Monday, May 9, 2011

Terroir Hopping in Burgundy

The usual group of eight gathered to taste some Burgundies on Saturday evening. The focus was red Burgundies, with the appellations of Chambolle-Musigny, Morey St Denis, Meursaults, and Volnay represented. We began with the obligatory bottle of Champagne , the NV Larmandier-Bernier, a crisp bright wine that finishes with creamy leesy signature that makes this a crowd pleaser. First course was salmon paté paired with two Meursault from Roulot. The 2002 Roulot Meursault les Tillets showed very slightly paler in color than the 2002 Roulot Meursault les Luchets, with finely etched flavors of bitter and saline citrus and a whiff of quinine and tidal pool on the nose. The slightly darker Luchets was also a bit more advanced in its evolution, with nut and honey flavors and aromas dominating here over the citrus character. A couple of us jumped on this as maybe being too advanced, but in fact it is in a perfect spot, as the wine held its character with over ½ hour in the glass. Two quite elegant Meursaults from high on the slope that give a good idea of what can be achieved here even below the Premier Cru level.

Next up was a single bottle of 1999 Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny Fuées paired with escargots. Maybe we should have stuck with the white Burgundy theme with the escargots, but certainly the Fuées more than held its own, and in fact took firm command of the course. Dark ruby red in color, this is still a firm and structured wine that could benefit from some more bottle age, but displays even now a powerful perfumed nose of dark flowers and black cherry. In the mouth, equally suave and harmonious, with the inner mouth perfume of the wine vying with rich black raspberry flavors for dominance. While this has many years ahead of it, it is already irresistible for its Zen-like harmony and balance and its ethereal floral character.

Next up were two 2002 red Burgs that we thought might serve to contrast the disparate terroirs of Chambolle and Volnay when paired with wild mushroom risotto. The2002 Marquis d’Angerville Volnay Clos des Ducs was certainly sacrificed before its time, but still managed to give a good idea of the precision and elegance that the appellation is capable of. Sharply etched, even laser-like in its delineation, with predominantly red fruit flavors that fade to a strong mineral finish, this should be great in 8-10 years or so. Alongside it was the 2002 Barthod Chambolle-Musigny Cras, which was perhaps not quite as good a foil for the Volnay as the Fuées was if the objective was to show off the elegant floral character of Chambolle. In contrast to the floral Fuées, the nose on the Cras is dominated by very ripe, almost decadent red Pinot fruit. Drinking it in the evening, it was clear that 8 hours of aeration had helped to reduce a bit the impression of the tannins that are still prominent when first opened. Rich and dense, and as I said, very ripe, this straddles the line between red and dark fruit, and should again show very well a few years down the road.

Next up were two Bonnes Mares from the 1998 vintage. The 1998 Dujac Bonne Mares was perhaps about where you would expect it to be in its development, with some slightly hard and angular elements still present on this as yet unfinished wine. The nose is dominated by red fruit and some dark stemmy elements that ought to harmonize nicely in the coming years, especially given the overall powerful character of the wine. In contrast, the 1998 Vogue Bonne Mares was out of this world, even today, with dark flower and smoky black cherry and raspberry aromas providing the perfect counterpoint to each other. In the mouth, even more powerful, deep, and dense than the Fuées, this nonetheless managed to display an ethereal, shape-shifting character that wowed the entire table. Certainly a great wine…

Last up were two Dujac wines from Morey St Denis, the 1988 Dujac Clos de la Roche and the 1988 Dujac Clos St Denis. Sadly, the Clos de la Roche was badly corked, although several of us could convince ourselves that we recognized the CdlR signature lurking behind all of that TCA. As a contrast, the 1988 Clos St. Denis showed the characteristic very pale red color of older Dujacs that belies the fact that their flavor intensity is remarkable. The wine showed very bright red fruit, with an almost sweet candied aspect despite the transparency of the wine. Maybe a touch less complex than a 1990 Dujac Clos St. Denis consumed some years earlier, this demonstrated nonetheless what the vineyard is capable of in the right hands.

