Thursday, December 31, 2009

Question of the year

People ask me annoying wine questions all the time. This thought provoking question was posed to me by my friend Ken, and it really got me to think.

What is the one truly noble grape?

Answer: chenin blanc

Reasoning: it is the only grape capable of producing great wine in every form: dessert, demi-sec, sec, and bubbles.

It was hard to argue. Chardonnay and riesling are the other grape varieties that jumped to my mind, but there are too few examples of sweet chardonnay (but don’t you love the Bongran and Guillemot versions) and Sekt riesling has never really floated my boat.

I’m not sure this is the last word, or even important, but it sure as hell is an interesting thought experiment.

Hope all you little monkeys have a great 2010. Seriously, fuck 2009.

What we mean when we talk about natural wine

When Descombes is good, it is very, very good.

2006 George Descombes Régnié
Beautiful, fragrant and the epitome of what we look for here at the VLM-TR. I must admit, I had some rough experiences with Descombes many years ago, but the wines that I’ve had over the last several years have been very good to stunning. This is undoubtedly a natural wine. We might not be able to rigorously define it, but I sure as shit know it when I drink it. The enveloping nose of herbs, flowers, blossoms and a bit of spice is followed by that gossamer palate that caresses and dances across your senses. I can’t see a reason not to drink it now, the structure is resolved and it seems perfectly á point. This is what we mean when we talk about natural wine.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Big bad box

Some colleagues were in town for a meeting so we ditched the crap dinner at the hotel for a great meal at Rue Cler.

2008 Manciat Macon-Charnay
We started with a carafe of this wine that my brother gets from Jean Manciat in a 10L bag-in-box. What a luxury to have such stellar wine in that format. In visits to Europe we’ve been trying to get more folks to do this. Once we were able to get Julienas from Michel Tete others started to take note. We now can get wine from Manciat and Eric Texier. Delicious, refreshing, unpretentious Macon.

1995 Matrot Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières
My last bottle of this and a wonderful bottle. It had a bit of bottle funk that is not uncommon to Matrot. I was worried that it might be pre-moxed but after 20 minutes of air, I knew that wasn’t the case. Showed the honeyed stone quality I expect from a Matrot Perrières with maybe a bit of minerality missing. Very good, if not great wine. It should last for a while, but I’d drink it now-ish unless you really like older Mersault.

2006 Baudry Chinon Franc de Pied
As usual, this is a lovely, giddy bottle of wine. Juicy, svelte, and silky. The fruit rolls through the palate without ever cloying and the end of a glass comes as a surprise becuase you’ve managed to pound it so quickly.

2006 Clos Roche Blanche La Closerie
Another excellent bottle of this. I may like it more than others, but the smokey, meaty quality they coax from the blend of cabernets. I really like this wine and this vintage has been particularly successful for me.

2003 Breton Bourgueil Les Perrières
This bottle showed a lot more of the underlying structure of the wine. It has been covered by waves of blue and black fruits since it was released and has been almost impossible to not drink. I really need to stop drinking it though because I think it will age in really interesting ways if the 1997 is any indication. Drink one if you have a few otherwise, hold for a few more years for more complexity.

2007 Castello di Verduno Pelaverga Basadone
Light orangish/cranberry fruit that was herby and strange. In other words, fairly classic Peleverga. I find the Burlotto to have more intensity and depth to it, but this example does in a pinch. Somewhat over-shadowed by other wines at the table, but more than just a curiosity.

2008 Texier O’Pale
I haven’t had this wine in a while. Man was it good. The balance between the fruit, sugar, and acid was spot on and the wine was delicious and refreshing, especially since it followed the meal.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Best laid plans

These are some old notes from dinner at Lantern with a couple of friends. Despite picking some wines that would normally seem to be excellent, it was one of those nights where none of the wines were that interesting. It happens.

2007 Do Ferreiro Albariño Cepas Vellas
Good as always. This year’s version seems leaner and more obviously structured than in the past few years. It could just be the lack of babyfat. Lacked a bit of aromatic intensity tonight; however, this is generally a very cool wine that everyone should try at least once.

1998 Bernard Dugat-Py Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru
Eh. Never really became interesting. There was a beet thing that sort of threw me off (the beet thing is something I’ve come across in quite a few Dugat-Py wines). The cork was a bit soaked, so it may have seen some temperature before it got to me. Regardless, I think that these wines are not really for me.

