Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Buddha In the Loire

Writers often describe wines as beautiful or deep. The following two wines may be that, but to me, they more specifically embody wisdom and enlightenment. It's no surprise to me, anyway, that both come from the Loire and are imported by Louis/Dressner.

François Pinon Cuvée Tradition Vouvray 2006
Can François Pinon do any wrong? 2006 was a difficult vintage in the Loire — warm rain plagued the region beginning in mid-August and abundant grey rot tested nerves — but Pinon's organically-grown, naturally-vinified, lees-aged Cuvée Tradition is practically the equal of his 2005 and 2004 releases. It may not be quite as full and creamy as those vintages, not so reubenesque yet sleek, but it's equally fresh and clean. And while I don't get figs from this vintage, this vin tendre (tender wine — between off-dry and bone-dry) has the telltale Chenin Blanc note of honeydew and a zippy, clean spice on the finish. Pinon proves as much as anyone that a good producer, an intelligent and wise and opportunistic producer, can usher excellence through less-than-excellent conditions.

Bernard Baudry Les Grezeaux Chinon 2003
Loire reds usually hit me on an intellectual rather than atavistic level. They may say interesting things, but soon enough I'm thinking about picking up cat food.

Baudry's Les Grezeaux says the right things. It's hand-harvested at 40 hl/ha, fermented in cement, and aged in used rather than new barriques. On the first day, the complimentary aromas of black olive, black currant jelly and asparagus were well-integrated and the flavors were simultaneously concentrated and light and pure (the 12.5% abv is remarkably low for such a hot vintage). The acidity was robust and the tannins were gripping but very smooth, and the clean, minerally finish brought to mind well-filtered glacier water. All these compliments said, I admired it rather than loved it.

On day three, though, I was felled by a love bomb. In the first place, all those distinct aromas had stitched together more completely and a soft sandalwood note emerged. Second, the flavors, minerality, and acidity were likewise better integrated. Most impressive to my pleasure center, the mouthfeel became smoother, richer, almost velvety, without compromising the structure or the fresh, clean finish. The net effect is that this wine is completely itself. It rubs my third eye; and if I haven't quite seen Nirvana, Baudry's Cabernet Franc amply demonstrates its good karma.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Scoring The Hermit Crab

Last night I went to Wine Library TV for the first time. I'd heard this online show was entertaining but, as with all things, I was skeptical. Somehow my first hit was on a show about points, and there Gary was, decrying mindless point-chasing with charm, verve, and passion.

"I'm here to say that wine ratings are straight garbage," he says. "To make your decision based [solely] on that is a monumental mistake." To further that, uh, point, I'll add that Robert Parker didn't grab power in some shirt-staining coup. He was handed that power. If you're just dipping your toe into the wine lake, points can help you learn what you do and don't like and gauge your taste. And personally, I enjoy scoring wines in the privacy of my home because, as Gary says, it's fun. But point-chasing is just lazy.

Anyhooters, Gary's review of the 2005 d'Arenberg The Hermit Crab McLaren Vale caught my attention, not least because he praised this Viognier-Marsanne blend's balance and lack of heat. I rarely buy South Australian wines, having been burned one too many times by hot, sugary, confected monstrosities, and the McLaren Vale is one of the hottest regions of them all. But what the hell, I thought, and so I picked up the 2006 release.

I gotta give it to him, The Hermit Crab ($16) is fresh, refreshing, and balanced. Full aromas of warm pears, ripe apricots, and petrol infuse the nose without obsequiousness or undue pungency. It's both creamy and refreshing in the mouth, and the slight zing of ginger and light minerals carries through on a long finish. It conveys presence rather than heaviness, and at 13.5% abv, you could pair this with anything this side of a bivalve.

I give this wine two thumbs up!

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Varietal Counoise

Now here's something different — varietal Counoise. If used at all, Counoise is apt to play a walk-on role in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but here it stars in the one-grape revue Domaine Monpertuis Vignoble de la Ramiere Cuvée Counoise Vin de Pays du Gard 2004.

Um, that's a mouthful, but then, so is this light bodied wine. I really like it — it has a pronounced pepper-and-herb nose, bright red fruits of pomegranate and cherry and cranberry, stones, and an acidity that grabs the tongue in a bony bear hug. Shy and retiring it's not, but this is a food wine with lift: it goes really well with modestly spiced lamb shawarma, and I'd also pair this with rosemary chicken, steamed broccoli dressed in salt and pepper and olive oil, or any number of lighter Mediterranean dishes.

At $13, it's a good choice not just for Monday night but for most any night, such as Thanksgiving. With its food-friendly lift and bright, peppery character, I'm a bit mystified why Counoise is not more broadly grown in the Rhône and the Languedoc, if nothing else but to add a kick to some of the bigger, richer wines. Its scarcity is odder to me than drinking varietal Counoise!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving Wine Plan

I'm a geek, so I get quietly if palpably excited by considering wine options for get-togethers — and Thanksgiving is a Big Daddy of the wine year.

Now, I'm still not sure where or with whom I'll be, which complicates matters, but the debut of the J. K. Carriere Willamette Valley Chardonnay, vintage 2005, is assured a place at my table in any case.