Wine Of The Night for most was the 1998 Vogue Bonnes Mares, although at least in my mind, the 1999 Mugnier Chambolle Musigny Fuées was not all that far behind.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A group of about ten convened for an older Bordeaux tasting recently, nominally to taste through a vertical of Pichon Lalande, but no one present was averse to the idea of tasting the other older Bordeaux that magically appeared as additional flights. Whatever else one could or would say about the tasting, one had to be impressed with the fine shape all of the bottles (even back to 1953) were in. Not a single bad one in the lot.

To start things off, we tasted through a vertical of Pichon Lalande. The 2006 Pichon Lalande was by far the youngest wine of the tasting, and was striking for showing a side of Pichon Lalande one normally does not encounter—almost searing tannins accompanied by slightly drying tannins on the finish, with more than a touch of new oak showing. The wine at this stage is dominated by reduction, with a faint herbal note one of the few signs that we were tasting a Pichon. Certainly this needs quite a bit of bottle age to integrate its powerful individual elements. Could this be a response to those lackluster reviews from earlier years where the elegance of Pichon Lalande came up short?

Next in line was the 2000 Pichon Lalande, a wine that gave me a chance to recall some of the early comments about bell pepper and almost vegetal greenness. But then there were others who claimed it was a great wine. Well, this bottle performed beautifully, and I can safely say that bell pepper is possibly the last descriptor one would come up with for this wine. Signature Pichon Lalande aromas of aged brown tobacco, cassis, and with a high toned menthol note that contributed to the wine’s striking aromatic development and complexity given its young age. I’d say (and I think others agreed) that this is a great Pichon Lalande in the making.

Next to the right in the glass was the vaunted 1996 Pichon Lalande, which I had the chance to taste with my sister-in-law while in South Africa recently. Our bottle there was given a good six hours of air and it helped—this bottle began a bit reserved, but opened nicely in the glass. The aromas here were more muted than they were in the case of 2000, with dark cassis fruit and tobacco hinting at the great depth of material here. In the mouth, sweet on entry, but then giving way to an intensely spicy finish, with the same complexity and nuance emerging here as inner mouth perfume. This is another great Pichon Lalande, although it really needs a few more years to hit its full stride. Individual bottles now would probably be judged as early to mid-adolescent.

The 1986 Pichon Lalande was perhaps the closest we came to an “off” bottle. The aromas here are subdued, with the signature tobacco notes mostly missing and the cassis notes decidedly in the background. In the mouth the wine is more impressive, with a healthy acidity balancing an otherwise surprisingly sweet and round mid-palate.

The 1975 Pichon Lalande showed well given the controversial vintage. On the nose, faint menthol and tobacco aromas suggest dark, dusty juice rather than anything green. The tannins here are well under control, dominated as they are by the very dark fruit that gives a powerful mid-palate impression (a vintage signature?). Very good for the vintage, even if it cannot compete with a 1975 Haut Brion that we had a month or so earlier (but that is another story).

Last of the PLLs was the 1966 Pichon Lalande, one of the stars of the tasting. Showing a beautifully aromatic nose of great freshness and vigor, this was strikingly sweet and round in the mouth, while preserving all of its considerable inner mouth detail. A spectacularly long finish to this wine, with a touch of red fruit (the first of the vertical?) emerging at the very end. Beautiful wine and a spectacular showing.

Having completed the Pichon Lalande vertical, we moved on to Bordeaux Miscellany. Next up were two older wines, the 1966 Palmer and the 1953 Calon Segur. Others found the Palmer a bit tired, or at least not quite up to its vaunted reputation, but I myself was pleased to find a delicately fragrant, floral nose of dark flowers. In the mouth, there is healthy acidity that maximizes the very intense, vibrant cassis fruit. Certainly a Margaux treat. The 1953 Calon Segur was perhaps the biggest surprise of the tasting, since no one really expected such its lively and youthful character. I would have guessed blind that this wine was 18 years old. A touch of volatile acidity on the nose, but spicy bright flavors dominated by dark fruit in the mouth. Not the most complex wine of the tasting, but remarkably energetic and bright given its advanced age.

