry level" red in the Baudry lineup. This year it is beautifully perfumed with ripe fruit, graphite (pencil lead, for all of you non-chemists), and gravel. That's right, I can smell the gravel soils in this wine. That's why I like it so much - it's more transparent than in recent vintages, from what I can remember. And it is juicy and well balanced with good acidity, just delicious. Too bad that it now costs about $20. $20 is the new $15, and I'm angry about this. I remember when the 2004 version of this wine sat in the impulse-buy bins near the registers at Chambers Street Wines for $14...BEFORE the mixed case discount. At least we can take solace in the fact that this is outstanding wine, worth every penny. This is a definite buy 4-bottles and drink over the next 18 months wine. If you want to know why the cool kids all seem to love Loire Cab Franc, drink this wine.