1981 R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Bosconia
I’ve had this wine several times and this was a good, but not great bottle. This could have something to do with stemware and serving temperature or it could be that some bottles are just better than others.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Re-unification with old friends

At Woodberry Kitchen, a recent restaurant in Baltimore from my old friends Spike and Amy Gjerde. The restaurant is beautiful and the food is magnificent. I know a lot of people in the restaurant business and I have to say that Spike is the least cynical and jaded guy I know. He brings so much passion and excitement to what he does that it’s inspiring. If you are ever in Baltimore check it out. Hell, go to Baltimore just to check it out.

I was in Baltimore for my high school reunion, having dinner with a couple of old friends that I had not seen in many years. I had a blast.

1996 Vincent Dauvissat Chablis 1er Cru La Forest
This seemed to be a little bit over the hill to me. It wasn’t totally shot, but there were some oxidized type notes that took away from the remaining fruit. What I’m trying to figure out is whether this is pre-mox, heat damage (would have had to happen before it got to me), or simple bottle variation (the wine is 13 years old). Anyway, approach with caution.

1989 Domenico Clerico Barolo Bussia
So when I first had this wine on release, it was the first Barolo that really knocked my socks off and started me pursuing modernists and traditionalists in equal measure. As a young wine, this had the most pure driving fruit I had ever tasted. It was so incredibly pure that it redefined the taste of cherry and the aroma of rose petal for me. The previous bottle had been in a strange state, but it has been 6 or 7 years since then, so I was hoping that at 20 years this was ready to go. The wine still seemed to have some fruit, but with the tannin mostly under wraps. There was not much in the way of complexity, but there was a lot of depth to the fruit and enough structure to work well with the food. Not really what I was hoping for, although a lot of what was there when it was young is still here now. I remain unconvinced by these modernist wines and don’t really know how to recommend drinking them. Will they be great in 30 years? Ever? Do I need to have a different context for what I expect out of aged Barolo? Maybe that is the answer. The wines will hold their fruit longer but may fail to develop the kind of complexity that Barolo lovers crave.

1992 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Mountain
This is a wine that I had for the first time with Spike and I have been drinking through my bottles over the years, so it is only fitting that I drink my last bottle at his restaurant. What a great bottle of wine this turned out to be. It has never really drunk poorly through its life and now it is in a perfect state of maturity for me. Shows that lovely mineral touch on the back end that I really loved about these wines through the mid-90s. The fruit had mellowed and the tannins had rounded out but the wine still retained a sense of freshness. The alcohol is listed at 12.5% and this wine has always seemed to have an excellent balance between tannin and acid. I hope I am conveying how good this was. My buddies both said it was one of the best, if not the best, wines they had ever had. In the end, isn’t that the whole point? If you have this, do yourself a favor and drink one now although it should continue to do well for several more years.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sunday dinner #6

Another Sunday dinner, but this one is much more recent. With roast chicken, fingerling potatoes, and sautéed broccoli rabe.

1999 Ghislaine Barthod Chambolle 1er Cru Les Charmes
This was decanted for a 45 minutes to an hour before we started into it. Wow. Just wow. Charmes is not my favorite from Barthod, I tend to like the more muscular mineral qualities of Fuées and Veroilles. However, tonight it seemed like the perfect wine. Deep sappy fruit with a gossamer cloud of flowers, herbs, spices and minerals all around. Charming in a very deep sense. The fruit was sappy and long and the structure kept everything in proportion. A really fantastic showing and I would encourage you to try one if you have multiple bottle for the joy it will give you now, but this should age for at least another decade based on balance alone.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sunday dinner #5

Given the crappy weather lately, these notes from a lovely Indian summer Sunday evening (we had some great ones this year) with some steaks off the grill, last of the butterbeans.

2006 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine La Closerie
I’ve been through a fair number of bottles of this lately and very happy about that fact. Smooth and deliciously earthy cabernet that can almost seem glossy and sumptuous. There is plenty going on including smoke, herbs, fruit, leather and what have you. This could age in interesting ways, but I’m having a hard time not drinking it now, and really, why wait when it’s this good?

2005 Jacques Puffeney Poulsard Arbois "M"
Not the kind of wine you should just pop and drink, needed a good hour or more to open up. Lacey and alpine with a sense of depth to it, but really got bigger and even a bit blocky. Enjoyed conversation and drinking it with the steak too much to pay very close attention, but it left the impression of a very good wine that I think would definitely improve in a couple years, but I don’t have enough experience with this particular bottle to be sure.

Friday, December 11, 2009

WTF is Orin Swift?

My friends Matt and Michael had a rare evening off a few weeks ago and we got together at my place to hang out, have some roast chickens and drink some wine.