Next up was a trio of Bordeaux from the vaunted 1982 vintage. The superstar in my opinion here was the 1982 La Mission Haut Brion, a wine in some ways so distinct from all that came before that it would have stood out even if it was not a great wine. Dark and dusty, almost impenetrable fruit and charcoal aromas took me back to the 1975 Haut Brion from a few months back. In the mouth, the dark fruit is tinged by flavors of black olive underlain by its perfectly integrated mineral structure. This wine seems to have been culled from the deeper waters of the Marianas Trench, still brooding and reserved despite its advanced age. A wine of incredible length, one where the term “haunting” seems entirely appropriate.

With the spectacular 1982 La Mish was an excellent bottle of 1982 Gruaud Larose, showing a perfumed nose of faint olive, must, chalk, mint, and tobacco. Perhaps aromatically a hypothetical blend of Margaux perfume and Pauillac tobacco and cassis, or was that just what I was tasting earlier?

And a bottle of 1982 Leoville las Cases, showing very well indeed. Unlike an earlier bottle that struck me as showing an almost crème de cassis (which I took as the LLC signature, apparently even before the advent of Reverse Osmosis), this one was still probably the most “modern” in the lineup. The aromas were initially muted, but with time in the glass the menthol and tobacco notes began to emerge, although one would have to say that dark cassis was still the dominant character. In the mouth the wine is powerful beyond probably any that have preceded it, with the possible exceptions of the 1982 La Mission and the 1996 Pichon Lalande. Maybe this really is a 50-75 year wine…

The star of the tasting? Has to be the 1982 La Mission Haut Brion in my mind, although I expect a strong showing from the 2000 and 1996 Pichon Lalande in the future.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Barolo in the Mountains

August provided a rare alignment of the stars in which I found myself in the mountains of Colorado for work, mysteriously not all that far from Aspen and the Roaring Fork River valley. Fortune would have it that Rico Thompson was in the area and ready for some fly fishing, and maybe an after fishing tasting of wines from another distant mountain range. We met up on the Crystal River, a tributary of the Roaring Fork and tried our luck on a gorgeous day in the canyon lined with the Pennsylvanian age Maroon Formation. Two of us were fly fishing neophytes, and the results at the end of the day tended to reinforce this fact, but one could not fail to enjoy the turbulent, textured waters of the Crystal. The river was not easy to fish, and late in the day Rico found himself upside down in a large and fast moving pool. I myself chose to lean on a boulder that seemed much too large to move, but then found myself immersed as well (at least right side up).

For wines, we started at lunch with a couple of glasses of the 1996 Duval-Leroy Champagne Brut, which had been opened the night before. The straw yellow wine, despite lacking a bit of the fizz of a freshly opened bottle, showed the (successful) characteristics of the vintage, with powerful, bold, clearly etched flavors of great intensity, with just a touch of creaminess and sweetness to round out the edges. At dinner that night in Carbondale, we sampled two Barolo of different styles, the 1998 Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga (white label) and a1999 Sandrone Barolo le Vigne. While this seemed to be an opportunity to wax eloquent upon the differences between “traditional” and “modernist” approaches, we mostly just enjoyed the wines for what they were. The Sandrone was showing impressively right out of the gate, with deep and ripe flavors of dark cherry flavors and aromas of smoke, leather, dust, tar, and cherry showing at least some oak influence. I thought that the oak on the Sandrone was perhaps 80% integrated, and there certainly was no shortage of raw materials there to balance these effects out. The tannins that were present were sweet and fine, not drying. But next to the Giacosa, the wine showed a bit less clarity and precision than what one might hope for, but I strongly suspect that a couple of more years in the bottle will help considerably in this respect.