J. K. Carriere has always pushed the line that they're a Pinot-only producer — and fantastic Pinots they are — but it seems that winemaker Jim Prosser plotted the release of this Chardonnay some time ago. The grapes are sourced from the cool, organically- and dry-farmed Temperance Hill vineyard in the Eola Hills. What makes the release particularly exciting is that it is "built in an old-world style... [it's] made for food and exhibits a dominance of savory and mineral over fruit.... [with] high acid and no obvious oak."

Could a white wine, and an American white at that, be more perfectly modeled for Thanksgiving dinner? I will find out in four days.

Binge and Purge

I'm 100% fifty-fifty that I'm going to eat until I have a fat attack this Thanksgiving. That's why I welcome the Brenda Dickson calorie purge plan. Welcome to her home!

(Warning: not appropriate for the office or for tender sensibilities.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Move Over, Bacon!

Serre de Catin
Now this wine is just silly. I'm talking about the 2005 Clos du Mont-Olivet Serre de Catin Côtes du Rhône, which is 100% tank-aged Grenache from 35 year old vines. My friendly local retailer, who has excellent taste (i.e. his agrees with mine), wrote a blurb saying it put many a Châteauneuf to shame (!), and it seemed a great opportunity to taste the unblended, unadulterated essence of Rhône Grenache from a terrific producer.

The nose does exhibit pretty black pepper, bacon fat, and thyme aromas, but over two days of tasting all I get in the mouth is bacon fat and, to a lesser degree, raspberry ganache. There's lots of glycerin here. The acidity is modest and there are no tannins to speak of. More disappointingly, it's a bit flat at the midpalate and the finish is both short and a bit hot, although a faint saltiness sticks around and adds interest. All of this would be fine at $12 — it's a perfectly fine drink — but I shelled out $23.

God bless the Sabons, but I'm not taking this little piggy to town again.

Photo by Flickr user el_monstritro used under a Creative Commons license

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

WBW #39 Silver Burg

The Côte Chalonnaise! The Mâconnais! I admit that I rarely venture into these regions. Or the Côte d'Or, for that matter. I frankly typecast better Burgundy as outside my budget and pay (too much?) heed to the warnings of variability from that region at all price points.

"Hmmm," I think, "should I spend this $25 on a terrific Savennières or an OK white Burgundy?" As a Loire partisan, I admit that wasn't a fair question (not to mention a question of apples and oranges), but it's also a misleading question. I'm a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir, and good examples in a more Burgundian style often run in the $40 range. Red Burgundy of equal quality can be less.

So Brooklynguy is right: there are excellent wines to be had from these regions at good prices, red and white both. Here are three.

Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine 2004
I have little experience with Mâcon wines, but ah, isn't that what WBW is all about? And I am happy to report that this was a happy experience — happier, indeed, than my recent experience with a rather dull white Santenay from the Côte de Beaune from the same year. This Lafon was a really nice Chardonnay. It had body without overt weight and acidity without tartness. It smelled most specifically of golden toast, along with pineapple and just a hint of coconut, but while that's obviously the voice of the oak barrel, that voice didn't shout in my ear. For example, it had a nice, clean, minerally finish. Good stuff! $23

François Raquillet Mercurey Vieilles Vignes 2005
Yes, it's silly to open this so soon, but it's WBW 39, whattaya gonna do? Left undisturbed fresh out of the bottle, this red plum-colored wine throws aromas of wet hay, cinnamon, and cherry cough drop; with swirling, related smells of fresh-turned pasture, seaweed, and cold steel take over. Fresh black cherry shows with some air. In the mouth the acidity is high-toned and ramrod straight — hard, even — and the wine finishes with a smooth minerality and a lip-smacking tang. This is a definite rebuy, for given a few years, this should become more velvety and deepen to where it needs to be. $27

François Raquillet Mercurey 1er Cru Les Vasées 2004
And here's the best of the three, circa November 2007. This light-colored wine was just so young when I opened it and served it with oven-roasted halibut and sauteed leeks but it deepened as the night went on. The perfume (and it IS perfume, not just aroma) is gorgeous — in the main it conveys fresh strawberries, but a deep, savory note of autumn pie spices is also prominent. It's a bit simple in the mouth right now but it's graceful, fills the mouth (lightly), the finish is long and slightly spicy, and the tannins, the acid, and the fruit are in balance. Very sexy! As much as I liked the above Vieilles Vignes from the great vintage, the premier cru from the lesser vintage shows its mettle, and it should also improve over the next few years. $27

OK, are these wines cheap? No. But they're not outrageously priced, either, and considering the quality, well worth it.

(Oh, and while I have your attention, I wanted to let you know that the Cristom Pinot Noir Mt. Jefferson Cuvée Willamette Valley 2005 is well worth your time. It shows promise simply by having been harvested in a classic (cooler) Oregon vintage, fermented with native yeasts, and aged using only 18% new French oak. That promise is fulfilled. With its strong acid core, this has a way to go before reaching its apex, but it's already showing well. It's pale and rosy like a Burgundy and shows like one, too, with its subtle notes of baking spices and ripe but delicate cranberry, strawberry, and currant flavors. Fine, with excellent length, and it's great with a mushroom-based sauce. As with Raquillet's Mercurey, this should become deeper and more velvety in the coming years. Actually, I should taste it alongside the Raquillet 1er Cru in 2010, provided I can find these wines again!)