2006 Fourrier Gevrey VV
I decanted this for about an hour and a half. I liked it more than my buddies who were at dinner. I think this was a classic example of where Fourrier is right now. You camn see the kinship between these and Pacalet, but where Pacalet’s wines are strident in their definition of what they are trying to be, Fourrier’s wines seem to acknowledge that there are other ways of thinking about wine, while subtly making the case for this way of thinking. Aromatically pure, yet completely impossible to pin down. A moving target that when you try to grab it, it flows between your fingers. Ready to go now and may develop more with age, but I don’t think anyone has quite figured out yet what the aging curve is going to be for Fourrier’s wines.

2000 Château Haut-Bages Libéral Pauillac
This was a big surprise. I have sort of laid off of Bordeaux over the last decade, but this wine was very good. It still had some nice primary fruit of the blue and black sort, but there was also a nascent trickle of woodsmoke, tobacco, and herbs framed by really fine grained tannin. At the right price, I’m a definite buyer of this.

2007 Billard Saint Aubin 1er Cru Les Castets
This was definitely young, but snappy and full of verve. It was slightly better a few days later from the re-corked bottle. Well balanced with the sort of snappy, crunchy fruit that has a sort of cloud of herbs and flowers around it. A promising wine from a producer that I don’t know much about but I will try more wines from in future.

2005 Orin Swift The Prisoner
This was terrible and truly undrinkable. I really don’t know how folks can put up with such a pruney, soupy mess. Really bloody awful, someone should be ashamed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

No mox for me

With little necks in white wine, garlic, butter and a salad frisée.

1996 Pierre Matrot Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes
This sure as hell wasn’t prematurely oxidized and there was no blue-ish tint to the cork. It had gone to a nice secondary phase of life developing some of the “bottle funk” that Brad loves so much, but retaining enough fruit and mineral type stuff to make me happy. In fact, it could still be a bit young but unfortunately, it was my last bottle and among the last bottles of white Burgundy in my cellar. A shame, because it went spectacularly well with both dishes and was a delightful refreshing drink as well as a very good expression of Combettes. Drink now or hold for a few years or more depending on storage.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Good and strange

2003 Roagna Solea
I’ve really enjoyed drinking this wine over the last year or so. It is so flexible and food friendly. It has a noticeable structure (from the nebbiolo I guess) that is sort of like skin contact, which buttresses nice fruit and minerals. I’ve only had this vintage and the 2001 and while I was skeptical at first, I am now a true believer.

2005 Giuseppe Fanti Portico Rosso
This wine is a blend of teroldego, cabernets franc and sauvignon with some merlot from the Dolomites. I don’t have much experience with the producer’s reds, more with the whites, but if this is any indication, there is true excellence at this estate. Vibrant and juicy fruit skates a trellis of firm structure that borders on crunchy, but never quite slips from the wire. The wine is invigorated, invigorating, and compliments the food by cutting through it with structure and following it with flavor. It is on the expensive side, but well worth a try. It is drinking well now, but could improve over the medium term, I think.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dinner with the old man

1999 Thierry Allemand Cornas Chaillot
Dad loves Cornas and probably hasn’t had tons of Allemand. This bottle had a capsule that didn’t spin, so I thought it would be a good bottle to experiment with. The cork was soaked through and some had leaked under the capsule. Happened in transport by the local distributor because I bought this on release and have cellared it since. Despite the less that pristine nature of the bottle, the wine was still fantastic. Nuanced in all the ways you expect from Allemand. Decanted, it starts out very syrah and then picks up steam as it unfolds becoming more and more Cornas as the evening progresses. As usual, Allemand manages the trick of taming the coarser qualities of Cornas without entirely eradicating them. I still have no idea how he manages such a fantastic balancing act, but as I’ve been saying for about 8-10 years now, this is the archetype for Northern Rhône syrah to my mind.

2005 Viña Sastre Ribera del Duero Crianza
This wine started off surrounded by a vanilla cloud of oak. However, there was something going on underneath, some dark earth and minerals but most of all a sense of cut. The bottle really developed over the course of the evening. The oak moved towards the background, integrating more with the wine which became more fragrant and red fruited as the evening progressed. It was a wine of power and nuance by the end, a cool combination, and seemed distinctly tempranillo in character. It showed really well with the crazy ass, 21 day dry aged Côte-du-Boeuf that Matt pulled out of his ass. Easily the best Ribera del Duero I’ve had in a good long while. I might have to buy some of this to see what happens.