The 1998 Giacosa Falletto started a bit slow, having been opened just before dinner, but its ascent was as steep as some of the cliffs along the Crystal River. Aromas of tar, balsamico, and violets emerged with time in the glass, and the wine showed a remarkable transparency and weightlessness that not everyone will associate with Barolo. The precisely defined sour cherry flavors were infused with spice notes that added to the intensity of the wine on the mid-palate and carried through on the long finish. By two hours, the wine was drinking beautifully, the boundaries between the aromatic and the flavors on the palate nicely blurred by wine’s inner mouth perfume.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Two Recent Chablis

I had an opportunity over the summer to taste two bottles of the 2002 Brocard Chablis les Clos, a wine I drank some years ago at our Chablis Fest. In between the bottles this summer and that tasting, I tasted one or two bottles that had struck me as pleasant, but otherwise not particularly compelling. What a little bottle age will do! This wine is now starting to drink very well, but perhaps even more interesting is the way in which it has developed (probably recognizable to the Chablis experts out there). The 2002 Brocard les Clos shows the characteristic almost oily richness of the vintage that others have noted, but the wine started out as a round, juicy, well built Chablis dominated by rich citrus notes that have now given way to a kind of two-toned character--an even sweeter, almost viscous initial attack on the mid-palate that is followed by long, slightly bitter quinine notes on the finish. It is almost as if the initially largely monolithic (if flavorful) wine has bifurcated, morphing to a much more complex and interesting two-headed beast in which the sweet and acidic elements appear at different times.

Another recent wine is the 2006 Fevre Montmains, which I have seen some refer to as beginning to show tropical fruit notes. I myself picked up no such tropical fruit notes, but noted instead a distinct development of more pronounced (white) floral aromas infused by finely comminuted chalk dust. In short, on an excellent aging trajectory from what I tasted a few years ago now, although maturity is still a couple of years out.

Two Pinot for Lunch

At lunch at Wood Tavern in Oakland we were able to sample two Pinot Noirs that provided an interesting contrast in styles. The 2006 Windy Oaks Proprietor's Reserve showed an ethereal, high-toned aromatic profile, with distinct notes of dill that provided a suggestion of incipient complexity in this still quite young wine. Seamless and light footed in the mouth, this struck me as actually closer in style to the high altitude Rhys from 2007 that I have tried than it did the 2004 Rhys Alpine Vineyard tasted along side of it. The 2004 Rhys Alpine showed darker fruit and a much spicier flavor profile, apparently linked to the use of whole stems, with a slightly rustic side that suggested a Nuits-St-George to Lou Rittenhouse. (An interesting contrast was the dark fruited 2007 Rhys Home Vineyard tasted earlier, which shows greater depth, even darker fruit, and significantly greater length than the 2004--here the comparison in my mind was a spicy version of a Vosne-Romanee Malconsorts, just to the north of the NSG border). The 2004 Rhys Alpine doesn't show the weightlessness of the 2007 (or even 2006) high altitude Rhys wines, nor their finesse and length, but still it is an enjoyable wine that could still benefit from a few years in the bottle. In the case of the 2006 Windy Oaks Proprietor's Reserve, the lack of structure and minerality has me wondering how much this will improve with time in the bottle, but perhaps it is just meant to evolve along different lines...

2000 Grand Puy Lacoste

I am slowly tasting my way into the 2000 Bordeaux, but this was my first GPL from that vintage. Decanted for nearly 2 hours, this gave me some additional confidence that the overall vintage will come through as advertised. On the nose, this is still reserved, but the very deep cassis and dusty leather and smoke aromas make themselves known nontheless, to the point where I had a hard time pulling my nose out of the glass at all. Some times these brooding, dark and deep aromas are more beguiling than those in a fully mature (20 year) Bordeaux, and this seemed to be a case in point. In the mouth, this is positively succulent, with excellent volume and density, and an almost creamy mouthfeel that comes across as perfectly balanced in all respects--the complete palate experience.

A Space-Time Warp in the East Bay Hills

The usual suspects convened in a cul de sac deep in the hills of the East San Francisco Bay for an attempt at a space-time warp, connecting with Piemonte through wine and food, and maybe even a different era if we were lucky.

1999 Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs
Golden in color, a fine mousse, terrific energy and definition, but with a creamy aspect revealing notes of yeast and orchard fruits. At least one taster’s favorite of the night, this showed a complicating bitter element on the palate that went beyond the usual citrus with its suggestions of anise and quince. I might have guessed this blind as a 1996 because of its power, energy, and clarity on the palate. This certainly served its role as a suitably aristocratic aperitif, making the hairs on the back of the neck stand up in anticipation of what was to come.

2009 Giovanni Almondo Roero Arneis Bricco delle Ciliegie
Bright, charming fall quaffer, certainly a bit simple compared to the big boys in the lineup, but offering a seductive combination of gravelly citrus and tropical fruit on the nose.

1999 Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
This was the best bottle yet of this wine, obviously benefiting from 2+ hours of aeration. On the nose, exceedingly complex, with asynchronous elements miraculously melding—nuts, apple, yeast, and a distinctly sauvage element of thistles and underbrush lurking there. On the palate the complexity is perhaps not so obvious, but the nutty apple and yeast flavors turn sweet, focused, and palate-coating in the mouth. This one gets extra points for its complete originality—this isn’t your mother in law’s wine, as they say.

1998 Giacosa Barbaresco Rabaja
I guessed this to be a much older wine based on the apparent maturity of the nose, and as compared to a 1998 Giacosa Barolo tasted a couple of months ago with Rico Thompson. But this one apparently benefited from the six hours of air time that Lou gave it (in contrast to the hour or so that Rico gave his, but then he was upside down in the river prior to that), with sweeping aromas of tarry dark cherry and wild underbrush. On the palate, equally energetic, with sour cherry flavors beginning to emerge, but also an impressive viscosity and palate coating quality. It seems Giacosa never disappoints…

1998 Borgogno Barolo Riserva
Less approachable than the Giacosa, this has not yet shed it substantial tannins, but the depth and the dark cherry profile promise something special in the future. Surprisingly deep and rich on the palate, this is just beginning to emerge from its shell.

1967 Borgogno Barolo Riserva
Objectively, if I was a paid critic, I would probably give this 94 points or so in recognition of its perfect balance, its excellent depth, and harmonious aging. Subjectively, this is a different story, at least for me for whom it provided an out of body experience. Was Odysseus handing out points to the Sirens while chained to the mast? I think not. How do you analyze the pleasure this wine gives, which is so obviously subjective? I cannot discount the intellectual and emotional impact of the time warp here—one literally feels transposed to another time when tasting this wine. All I can say is that I had a hard time pulling my nose out of the glass, even stooping so far as to commandeer a few extra tastes from one of the others who had reached their limit. On the nose this provided a range of dried flower aromas that would take a botanist the better part of a year to catalogue, like opening an old mahogany chest of drawers filled with dried flowers as somebody remarked. Fruit seems to be an afterthought here, at least on the nose, although the suave, perfectly poised dark cherry flavors are there saturating the palate. This wine seems to have shed all of its tannin without sacrificing any of its fruit. This reconditioned wine is in perfect shape, or at its “apogee” as Parker might say, a textbook example of why you cellar wine.

1997 Avignonesi Vin Santo
Another completely original wine, so dark and viscous that the physical lingering of the wine on the palate contributed obviously to its length. Flavors of plum and dark cherry, with a vibrant acid core that seemed to energize the wine. Perhaps others could do better justice to this wine, since I was still strung out by the 1967 Borgogno…